Courtesy Reuters

East Asia in 1978: The Great Transformation

The establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China on New Year's Day 1979 dramatized an extraordinary year in which East Asia experienced an array of other significant political, social and economic changes. This transformation had been building up over the past decade, gradually sweeping away many of the myths and dogmas on which American policy and practice were predicated for so long. But if history can be said to be marked by decisive moments, 1978 was such a climax. In both its domestic dynamics and attitudes toward the world, the region appears to be entering a fresh phase that will require the formulation of new strategies tailored to new realities.

Five years ago, for example, the economic vitality of the region seemed threatened. It was widely feared that Japan as well as emerging industrial areas such as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong would be hard hit by the oil price rise and ensuing global recession, causing them to face serious economic and political dislocations. But they have continued to display remarkable resiliency, and their growth in particular has made East Asia perhaps the most dynamic region in the world economic picture.

Almost four years ago, the collapse of America's client regimes in South Vietnam and Cambodia tested long-standing prophecies that this would throw the rest of Southeast Asia into disarray. Today the "dominoes" that were supposed to topple are now standing more upright than ever, both individually and as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and their links to the United States are improving even as they seek accommodations with China and with the communist states of Indochina.

It had been prophesied that China in the wake of Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung's death in September 1976 would be nagged endlessly by internecine dissension as opposing factions fought for power as well as to promote their respective domestic and foreign policy doctrines. But with astonishing rapidity, the pragmatists among Mao's successors

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