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How America Facilitated the Rise of China

Updated on July 19, 2020
emge profile image

MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a notable writer on military history.

The beginning

Without going into the earlier history of China I think it is a good idea to start from the 19th century. This was a momentous period in China's history as China became weak and lost the opium wars to the British. The British along with the other Western powers were able to extract concessions like the lease of Hong Kong and special privileges in China. The Chinese revolution of 1911 led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen did not help matters and very soon the communists establish their own niche in the Chinese political arena. The successor to Dr. Sun Yat Was General Chang Kai Shek who led the Koumingtan party also called the Nationalist Party.

This is the period when America's association with China commenced. The United States openly began to back the Nationalist party and America began to pour in money and weapons for the forces of Chang Kai Shek. A civil war commenced between the Nationalists and the Communists. Both parties called a temporary truce with the invasion of China by Japan and until 1945 they put aside their differences and fought the Japanese.

The defeat of Japan in 1945 saw both the adversaries again at each other's throats. The United States under President Truman carried on the policy of President Roosevelt and backed the Nationalists. American military advisers', money, and weapons were given to the Nationalists. The American aim at that time was to stop the spread of communism. The Communist leader Mao Tse Tung was a very astute and intelligent man. Unlike Chang Kai Shek the communist leader Mao built up a rapport with the Chinese peasantry. The nationalists lost support among the Chinese villages and very soon despite American help they were hard-pressed.

MAO who had earlier launched a guerrilla war now thought the time had come to convert it to a conventional war. The Communist army attacked the nationalists and in a space of three years, they were able to seize control over the entire mainland. Chang, who had lost touch with the masses had to flee with his life to the island of Formosa. The communists now established their own government in the mainland under the name People's Republic of China in 1949.

For two decades after 1949, the Americans refused to recognize the Communist government in Beijing. They carried on with the myth that the Nationalists who were confined to Formosa represented entire China.

Recognizing Red China

In 1950 the Korean war commenced. This started when the North Koreans attacked South Korea. President Truman had no choice at that time but to intervene on the side of the South Koreans to stem the Communist advance. The old warhorse General MacArthur was once again made the commander in Korea. Initially, he was successful as he was able to push the North Koreans back but the Communist Chinese army intervened at that stage and the US forces went into a retreat.

General MacArthur was aware that the United States could not win the war. He suggested the use of atomic bombs on the China-North Korea border and also on China if required. He was of the view that the use of these weapons was justified as the half-life period of the atomic isotopes is 50 years and China and North Korea would be incapacitated to fight.

Initially, President Truman agreed with MacArthur and there are reports that American bombers were got ready for this purpose. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed the use of atomic bombs and advised against it. Truman also had a rethink as Marshal Stalin the Russian leader announced that they also had the atomic bomb. He dismissed General MacArthur and appointed General Ridgeway and a ceasefire was concluded in 1953.

In 1954, the French were decisively defeated in Indochina at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. There was a real threat of a takeover of entire Vietnam by the communists under Ho Chi Minh. The United States intervened in Indochina to stop the spread of communism. This war lasted 11 years and in the end, America was nowhere close to winning. The Viet Kong, the communist force from the north was kept supplied by China and Russia.

President Johnson and his advisers decided to take a tough stand in the Vietnam war and began a bombing operation of north Vietnam. This was a half-hearted gesture as the Americans never bombed the supply lines from China to Vietnam. The Americans made a mockery of the use of airpower as envisaged by Guilio Douhet.

During the same period in the early 60s, American intelligence reports indicated that China was likely to go nuclear. They were also aware of the location of the Chinese nuclear facilities which were in the Sinkiang province. Many in Johnson's administration advocated the bombing of the nuclear facilities of China. The situation was very favorable to the Americans at that time as there was a rift between Russia and China and the Soviets had withdrawn all the technical personnel from China. In case Johnson had ordered the bombing of the nuclear facilities of China there was no risk of any intervention and Nikita Khruschev the Russian leader considered the Chinese as the enemy. Later the Russians and Chinese also had a small border war.

For some reason, Johnson failed to attack the nuclear installations of China and thus sealed the fate of the Vietnam war. Anti-war sentiment was also built up in America by vested interests and Johnson decided not to run for president again.

Richard Nixon took over as the President of the United States and this marked the beginning of throwing in the towel to China. Richard Nixon and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger completely changed American policy. They not only recognized China but also thought that they could use China as a weapon against Russia. This was fallacious thinking and is borne out by what is happening now.

Bowing to the Dragon

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made visits to Beijing. Nixon went to China and paid obeisance to Chairman Mao. The Chinese leader never visited the USA. With the help of China, Nixon extricated himself from Vietnam and history records the American military campaign in Vietnam as a defeat. Things may have been different if in a limited way McCarthy's suggestion had been upheld and later if Johnson had authorized the destruction of the nuclear installations of China.

Nixon had to resign because of the Watergate scandal but his policy with refinements was carried on by successive Presidents right up to Donald Trump. The American think tank felt that China would be their ally against Russia which for some reason is a bugbear for the Americans.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union America thought it best to engage further with China. Billions of dollars investment began to be made in China and American corporations jumped at the chance of entering the Chinese market. They also started manufacturing activities there and many countries of Western Europe beset with problems of labor with the low birth rate of their women outsourced all their manufacturing activities to China.

The Chinese were very clever; whatever goods came their way they did reverse engineering and produced their own. Due to the flow of American money into China, the Chinese economy which was Agro-based and Poor suddenly got a flip and within two decades it's GDP reached 14.5 trillion.

Things have come to such an impasse that the two contenders for the US presidentship have close business associations with China. I will not discuss this, as its well-known fact. What can the world expect from them?

To the chagrin of the Americans, China has teamed up with Russia and now they have made deep inroads into Iran. China has already announced that it will change the world currency from the dollar to the Yen. Let us see how things will pan out in the years to come but there is no doubt that America shot itself in the foot when it mollycoddled to China. The birds have come home to roost.


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      10 months ago from Singapore

      Pamela, thank you for your valued comment.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      10 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I learned a lot of the history concerning the U.S. and China from your well-written article. I think the U.S. became more concerned about Rusia and they should have paid more attention to China.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      10 months ago from Singapore

      Flourish, so nice of you to have commented. The Chinese wish to have the Yen as the world currency and their own World Bank. They have planned this over the next 5 years and also formed a monolithic block with Russia and Iran. This is serious and America has to pull through with its friends and thwart the Chinese. I don't know whether Trump and Biden who are both beholden to China are the right persons for the job.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      10 months ago from USA

      I learned a lot from this. Imagine if MacArthur had been successful in what he had advocated. Whoa! I hadn’t heard of this before. And now the Chinese are changing the world currency to the yen. How does that happen exactly?


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