With Xi Jinping gaining influence in the Indo-Pacific region, Americans need to understand the story behind his ambitions. Two crucial events significantly shaped the trajectory of Asia today, indirectly giving China the freedom to dominate the region and extend the communist impact of the People’s Republic of China throughout Asia.
Those two fateful events were the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and a 1950 speech by US Secretary of State Dean Acheson outlining the limits of US engagement in Asia.
China, Japan and South Korea, also known as East Asian Triangle, constitute the second, third and tenth economies in the world. While the economic achievements of these nations are impressive, their relationships with each other are complex, grounded in the historical turmoil of 19th and early 20th century wars and shaped by American policy decisions after World War II.
In the 1930s, the Chinese National Party nearly eradicated the Communist Party of China (CCP) in what had been an ongoing civil war. By 1934, the CCP was nearly extinct, with most of its forces wiped out by the Nationalist army of Chiang Kai-skek. However, an infamous unexpected incident occurred Marco Polo Bridge in 1937 then sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War, forcing Nationalists and Communists to unite against a common Japanese enemy. This led to the resuscitation of the CCP.
In the absence of this war, the Nationalist Army would likely have wiped out the Red Army, and the Chinese political landscape would look very different today.
A few years after the Marco Polo Bridge incident, another back-to-back event would follow. On January 12, 1950, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson addressed the National Press Club with a speech describing the Acheson Perimeter Line of Defense. This line, a strategic boundary, marked the extent of American military protection in the Pacific. It skirted the Aleutian Islands, the Ryukyu Islands, the Kuril Islands and the Ryukyu-Taiwan-China coast. However, this strategic perimeter excluded both Korea and Taiwan.
The implications of the speech were immense. This signaled to China, the Soviet Union and North Korea that the United States had a limited interest in Asian affairs and that these regions were not in the immediate sphere of American security concerns. . Furthermore, the absence of American intervention in the Chinese Civil War and its decision to withdraw its troops from mainland China and South Korea indicated that the United States was unlikely to intervene in future Chinese affairs. East Asia.
This hands-off approach encouraged communist powers to expand their influence in Asia. In particular, the Soviet Union, initially hesitant to support North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s plans to invade South Korea, became emboldened after Acheson’s speech. Just six months later, the invasion of South Korea marked the beginning of communist expansion.
Over the next few decades, communists backed by the Soviet Union and China moved into Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, sparking a series of civil wars. While the policy’s short-term consequences sparked communist expansion across Southeast Asia, Taiwan’s exclusion from the defense perimeter and refusal to recognize its independent nation took longer to evolve. . The repercussions of Acheson’s speech are still evident today.
These two historically significant events underscore how profoundly minor political changes can affect stability. Other examples include troop withdrawals, such as those from Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2021, which inadvertently signaled a reduced US commitment to regional stability. Despite the absence of major conflicts in East Asia for more than 40 years, underlying tensions exist. Persistent issues such as North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and China’s growing global influence are becoming increasingly problematic.
In this geopolitical landscape, the strategic partnership with Taiwan is essential. Today, Taiwan’s importance to the US and global economies cannot be overstated, as it produces over 30% of microchips manufactured worldwide and over 92% of its advanced microchips. Preventing these production and design facilities from falling into Chinese hands is a top security priority.
THE National Security Strategy 2022 clearly underscores this reality, noting that “the People’s Republic of China is the only competitor capable of reshaping the international order, with the intent and the expanding economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do so.”
As China flexes its muscles, the United States must reevaluate its approach, taking into account historical perspectives and the current complexities of the East Asian region. This requires a long-term vision and clear objectives, as well as special attention to helping Asian allies build their internal defense capabilities. It also requires a strong and consistent US presence in the region.
This strategic approach will not only help address the challenges presented by countries like North Korea and China, but will also contribute to lasting peace and stability in East Asia.
Colonel Henry C Brown, US Army, is the National Security Affairs Officer for the 2022-2023 academic year at the Hoover Institution. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States military, the United States Department of Defense, or the United States government.
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