This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Chinese soldier in Tiananmen Square

(Image: Kevin Frayer/Getty)

What Happens When China Leads the World

Michael Schuman

Atlantic

What kind of superpower will China be? That’s the question of the 21st century. According to American leaders such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, China will be a rapacious authoritarian nightmare, intent on destroying democracy itself. Beijing, needless to say, doesn’t quite agree.

Fortunately for those of us seeking answers to this question, China was a major power for long stretches of history, and the foreign policies and practices of its great dynasties can offer us insights into how modern Chinese leaders may wield their widening power now and in the future.

Of course, Chinese society today is not the same as it was 100 years ago—let alone 1,000 years. But I’ve long been studying imperial China’s foreign relations, and clear patterns of a consistent worldview emerge that are likely to shape Beijing’s perceptions and projection of power in the modern world. (Read more)

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Jordan’s Endless Transition

Ursula Lindsey

New York Review of Books

On an afternoon in late July, the central neighborhood of Amman where I live was suffused with stifled agitation. Schoolteachers were trying to gather for a protest in a traffic circle near the prime minister’s house. It has long been a popular spot for demonstrations, and to discourage them it has been covered with a hard plastic lattice and encircled by a spiky fence. That afternoon policemen were also posted on every corner for miles around, questioning drivers and turning pedestrians away.

The teachers’ syndicate, one of the few independent associations in Jordan, has been at loggerheads with the government for some time. Teachers were also on strike last fall, when I moved to Amman with my family. Back then I was surprised by how sympathetic people were to them, despite mostly negative media coverage and the disruption of the beginning of the school year. But the teachers’ most popular slogan was: “We’ll all go hungry together or we’ll all eat together.” It resonated in a country where one of the biggest complaints is the cost of living. (Read more)

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Britain at the end of history

Robert Saunders

New Statesman

In September 1989, Margaret Thatcher flew to Moscow for talks with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. It was a time of hope, when the first cracks were appearing in the Iron Curtain between East and West in Europe. Soviet troops were withdrawing from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Poland had formed a non-communist government, ending more than 40 years of one-party rule. Hungary had opened its border with Austria, and protests were spreading in East Germany. Yet Thatcher’s message at the Kremlin was so inflammatory that she asked for the recording to be stopped, so there would be no official record of her remarks.

Britain, Thatcher told Gorbachev, was deeply worried about where the upheaval might end. “We do not want the unification of Germany. It would lead to changes in the postwar borders, and we cannot allow that.” Unification “would undermine the stability of the entire international situation, and could lead to threats to our security”. (Read more)

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Putin, Long the Sower of Instability, Is Now Surrounded by It

Anton Troianovski

New York Times

YEREVAN, Armenia — In Russia’s self-proclaimed sphere of influence, Russia is losing its influence.

Concurrent crises in Belarus, Central Asia and the Caucasus region have blindsided the Kremlin, leaving it scrambling to shore up Russian interests in former Soviet republics and undermining President Vladimir V. Putin’s image as a master tactician on the world stage.

“There is nothing good about these conflicts for Moscow,” Konstantin Zatulin, a senior Russian lawmaker and Putin ally who specializes in relations with what Russians call their “near abroad.” (Read more)

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The Radical and Transnational Roots of Black History Month in Britain

E. James West

Black Perspectives

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson, historian and founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, announced the first “Negro History Week.” It was a public history event that sought to disabuse ‘the Negro mind of the idea of inferiority’ and create ‘an increasing conviction among the whites that racial bias undermines all truth.’1 Held during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the annual celebration quickly became one of the nation’s most prominent public history events. Student demands for greater historical representation and other efforts in Black organizing during the 1960s and early 1970s – part of what Vincent Harding describes as the post-war ‘Black history revival’ – fed calls for the celebration to be expanded.2 In February 1976 president Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month (BHM) calling upon the nation ‘to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.’ Today, BHM remains a widely celebrated, albeit often commercialized, yearly event; an opportunity to reflect on both the historical contributions made by Black people to the nation’s development, and to recommit, both individually and collectively, to the continued struggle for racial justice. (Read more)

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