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BA1 Seminar: International Relations - East Asia in the Cold War Order


Admission requirements

Some background in Contemporary East Asian politics and international relations would be beneficial, but not required.


The Cold War era (broadly speaking, 1947-1991) transformed the international relations of East Asian states. It was a period that pitted two politically, militarily, economically and ideologically opposed blocs, led by the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) respectively, against each other. The diffusion of nuclear weapons over this period ensured that any conflagration between these two Superpowers or their allies could potentially result in global devastation and a ‘nuclear winter’ in which the human race would struggle to survive. The Cold War was therefore a period of constant security tensions that occasionally erupted in ‘hot’ wars, such as those on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam. Politically, the Cold War cleft the East Asian region in two, following Mao Tse-tung’s declaration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949. By the early 1970s, however, animosity between Communist China and the USSR led to a further political division in East Asia, or period of tri-polarity. At the same time, the politically and ideologically opposed systems of authoritarian and democratic rule vied for ascendancy in both Communist and Capitalist camps. From an economic perspective, Japan, then the four Asian Tigers (Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore) and finally the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) experienced rapid and sustained economic growth. China, however, did not begin to replicate this ‘economic miracle’ until the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping began to ‘open’ China’s economy and overcome the damage of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. The fledgling field of International Relations also expanded during the Cold War, with new theories and concepts emerging to explain interstate relations and global politics. Despite significant developments in this field of study, International Relations theorists and specialists failed to predict the crumbling of the ‘Iron Curtain’ in Europe that would signal the end of the Cold War Order throughout the world. Nevertheless, many of the tensions that characterized East Asia in the Cold War Order, including the division of North and South Korea and mainland China and Taiwan, remained firmly in place, ensuring that the legacy of the Cold War would continue to influence East Asian international relations to the present day.

The course is divided into four sections. In the first section, we ask why East Asia became such a central region in the Cold War and consider how International Relations theorists have understood the concept of ‘Order’ over the course of the Cold War. This introductory session also focuses on the origins of the Cold War in East Asia. The second section explores the broad contours of the Cold War Order in East Asia and comprises four classes on the struggles for independence in East Asia, the origins and outcomes of the Korean War, bi-polarity and the Sino-Soviet split, tri-polarity and the end of the Cold War. Three seminar sessions are interspersed between these classes to elaborate on some of the broad themes of the Cold War order in East Asia from the perspective of the United States, Japan and China. The course concludes by considering the aftermath of the Cold War and how International Relations theory evolved over the course of the Cold War. Finally, we assess what the concept of Order had come to mean in the field of International Relations.

The issues addressed in this course will have relevance to a number of disciplines. Students should draw on previous work they have done in other academic fields and demonstrate their knowledge in seminars, as well as in their assessed work. It is also hoped that students will apply the knowledge they gain through studying theories and issues in the East Asia in the Cold War Order course to other courses they are taking.

Course objectives

This module aims to provide a critical examination of key events, issues and developments during the Cold War in East Asia.
In addition, the course provides an introduction to the field of International Relations. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of the complex issues and processes related to East Asia in the Cold War Order.

  • Demonstrate an awareness of the mainstream International Relations theories and the relationship of these theories to the Cold War era.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, begin to develop the capacity for independent learning, compare and contrast texts on East Asia in the Cold War Order, and participate in class debates.

  • Develop advanced academic writing skills in English.


Check Rooster under Links on the first page of the Japanese Studyguide 2010-2011.

Mode of instruction

Lecturers and seminars

BA1 Semester II

  • 12 Hours of classes

  • 6 Hours of seminars

  • 66 Hours of reading and class preparation (6 hours per week over 12 weeks)

  • 16 Hours to complete the review paper

  • 40 Hours to complete the essay

Total: 140 Hours for 5 ECTS

Assessment method

  • Participation element (incl. attendance, participation): 20%

  • Analytical Element – review paper (500-600 words): 30%

  • Research element – essay (1,000-1,200 words): 50%


A handbook denoting weekly readings will be posted on blackboard the week before the start of the semester.
Additional information (powerpoints, useful websites, etc…) will also be found on blackboard over the course of the semester.

Reading list

Core textbook
Yahuda, Michael. 2006. The International Politics of the Asia-Pacific. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

For an engaging overview of the Cold War era, students are strongly encouraged to read:
Gaddis, John Lewis. 2005. The Cold War. London and New York: Penguin.


Enrollment via uSis mandatory, for more information about enrollment check Links on the first page of the Japanese Studyguide 2010-2011

Contact information

For further information about the course, please contact Dr. L. Black
Room 008, Het Arsenaal
Office Hours: Tuesday 15:00-17:00
Alternative times are by appointment only


This course provides a foundation in the field of international relations upon which students can build in the BA2 International Relations of Japan and China courses. Students may also be interested in taking the BA2 second semester Government and Politics in Modern China course.