This is a comprehensive study of US policy towards China during the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, a critical phase of the Cold War immediately preceding the dramatic Sino-American rapprochement of the early 1970s. Based on a wide array of recently declassified government documents, it challenges the popular view that Johnson's approach to China was marked by stagnation and sterility, exploring the administration's relationship to both the Vietnam War and the Cultural Revolution. By documenting Johnson's contributions to the decision-making process, the book offers a new perspective on both his capacity as a foreign-policy leader and his role in the further development of the Cold War.
This book tries to confirm that the Lyndon Baines Johnson presidency did not represent a period of stagnation, and that senior officials contemplated significant departures from long-standing China policy more than was recognized at the time. It carefully reviews the personalities, ideas and events that shaped approaches to the People's Republic of China (PRC), and also examines the complex interplay between the Johnson administration's dealings with China and the Vietnam War. The Chinese foreign policy is then described. An examination of a relatively untapped element of Johnson's foreign policy is presented. Furthermore, the chapter provides a balanced assessment of Johnson's contribution to China policymaking as well as an overview of the chapters included in this book.
This chapter presents a broad overview of America's approach to China prior to November 1963, concentrating on the John F. Kennedy (JFK) years. The administration's handling of Chinese representation in the United Nations, food relief and Beijing's nuclear weapons program is dealt with. A ‘closed door’ policy served as a tool of coercion, designed to secure any eventual reconciliation with China strictly on American terms by withholding recognition and trade until the Chinese had learned how to ‘behave’. JFK's fear of a nuclear China was intense and long standing. Washington could stem the loss of international support for Taiwan and bolster its justification for containing the People's Republic of China (PRC). The short-term legacy of Kennedy's antagonistic dealings with China was decidedly negative. Camelot's record cast an imposing shadow for an insecure successor set on hewing as close as possible to the inherited line in foreign affairs.
French recognition and the Chinese nuclear test, 1963–64
This chapter explores how China figured in Lyndon Baines Johnson's worldview as he assumed the presidency, and the events in 1964 – French recognition and the Chinese nuclear test – that steadily undermined the policy he inherited. Johnson's predilection for preserving intact US China policy stemmed from an article of faith that governed his general approach to foreign affairs, and he approached foreign policy from a decidedly negative and defensive perspective. French recognition presented a quandary to many of America's allies, and also stirred concern in Tokyo that Japan's clout in Asia would wane if it continued to remain allied to Taiwan. The growing likelihood of a Chinese nuclear test confronted Washington with the prospect of another diplomatic coup for the People's Republic of China (PRC) and further tensions with its Western partners. Johnson approved a number of initiatives aimed at prolonging the PRC's isolation.
This chapter explores the spectrum of opinion on China among Lyndon Baines Johnson officials and the resultant reaffirmation of policy through the summer of 1965, also investigating how Washington estimated the prospect of a forceful Chinese rejoinder to American intervention in Vietnam. China policy reform had not been elevated to a pressing item on the American political agenda. The Johnson team's interpretation of the People's Republic of China (PRC)'s role in Southeast Asia contributed decisively to the reaffirmation of China policy through the summer of 1965. China's interest in a victory in Vietnam was tempered by its fear of a Great Power collision. As Johnson gradually led his nation into war, he deliberately tailored the effort in such a way as to preclude another Sino-American battle whose destructive potential had grown inestimably since the PRC's testing of a nuclear device.
The emergence of a two-pronged China policy, 1965–66
This chapter reviews the thawing of attitudes to Lyndon Baines Johnson's heightened interest in averting Chinese intervention in the conflict and to his attempts to mobilize public support for a frustratingly prolonged war by burnishing his peace credentials. A concluding section on the administration's simultaneous resistance to seating Beijing in the United Nations (UN) shows the tentative nature of this bridge-building and the obstacles that continued to impede bolder initiatives at this time. China's foreign-policy defeats had a contradictory impact on the administration's thinking. Johnson's aides continued to point to the threat of Chinese-inspired subversion as a major justification for the war in Vietnam. It was no coincidence that the high-water mark of policy innovation in 1966 fitted with Johnson's personal engagement with China strategy, a level of interest which hitherto had been lacking.
This chapter addresses how the administration interpreted the outbreak of virtual civil war on the mainland, and examines why bridge-building was relegated to a state of limbo at this time. The Cultural Revolution stemmed from Mao Zedong's ‘restless quest for revolutionary purity in a postrevolutionary age’. Mao's fear of creeping revisionism at home was conditioned in large part by his reading of concurrent events in the Soviet Union. Recent studies have confirmed that the Cultural Revolution exercised significant influence on the conduct of Chinese foreign relations. Lyndon Baines Johnson and his advisers implicitly agreed with Zbigniew Brzezinski's diagnosis for peace in Vietnam, yet disagreed with his suggested remedy of a policy of ambiguity towards the People's Republic of China. The sole focus of Mao's Cultural Revolution was internal transformation. The Johnson team hoped that a combination of American military muscle and Soviet diplomatic pressure would prod Hanoi towards the conference table.
An aborted policy review and closing moves, 1968–69
This chapter describes Lyndon Baines Johnson's ensuing interest in exploring means of nurturing moderate elements in Beijing, and the factors that ultimately derailed this policy review. It addresses the final opportunity for reform in the last few weeks of Johnson's tenure in office. The Cultural Revolution effected a significant alteration of Dean Rusk's understanding of the People's Republic of China's role in Vietnam. US decision-makers continued to view China policy through the prism of Vietnam. The last six months of Johnson's presidency witnessed stirrings of change on both sides of the Pacific, with momentous implications for the future. US observers concluded that revolutionary fervor had peaked and moderate elements had outmanouevred hard-line Maoists in the latter half of 1967. A reorientation of Chinese foreign policy only became possible once the Chairman became disenchanted with his own grand enterprise of continuous revolution.
This chapter considers the factors underlying the relaxation of US attitudes towards China in the 1960s. It also discusses the significance of the Lyndon Baines Johnson team's tentative bridge-building, and the points of departure between Johnson's and Richard Nixon's respective approaches to the People's Republic of China (PRC). Then, the chapter describes Johnson's strengths and weaknesses as a foreign policy leader within the context of his dealings with Beijing. Johnson was hardly the ideal candidate to initiate changes in America's relationship with China. A new relationship with Beijing might be of use in checking a more conspicuous Soviet threat. Johnson signalled his own interest in a limited war by cautiously escalating America's military involvement and refraining from those actions that could be misconstrued as a direct threat to Chinese security. A cursory look at his consumption of China data confirms that he was the administration's ultimate arbiter.