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"For China, the War in the Pacific, like World War II itself, has never been an important framework for interpreting events between 1941 and 1945. There is a phrase in Mandarin that nods to the West’s historiography of the period—第二次世界大战 (二战), or “the second time the world went to war”—but it is rarely used in Chinese conversation. Chinese speak instead of 抗日战争, or the War Against Japan, which for China ran from 1937—or 1931 in some tellings—until China’s victory in 1945."

In this report, Robert Daly adopts China’s perspective towards the Pacific War and highlights important divergences in interpretation with the Western view of the conflict, a difference in memory that partially explains some of the increasing tension within the US-China competition. As Dr. Daly argues, divergent Pacific War memories between the Chinese Communist Party and the United States explain in broad terms why the two superpowers are contemplating a new cold war: their mutual distrust is rooted in mythologies established when they fought as allies.

This article is part of the Asia Program’s Legacy of the Pacific War series.

About the Author

Robert Daly image

Robert Daly

Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

Robert Daly, the Director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, has compiled an unusually diverse portfolio of high-level work: He has served as a US diplomat in Beijing; as an interpreter for Chinese and US leaders, including President Carter and Secretary of State Kissinger; as head of China programs at Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, and the University of Maryland; and as a producer of Chinese-language versions of Sesame Street. Recognized East and West as a leading authority on Sino-US relations, he has testified before Congress, lectured widely in both countries, and regularly offers analysis for top media outlets.

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The Indo-Pacific Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more

Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The Kissinger Institute works to ensure that China policy serves American long-term interests and is founded in understanding of historical and cultural factors in bilateral relations and in accurate assessment of the aspirations of China’s government and people.  Read more