This article reexamines how concerns about China contributed to the escalation of the Vietnam War during the first years of Lyndon Johnson's administration. Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam to protect America's global credibility as the leader and defender of the non-Communist world in the face of the threat posed by China's “wars of national liberation” strategy in Vietnam. U.S. officials evaluated this threat in the context of the broadening Sino-Soviet split. The concern in Washington was that if Hanoi, a regime openly supported by Beijing as a star in the “wars of national liberation,” were to take over South Vietnam, the Soviet Union might then be forced to discard the “peaceful coexistence” principle and the incipient détente with the West. The escalation in Vietnam was spurred largely by apprehension that a failure to contain China in Vietnam might prompt the Soviet Union to shift back to a hard line toward the West.

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