A Cold War Turning Point: Nixon and China, 1969-1972. By Chris Tudda. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012. 274 pp.
Chris Tudda's new book on the path to Sino-American rapprochement offers the most complete narrative to date of the American decision-making process that led to Nixon's 1972 visit to China. Equal parts synthesis and monograph, the book painstakingly draws upon the wide range of available literature, demonstrating the potential for new histories emerging from the work of the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) to declassify and translate documents from international archives. In that sense, Tudda's book can be seen as a product of the collaborative effort to reconstruct the most complete international narrative of major Cold War decisions that is possible, although Tudda makes an important additional contribution of his own: an extensively indexed and deeply nuanced inventory of the Nixon tapes. What results is a remarkably thorough, meticulously documented, and yet, utterly readable account of an important "turning point" in Cold War history.
Tracing the push for rapprochement from the advent of Nixon's presidency until the Spirit of '76 (Air Force One) took off from Shanghai on the return flight to Washington, Tudda places the Nixon-Kissinger decision to pursue rapprochement in the context of their larger geopolitical goals and challenges: negotiating detente with the Soviet Union, responding to the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971, the ongoing and tortured efforts to find an honorable way out of Vietnam, and the possibility of a renewed threat from an economically resurgent Japan. Along the way, Tudda highlights a few themes as particularly vital for understanding both U.S. decision making in the Nixon administration and the relationship with China, and challenges or affirms existing assumptions where he sees fit.
One theme is the contentious debate over what to do with Taiwan; Tudda argues that despite their otherwise realist approach to the world, Nixon and Kissinger actually sought a less-than-realist middle path to try to forge relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) without abandoning Taiwan outright, in the process, setting a new pattern for future U.S. interaction with its erstwhile ally. Here, the CWIHP's relative inattention to archives in Taiwan feels like a weakness, because although communications with PRC ambassador James Shen and opinions from Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) and...