The cover of Central Asia: A New History from the Imperial Conquests to the Present, with its photo of the massive walls of the Ark Fortress in Bukhara, is something of a bait and switch. The book flies through that period implied by picture: the “imperial conquests” of the subtitle are not those of Genghis Khan or Timur, but rather the later ones by China and Russia: conquests of Central Asia, not by.

The scene is Turkey in the mid-to-late 70s. A young male college student hops onto a bus. He sits next to a cute female student from his class, but before they can strike up a conversation, they see a right-wing passenger, walk up to another passenger and hit him on the head with a hammer. The young woman screams. The two students get off the bus, only for the female student to call the male student a “disgusting fascist” and leave in anger.

China’s National Day is a carefully orchestrated occasion. Each year on October 1st, rigorously rehearsed celebrations take place nationwide, with those on Tiananmen Square broadcast live across China. On the decadal anniversary years, the display of pageantry is ramped up further, though these commemorations of Mao Zedong’s announcement on October 1st 1949 that the Chinese people had “stood up” have often been marred by events outside the careful control of the party leadership.

What Kosal Path calls the “Third Indochina War” resulted from Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 and China’s subsequent invasion of Vietnam in February 1979. For Vietnam, it was a “protracted two-front war”, that drained the country’s economic resources and imperiled the ruling Communist Party. Path contends that throughout the war, the decision-making of the Vietnamese political leadership was shaped more by domestic economic factors and a realist view of national security interests than ideological abstractions. The war and its aftermath, he believes, also set the stage for Vietnam’s economic and national security reform policies called Doi Moi (renovation), and Vietnam’s improved relations with Western powers.