Rereading Patrick Tyler's A Great Wall this morning reminded me of just how much historians' assessments are influenced by events she or he has experienced. Check out Tyler's unsparing criticism of Reagan's China policy. He argues Reagan never understood Beijing's point of view.
Tyler's book was published in 2000, which was close to the high point of China optimism in the US. Tiananmen was already a long time ago, and China seemed to be on its way... somewhere good. I still remember debates in the academic literature about its gradual democratisation.
Hong Kong got off to a good start, and there was reason to hope, perhaps, that a "diplomatic solution" for Taiwan could be found. In general, China appeared to be more of a benign actor than before or since.But fast forward twenty years; lines above could not've been written now.
The reason: obviously, Hong Kong, which retrospectively made us reevaluate both the trustworthiness of China's "diplomatic solutions," and the sympathy for what you might call "Beijing's point of view."
I suppose it should't happen, i.e. we historians should take China "as it was" in 1980, and not project our views backwards. But it's bound to happen. It's inevitable.

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More from @DrRadchenko

15 May
This is an interesting case. At one level, you might argue that the rift between Russia and Ukraine is clear (damning!) evidence of the failure of Russian foreign policy. At another level, one might also ask about the purpose of Russian foreign policy. 👇🏿
If the purpose is to maximise Russia's influence in its immediate neighbourhood, promote Russia's economic interests and project soft power, then the record is utter and complete failure.
On the other hand, if the purpose is to legitimise Putin's otherwise illegitimate regime by promulgating the narrative of confrontation with the West and Ukraine, then one might argue the policy has succeeded very well.
Read 6 tweets
15 May
A first-rate piece here by Igor Gretskiy who contradicts arguments put forward by me and also my St. Petersburg colleague Ivan Kurilla concerning the viability of Russia's integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions in the early 1990s. 👇🏿
I would broadly agree with Igor's critique to the effect that we need to understand Yeltsin's actions as motivated primarily by the imperative of maintaining political power. The legitimation discourse of "confronting the West" can be said to have contributed to this purpose.
An open question is why that narrative of confrontation was the one that ultimately prevailed. Was it because, as Igor argues, the Russians were not open to 'non-imperial' narratives or was it because door to the West was closed, making the imperial narrative the default option.
Read 8 tweets
5 Apr
A good laugh here from my friend @LorenzLuthi, which reminds me of an episode from my youth. 👇🏿
Once, a ship from socialist Vietnam docked in my hometown in Sakhalin, bringing tons of bananas! For whatever reason, these bananas could not clear customs, so they did not actually appear on the empty shelves. They started going bad, and were dumped in boxes right in the port.
The port was a high-security facility but unbeknownst to the authorities there was a hole in the fence. So along with other kids I went on a banana-hunting expedition. We scoured through rotting boxes, making away with whole sacks of slimy but still perfectly eatable bananas.
Read 4 tweets
1 Apr
A fairly common-place take on the late Cold War that is somewhat off both in terms of the broader picture and the particulars. As far as the Soviets were concerned, detente began to fall apart almost immediately after it was inaugurated with the 1972/73 Brezhnev-Nixon summits.
Brezhnev's hopes for economic engagement with the US ran aground, partly because of Ford's weakness, and the passing the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Decline in the Soviet positions in the Middle East post-1973 pointed to limits of condominium Brezhnev hoped to achieve with the US.
So disappointed were the Soviets with Ford that they welcomed Carter's election in 1976 but he annoyed Moscow with his human rights agenda that (to the Soviets) smacked of arrogance unacceptable in relations between "equal" superpowers.
Read 14 tweets
1 Mar
Reading Michael Morgan's The Final Act,… - an account of the Helsinki process. A great read by the way - highly recommend. But here's my difficulty.
Following Jeremi Suri, Morgan argues that the Helsinki process was legitimating for both the East and the West in so far as both systems were losing legitimacy for different albeit overlapping reasons. In the Soviet case, it was the loss of faith in the Communist project.
Yet, if we take a longer view of Soviet / Russian foreign policy, we'll see that the striving for recognition by the West as a great power (i.e. legitimation via Western recognition) preceded Brezhnev and certainly survived Brezhnev.
Read 6 tweets
16 Feb
Did a lecture today on Stalin and the origins of the Cold War. Here's the difficulty I face as a historian. There's evidence that would suggest that Stalin was *not* single-handedly responsible for the Cold War - that both sides were responsible. Let's just say there's evidence.
But Stalin was such a hideous character that I genuinely struggle to exonerate him. Because of what I know about Stalin outside of this particular context, I am strongly inclined to condemn him in other - in all - contexts.
I was thinking about this today in connection with my take on Putin and Putinism. I recognise that there's evidence (especially going back to the 1990s) that suggests that the West was partially responsible for where we are today with Russia (took two to tango).
Read 5 tweets

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