chapter  1
25 Pages

Southeast Asia and China during the Cold War Era: aversion, alliance, accommodation

When Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), proclaimed the establishment of the PRC in Tiananmen Square on 1 October 1949, it not only marked China’s re-emergence on the world stage after a prolonged period of weakness, foreign intervention and civil war, but also the beginning of its re-entry into the ranks of the Great Powers. For the countries of Southeast Asia – less than half of which had achieved full independence from Western colonial powers by October 1949, bar Thailand that had never been colonized – Mao’s proclamation was an event of singular geopolitical importance. As the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union unfolded in Europe, and the Cold War contagion spread to Asia, regional elites were faced with the additional challenge of reacquainting themselves with their giant northern neighbour, a country which centuries earlier had been an important trade partner but which had viewed itself as the centre of world power and treated the kingdoms of Southeast Asia as mere vassal states. Would this new People’s Republic seek to restore China to its historic position of regional dominance? How would the new communist behemoth behave towards the newly emerging states of Southeast Asia? And what would its relationship be with regional communist movements, most of which sought to overthrow existing governments?