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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

28 July 2021
Dr KJ Chen organised an international conference: “Conflicts, Geography, and Pax Americana in Cold War East Asia.” This conference aimed to gather scholars from America, Europe, and East Asia to examine the twists and turns behind the geopolitics of decision makers’ deliberations, regional cooperation, people-to-people diplomacy, and intellectual and business interaction.

Because military deployment framed the basic contours of the Cold War at the start of the conference, Prof Toshihiko Aono (青野利彥, Hitotsubashi University) introduced the debate on the development of Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABMs) within the Johnson administration and compared the responses from Japan and NATO on their deployment. Dr Kuan-Jen Chen (陳冠任, University of Cambridge) presented the making of America’s Qingdao in the immediate postwar and the military standoff between the US and Soviet Union. Chen argued that the power game had been staged in the peripheral area of maritime space when Japan surrendered in August 1945 and the stage was set in the western Pacific. In addition to the military side, other scholars raised topics which merited discussion. Dr Wenlung Wang (王文隆, Nankai University) unveiled the untold story about the “baseball interaction” between the American Military Assistance Advisory Group and local people on Matsu island. Wang’s research reminds us of the significance of placing microhistory into a wider context within the Cold War. Following Wang’s “baseball interaction,” Dr Somei Kobayashi (小林聡明Nihon University) linked the Cold War with the development of Korean studies in the United States and South Korea’s support. Kobayashi’s work stimulated us to rethink the role of culture and knowledge production during the Cold War.


The international situation of the Cold War did not always remain stagnant. Following the Sino-Soviet spilt in the 1960s, the US attempted to play “the China card” against the Soviet Union. Under these circumstances, people-to-people diplomacy served as an ice-breaking measure to improve the relationship with China. Dr Elizabeth Ingleson (Yale University) presented how American businessmen reshaped the image of Mao’s China from “Red China” to “Made in China” and the emergence of the “New China Hands.” Dr Pete Millwood (Hong Kong University) similarly dissected the people-to-people exchanges in the 1960s from China’s point of view, which provided us with a different approach to understanding the Sino-American relationship during the 1970s.


While the US dominated Cold War East Asia, East/Southeast Asia still developed their own foreign policies against Pax Americana. Dr Casper Wits (Leiden University) presented a talk revealing the development of “the pro-China faction” in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and its influence on the subsequent Japan-China relationship. Ms Maki Aoki (青木まきJapan External Trade Organization) shifted the historical lens to Southeast Asia and argued how Thailand was keen to develop its independent diplomacy and regional cooperation beyond the US during the 1960s.

Following the conclusion of the formal sessions, Prof Andrew Preston (University of Cambridge), Prof Shin Kawashima (University of Tokyo), and Prof Barak Kushner (University of Cambridge) opened a roundtable: “New wine in old bottles or old wine in new bottles? New approaches to Cold War history and US-East Asia relations.” Preston, Kawashima, and Kushner generously shared their experience and ideas to lead inspiring discussions on new approaches, perspectives, and historical sources. Dr KJ Chen ended the workshop with the hope that Cambridge will keep providing platforms for outstanding scholars to closely work on Cold War history and modern East Asian history.