Peking and the Paper Tiger; Sino-American Confrontation, 1958-1968

Matray, James Irving, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Graebner, Norman A., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Since World War II and the triumph of Communism in China, Sino-American relations have been marked by mutual hostility and suspicion. The problem for the diplomatic historian is to discover the foundations of the impasse and thus explain the inability of the United States and China to develop amicable relations. American scholars, however, possess an inordinate penchant for on the objectives and actions of the United States, while disregarding the motivations behind the adversary nation's foreign policy. Ethnocentrism has characterized the analysis of Sino-American relations perhaps more than any other issue discussed in the realm of diplomatic history,

In the following study, the writer will attempt to avoid the pitfall mentioned above and evaluate the course of Sino-American relations from 1950 to 1968 from the perspective of Peking. The main thesis argues that American foreign policy has frustrated the achievement of all major Chinese objectives in the international system particularly during the period from 1958 to 1968. References to the years prior to 1958 are designed to provide background and facilitate understanding of the ten years that follow, since the writer views the decade as a clearly definable era in Chinese foreign policy. The Taiwan Crisis of 1958 represented the advent of a new direction in China’s American policy, since Peking adopted a position of militant anti-Americanism after a decade of endeavors to arrive at a rapprochement with the United States. By 1968 the apex of Sino-American animosity had passed and the onset of "ping-pong Diplomacy” signaled the relaxation of tension and the possible emergence of more cordial relations.

President Nixon's visit to Peking: in February 1972 clearly marked watershed in Sino-American relations, but the importance of American foreign policy in producing the reversal has been overemphasized. In reality, as the present study will attempt to indicate, the apparent break in the Sino-American impasse was more the handiwork of Peking than Washington. The United States had sought improved relations with China since 1961, but Peking had continually rebuffed American initiatives. In order to proceed along the road to détente, however, there had to be an occasion for action that China alone could provide. Therefore, "ping--pong diplomacy'' was not a radical break in American foreign policy, hut the fulfillment of an objective sought after for over a decade. It was Peking that made the reversal in Sino-American relations possible and China based its decision on an astute appraisal of its best national interest.

At this point, the writer takes the. opportunity to acknowledge those who have contributed invaluable assistance in the production of the following study. Most beneficial was the guidance and constructive criticism provided by Mr. ,John Israel. Many of the ideas presented in the thesis were the outgrowth of many hours of' stimulating discussion in the modern China Seminar of fall 1971 and spring 1972. Mr. Norman A. Graebner read the manuscript and his perceptive comments were of immeasurable value in the writing of the final draft. My wife Karin always maintained a sympathetic and understanding position and her enthusiastic support was indispensible for the successful completion of the thesis. Finally, the writer dedicates the work to Caroline Kathryn Matray for all the little things that a mother gives to her son.

MA (Master of Arts)
United States -- Foreign relations -- China, China -- Foreign relations -- United States

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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