When George F Kennan was named director of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (PPS) in 1947, he had little knowledge of, or interest in, the Far East. Kennan’s diplomatic experience was limited to Eastern and Central Europe and Russia. His influence in policy-making circles in Washington stemmed from his authorship of the “Long Telegram” from the US Embassy in Moscow in February 1946, and “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in the journal Foreign Affairs (using the pseudonym “X”) in 1947.

The title of Daniel Kurtz-Phelan’s new book about US General George Marshall’s efforts to bring about peace between the Nationalists and Communists in China after the end of the Second World War should be “The Impossible China Mission”. Marshall’s ill-fated mission was the product of wishful thinking and hubris on the part of policymakers in the Truman administration.

In January 2018, Australian Senator Sam Dastyari of the Labor Party resigned. It was the culmination of a year-long scandal involving foreign donations and influence peddling. In his support for China’s claims in the South China Sea, Dastyari disagreed with the China policy of both the government and the Australian Labor Party. It was revealed that Dastyari had accepted money from Huang Xiangmo, a Chinese businessman with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

If you go into most bookshops in the States for example, there’s a cottage industry of books on the US and China, the US and the Middle East, you go to the UK, there’s a sort of similar cottage industry of books on the UK and France, and France and Germany. But there’s very little on Japan and China, and this is a highly consequential relationship—the world’s second and third biggest economies, Asia’s two superpowers, and with a really difficult, emotional, scarred history …

The South China Sea, notes Bernard Cole, a former US Navy captain who also taught maritime strategy at the National War College, covers four million square kilometers, has significant energy resources, and contains trade arteries through which one-third of the world’s commerce transits. Its geographic location astride the Southeast Asian littoral makes it the maritime gateway between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. China’s claim of sovereignty over the entire sea and conflicting claims by other countries in the region make the South China Sea a geopolitical flashpoint and potential scene of military conflict among regional and global powers.

Americans have been present in the Pacific since the dawn of the Republic. At the time of George Washington’s inauguration in 1789, the country consisted of just 13 states huddled along the Atlantic seaboard, but in the geography of sail navigation Boston and New York were just as close to China as were London, Liverpool, and other European ports. More importantly, the United States was by far the largest whaling country in the world, and with the Atlantic increasingly “fished” out, the whales were in the Pacific. The “Canton trade” with China and the whaling grounds of the northern Pacific made the nascent United States the second most important trading country in Asia (after England).