The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War

By Raymond L. Garthoff | Go to book overview

14 Asia and American-Soviet Relations

EUROPE CONTINUED TO THE END to be the principal theater of competition in the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Asia, especially China (and increasingly Japan as well), also remained important in the 1980s. The importance of the triangular relationship among the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, however, was much less significant in the 1980s than it had been in the 1970s.1 A review of the course of developments from 1981 through 1991 shows why that was so. Similarly, the general importance of Japan and other countries in East Asia rose, and changes in both Soviet and American policy changed the overall pattern of the two powers' involvement and competition. Now of course Russia is the successor to the Soviet Union in post-Cold War Asia, and new relationships are being developed, though built on the foundation of the past.

Triangular diplomacy among the United States, the Soviet Union, and China during the period 1978-80 had entered a new phase marked by a close Sino-American rapprochement and complete collapse of the U.S.-Soviet détente of the 1970s. The triangular relationship was further affected in 1981-- 82 by continuing deterioration of U.S.-Soviet relations, by ambiguities in U.S.- Chinese relations, and by the stirrings of Soviet interest in improving relations with China. But before reviewing Sino-American and Sino-Soviet relations, it is useful to look at a turn in Chinese policy in that period that affected both relationships.

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1
For a detailed review of the development of American, Soviet, and Chinese relations and interrelationships from 1969 through 1980, see Raymond L. Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan, rev. ed. ( Brookings, 1994), chapters 6, 7, 8, 20, 21, 27.

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