On “Containment” in Asia

On “Containment” in Asia

A qualified victory in Southeast Asia was recently claimed by C. L. Sulzberger of the New York Times (January 29, 1967). The containment of China—assertedly the basic objective of U.S. policies in Southeast Asia, reaffirmed as such by Secretary of Defense McNamara in his annual statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee—is said to be in the process of succeeding. If the adversary in Vietnam has not as yet been brought to his knees, time has nevertheless been gained, facilitating China’s containment. The struggle in Vietnam, Sulzberger implies, is merely a battle in the Cold War against China—a battle in which victory in the field matters less than time gained to overcome the enemy on other, broader fronts.

And this is indeed being accomplished: Indonesian generals, taking heart from America’s stand in Vietnam and Thailand, have seized power in their country and inflicted a fatal blow to China’s hope for a puppet regime in Djakarta. China herself is torn by debilitating strife. North Vietnam is increasingly falling under the moderating influence of Moscow and rejecting Peking. “The overall strategic situation into which the Vietnam war must be fitted has . . . radically changed,” in favor of the U.S. But Sulzberger, defending the policies of the Johnson Administration, imputes a rationality to them which they do not, by the evidence, possess. What he or the Administration mean by containing China is not comprehensible. The forces that would do the containing lack coherence; the forces to be contained, far from presenting a monolithic threat, are themselves disintegrating, losing whatever homogeneity they had to begin with.

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Lima