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Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security

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local Chinese populations on the one
hand and communist parties supported, and/or inspired, by Beijing on
the other (Simon 1984: 523–5, 527–30; Tajima 1981: 17–21).
A final parallel with South Asia is the presence of direct Chinese (and
Taiwanese) territorial claims in the region. But, whereas Chinese claims
in SouthAsia concernedonly remoteborder territories in theHimalayas,
its claims in Southeast Asia concerned islands, reefs (the Paracels and
Spratlys), and seabed rights in the South China Sea. These claims plant
Chinese sovereignty right in the heart of Southeast Asia. The princi-
pal conflicts were with Vietnam and the Philippines, and the former
could not be disentangled from the wider dispute between China and
Vietnam. Chinese forces expelled Vietnamese ones from the Paracel
Islands in 1974, taking advantage of the confusion arising from the
dyingdaysof the reunificationwar inVietnam.Furthermilitary conflicts
took place between China and Vietnam in the Spratly Islands during
1988, and Chinese claims prompted both Vietnam and the Philippines
to strengthen their military positions in the Spratlys.
This story can be told as a strong interregional linkage involving a
great power and territorial rivalry though, as with the regional level, its
dynamics were greatly affected by those of the Cold War.
The global level and East Asia
Once the struggle for decolonisation was over, the European powers
ceased to matter much as players in East Asian security. The principal
outsidepowers active in the regionwere theUnited States and the Soviet
Union, and much of China’s security policy, especially after 1960, has
also to be understood in the context of global power rivalries. For the
global powers, calculating mainly in terms of their relationships with
each other, the distinction between Northeast and Southeast Asia, or
indeed regional and global, mattered little, and their failure to make
these distinctions explains some of their policy disasters.
For the United States, the main game was the military and polit-
ical containment of communism in general and the Soviet sphere of
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The global level and East Asia
influence in particular. Until 1971 the USA lumped China in as part of
the Soviet bloc. It played the containment game of forward defence vig-
orously throughout EastAsia, in theprocess engaging itself in twomajor
wars: Korea (1950–3) and Indochina (1961–75). After the US diplomatic
opening to China in 1971, China became a possible counterweight to the
SovietUnion, but remained a threat toUS allies in EastAsia, particularly
Taiwan. US actions and engagements in East Asia – from its extensive
network of bilateral and multilateral alliances, through its maintenance
of forward military bases in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines,
to its military actions in Korea, the Taiwan Strait, and Indochina – can
all be broadly understood within the containment framework. After its
defeat in Vietnam, the United States reverted to a more stand-off policy,
based on naval power and support for local allies rather than direct en-
gagement. Although the US position in Northeast Asia remained firm,
from the 1970s onward Sino-Soviet rivalry was more important in both
South and Southeast Asia than was US–Soviet or Chinese–US rivalry.
Soviet strategic policy in East Asia started as a simple game of coun-
tercontainment, seeking to strengthen and widen the communist bloc,
and to challenge or breach containment wherever possible. But once the
Sino-Soviet split became public around 1960, the Soviet Union had to
add a second game, which was its own policy of military-political con-
tainment of China. Once China had been lost as an ally, the Soviet game
against the United States was pursued by building up its military forces
in the Far East, and by supporting its allies in North Korea and (North)
Vietnam. These policies also served in the containment move against
China. Although both China and the Soviet Union supported (North)
Vietnam during its struggle against the United States, Chinese support
dropped away sharply after the US withdrawal. Soviet support con-
tinued on a large scale, and was instrumental in sustaining Vietnam’s
military capability both against China and for its costly ten-year occu-
pation of Cambodia. In return the Soviet Union acquired ex-US naval
bases on Vietnam’s coast, which greatly improved its power projection
against both the USA and China (Ross 1986: 92–5). It was not without
significance that Vietnam sought and obtained amilitary security treaty
with the Soviet Union just one month before launching its invasion of
Cambodia in 1978. Like India in 1971, Vietnam needed the Soviet link as
a guarantee against amassive Chinese response to an attack against one
of its local allies. Indeed, the Soviet relationship with India, cultivated
since the early 1960s, was another part of Moscow’s containment policy
against China. In addition to cultivating allies on China’s borders, the
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Northeast, Southeast Asian RSCs during Cold War
SovietUnion alsopursued containment by strengthening itsmilitaryde-
ployments along the Sino-Soviet border. Doing this increased its overall
military burden, and was costly in terms of the Soviet–US rivalry.
If a single theme can encompass China’s security policy during the
Cold War, it probably hinges on an obsessive concern with the comple-
tion and consolidation of the communist revolution. This project was
necessarily linked to consolidating the sovereignty of the Chinese state
and endowing it with enough power to prevent any repetition of the
foreign intrusions and invasions that had humiliated China since the
middle of the nineteenth century. In some ways this project resembled
that of many newly independent states, but it was conducted on a far
vaster scale and at a much higher pitch of intensity. Among the prime
objectives were: (1) to complete the unification of the country by taking
Tibet and Taiwan, (2) where possible to construct or maintain sympa-
thetic buffer states against the West along its borders (North Korea and
North Vietnam), and (3) by a combination of territorial defence and nu-
clear deterrence to make the country secure against invasion or attack.
China had good reasons to fear the United States. Washington had sup-
ported the Nationalist side in China’s civil war, and from 1950 stood in
the way of China retaking Taiwan. China had had to wage a costly war
against the United States to prevent the Americans from overthrowing
North Korea after they had thwarted the North’s invasion of the South.
It also had to endure US nuclear threats in the context of the KoreanWar
and the various crises in the Taiwan Strait during the 1950s.
Although the Soviet Unionwas a crucial ally against theUnited States
during the first decade after the revolution, relations between Moscow
and Beijing were never close. Moscow’s highly penetrative and control-
ling attitude towards its allies, as demonstrated in Eastern Europe, was
in contradictionwith China’s goal of strong national independence, and
this clash was amplified by widening ideological differences. The ap-
parent folly of China moving itself into a position of open hostility to
both superpowers during the 1960s is inexplicable in both balance-of-
power and bandwagon terms, and by the late 1960s there were serious
military clashes on the Sino-Soviet border. Except for the lowprobability
of a US–Soviet coalition against it, China was protected against the two
most powerful military states on the planet only by its fledgling inde-
pendent nuclear deterrent and the reputation of guerrilla warfare as a
means of inflicting high costs on invading forces. Once the Sino-Soviet
split opened up, China found itself playing a double game of counter-
containment against both the United States and the Soviet Union. Only
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The global level and East Asia
during the 1970s did China’s