Interesting Times

China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige
by Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

Ambassador Freeman’s [Interesting Times] deserves to have an important place in defining our future strategic relationship with China.Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize

Interesting Times

The decision that President Richard Nixon took in 1972 to bring to an end Washington’s 23-year-long attempt to isolate and overthrow the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) changed the global political balance in deep and lasting ways. When Nixon held his meetings with Chairman Mao in Beijing in February 1972, at his side was a young U.S. diplomat who was serving as his principal interpreter: Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

Freeman had started studying Mandarin (and Taiwan’s dialect, Minnan) in Taipei, Taiwan, just three years earlier; and he spent many of the earlier years of his diplomatic career as a specialist in the affairs of all of China, including Taiwan. Freeman undertook many other important missions during his distinguished, 30-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service (and later, as Assistant Secretary of Defense.) But during and after his career in government he returned again and again to matters Chinese. Interesting Times: China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige is his own curation of the best of the analysis he produced on developments in China and in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, over the whole period 1969–2012.

…unique insights into the complicated yet centrally important relationship between the world’s number one and number two powers. A pleasure to read, an intellectual feast to digest.Zbigniew Brzezinski

In Interesting Times, Freeman brings a broad and uniquely well-informed historical perspective to his analysis of the issues—including Taiwan, various other strategic issues, and differences over human rights and economic and trade policies—that confronted the world’s two most powerful countries throughout this period. He warns that the historical record suggests that no one can be complacent in assuming that this crucial relationship will always be managed in a sensible manner in the future.

The web-archive of special supplemental material to the book Interesting Times can be found at

Map 1: China’s Provinces
Map 2: Maritime Claims in the South China Sea

Introduction: China and America in “Interesting Times”
Chapter 1: What Mr. Nixon Wrought
The United States and China Forty Years On
Will China Rule the World as the United States Once Did?
Chapter 2: How Diplomatic Normalization Happened
The Process of Rapprochement: Achievements and Problems
Chapter 3: The Origins of the Taiwan Issue
Same Strait, Different Memories
Chapter 4: The Reemergence of the Taiwan Problem
The Renewed Fuss over Taiwan
Toward U.S.-China Military Confrontation, 1995–1996
The Aftermath of the 1995–1996 Taiwan Crisis
Chapter 5: War, Peace, and Taiwan
Sino-American Relations and the Taiwan Issue
The Taiwan Problem and China’s Strategy for Resolving It
Chapter 6: Where Is China Going?
China and the Century of the Pacific
Where Is China Going?
Chapter 7: Deng’s Revolution in Retrospect
From Mao to Now
What Could Go Wrong for China?
Chapter 8: U.S.-China Relations and the Emerging World Order
China’s Challenge to American Hegemony
The United States, China, and the New Global Geometry
India and America in the Strategic Times to Come
Chapter 9: China’s Global and Regional Impact
China in the Times to Come
China and the Global Resource Balance
Asia Takes Shape
East Asia’s Engagement with the Arab Countries of the Persian Gulf
India, Pakistan, and China
Chapter 10: Military Interactions
American Economic and Security Interests in China
Beijing, Washington, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige
Chapter 11: Managing Sino-American Relations
Back to Basics
The Promise of Sino-American Relations
A China Policy for the Twenty-First Century
Indo-Pacific Dynamics in Trans-Pacific Perspective


Ambassador Freeman’s new book deserves to have an important place in defining our future strategic relationship with China. Interesting Times: China, America and the Shifting Balance of Prestige draws on Freeman’s many years of China-watching and personal insights into the changing forces of culture, tradition and power that have heretofore maintained its society.
–Dr. Henry Kissinger, former U.S. ambassador, former secretary of state, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
One need not agree with Chas Freeman’s every bold judgment regarding China and America in order to acknowledge his mastery of the subject. Freeman has an incisive intellect, a felicitous style, and unique insights into the complicated yet centrally important relationship between the world’s number one and number two powers. A pleasure to read, an intellectual feast to digest.
–Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor
Interesting Times is an honest, balanced and thought-provoking analysis of the coming process of adjustment that will take place between the United States and China as the latter leaves its poverty and powerlessness behind to become the largest economy in the world. The Sino-American relationship will be more equal and more competitive. But this jostling for influence and leadership will take place in a changed world where the “international geometry” is also changing and other rising powers such as Brazil, Turkey, India, and Saudi Arabia also claim their place and role. Chas Freeman’s deep understanding of China and the Middle East, having served as a senior diplomat in both places, and his grasp of the politics and possibilities of his own country make this book compelling reading. Very useful for anyone trying to understand the most important bilateral relationship in the coming century.
–Chan Heng Chee, former ambassador of Singapore to the United States
In Interesting Times, Chas Freeman shares with readers four decades of his prolific and intelligent thinking on China and the Sino-American relationship. His aim consistently has been to challenge sloppy and misguided American thinking, whether engaged in by President Nixon in connection with his 1972 trip to China or the U.S. intelligence community that ‘missed so many…major developments over the years.’ Freeman challenges comfortable banalities using words as a scalpel to reveal the tissue of slanderous euphemisms, delusions, and misunderstandings that constitute much of the corpus of discourse about China. Ambassador Freeman calls for America to develop a realistic, long-term, mutual interest–based conception of Sino-American relations capable of achieving the positive potential of ties between these two great nations.
–David M. Lampton, professor and director of China Studies at Johns Hopkins—SAIS and former president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations
Interesting Times: China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige is a widely perceptive analysis of the history of the Sino-American normalization process and the prospect that China can build on its economic success and growing defense capabilities to assume global political leadership like that which the US exercised in the last century.
–Nicholas Lardy, Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics
Chas Freeman is that rare individual: a deeply knowledgeable public servant who does not mince his words. As one of America’s most experienced sinologists, there can be few better judges of the challenges posed by a rising China – and none more incisive. Freeman’s writings leave the reader dazzled by their range and depth.
–Edward Luce, chief U.S. Commentator for the Financial Times
Bold, incisive, innovative thinking and analysis are as rare in the field of foreign affairs as in other intellectual disciplines. Throughout his distinguished career in the Foreign Service, Ambassador Chas Freeman was renowned, and on occasion chastised, for his fearless determination to identify the consequences of trends and policy options without regard for the strictures of political correctness. Invariably, he assessed the implications of current developments in a longer-term time frame than most of his colleagues. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in this fascinating, enlightening, and provocative compilation of his writings, speeches, and musings on China and its complex relationships with the United States and the world. China’s rapid rise is the dominating feature of the international landscape and is likely to confront the United States with its principal national security challenge over the next several decades. Anyone with an interest in foreign relations will benefit from exposure to the wealth of material, both historical and forward-looking, in this stimulating book.
–J. Stapleton Roy, former U.S. Ambassador to China

Interesting Times is available in Hardcover ($38.99), Paperback ($27.99), and Ebook ($9.99)


356 pages, 6″ X 9″
Published March 2013
ISBN 9781935982265