Wednesday, 8 April 2009

“George W. Bush & China”, by Chi Wang (Lexington Books)


The other important foreign policy challenge facing America

With the majority of attention, scholarship and journalism about George W. Bush’s foreign policy focused on his misadventures in the Middle East, it’s easy to forget that even while battling against the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents, the US had to maintain the balance of its other bilateral relations and foreign policy goals, and remained engaged in global politics throughout 2001-2008. This is especially true for the Sino-American relationship, as it grows ever closer and China grows ever stronger. The relationship did suffer from some neglect (unless North Korea was involved), but overall relations returned to and remain much as they had towards the end of Clinton’s administration.

After a brief introduction, the author provides a very short background chapter for US-China relations under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, providing a context for the political environment George W. Bush inherited with regards to US-China relations. The chapters that follow are pretty methodical, focusing on pre-9/11 US-China relations followed by 2002-2008 relations; a look at Bush’s various foreign policy advisers and their positions on China. This is followed by the second part of the book, which focuses on the main issues underpinning US-China relations (security in Asia, military-to-military contacts, economic relations, and Taiwan).

As a brief introduction to the topic, this is a good book, but I imagine it might prove unfulfilling for anyone with existing knowledge or interest in the subject. This is because Chi Wang has predominantly gone for a descriptive approach, rather than analytical. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, for such an important subject, one would have preferred something with a little more weight.

While the author has done a good job researching the book (each chapter has a bibliography, making it easy to find and use his sources), he does appear to have relied an awful lot on The Economist, and books published a number of years ago, without too much use of more recent texts. While these are minor quibbles, it has had an impact on the quality of his arguments and also the timeliness of the book, which appears to be inconsistent with its publication date of 2009.

Overall, this is a good, short and light read. It would be perfect for a short introduction, but beyond that I think it has limitations, and didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. If you’re looking for something a little more involved, I’d recommend the books I’ve listed below.

Also try: Radha Sinha, Sino-American Relations (2003); James Mann, About Face (2000) & The China Fantasy (2007); David Lampton, Same Bed, Different Dreams (2001); Jean Garrison, Making China Policy (2005); Patrick Tyler, A Great Wall (1999); Myers, Oksenberg & Shambaugh, Making China Policy (2001); David E. Sanger, The Inheritance (Part V, 2009); Tao Xie, U.S.-China Relations: China Policy on Capitol Hill (2008); Suisheng Zhao, China-US Relations Transformed (2009)

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