China and the Cold War

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The Cold War was characterised by the tension between the two contending superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union. Yet the position of Communist China under Mao Zedong in the Cold War, in many respects, was not minor but of great importance especially with regards to its relationship with the Soviet Union.

China’s importance in the Cold War was primarily determined by its enormous size. With the largest population and occupying the third largest territory in the world, China was a factor that neither superpower could ignore. In the early stages of the Cold War, when China entered a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union, the United States immediately felt seriously threatened. The possibility of facing offensives by communist states resulted in the US responding with the most extensive peacetime mobilisation of national resources in American history. In keeping with the policy of “containment” in the Truman Doctrine the US became involved in the Korean and Vietnam wars in an effort to “roll back” the communist threat. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the situation took a turn for the worst for the USSR following the Sino-Soviet split. China’s leverage in the Cold War though went far beyond changing the balance of power between the two superpowers. Its emergence as a unique revolutionary country in the late 1940’s also altered the orientation of the Cold War by shifting its arena from Europe to East Asia. Thus making East Asia the main battlefield of the Cold War, while crucially also helping the Cold War to remain ‘cold’.

Following the Chinese communist revolution achieving nationwide victory in 1949, the global Cold War was at crucial stage. The 1948-49 Berlin blockade and the Soviet Union's first successful test of an atomic bomb in August 1949 combined to pose a serious challenge to the two superpowers. If either tried to gain a strategic upper hand against the other the Cold War could have evolved into a global catastrophe, one that...
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