During the mid-1950s, China sought to build contacts with the nonsocialist world. A cease-fire agreement brought the Korean War to an end in July 1953, and China signaled its desire to live in peaceful coexistence with other independent countries in the region. But a relatively minor conflict now began to intensify on Beijing’s southern flank, in French Indochina. The struggle had begun after World War II, when Ho Chi Minh’s Indochinese Communist Party, at the head of a multiparty nationalist alliance called the Vietminh Front, seized power in northern and central Vietnam after the surrender of imperial Japan. After abortive negotiations between Ho’s government and the French over a proposed “free state” of Vietnam under French tutelage, war broke out in December 1946. French forces occupied the cities and the densely populated lowlands, while the Vietminh took refuge in the mountains. For three years, the Vietminh, waging a “people’s war” of national liberation under the leadership of the popular Ho Chi Minh, gradually increased in size and effectiveness. What had begun as an anticolonial struggle by the Vietminh Front against the French became entangled in the Cold War in the early 1950s when both the United States and the new Communist government in China began to intervene in the conflict to promote their own national security objectives. China began to provide military assistance to the Vietminh to protect its own borders from hostile forces. The Americans supported the French but pressured them to prepare for an eventual transition to non-Communist governments in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. With casualties mounting and the French public tired of fighting the “dirty war” in Indochina, the French, at the Geneva Conference, held in 1954, agreed to a peace settlement with the Vietminh. Vietnam was temporarily divided into a northern Communist half (known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and a non-Communist southern half based in Saigon (eventually to be known as the Republic of Vietnam). Elections were to be held in two years to create a unified government. Cambodia and Laos were both declared independent under neutral governments. French forces, which had suffered a major defeat at the hands of Vietminh troops at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, were withdrawn from all three countries. China had played an active role in bringing about the settlement and clearly hoped that a settlement would lead to a reduction of tensions in the area, but subsequent efforts to bring about improved relations between China and the United States foundered on the issue of Taiwan. In the fall of 1954, the United States signed a mutual security treaty with the Republic of China guaranteeing U.S. military support in case of an invasion of Taiwan. When Beijing demanded U.S. withdrawal from Taiwan as the price for improved relations, diplomatic talks between the two countries collapsed.