The historiography of the Cold War in Asia—conditioned by its nation-centrism—has long taken the notion of alignments as given, from the so-called “free world” to the spectrum of socialist, communist and non-aligned groups. In turn, historical studies of identity formation, whether of individuals or communities often fixate on how these identities relate to or flow from national allegiances alone.
This roundtable is inspired by the new transnational work in contemporary Asian studies focused on identity-making across nations. It aims to challenge our thinking about the connections between identity and alignment in Asia from the 1950s to 1970s by investigating the complex dynamics between the political and economic alignments that simultaneously frame and constrain local identities. In this spirit, the roundtable engages the topic of alignments and identities in Cold War Asia through these thematic questions: Why were certain alignments in Asia possible and others not? Did earlier alignments and identities contribute to resisting the Cold War? How did they operate within and beyond nation-building projects?
In addressing this theme from different sites within Asia, our goal is a dynamic, collegial discussion. Cindy Ewing examines how concepts of neutrality as expressed in the Laotian and Cambodian proposals of the 1960s challenged, rather than supported, non-alignment in Southeast Asia. Sean Fear reflects on the intersections between Cold War alignments and the identities of ethnic Khmer and Vietnamese in the Mekong Delta. Wen-Qing Ngoei considers the relationship between alignments and nationalism for the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia. Jennifer Miller examines how Cold War alignments complicated, resurrected and challenged pre-war imperial identities within Japan and the United States.
The panelists will each make presentations of 10-minutes on their particular approaches to this theme, foregrounding how their methodologies and perspectives have shaped their interpretations. Following, for about 15-minutes, panelists will discuss whether employing the methodologies/perspectives of their fellow panelists in their own work might generate new interpretations. Our discussant will then use the salient points of this discussion to frame and moderate a broader conversation with the audience about the complex study of alignments and identities in Cold War Asia.