When looking at the Cold War in general or in relation to Asia, it is important to understand that a conflict lasting a long period may go through changes, especially in cases of Cold War. This is true of the Cold War, as Hot Wars broke out other states became more powerful, and others diminished. A bipolar conflict was evident during the Cold War in two ways. First the balance of power was divided between two coalitions headed by the United States and the Soviet Union, secondly the struggle over the conflicting ideologies of Capitalism and Communism. However when looking at the Cold War in specific relation to Asia, at different points in time China became an influential player tipping the balance of power. This would suggest that there were times when the conflict in Asia assumed tripolarity. The alliance patterns in Asia were more precarious than in Europe as indicated by the collapse of the Sino-Soviet alliance but still had bipolar characteristics , at least in the first half of the conflict.
After the allies victory in the Second World War the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the unchallenged authorities in world affairs. The Cold War resulted from there ideological difference and was until 1948 primarily based in Europe. When the Cold War suddenly expanded into Asia in 1949, it was a great surprise to everyone. At the end of World War II Asia had been left in a power vacuum Japans defeat had ended a dominate empire in northeast Asia. China’s nationalist government had become weak and the Communist had grown in strength creating intense civil conflict. With the end of Second World War also came decolonisation. These events all created a volatile environment in Asia, made more unstable by the fact that each Superpower had certain positions staked out even before the war ended. The United States had done all most all of the fighting in the Pacific, as the Soviet Union had to combat a war on two fronts, it was only in the last days of the war that The Soviets declared war on the Japanese. When Japan surrendered, the Soviets insisted that the quid pro quo that Roosevelt had promised at the Yalta conference remain in place. For this, reason the Soviet Union gained control of the Kurile Islands, the ports and railway in Manchuria and half of Korea. When China became Communist in 1949, for ideological reasons and in fear of American attack, the Chinese felt that if they were to incorporate themselves into anyone’s sphere of influence it should be the Soviets. This chain of events resulted in a shift in the balance of power and that the communist world had almost doubled by 1950.
At the same time as the Americas realised the threat from Communism in China, conflict was also braking out in Korea on both sides of the 38th parallel. This was the first major Hot War of the Cold War era setting a precedent for how conflicts were to be fought in the years to follow. Over the next three years of fighting, the contest between the Superpowers in Asia would only expand and intensify. At the start of the war in 1950, China was drawn into the conflict when North Korean troops were pushed to their border. This resulted in the bombing of supply bases and power stations in China, drawing the Chinese in to the conflict as they now conceded the United States a direct threat to their sovereignty. This resulted in China intervention to protect its own interests and those of the communist movement in North Korea. The 400,000 Chinese troops given the title of “volunteers” to avoid an American attack on China pushed United States and United Nations troops back below the 38th parallel. United Nations troops continued to fight for a further two years until their reached the 38th parallel.
It was at this point that the United States was griped by intense paranoia concerning communism in general, and Asian communism in particular, China was now seen as a major player in the security of the Asia-Pacific . To try to combat the problem the United States operated a policy of containment. George Kennan came up with the original concept to limit Soviet expansion and Paul Nitze designed the strategy with the aim of preventing communism from increasing its grip were ever it seemed likely to spread . When Eisenhower came into office in 1953 and until the mid 1960 subsequent presidents feared that the fall to communism of any other states would result in a domino effect of other states falling to communism as well. During the Truman, administration the strategy followed was NSC-68, which was created by Nitze. It was less about containing the wide spectrum of communism and more directed towards the Soviet threat to American interests “ American interests depended on the perception of power as well as the reality of power itself.” The Korean War prompted the application of this policy and it dealt more with the rearmament by the United States, which had major consequences in Asia. Nuclear weapons were an important element as well as building alliance and psychological warfare. It was in this way that the administration hoped to split China from the Soviet Union, however, there was no suggestion of how to exploit the rift if it should occur. In the next decade, this policy was loosely followed by subsequent administrations.
The Eisenhower administration attempted to increase America’s strategic position by strengthening the containment strategy in East Asia, with the aim of weakening the Soviet position and therefore the spread of communism. This was done by forming a number of alliances with states in Asia, this multilateral agreement would bring together states in a collective packed against communist development. These alliances included the American security treaties with the Philippines and ANZUS with South Korea. In 1955 the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) was established the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Thailand Pakistan and the Philippines agreed to act together to counter any armed attack in Asia. The SEATO was mainly aimed not at China or North Korea, but the problems in Indo-China of Vietnam were communists posed a great challenge. Vietnam was a French colony and the French had been fighting the guerrilla war there since 1946 when no agreement had been met over possible independence. From 1950 until the war ended in 1954, the United States had been sending military aid to the French. This initial involvement would grow to an increasing to a large level in the 1960s and 1970s. After eight years of fighting ultimately ending in a French defeat a truce was achieved, this was the end of French military rule in Southeast Asia. The Americans were unhappy with this new foothold for communism but powerless to act. A by-product of its increased focus on the policy of containment did however result in the later conflict in Indo-China . The American policies of containment such NSC-68 and the American security treaties in the early years of the Cold War indicate that their policies were primary directed towards either reducing the strategic position of the Soviet Unions by either increasing Americas own power or splitting Sino-Soviet relations. This would suggest that at this point the political system was still bipolar.
When Moa Zedong came to power in China in 1949, declaring the Peoples Republic of China. The Soviet Union was the first to offer its support. The Soviets boycotted the United Nations in protest to the new government been unrecognised by the international community, and the two countries singed a treaty of friendship in 1950. The Soviets gave large amounts of aid the China, and Mao’s first Five-year plan (1953 to 1957) was largely based on the Soviet model. At first, the relationship went well; however, by the mid 1950s problems were beginning to emerge. The Soviets failed to play anything but a minor role in the Korean War due to their policy of peacefully coexistence with the west. At this point China began to feel that the Soviet policy was merely a sell out to imperialism and difference in interpretation of communism were been drawn. In the late 1950s the PRY was trying to develop its Nuclear defences, it was keen for the Soviets to share the technology and wanted a nuclear bomb as a prototype, however the Soviet Union refused to cooperate send a signal to Mao that China was not trusted. At the heart of this disagreement were Khrushchev’s hopes to carry out reforms in the Soviet Union, to do this he had to reduce the high cost of maintaining military confrontation with the west. By the mid 1960s relations between the Soviet Union and the PRC were so bad that all aid to China had been stopped and all advisors withdrawn. In 1962, China and India were involved in a boarder dispute and the Soviet Union declared itself neutral to the conflict, from this point onwards China and the Soviet Union took opposite stances in international issues.
The impact of the Sino-Soviet split was not felt straight away in the Asia-Pacific, nor did the United States who engineered the split know how to exploit it. The collapse of the Sino-Soviet packed divided the Communist world, therefore making it less appealing to other countries. The Sino-Soviet spilt reached its pinial in the late 1960s when there was a fundamental change in the balance of power. At this point, the Cold war in Asia took a new turn as both the Soviet Union and the United States saw China as an enemy. The new status of China was indicated during the Vietnam War as the Soviet Union took the opportunity of reducing China influence by supplying arms.
In the early 1960s, the problem of Vietnam returned to the Americans and the policy of containment and concerns about the growth of communism. In 1961 the American Vice-President Johnson visited Vietnam, he came to the conclusion that if America did not “attempt to meet the challenge of Communist expansion now in Southeast Asia by a major effort in support of the forces of freedom” then it had to be done at that moment with strong force. This Action was taken and by 1963, there were 15,000 American advisers in Vietnam. The Vietnam was considered a disaster for the United States and even resulted in the United States decline. The United States failed to take advantage of the Sino-Soviet rift, even though the conflict itself pushed the two even further apart. By 1965, the United States was asking the Soviet Union to use it weight in the area and by 1966, an understanding was reached with China on how to limit the wars escalation into a Sino-American one. By the end of the war, the strategic purpose was lost as America aligned with China and pursued dйtente with The Soviet Union.
At the end of the Vietnam War China was recognised by both America and the Soviet Union as a strong force in Asia. At this point, the established bipolar character of containment in Asia had run its course. China had emerged as a separate centre of power this can be traced back to the Korean War when China challenged both major powers Superpowers. The United State on the battlefield and the Soviet Union on its policy, this carried on until the late 1960s with China continuing to challenge both Superpowers. During the 1970s and 1980s the Cold War in Asia did take the characterises of tripolarity but, the United States and the Soviet Union remained the central Superpowers and their allies remained in place. China was recognised as a “complicating factor” in the Soviet-American relationship and as China was militarily and economically lagged behind the two Superpowers true tripolarity was never reached.
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