Becoming Asia: Change and Continuity in Asian International Relations Since World War II

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At the conclusion of World War II, Asia was hardly more than a geographic expression. Yet today we recognize Asia as a vibrant and assertive region, fully transformed from the vulnerable nation-states that emerged following the Second World War. The transformation was by no means an inevitable one, but the product of two key themes that have dominated Asia's international relations since 1945: the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to enlist the region's states as assets in the Cold War, and the struggle of nationalistic Asian leaders to develop the domestic support to maintain power and independence in a dangerous international context.

Becoming Asia provides a comprehensive, systemic account of how these themes played out in Asian affairs during the postwar years, covering not only East Asia, but South and Central Asia as well. In addition to exploring the interplay between nationalism and Cold War bipolarity during the first postwar decades, authors Alice Lyman Miller and Richard Wich chart the rise of largely export-led economies that are increasingly making the region the global center of gravity, and document efforts in the ongoing search for regional integration.

The book also traces the origins and evolution of deep-rooted issues that remain high on the international agenda, such as the Taiwan question, the division of Korea and the threat of nuclear proliferation, the Kashmir issue, and the nuclearized Indian-Pakistani conflict, and offers an account of the rise of China and its implications for regional and global security and prosperity. Primary documents excerpted throughout the text—such as leaders' talks and speeches, international agreements, secret policy assessments—enrich accounts of events, offering readers insight into policymakers' assumptions and perceptions at the time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This elegant synthesis of the major events and their interactions in the extraordinarily complex international politics of Asia after WWII is an important contribution. Tailor made for advanced courses on the history of Asian international relations, its readability and narrative structure also offer the general reader access to a historical perspective on a region that is transforming the world today."—Carla Freeman, PhD, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

"Alice Lyman Miller and Richard Wich have done a great service in this thorough and thoughtful volume. The historical depth, detailed analysis, and broad geographic scope of Becoming Asia put it in a class by itself among the fine surveys of Asian international relations in the last century."—Robert Sutter, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804771511
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/20/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Alice Lyman Miller is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and teaches at Stanford University and the United States Naval Postgraduate School. She is the founding editor of the Hoover Institution's China Leadership Monitor and author of Science and Dissent in Post-Mao China (1996). Richard Wich has extensive government and academic experience in Communist and Asian affairs. He is a visiting scholar at John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and is the author of Sino-Soviet Crisis Politics (1980).

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations....................xi
Chapter 1 Introduction....................1
Chapter 2 Planning the Postwar World....................20
Chapter 3 The Chinese Civil War....................30
Chapter 4 Japan: Occupation and Recovery....................51
Chapter 5 The Korean War....................65
Chapter 6 Decolonization, Nationalism, and Revolution....................82
Chapter 7 The U.S. Alliance System....................103
Chapter 8 The Sino-Soviet Alliance....................116
Chapter 9 The Vietnam War....................137
Chapter 10 Strategic Realignment....................161
Chapter 11 The End of the Cold War....................194
Chapter 12 The Rise of China....................209
Chapter 13 Entering the New Century....................233
Chapter 14 Change and Continuity....................251
Selected Bibliography for Further Reading....................303
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First Chapter


Change and Continuity in Asian International Relations Since World War II


Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7151-1

Chapter One


To borrow Prince Metternich's characterization of Italy before its unification, Asia was not much more than a Western geo graphical expression at the end of World War II. Before the war, most of the region had been colonized or, in the case of China, dominated by foreign powers, and then during the war much of East Asia was forcibly embraced by the Japanese Empire. In the wake of the war, an upsurge of nationalist movements dispossessed the colonial powers. The postwar emergence of nation-states in most of the region for the first time had a transformative effect, with the new states ardently committed to the Westphalian concept of sovereignty. However, the evolution of nation-states in Asia was complicated by the importation of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War from its Europe an cockpit. Even after the end of the Cold War, the effects of broader influences continued to shape the geopolitical landscape of Asia as a new century unfolded.

This history is an effort to provide a systemic perspective on these complex developments, focusing not on the outlook and actions of any single state but on the interactions of states and other forces within both a regional and a global context. The goal is to provide an interpretive account of how Asia became a region of increasingly consequential nation-states, leading to a shift in the global center of gravity toward the region—and prompting some observers to descry the advent of "the Asian century." Another aspect of this effort is to identify deep-seated continuities, in particular to track the origin and evolution of key issues still at the top of the international agenda, such as the division of Korea and nuclear proliferation, the Taiwan issue, the rise of China, Japan's role, the Kashmir issue and the now nuclearized Indian-Pakistani conflict, and the increasing salience of transnational issues such as terrorism.

Key documents, some public at the time and others later declassified, are used to examine the mind-sets and policy choices of the various protagonists in order to assess their goals and evaluate the effects of their decisions, anticipated and not. Excerpts from some of these documents appear throughout the text.


The narrative of this history interweaves the two threads that have dominated Asia's international relations since World War II. One is the competition between the great powers of the postwar era—the United States and the Soviet Union—to enlist the region's states as assets in their global competition, the Cold War. The other is the struggle of Asian nationalistic leaders to establish in de pen dent nation-states and to develop the domestic support and the elements of national power to sustain sovereignty in a dangerous international context.

The interplay between these two trends was a direct consequence of World War II, which, from a global perspective, was a genuine watershed. The structure of international relations after the war was fundamentally different from that preceding it, the war having decisively altered the cast of great powers that had played major roles both globally and in Asia. Also, in the aftermath of the war, statesmen's ideas and approaches regarding international affairs, though they were based in part on lessons they drew from the war and its origins, were different from those that led them into it. Finally, the war set in motion trends that continued to define the features of the international landscape into the next century. For these reasons, the war makes a natural starting point.

The Cold War emerged almost immediately from the geopolitical environment created by World War II. During this period, the United States and the Soviet Union—the first superpowers in world history—built powerful alliance systems and contended in an ideological, political, military, and economic struggle for global power and predominance in every part of the globe. Asia was one of the principal arenas of this struggle, and the Cold War had a powerful impact on the region, shaping relations among the Asian states and their interactions with the rest of the world.

From a regional perspective, World War II reshaped the place of every Asian society in the international order. At the beginning of this period, the imperial powers that had colonized nearly every part of Asia over the course of the preceding four centuries—Britain, France, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States—lost those colonial empires. Japan lost its East Asian empire, acquired over the preceding fifty years, as a direct consequence of its defeat in the war. The end of Britain's and America's colonial control in the early postwar years came about largely through political means. In contrast, the French and the Dutch were forced to quit their colonies after failing to reimpose colonial administrations through military means in the early postwar years.

World War II itself played no small part in this outcome. On the one hand, the war weakened the Europe an colonial powers and their capacity to maintain their prewar empires in Asia and elsewhere; on the other, it helped enflame and mobilize simmering nationalistic sentiments within the colonies and created opportunities for indigenous elites to build in dependence movements immediately after the war was over. Although the British, French, and Dutch sought in different mea sure to restore colonial holdings, each abandoned or was forced to give up these ambitions in Asia in the early postwar years. Having accepted by the end of the war that recouping its position in India, the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire, was no longer possible, London sought through negotiations in the early postwar years to preserve as strong as possible an association with an in de pen dent and sovereign India. The independence of Burma, until the mid-1930s a part of British India, was now a foregone conclusion, and independence for British Malaya followed in train, delayed for several years only by the decision to suppress a Communist insurgency.

Paris and The Hague less easily accepted the fate of their colonies. They saw recovering their empires as essential to restoring their status as major powers in the postwar international order. Each therefore fought brutal struggles to reassert its hold over Indochina and the East Indies, respectively. By 1949, however, the Dutch—under international pressure—were forced to accept the dissolution of their East Indies colony, and by 1954 the French withdrew from Indochina following their humiliating defeat at the hands of Vietnamese Communist forces in the siege of Dienbienphu and the political settlement at the Geneva Conference the same year.

Though far from weakened by the war—quite the opposite—Washington followed through on its prewar promise to grant its Philippine colony independence in 1946 (evocatively, on the Fourth of July). The United States maintained a strong and enduring presence in the Philippines, however, and retained its post–World War I mandates over western and South Pacific islands, as well as control over islands seized by force from Japan in the course of the war.

The second major narrative theme emerged as a direct consequence. The dissolution of the European, American, and Japanese empires in Asia created new nation-states in a region that had until the war been almost completely subordinated under or colonized within the great-power empires over the preceding four centuries. In place of the prewar British colonies in Asia there emerged in the early postwar years the new nation-states of India, Pakistan, Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Malaysia. Singapore emerged later, and the sultanate of Brunei much later. The French Empire gave way to the nation-states of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Out of the Dutch East Indies came the Republic of Indonesia. Only Thailand managed to escape outright colonization, preserving its autonomy by bandwagoning with the region's prevailing hegemon—the British in the mid-nineteenth century, the Japanese during World War II, and the United States after the war.

Although never colonized outright, the Republic of China (ROC), founded in Beijing in 1912 and reconstituted in Nanjing in 1928, used its participation in the war to win acquiescence in 1943 by the leading great powers—Britain and America—to end the treaty-port system that had encumbered full Chinese sovereignty for a century. At the same war time conference in Cairo at which Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) won the end of the treaty-port system in China, the prospect "in due course" of an in de pen dent and sovereign nation-state of Korea, which had fallen under Japanese suzerainty in 1905 and under direct colonial rule in 1910, was registered.

World War II and the subsequent dissolution of the prewar empires marked the establishment of the Westphalian nation-state system of international relations (created in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) both in Asia and in what came to be called the third world. By the early postwar years, the dynamics of international relations in Asia could no longer be discussed in terms of competing empires; rather, they dealt with the competing agendas of newly created sovereign nation-states. Each of these new Asian states faced daunting challenges of consolidating statehood and sovereignty. At home their leaders had to channel the emotions of the aroused nationalism that had fueled their in dependence struggles and brought them to power into an enduring national consensus that would make stable governance possible. They had to find ways appropriate to their respective economic endowments and acceptable to their particular social constituencies to pursue national development, which was critical to their prospects, both at home and abroad.

Externally, the leaders of the new nation-states of Asia had to configure foreign policies that would allow them to defend their newly established sovereignty in an international order that very quickly became polarized in a new global struggle for power between the United States and its principally Western allies, on one side, and the Soviet Union and its bloc, on the other. In their efforts to come to terms with the pressures of bipolarity, the new Asian states followed varied paths. One way was to align with one of the superpowers, creating a polarized region in which the line of confrontation in some cases divided individual countries. Another was to remain neutral and nonaligned, a path chosen by India, among others, though it was pushed off course by a collision with China over territorial issues and the effects of the Cold War on the subcontinent. The new People's Republic of China, wrestling with the implications of bipolarity for its own interests, followed a tortuous path, leaning first one way, and then—after a period of deep isolation—the other, until finally pursuing an in de pen dent line while taking highly consequential steps toward opening up to the global economy.

These divergent strategies reckoned the benefits of security and economic cooperation through alignment with one of the competing superpowers against the costs to hard-won sovereignty, in dependence, and legitimacy, both at home and in each state's foreign entanglements. As a result, the foreign and domestic policies of the new Asian states were thoroughly intertwined. Most of the regimes in the new states were relatively weak and in need of external economic and military support at the outset. At the same time, in many cases, leaders of the new states faced political opposition that complicated and at times even threatened their hold on power. In such circumstances, the nationalist sentiments that fueled their independence struggles became potent political instruments in the hands of both the leaders and their opponents, and foreign policy issues played easily into domestic political struggles.

Nor could the two superpowers discount the political agendas of the elites they dealt with in Asia and the implications that their competition had in the domestic politics within the new states. Both Washington and Moscow shaped their strategies in Asia with these regional and local realities in mind. As a consequence, as much as the Cold War strongly affected the international politics of the Asian region, it is fair to say that the priorities and politics of the Asian states themselves also skewed, sometimes radically, the strategic competition of the two superpowers.

For no states were these calculations more complex than for the divided states that World War II and the early Cold War years produced in Asia—in Korea, China, and Vietnam. In these cases, in order to maximize its influence, each superpower helped to create and support a contender for national power from among the indigenous nationalist elites. The indigenous parties sought to maximize support from their respective patrons, all the while seeking to retain as much independence as possible to sustain their nationalist credentials and eliminate their rivals. As a result, the struggles for power and civil wars between the indigenous contenders in these three countries took on the complicating priorities of the Cold War, and vice versa.

All three divided countries emerged quickly as major flash points in the Cold War. In Korea and Vietnam, civil wars erupted into brutal and debilitating international conflicts with heavy involvement by their superpower patrons. In China, a civil war struggle whose roots antedated World War II was frozen short of completion by being pulled into the gravitational force of the global bipolar contest. Two of these three struggles—in Korea and in the present-day China-Taiwan standoff—remained unresolved and among the most dangerous flash points long after the close of the Cold War. The Vietnamese conflict was resolved, in 1975, with unification under a Communist regime, but only after a long struggle at enormous cost.

The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 closed the bipolar struggle and thus removed the powerful external dynamic that had shaped Asian international relations over the preceding de cades. Among the changes that had taken place were the watershed 1968–72 transition marked most prominently by the U.S.-PRC rapprochement; the rise of Japan and an increasingly united Europe as emerging centers of power in what had been primarily a bipolar global structure; the end of the Vietnam War; the economic takeoff of South Korea, Taiwan, and the Southeast Asian "tigers"; and the rise of China under Deng Xiaoping and his successors.

Nevertheless, trends set in motion in Asia during the Cold War continue to shape the region's international relations in unmistakable ways. In addition to the remaining divided-country conflicts on the Korean peninsula and across the Taiwan Strait, other issues on the region's international relations agenda are unintelligible without reference to the Cold War. The deep disparity in economic fortunes and overall prospects between North and South Korea registers with dramatic clarity the superiority of the market-based approaches to national development over the variations of Soviet-style planned economies adopted—and to varying degrees abandoned—by other states in the Cold War era. At the same time, many of the ongoing dilemmas regarding trade—apparent most clearly in the perennial American bilateral trade deficits with Asian economies—trace their roots to the exportled development strategies adopted by the Asian market-based economies. Meanwhile, the structure of security alliances constructed by Washington against the Communist countries in Asia survived the end of bipolarity, seeking new rationales but still shaped in fundamental ways by Cold War circumstances.

Trends that matured in the region during the Cold War also made possible some of the new features of post–Cold War Asia. Emerging gradually across the period has been a stronger sense of solidarity among Asia's nation-states, where little had existed previously. It is true that Japan's rise—and its defeat of Russia in 1905—sparked a sense of common circumstance at the hands of Western imperialism that had been reflected in the pan-Asian sentiments among many politically active intellectual elites by the end of the nineteenth century. A sense of Asian solidarity based on Marxist-Leninist anti-imperialist internationalism was also galvanized by the electrifying success of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the creation of Communist parties in the region after the establishment of the Comintern (Communist International, the Moscow-directed international coordinating agency) in 1919. But through the pre–World War II de cades and in the early postwar years, there was little perception among the subregions of Asia that their destinies were linked and no institutional expression of such solidarity.


Excerpted from BECOMING ASIA by ALICE LYMAN MILLER RICHARD WICH Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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