(Cornell University Press, 2019)
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Arc of Containment recasts the history of American empire in Southeast and East Asia from World War II through the end of American intervention in Vietnam. Setting aside the classic story of anxiety about falling dominoes, Wen-Qing Ngoei articulates a new regional history premised on strong security and sure containment guaranteed by Anglo-American cooperation.
Ngoei argues that anticommunist nationalism in Southeast Asia intersected with preexisting local antipathy toward China and the Chinese diaspora to usher the region from European-dominated colonialism to US hegemony. Central to this revisionary strategic assessment is the place of British power and the effects of direct neocolonial military might and less overt cultural influences based in decades of colonial rule. Also essential to the analysis in Arc of Containment is the considerable influence of Southeast Asian actors upon Anglo-American imperial strategy throughout the post-war period.
In Arc of Containment Ngoei shows how the pro-US trajectory of Southeast Asia after the Pacific War was, in fact, far more characteristic of the wider region’s history than American policy failure in Vietnam. Indeed, by the early 1970s, five key anticommunist nations—Malaya, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia—had quashed Chinese-influenced socialist movements at home and established, with U.S. support, a geostrategic arc of states that contained the Vietnamese revolution and encircled China. In the process, the Euro-American colonial order of Southeast Asia passed from an era of Anglo-American predominance into a condition of US hegemony. Arc of Containment demonstrates that American failure in Vietnam had less long-term consequences than widely believed because British pro-West nationalism had been firmly entrenched twenty-plus years earlier. In effect, Ngoei argues, the Cold War in Southeast Asia was but one violent chapter in the continuous history of western imperialism in the region in the twentieth century.
Wen-Qing Ngoei is Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University.