The China Threat

The China Threat: Memories, Myths, and Realities in the 1950s

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The China Threat
    Book Description:

    Nancy Bernkopf Tucker confronts the coldest period of the cold war -- the moment in which personality, American political culture, public opinion, and high politics came together to define the Eisenhower Administration's policy toward China. A sophisticated, multidimensional account based on prodigious, cutting edge research, this volume convincingly portrays Eisenhower's private belief that close relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China were inevitable and that careful consideration of the PRC should constitute a critical part of American diplomacy.

    Tucker provocatively argues that the Eisenhower Administration's hostile rhetoric and tough actions toward China obscure the president's actual views. Behind the scenes, Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, pursued a more nuanced approach, one better suited to China's specific challenges and the stabilization of the global community. Tucker deftly explores the contradictions between Eisenhower and his advisors' public and private positions. Her most powerful chapter centers on Eisenhower's recognition that rigid trade prohibitions would undermine the global postwar economic recovery and push China into a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. Ultimately, Tucker finds Eisenhower's strategic thinking on Europe and his fear of toxic, anticommunist domestic politics constrained his leadership, making a fundamental shift in U.S. policy toward China difficult if not impossible. Consequently, the president was unable to engage congress and the public effectively on China, ultimately failing to realize his own high standards as a leader.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52819-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. Illus for Frontmatter: Map of Asia
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Introduction: The Myth
    (pp. 1-4)

    On January 19, 1961, as temperatures plummeted and snow fell steadily on the city of Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy met for the second and last briefing before Kennedy’s inauguration. Both sessions had been scheduled to allow the sitting president to school his young and inexperienced successor on the problems he would face and the powers he could exploit against threats and challenges. After a long private conversation and an intense exchange with members of the cabinet present, Eisenhower and Kennedy spent a few last minutes lingering next to the large conference table in the White House...

      (pp. 7-24)

      Dwight D. Eisenhower’s views on international relations and his attitude toward Asia make clear how implausible it is that Ike would threaten John F. Kennedy about opening diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Eisenhower gave precedence to Europe, and he saw his most serious challenge as coming from the Soviet Union. His time on the battlefield in World War II had reinforced his conviction that America’s critical disputes and opportunities would arise in Europe. The people he gathered around him—those with whom he argued and to whom he listened, both military and political—strongly agreed with...

      (pp. 25-40)

      John Foster Dulles and Dwight Eisenhower made U.S. foreign policy together for seven years, during which time they established an effective working relationship. Dulles as secretary of state was, without doubt, the president’s key foreign policy ally, implementer, and emissary. Although Ike did not particularly like the secretary personally, he appreciated the man’s talents, experience, and status in the Republican Party. It would have been astonishing had Eisenhower appointed anyone else.¹

      As secretary, Dulles courted Ike, aware of the great importance of good relations with the president, learned in part from the difficulties that had developed between his uncle Secretary...

      (pp. 41-52)

      Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952 after a Republican campaign indicting the Truman administration and Democratic Party for failing to protect national security, containing Communism rather than liberating its victims, and engaging in reckless spending. The Truman administration’s internal security program, it was said, had not rooted out Communists at home. Abroad Truman had plunged the nation into war in Korea, blundered into a wider contest with China, and proved unable to win, or even end, the fighting. In one of the rare presidential races that focused on foreign affairs, Eisenhower capitalized on his World War II reputation as a...

      (pp. 55-68)

      As Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles sought to make policy toward China, they balanced public opinion against flexibility and pragmatism. History suggested that in that contest, listening to opinion—whether of the congressional China bloc, the broader China Lobby, the Republican right, the Nationalist Chinese, or the general public—would be vital. Many serious dilemmas remained unresolved, from the lingering Chinese civil war, to the deadlocked Korean conflict, to the trade embargo and travel restrictions. The new leaders in Washington had to settle or find ways to manage political, security, economic, and cultural problems. In almost every instance, the...

      (pp. 69-88)

      Just one week before Eisenhower’s inauguration, Beijing shot down an American plane dropping leaflets over Manchuria and took eleven American servicemen captive. Three others died in the wreckage. Demands swept the United States for a naval blockade of China. Among others, Senator William Knowland, future Senate majority leader, wanted immediate action. The call to arms grew louder when, during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1954–1955, Chinese courts sentenced the eleven soldiers and two CIA agents to prison terms of 4 years to life for espionage. Again members of Congress and Ike’s own military advocated a prompt response. At both...

      (pp. 89-102)

      Diplomacy did not come easily after the artillery shelling of the offshore islands had begun. Eisenhower and Dulles watched as sentiment in the United States became more harshly critical of China. A September 1954 public opinion poll showed that a 59 percent majority actually opposed better relations with China (compared to just 26 percent who supported better relations).¹ Nevertheless, even as their public rhetoric became tougher, the president and secretary sought nonmilitary remedies for the deteriorating state of U.S.-China relations.

      For Eisenhower and Dulles, the most appealing approach was one that had attracted policymakers since the creation of the People’s...

      (pp. 103-120)

      A true rift in the Sino-Soviet alliance had the potential to be an international game changer. If the ideological, economic, political, and military ties that bound Moscow and Beijing together frayed significantly or even snapped, Washington could suddenly have far greater maneuvering room. It might be able to fight the Cold War more effectively. The very nature of the Cold War could change. The Soviet Union might be more compliant. Red China might become more accommodating or more threatening. Moscow might find peaceful coexistence a valuable tool for shoring up its place in the Communist world. China, on the other...

      (pp. 121-138)

      Dwight Eisenhower came to the presidency with firm conservative Republican ideas about the role of trade and investment in U.S. foreign policy. He opposed government regulation and believed in the ability of business to resolve international conflict and make the world a more peaceful and prosperous place. Thus in inheriting a system of trade restrictions against the Communist bloc, Eisenhower faced a dilemma. He believed in fighting Communism on every front, but he considered the control regime in place onerous for U.S. friends, allies, and Americans. He would accordingly oppose efforts to strengthen prohibitions and refuse to penalize those countries...

      (pp. 139-158)

      For Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mao Zedong, the 1958 Strait confrontation reflected different definitions of security, trouble with domestic constituencies, and clashing cultural assumptions, even as both sought to avoid a military collision. The crisis evolved slowly from the inconclusive outcome of the earlier Taiwan Strait confrontation in 1954. When Beijing began hammering the offshore islands with artillery fire on August 23rd, that action was not entirely unanticipated nor were the Americans unprepared. The United States swiftly entered the fray; an alarmed international community preferred to watch from a distance. Washington, meanwhile, pressed Chiang Kai-shek to reduce his garrison and...

      (pp. 159-178)

      In the final years of Eisenhower’s administration, a series of new international crises confronted an exhausted, lame-duck president. His hope for an arms control agreement with Nikita Khrushchev remained unfulfilled, and the myths of a bomber and missile gap gained strength. Confrontation over Germany escalated, Japanese public support for the U.S. alliance eroded, and the Congo, Algeria, and Laos were plunged into violence. Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba, accepted Soviet assistance, and became the target of assassination and invasion plots.

      Soviet-American détente, which seemed to acquire a boost from Khrushchev’s 1959 U.S. visit, flagged with continual threats by both...

  9. Conclusion: The Memory
    (pp. 179-186)

    Presidential transitions often prove difficult. Dwight D. Eisenhower had experienced one of the worst when he assumed power from Harry S. Truman in 1953. After an ugly campaign, Ike had concluded that Truman “was guilty of extreme partisanship, poor judgment, inept leadership and management, bad taste, and undignified behavior.”¹ During his term, Ike told Richard Nixon, “he would not appear on the same platform with Truman no matter what was at stake.”² Truman, for his part, had come to see Eisenhower as a hypocrite for his vicious campaign attacks on foreign policy choices that Ike had helped to reach and...

    (pp. 187-188)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-252)
    (pp. 253-276)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 277-296)