This special issue on Soviet-Japanese relations during the Cold War has its roots in an international conference on "The Cold War in Northeast Asia: New Evidence and Perspectives," hosted by Hokkaido University's Slavic Research Center in Sapporo, Japan, on 25-27 June 2008. The chief organizer of the conference was David Wolff, a professor of Eurasian history at Hokkaido University, who also played a key role in putting together the current issue. The symposium in Hokkaido brought together more than two dozen scholars from Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, Australia, North America, and Europe to discuss the role of Northeast Asia in the Cold War from the 1940s to the early 1990s.
The five essays in this issue went through the regular peer review process, with an internal review followed by external reviews and then revisions followed by more external reviews. Two additional papers presented at the conference, one dealing with Soviet-Japanese relations in the mid-1950s and the other with U.S.-Japanese military relations in the 1970s and 1980s, will be published in a future issue of the JCWS.
Even though the articles here all deal with Soviet-Japanese relations, the conference at Hokkaido University covered many other aspects of the Cold War in Northeast Asia. Most studies of the Cold War have focused predominantly on the United States and the Soviet Union, but over the past twenty years the role of Northeast Asia has drawn increasing attention. Among the topics discussed at the conference were the origins and conduct of the Korean War, the formation and demise of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the maneuvering among great powers before and during the Taiwan Strait crises, and the involvement of external powers in the Vietnam wars. Scholars' understanding of these topics has been particularly enriched by the partial opening of former East-bloc archives. The release of diplomatic correspondence, intragovernment memoranda, intelligence reports, transcripts of high-level meetings, military planning documents, and other formerly sensitive items from former Warsaw Pact countries, China, South Korea, and Taiwan has provided crucial information about developments in Northeast Asia and the role of external powers. The availability of these materials permits a much fuller understanding of the impact of great-power competition on local conflicts, and vice versa.
One of the sessions sparked an illuminating debate about how the Sino-Soviet alliance could have changed so drastically in the 1950s and 1960s. In the early to mid-1950s, especially when Iosif Stalin was still alive, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) readily deferred to the Soviet Union as the leader of the Communist world and subordinated China's own interests to Stalin's wishes. The CCP chairman, Mao Zedong, was eager to copy Soviet experience and to forge close, comprehensive [End Page 1] ties with Moscow in the name of socialist internationalism. By the end of the 1950s, however, acute differences had emerged between the two countries, and those differences intensified throughout the 1960s, culminating in a series of deadly military clashes along the Sino-Soviet border in 1969. Personal frictions between Mao and the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, were partly responsible for the Sino-Soviet split, but declassified East-bloc materials confirm that ideological disagreements—with the CCP's embrace of a radical Marxist-Leninist ideology and the Soviet Union's adherence to a more pragmatic approach—also played an important role.
These ideological differences waxed salient in the late 1950s when Chinese leaders began vigorously championing—and, where possible, actively promoting—"wars of national liberation" and "anti-imperialist struggles" in the developing world. This strategy mirrored the growing radicalization of China's domestic politics at the time and also flowed naturally from Mao's view, first enunciated in November 1957, that "the East Wind is now stronger than the West Wind." Recent Soviet breakthroughs with long-range nuclear missiles, according to Mao, would deter Western countries from responding to Communist-backed guerrilla movements. Soviet leaders tended to be more cautious—at least rhetorically—than their Chinese counterparts, not least because they were aware that the East-West military balance had not improved as much as most Chinese officials assumed. Soviet leaders periodically...