The Tipping Point: Tensions Between Three Powers

Dr. Eugene Trani provided honors students at Virginia Commonwealth University with valuable insight into impending American foreign relations policies involving the Russian and Chinese governments. “The Eagle, the Bear, and the Dragon: Relations between the United States, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China in the 20th Century,” was the title of the seminar presented by Dr. Trani, president emeritus and distinguished professor at VCU. On Friday afternoon, Trani addressed students as part of the Berglund Seminar Series offered to members of the Honors College.

Dr. Trani discussed former and imminent foreign policy issues regarding Russia and China, based on a book recently published by Trani and his colleague, Donald E. Davis, entitled “Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations with Russia and China in the Twentieth Century.” Trani pointed out that the book was being published in all three nations in the official language of each, and the illustration on the cover of the book was done by an artist representing each of the countries highlighted. Not surprisingly, each illustrator depicted the idea of “distorted mirrors” differently. The prospective publishing date in China has been put on hold because all books on foreign policy must be reviewed by the Government Publications Review Agency before being released. Parts of the book may be deleted from any edition sold in the People’s Republic of China by the government if they are found objectionable. Trani and Davis have yet to reveal their plan of action if this occurs.

In 1981, during a four-month visit to Moscow at the height of the Cold War, Trani gathered information about Russian views of American foreign policy while teaching at Moscow University. He admitted, “One of the causes of the book was, night after night after night visiting homes of Russians where inevitably there was too much vodka served, and you would sit around the table and they would lament largely Russian relations, the state of the American relations, and what happened to these two great allies that defeated Hitler in World War II.”

Photo by Alix Hines
Photo by Alix Hines

Trani also outlined an upcoming honors module he will teach during spring semester of 2011.  He described the course as rigorous, but said that students will delve into American, Russian and Chinese relations in the 21st century.  Part of the coursework will include having students interview their families to assess their impressions of Russia and China as part of writing assignments on Russia and China.

Following the seminar, Katie Mutilin, a Ukrainian-American honors student, commented, “My mom said that the propaganda that was spread at the time (of the Cold War) was that America was a cruel capitalist society that didn’t care about their people. But my family didn’t actually believe that. We came here because we believed this would be a better place to have a future.” Mutilin explained that the way Trani described his stay in Russia mirrored her experiences in the country.

Honors student Danielle Blankenship said of the experience, “Well, I was interested in going (to the seminar) originally because the president we had for 19 years at VCU was speaking, and I had heard that he was a very interesting individual. I thought it was interesting to hear him talk to a small group of college students about his experiences and what he is doing.”

Blankenship also pointed out that a political cartoon Trani shared with the audience depicts how the United States is currently inadvertently pushing Russia and the People’s Republic of China to become allies.

“Clearly, American and Chinese relations are going to be the relations of your generation and probably your children’s generation, and American- Russian relations were the major part of your parents’ generation. If we inadvertently drive Russia and China together, that will become the major event of the 21st century in terms of the undoing of America’s dominant role in foreign policy,” concluded Trani.

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