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The United States and East Asia Since World War II


World War II inevitably changed the world forever for the key players in the global political arena. While the United States and the Soviet Union fought together against the Nazi regime, the relationship between the two remained a tense and complicated one. Capitalistic America was concerned with the rising power of tyrannical Joseph Stalin and his communist agenda (Cold War History, 2019). The Soviets, in turn, openly resented Americans for their delayed entry into World War II as well as the public spectacle of America’s postwar prosperity compared to the economic and social decline experienced in Eastern Europe. The impact of the USSR-America relations, which resulted in mutual distrust and espionage, would be most apparent in the East Asian region. Historians agree that the Cold War was inevitable as both parties continued to criticize one another for interventionist foreign relations (Cold War History, 2019). The USSR government kept aiding Asian communist regimes, which American politicians considered “the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world” (Cold War History, 2019, para. 15). American fear of communism led to its numerous attempts to establish Western, liberal dominance in the East Asian region, which included the economy, culture, and, most importantly, politics of countries such as South Korea, China, and Japan.

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The Aftermath of the Cold War

America seemed to modify its foreign relations policy and started to actively cooperate with East Asian countries instead of repeating the mistakes of 1945 and the Japanese atom bombings. The United States decided to aid South Korea against the attacks of Soviet-backed North Korea’s military forces (Cold War History, 2019). The spreading of communism proved to be one of the most important concerns in American foreign policy as the country had enough time and resources to focus on it because of the period of postwar prosperity America seemed to enjoy (Cold War History, 2019). America also intervened in pro-Western versus communist conflict in Vietnam, which was supposed to be a brief military action but turned into a ten-year conflict that led to public outrage and mass anti-war demonstrations (Cold War History, 2019). The End of World War II solidified American resentment of communist ideas, which resulted in the United States’ active intervention into the East Asian region with the goal of eradicating the anti-capitalist movement.

Post-war Asian Immigration

The United States’ foreign agenda regarding communism after World War II affected numerous Asian countries, including South Korea, Japan, and others. China, Laos, and Vietnam, however, established themselves as socialist entities with North Korea being a “dictatorship of people’s democracy” (Communist Countries 2020, 2020, para. 33). The rise of communist regimes led to waves of immigration from Southeast Asia to the United States (Zhao, 2016). American legislation and judicial rulings of the post-war era resulted in millions of Asian immigrants, who then became naturalized citizens having a profound effect on multiculturalism and ethnic diversity the US came to be known for (Zhao, 2016). Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants brought their culture and traditions with them. Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisines grew in popularity, which symbolized a positive shift in American acceptance attitude and gradual acceptance of Asians in the country as well as outside its borders (Zhao, 2016). Asian-American interaction led to global cultural transmission, including fashion, music, and cuisine.

Cultural Influence of the United States

While the contribution of Asian immigrants in America is clear, the fact that East Asia took much interest in Western culture, including American music, movies, and latest trends, needs to be acknowledged as well. Koreans and Japanese, for example, became more open to adopting pieces of an American lifestyle as they started to reimagine the Western aesthetic in fashion and create different interpretations of American fast food (Kong, 2019). Asian teenagers went as far as adopting English vocabulary and slang. Another significant influence of the West is the beauty standards Asian media dictates. Plastic surgery, skin whitening, and specific make-up techniques that came to dominate Asia mostly represented the homogenization of beauty (Kong, 2019). The situation continues to shift in a more positive direction with American media encouraging diversity in style and appearance, which slowly begins to transform Asian beauty and fashion markets (Kong, 2019). The growing influence of the United States after multiple anti-communist interventions in East Asia as well as new waves of Asian immigrants to America linked the two regions together in the form of an immensely important cultural exchange between the two.

America’s Influence as the World Trade Leader

The cultural influence that America continues to have over East Asia is the result of the economic globalization that the country became the leader of after the end of World War II. Europe needed time to reconstruct, and Asia struggled to rebuild its economy as well as focus on political reorganization. Since World War II, America has played a leading role in the development of a secure international economic system, which affected Asia, particularly China, the most (Park and Stangarone, 2019). The United States established a linkage between trade regulations and foreign policy as a result of introducing a new economic model to European and Asian states that struggled to reconstruct their financial systems. American government set out to sign several commercial agreements to “foster international peace and cooperation,” which established the States’ internationalism in trade and subsequent commercial liberalization in policymaking (Park and Stangarone, 2019, p. 5). As Japanese technical and economic innovations continued to threaten the American economy, the country began to find legal loopholes to keep practicing liberal trade.

As Asian economies began to grow, America made decisions that demonstrated a dramatic shift in its policies as the government started to prefer protectionism over internationalism. Trade negations became more volatile and opposite from the ideal of post-war cooperation that seemed to be advantageous to the United States at the time. As a result, America started to reshape the global trade system once it faced newly industrialized economies of Western Europe and East Asia (Park and Stangarone, 2019). Japan was affected by a series of American agreements and regulations put in place to exert protectionism over its own economy and financial stability.

South Korea is one of the Asian countries that have managed to grow economically since the end of World War II. The reason, in part, was the US intervention during the military conflict with the joined forces of North Korea and the Soviet Union (Cold War History, 2019). Current American government’s views on the Asian economic rise are rooted in the idea that countries such as Japan and South Korea take advantage of the US trade policies (Park and Stangarone, 2019). The Trump administration decided to end the cycle of switching between protectionism and opening international markets, focusing on fair trade instead (Hachigian, 2017). The United States and South Korea reached a deal to lessen and eventually eliminate merchandise trade deficits in automotive parts and automobiles (Park and Stangarone, 2019). With South Korea being economically and partly financially dependent on the United States, it reached an agreement without America giving “an assurance or quota from the 232 process similar to what it has done with Mexico and other countries” (Park and Stangarone, 2019, p. 20). The economic influence that America has over Korea is apparent as trade regulations start to change, and the current US administration begins to reshape the dynamics of world trade.

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China’s Leadership

Despite Japan and South Korea leading some of the most important technical and scientific innovations, China plays a dominant role in the Asian economy. Since China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), the country’s economy has systematically grown and started to gain more influence in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Russia (Park and Stangarone, 2019). After the post-global financial crisis, Chinese officials seemed to conclude that the American economy is as stable and dependable as it was immediately after World War II when the country enjoyed post-war economic prosperity. As the focus of the American government shifted towards foreign affairs and the Middle East, China continued to innovate in cyberspace, technologies, and science, while simultaneously securing its potential role as a leader in the global world trade (Kuo, 2016). Following an American example after World War II, China “developed more infrastructure projects across Asia, particularly in strategically vital ports and transit corridors” (Fisher and Carlsen, 2018, para. 24). The United States slowly begins to lose its economic ‘long-distance’ leadership in East Asia, the effects of which could extend beyond economics and affect cultural and social processes taking place in the region (Kuo, 2016). It could arguably keep Korea, Japan, and China from further Westernization, but it would be highly possible for Japan and Korea to become dependent on the collectivist economy of China, which remains the leader among them.

Reference List

  1. Cold War History (2019) Web.
  2. Fisher, M. and Carlsen, A. (2018) ‘How China is challenging American dominance in Asia’, The New York Times.
  3. Kong, L. L. (2019) ‘Why Western beauty ideals and ‘Instagram rule’ in Southeast Asia, and why women hide their ‘Asian noses’’, South China Morning Post.
  4. Kuo, M. A. (2016) ‘The US and China in East Asia: leadership and influence’, The Diplomat. Web.
  5. Park, J. and Stangarone, T. (2019) ‘Trump’s America first policy in global and historical perspectives: implications for US–East Asian trade’, Asian Perspective, 43(1), pp. 1-34. doi:10.1353/apr.2019.0000.

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