By Julia Lovell, so far this is clearly the best book of the year. I’ll have more to say about it, here is one excerpt:
Mao’s lack of enthusiasm for a risky conflict in Korea is understandable: the CCP’s military capacity was clustered around the south-east coast, perched for an invasion of Taiwan. A Cold War conflagration on the north-east border would require the shifting of all these offensive troops to defence in the north-east — from one end of the country to another. Drafts of telegrams and notes of conversations unearthed from archives make clear that Mao came within a whisker of refusing to help the Koreans…
Mao therefore was bounced into the Korean War — not as part of a long-term conspiracy, but through Stalin’s self-interested impulses and instinct for playing on Mao’s status-conscious desire to claim leadership of the Asian revolution. Given that Mao and his immediate lieutenants had already committed themselves publicly to leading the world revolution — wit their Beijing training courses, their proclamations about the relevance of China to oppressed people in Asia — their revolutionary credentials would have been shredded had they not stepped into the war. Stalin and Kim, in short, created a conflict that impinged not only on one of China’s most sensitive, complex frontiers — the Korean-Soviet-Chinese border — but also on Mao’s self-image. The Chinese were thus forced to rescue Kim when the war turned against the North Koreans.
The book also covers Indonesia, Africa, Vietnam and Cambodia, Peru, Nepal, and more, all with an emphasis on China’s earlier foreign policy role. Every chapter is full of fascinating information with strong but not overreaching conceptual framings. Very strongly recommended, it comes out in America in September, I ordered my copy from the UK, available now and cheaper too. Here is a review from The Economist.