Week 3 Summaries


Yahuda, Michael B. 2004. The International Politics of the Asia-Pacific. 2nd and rev. ed. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon: 41-55.

The application of bipolarity, 1954-1970

The bipolarity of the international political arena had obvious consequences for the Asia-Pacific. The most important way that the bipolarity was distinctive of the region in the period concerned the role of China. From being a close ally of the USSR in the 1950s, China evolved into being an indispensable ally in the 1960s, in which it even challenged the two superpowers. However, it was only until 1971/1972 when Mao and Nixon recognized USSR as a common threat that tripolarity emerged and China was seen in the broader context of the strategic triangle. However, the way in which bipolarity affected the Asia-Pacific was distinct in many ways than that in Europe.

Firstly, contrary to bias, the situation in the Asia-Pacific during the bipolar period could not simply be framed as a "free world" versus that of "communist dictatorships." During bipolarity, as much as the pro-USSR countries were divided by nationalism, pro-Western countries were also characterized by significant differences among them, such as in the regime type. Furthermore, pro-Western countries were also destabilized by internal communist insurgencies, along as ethnic unrest. In addition to this, conflicts within the Asia-Pacific were not necessarily due to the Cold War context. At most, the civil wars within Korea and Taiwan could at least be understood as having coincided with the divisions of the Cold War. This is because the nationalist attitudes that affected most of the Asia-Pacific countries had little to do with the bipolar division. In fact, many countries transcended their differences in the pursuit of independence, evident in thir failed but rhetorical expression of the "Bandung spirit," a movement that eventually led to the blooming of the non-aligned movement and other third worldist institutions. Nevertheless, they werestill entrapped in the Cold War division in the security aspect, with some aligning with the US with masked contempt.

Secondly, the BoP between US and USSR was more unclear in the Asia-Pacific than in Europe. In the Asia-Pacific, the USSR was more of a European power than that of an empire. In the economic realm, for instance, USSR had only a narrow impact, restricted to its communist allies. In stark contrast, the US exploited its hegemonic economic power, sponsoring Japan's rise and providing "public goods."

The American strategy of containment in the Asia-Pacific

The strategy of containment was first proposed by George Kennan, who proposed a doctrine that highlighted the need to prevent communism from spreading. And in this strategy, it unsurprisingly emphasized the role of Moscow, a dominant power in Europe. However, in Asia, there is a distinction to be made between the rise of Soviet or Chinese power with the spread of communism. In this sense, the containment strategy as applied by US to the Asia-Pacific did not give great consideration to the Asian circumstances. This was evident from the fact that many countries aligned with the US were not democratic. Nevertheless, the US gave substantial economic aid to the "free world" in the form of favorable trade policies, with particular emphasis placed on Japan. This policy did help the revitalization of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

This principle of containment further evolved in the era of Kennan's successor, Paul H. Nitze, who in NSC-68, formulated the idea that "the purpose of policy in Asia was to deny any further advances to communism in any form." This more radical view that supported the "militarization of containment" was espoused out of the trauma of the Korean War. In other words, the US feared for a domino effect in Southeast Asia. The Eisenhower administration proposed a refinement of the previous policy, the "New Look strategy." (p.45) Nuclear weapons, building alliances, psychological werfare, covert actions and negotiations were all elements of this strategy. In particular, Secretary of State John Dulles' strategy involved the principle of nuclear "brinkmanship" and "massive retaliation." Such a strategy by the Eisenhower administration is faulted by historian John Gaddis as "hyperactivity": the administion acted ill towards the third world countries and its nationalism by involving them into alliances and with unilateral security guarantees that were implausible and arrogant. Furthermore, the administration had no vision of what to do after dividing China and USSR. In actual policy, however, the Eisenhower administration tried to strengthen its containment doctrine in East Asia by pursuing multilateral security agreements that would form a collective defense pact that ballanced the communist threat. This led to the formation of the Manila Pact in 1954 and the formation of SEATO in 1955. However, the prospects for the East Asian countries were not well as compared to that of signatories to NATO. In any case, SEATO was not effective in South Vietnam. The Manila Pact also did not seem attractive to other East Asian countries, who began to consolidate the non-alignment movement. Thus the US acted unilaterally in the Vietnam War.

The Johnson and later Kennedy administration succeeded Eisenhower's administration, favouring a "symmetrical response" under the name of flexible response, a strategy stemming out of the distrust towards Eisenhower's strategy that in their minds lacked flexibility. Kennedy underscored the need for a careful response to aggression, prioritizing the lessening the reliance on nuclear weapons and developing mobile forces capable of fighting different types of warfare. And thus, a counter-insurgency capability was created to counter wars of national liberation. Moreover, the concept of a "graduated response" became incorporated into policy.John Gaddis argues that the emphasis placed by Johnson and Kennedy on the small states such as South Vietnam was in their "undifferentiated view of American security interests"; in other words, they thought that whereever communism arose, it posed threats to the entirety of the non-communist world. Furthermore, their sense of graduated response left them in the constant peril of the middle ground between nuclear war and appeasement. And such a US response in this period brought many problems; namely, a failed but symbolical "Tet offensive" in South Vietnam in 1968. And when President Nixon came into power, it was up to him to decide the future of US-China relationships, and to lead the military competition with USSR to d├ętente.

The first Taiwan offshore island crisis of 1954-1955

Nevertheless, China perceived the Manila Pact as threatening, especially as the prospects for a Washington-Taipei mutual defense treaty became more apparent. This led to the first offshore island crisis. To Beijing, the Taiwan problem involved multifacted issues: one of national security, another of civil war, and that of sovereignty and territorial integrity. By engaging in a crisis, Beijing to achieve mainly four goals, described in p.49. For Taiwan, the regime at that time aimed to reunite China by overthrowing the communist regime. US, on the other hand, wanted to link Taiwan to the security system of the Asia-Pacific and thus consolidate the containment. To this extent, it did not wish to dispute the outpost where PRC had an overwhelming advantage. Thus, no security agreements in Asia-Pacific mentioned Taiwan, and a US-Taiwan mutual defense treaty delicaretely limiting the subject of protection to that of Taiwan and the Pescadore Islands. This reassured China. But against its better judgement, it simultaneously supported Taipei's occupation of Quemoy and Matsu, a step which could mean the formal separation of Taiwan from PRC. The US had threatened the use of nuclear weapons in the process, and, while this achieved including Taiwan being incorporated into the western Pacific security parameter, it meant the dissolution of a collective defense system. It further demonstrated the degree to which the US will act to secure regions geopolitically insignificant to itself and this in turn incited fear into its allies.

The Bandung Conference of April 1955

In contrast to SEATO, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma, India and Indonesia favored the policy of "neutralism," with India and China mutually agreeing to "five principles of peaceful coexistence." And although it had no practical significance, the first ever "Conference of Asian and African nations in Bandung, Indonesia" symbolized the emergence of the third world voice in the arena of international politics. It also allowed China to present its so-called "third world credentials," in which PRC presented a reasonable diplomacy to several anti-communist leaders. Indonesia and China had even signed a nationality treaty, although not without difficulties.

In the Bandung Conference, PRC explained rationally its position, which led to however shortlived Sino-American talks. This was because local disputes between member states were still evident. In particular, problems especially emerged from boundary and territorial disputes. From the perspective of lesser powers, PRC's communist position, along with its past imperial legacy, fueled worries. This was increasingly so when PRC pursued an increasingly militant revolutionary line in 1958. Nevertheless, the Bandung Conference was not without achievements: it marked the emergence of the third world as a factor in international politics; it was a prelude to the non-alignment movement; and lastly, it contributed to de-legitimizing colonialism and increasing demands for independence.

The second offshore island crisis of 1958

The second offshore crisis mainly resulted from the failure to resolve fundamental issues apparent during the first crisis. That is, what each side demanded of the other was not possible for attain. While the US wanted PRC to renounce the use of force in Taiwan, the PRC wished US to withdrawl from the area. Thus, in the proceeding years the US pursued a strategy of aiming to strengthen the status quo to the extent that PRC would have to concede. After the US had helped Taiwan attain presense in several international talks, the US stopped negotiating with China. Thus, the PRC retaliated in 1958 leading to the crisis. The crisis, although sometimes temporarily suspended, was to continue for the next 20 years. For the PRC, the Taiwan problem had two layers: an international one involving the US, and a domestic dispute with the KMT. The PRC consistently willed to get rid of the former before solving the latter. The offshore islands were perceived as a way to shoo Washington from Taiwan. Nevertheless, Taiwan was left within the American scheme of containment until the dispute was reconsidered in 1972.

The collapse of the Sino-Soviet alliance

The breakdown of the alliance was a complex process that took 10 years following 1956, as differences in interests between USSR and PRC began to diverge. The essense of the disagreement was in interantional politics and strategy. In particular, it was the disagreement over their relationships with the US. While USSR pursued to reach points of convergence with the US, the PRC, which was put in harsh conditions by the US, thought of USSR as preventing them from achieving their sovereign rights. The turning point was the decision by the Soviets to not supply China with a sample atomic bomb in 1959. In fact, it was the cooperation by US and USSR to stop China from becoming a nuclear power that facilitated the signing of the Test Ban Treaty in 1963. Regardless of this, China tested its nuclear weapons. In reciprocity, USSR withdrew forces in the border between India and China. Such disagreements were of much importance, not only because did the USSR not desire an independent China that would disrupt its grand strategy, but also as its relations with other communist states, defined in terms of its ideology and thus legitimacy, began to be thrown into question.

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