Beijing’s role in war eclipsed by later political division of ideological camps

By Robert A. Manning Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-6 18:58:01

The outcome of WWII shaped China's fate and major power relations. The Allied victory helped propel the Communist Party of China (CPC) to power and pushed the Kuomintang (KMT) off the Chinese mainland. Ironically, the outcome also severed the active US collaboration with Mao and Zhou Enlai that had been a significant feature of the Pacific war.

US diplomats at the time were impressed with the discipline, organization and vigor of the Communists, and often critical of the shortcomings of the KMT, even though they shared a deeper political affinity with them.

It was the combined national efforts of both the Nationalists and Communists that contributed to the victory over Japan. But as the war wound down, US diplomacy tried to reconcile the two Chinese parties into a united front government. But in the end, a host of factors led that effort to fail and the US to gravitate toward the Nationalists. Thus, the US and China were estranged for 27 years until Richard Nixon revived the Sino-American relations in 1971.

Among historians, debate continues about both the KMT and the CPC respective contributions to the war against Japan in the Pacific region.

Some argue that had the US continued its cooperation with Mao and the CPC, history might have turned out differently, and China might have had a very different relationship with both the US and the USSR. 

This is disputed by others, as in a recent book by Richard Bernstein, China 1945. He sifts through the historical records and suggests that Joseph Stalin's exit from Manchuria, US ties to the Nationalists, and the CPC agenda and ideology positioned China to move in the direction it did: toward Moscow and away from Washington.

For a China enduring a century of humiliation, being allied with the victors in both world wars did not yield many of the hoped benefits of victory. One of the fruits of victory was that of permanent membership on the UN Security Council. In the conception of the UN, then US president Franklin Roosevelt envisioned China as one of the "four policemen" (the US, UK, USSR and China) who would serve as the guardians of global security.

In the aftermath of the inter-Chinese conflict in the years immediately following WWII, the distance grew between Washington and Beijing, then firmly ensconced in the socialist camp. Over time, China's tensions with the USSR and Nixon's belief that China was an important independent power critical to the future of Asia, led to the US opening to China and the overcoming of the postwar estrangement. So it is no surprise, that as Rana Mitter characterized it in a 2013 book, China was the "Forgotten Ally."

The author is a senior fellow of the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security at the Atlantic Council. Follow him on Twitter @RManning4.

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