Asia FirstChina and the Making of Modern American Conservatism

Asia FirstChina and the Making of Modern American Conservatism

Joyce Mao

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226252711

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book examines the influence of U.S.-China relations upon the evolution of conservatism in postwar America. After the Chinese civil war concluded in 1949, the right formulated an “Asia First” approach to the challenge of global communism, one that demanded U.S. foreign policy give the Pacific equal or more consideration than the Atlantic and prioritize the cause of an allied China. It is argued that a combination of anti-communist orientalism and nostalgia for a special U.S.-China relationship allowed conservatives to critique policies of postwar consensus and renovate their ideology for the Cold War in the process. On the diplomatic front, Asia First offered conservatives a geopolitical issue to mark as their own, and their positions on issues like the Korean War and Taiwan Straits Crises laid foundations for a diplomatic ethos that is today so familiar. Hostility toward the United Nations, assertion of American sovereignty in diplomatic affairs, and the promotion of a technological defense state all owe a great deal to Asia First internationalism. At home, conservative politicians used the doctrine to better their fortunes among a changing electorate. They continually invoked the “loss” of China to illuminate what they saw as the corrosion of traditional values, namely strict anti-communism and a commitment to the Open Door. As an issue and as an ideal, China helped to bridge the divide between key GOP elites and pro-Chiang activists at the grassroots level. The result was a long-term working relationship that catalyzed the modern conservative movement.