The Korean War in effect integrated the Asia-Pacific into the Cold War system. However, the division within Asia was not very clear-cut, as America played a predominant role during the WWII, whereas in Europe, America and USSR both competed against each other (p.21). If anything, the Asia-Pacific was divided into distinct regions during the War, with each being treated differently by the allies. However, as it increasingly made sense during the Cold War to treat the Asia-Pacific as a single region, the region became regarded as having implications for the global BoP (p.22).
The Yalta Conference influenced profoundly on how the aftermath of the Pacific War was to be treated. More specifically, the reality of the US hegemony in the Pacific, the Soviet dominance within Northeast Asia, along with the interests of the colonial powers in Southeast Asia were recognized. This effectively divided the region into spheres of influence. However, as China was expected to develop into a great power and entrusted with the task of supervising Korea, no trusteeship was made. Instead, the Soviets had unilaterally occupied Korea at the 38th Parallel.
And although China later failed to live up to expectations, the US did not perceive the Asia-Pacific in the framework of the Cold War, as its focus was primarily on Europe. Instead, US had actually de-mobilized some of its armed forces, despite Truman’s efforts shown through the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan (p.23). Furthermore, the US changed its focus from China to Japan as potential allies and stabilizing factors. It had no intention of intervening in the Chinese civil war, due to cost-benefit calculations. The communists won in China, and this in turn brought the Yalta system to its knees in the Asia-Pacific (p.24). The US now defined its defense perimeter in Asia as one from Japan to the Philippines, excluding Korea. The turning point, however, was the Korean War, which had in effect drew a “sharp demarcation line in Northeast Asia between the communist and the […] ‘free world’ […] that would last for the next twenty years.” (p.26) The US perceived the war as a communist advance, and in turn: “established a unified NATO command” and “[imposed an] economic embargo on China.” (Ibid.) The goal of the US was to prevent Taiwan from being a Soviet base, but China perceived it the US as a step taken in order to, in the future, intervene in the Chinese civil war. But it was not until the US crossed the 38th Parallel in October 1950 that PRC intervened in Korea. Now, Truman issued the NSC-68 and tried to apply the containment doctrine. The division of the region into two sectors solidified, as well as the division within the divided states. The Korean War was essentially a “[domestic] civil war that had unanticipated international consequences.” (p.27) The US further sought to include Japan into the “free world” by signing the “U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.” However, as regional ties were weak, alliances went no further than being in the form of bilateral treaties.
The end of the Pacific War had implications for the returning colonial powers, in that the history of Japanese colonialism accelerated the nationalistic drive of the states for independence. Yahuda identifies “three levels of foreign relations” that characterized the early stages of foreign relations of the Southeast Asian states: first, the “process of acquiring independence and the character of the post-colonial settlement involv[ing] relations with former rulers”; second, the “local reactions to great power involvement in the region”; and finally, the “intra-regional relations among the regional states.” (p.29) But to simplify, I will just classify and divide the six states (Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Burma) into three groups based on what political agendas they pursued in the Cold War context.
Firstly, the international politics relating to the Cold War, along with the end of the Pacific War, influenced greatly the occurrence of the independence movement. Especially, the sudden end of the Pacific War led to a power vacuum, allowing nationalistic parties to exploit the absence of control. Examples of conflict include the First Indo-China War, and an armed confrontation in the Dutch East Indies. Indeed, armed struggle was an endemic feature in the procurement of independence. The countries that fitted such a characterization was Vietnam and Malaysia. Especially, the surrender of the French in the Indo-China War played a large role in leading to the “internationalization” (p.35) of the problems of Southeast Asia. In other words, it made America concerned with the internal status of states, as it feared the incident in Vietnam starting the domino effect.
A second characteristic was most evident from the US-Philippines relationship, in which the Philippines was ambivalent about its position on the US in Southeast Asia until the US bases were withdrawn from Philippines after the Cold War. Initially after WWII, America was not as in favor of independence, as it willed to maintain the powers of the West European countries to counter the Soviet threat. However, by 1948, America now began to fear the fall of the Asian nations to communism, and thus exerted pressure on the colonial powers to support independence (p.31). The fact that the Philippines only had a relatively vague regional identity also helped facilitate cooperation (p.30). Another country that pursued close alliance with the US was Thailand, which had a long standing diplomatic style that went “soft” towards dominant regional powers (p.33).
Third, some countries became willingly incorporated into the non-aligned movement. This was for example, Indonesia and Burma.
The divergent paths that the countries pursued had long-term political implications. For example, only a limited number of countries were still able to evoke a strong sense of national identity. Nevertheless, all states had difficulties with border or territorial disputes, and faced challenges as most were governed by inexperienced Western elites. Moreover, none could escape the Cold War context that they were placed in.
The Geneva Conference of 1954 marked the integration of East Asia into the Cold War system. It also admitted China’s great power status, and further affirmed the stalemate of the Korean armistice, and facilitated the end of the First Indo-China War. Furthermore, it ended the French role in Indo-China. The communist regime had de facto won in Vietnam through the partition of Vietnam into two states. Cambodia and Laos were to be neutral states, and lessened the fear of China about US intervention. Following this, China and post-Stalin USSR pursued more peaceful policies. 25 years later, however, China would intervene in Vietnam. America and South Vietnam also did not accept the final declaration.