The weight of the past was evident in Chinese foreign policies, too. Although it came to patronize revolution all over the world, China’s main concern was with the Far East and, in particular, with Korea and Indo-China, once tributary countries. In the latter, too, Russian and Chinese policy had diverged. After the Korean War the Chinese began to supply arms to the communist guerrilla forces in Vietnam for what was less a struggle against colonialism - that had been decided already - than about what should follow it. In 1953 the French had given up both Cambodia and Laos. In 1954 they lost at a base called Dien Bien Phu a battle decisive both for French prestige and for the French electorate’s will to fight. After this, it was impossible for the French to maintain themselves in the Red River delta. A conference at Geneva was attended by representatives from China, which thus formally re-entered the arena of international diplomacy. It was agreed to partition Vietnam between a South Vietnamese government and the communists who had come to dominate the north, pending elections that might reunite the country. The elections never took place. Instead, there soon opened in Indo-China what was to become the fiercest phase since 1945 of an Asian war against the West begun in 1941.
The western contenders were no longer the former colonial powers, but the Americans; the French had gone home and the British had problems enough elsewhere. On the other side was a mixture of Indo-Chinese communists, nationalists and reformers, supported by the Chinese and Russians, who competed for influence in Indo-China. American anti-colonialism and the belief that the United States should support indigenous governments led it to back the South Vietnamese as it backed South Koreans and Filipinos. Unfortunately, neither in Laos nor in South Vietnam, nor, in the end, in Cambodia, did there emerge regimes of unquestioned legitimacy in the eyes of those they ruled. American patronage merely identified governments with the western enemy so disliked in East Asia. American support also tended to remove the incentive to carry out reforms that would have united people behind these regimes, above all in Vietnam, where de facto partition did not produce good or stable government in the south. While Buddhists and Roman Catholics quarrelled bitterly and the peasants were more and more alienated from the regime by the failure of land reform, an apparently corrupt ruling class seemed able to survive government after government. This benefited the communists. They sought reunification on their own terms and maintained from the north support for the communist underground movement in the south, the Vietcong.
By i960 the Vietcong had won control of much of the south. This was the background to a momentous decision taken by the American president, John Kennedy, in 1962; to send not only financial and material help but also 4000 American ‘advisers’ to help the South Vietnam government put its military house in order. It was the first step towards what Truman had been determined to avoid, the involvement of the United States in a major war on the mainland of Asia, and in the end led to the loss of more than 50,000 American lives.
Another of Washington’s responses to Cold War in Asia had been to safeguard as long as possible the special position arising from the American occupation of Japan. This was virtually a monopoly, although there was token participation by British Commonwealth forces. It had been possible because of the Soviet delay in declaring war on Japan, for the speed of Japan’s surrender had taken Stalin by surprise. The Americans firmly rejected later Soviet requests for a share in an occupation Soviet power had done nothing to bring about. The outcome was the last great example of western paternalism in Asia and a new demonstration of the Japanese people’s astonishing gift for learning from others only what they wished to learn, while safeguarding their own society against unsettling change.
The events of 1945 forced Japan spiritually into a twentieth century it had already entered technologically. Defeat confronted its people with deep and troubling problems of national identity and purpose. The westernization of the Meiji era had seeded a dream of ‘Asia for the Asians’; this was presented as a kind of Japanese Monroe doctrine, underpinned by the anti-western sentiment so widespread in the Far East and cloaking the reality of Japanese imperialism. It had been blown away by defeat, and after 1945 the rolling back of colonialism left Japan with no obvious and credible Asian role. True, at that moment it seemed unlikely for a long time to have the power for one. Moreover, the war’s demonstration of Japan’s vulnerability had been a great shock; like the United Kingdom, its security had rested at bottom upon control of the surface of the sea, and the loss of it had doomed the country. Then there were the other results of defeat; the loss of territory to Russia on Sakhalin and the Kurile islands and the occupation by the Americans. Finally, there was vast material and human destruction to repair.
On the asset side, the Japanese in 1945 still had the unshaken central institution of the monarchy, whose prestige was undimmed and, indeed, had made the surrender possible. Japanese saw in the Emperor Hirohito not the ruler who had authorized the war, but the man whose decision had saved them from annihilation. The American commander in the Pacific, General MacArthur, wanted to uphold the monarchy as an instrument of a peaceful occupation and was careful not to compromise the emperor by parading his role in policy-making before 1941. He took care to have a new Japanese constitution (with an electorate doubled in size and now including women) adopted before republican enthusiasts in the United States could interfere; he found it effective to argue that Japan should be helped economically in order to get it more quickly off the back of the American tax-payer. Japanese social cohesiveness and discipline were a great help, even though for a time it seemed that the Americans might undermine this by the determination with which they pressed democratic institutions upon the country. Some problems must have been eased by a major land reform in which about a third of Japanese farming land passed from landlords’ to cultivators’ ownership. By 1951 democratic education and careful demilitarization were deemed to have done enough to make possible a peace treaty between Japan and most of its former opponents, except the Russians and nationalist Chinese (with whom terms were to be settled within a few years). Japan regained its full sovereignty, including a right to arms for defensive purposes, but gave up virtually all its former overseas possessions. Thus the Japanese emerged from the post-war era to resume control of their own affairs. An agreement with the United States provided for the maintenance of American forces on its soil. Confined to its own islands, and facing a China stronger and much better consolidated than for a century, Japan’s position was not necessarily a disadvantageous one. In less than twenty years this much-reduced status was, as it turned out, to be transformed again.
The Cold War had changed the implications of the American occupation even before 1951. Japan was separated from the Russians and Chinese by, respectively, 10 and 500 miles of water. Korea, the old zone of imperial rivalry, was only 150 miles away. The spread of the Cold War to Asia guaranteed Japan even better treatment from the Americans, now anxious to see it working convincingly as an example of democracy and capitalism, and also gave it the protection of the United States’ nuclear ‘umbrella’. The Korean War made Japan important as a base and galvanized its economy. The index of industrial production quickly went back up to the level of the 1930s. The United States promoted Japanese interests abroad through diplomacy. Finally, Japan at first had no defence costs, since it was until 1951 forbidden to have any armed forces.
Japan’s close connection with the United States, its proximity to the communist world, and its advanced and stable economy and society, all made it natural that it should eventually take its place in the security system built up by the United States in Asia and the Pacific. Its foundations were treaties with Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines (which had become independent in 1946). Others followed with Pakistan and Thailand; these were the Americans’ only Asian allies other than Taiwan. Indonesia and (much more important) India remained aloof. These alliances reflected, in part, the new conditions of Pacific and Asian international relations after British withdrawal from India. For a little longer there would still be British forces east of Suez, but Australia and New Zealand had discovered during the Second World War that the United Kingdom could not defend them and that the United States could. The fall of Singapore in 1942 had been decisive. Although British forces had sustained the Malaysians against the Indonesians in the 1950s and 1960s, the colony of Hong Kong survived, it was clear, only because it suited the Chinese that it should. On the other hand, there was no question of sorting out the complexities of the new Pacific by simply lining up states in the teams of the Cold War. The peace treaty with Japan itself caused great difficulty because United States policy saw Japan as a potential anti-communist force while others - notably in Australia and New Zealand - remembered 1941 and feared a revival of Japanese power.
Thus American policy was not created only by ideology. Nonetheless, it was long misled by what was believed to be the disaster of the communist success in China and by Chinese patronage of revolutionaries as far away as Africa and South America. There had certainly been a transformation in China’s international position and it would go further. Yet the crucial fact was China’s re-emergence as a power in its own right. In the end this did not reinforce the dualist, Cold War system, but made nonsense of it. Although at first only within the former Chinese sphere, it was bound to bring about a big change in relative power relationships; the first sign of this was seen in Korea, where the United Nations armies were stopped and it was felt necessary to consider bombing China. But the rise of China was also of crucial importance to the Soviet Union. After being one element of a bipolarized system, Moscow now became the corner of a potential triangle, as well as losing its unchallenged pre-eminence in the world revolutionary movement. And it was in relation to the Soviet Union, perhaps, that the wider significance of the Chinese Revolution most readily appeared. Overwhelmingly important though it was, the Chinese Revolution was only the outstanding instance of a rejection of western domination that was Asia-wide. Paradoxically, of course, that rejection in all Asian countries was constantly expressed in forms, language and mythology borrowed from the West itself, whether they were those of industrial capitalism, democracy, nationalism or Marxism.