ABSTRACT

The American decision to refuse diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China following the Chinese Communist defeat of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists in 1949 and the US domestic debate that followed it was a watershed event in American foreign relations and initiated a dynamic in American politics that continues to the present day. While the United States eventually restored relations with China in the 1970s, the postwar situation in which the United States became a superpower yet was periodically unable to bring about favorable outcomes in international politics, resulting in intense episodes of domestic criticism, is ongoing. Although before World War II the United States had on occasion either severed diplomatic ties with other countries (particularly in Latin America) or refused to recognize new states (America did not extend diplomatic recognition to the USSR until the early 1930s), these instances were much less a concern for domestic politics, because the US role in the world was limited by geography, unfamiliarity and disinterest. Certainly, wars with foreign powers had garnered American public attention in the past, but this had been episodic rather than constant. This all changed after Pearl Harbor, and after four years of war that spanned the globe, as the American population was transformed into a significant force affecting US foreign policy in a way that had no precedent before the war. The average American, although unlikely to be well informed about events abroad, now understood that events in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere had implications for his or her own situation.