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9-08-2015, 21:46

THE MOUNTING CONFLICT IN EASTERN ASIA, 1928–37

It is often said that the Second World War began in China in 1931. And that the global rise of fascism first blossomed into external aggression when Japan attacked China; then the tide of war spread to Europe and Africa, to Abyssinia and Spain, until Hitler unleashed the Second World War by marching into Poland in 1939. Undeniably there was some interdependence of European and Asian events in the 1930s. Britain and the US were in a sense sandwiched between conflicts on the European continent and eastern Asia, with vast interests bound up in the future of both worlds, West and East. But to view the earlier history of eastern Asia from the point of view of the European war of 1939 is to see that history from a Western focus, and thus to distort it. The problems of eastern Asia were coming to a head irrespective of the rise of fascism and Nazism. The problems of Europe, too, had independent roots. Seen through Japanese and Chinese eyes Western policies appeared to change with confusing rapidity in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Conscious of their military and industrial weakness in comparison with the West, the Chinese and Japanese accordingly had to calculate how best to adapt to constantly shifting external conditions. Critical, too, was the question of what their relationship to each other should be. All these problems arising from ‘modernisation’ and changing external and internal Asian relationships were to reach explosive intensity during the 1930s. The different strands can be seen more clearly if separated. In Japan the orderly coherent structure of national government and decision-making began to fall apart in 1930. Extremism and lawlessness and a decentralisation of power occurred. Japan’s disintegration was political and internal. In China there was physical disintegration. No ‘government’ of the ‘republic’ of China could rule the whole vast country. Foreign control had been established over China’s principal ports during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and over Manchuria, Outer Mongolia and Tibet. To add to these setbacks Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang Party became involved in civil war after breaking with the communists. Then there were constant conflicts between the greater and lesser warlords who ruled much of China as military-feudal commanders in the 1930s. Chiang Kai-shek fought some of these warlords but was never strong enough to control them or their armies. Most made their peace with him, however, by assenting to nominal allegiance to him and his government of the Republic of China, while continuing to rule independently over their fiefs large and small. From 1928 to 1937, while Chiang Kai-shek established his capital and government in Nanking, no unified Chinese Republic really existed; his reforms had made an impact on urban life but did not reach millions of peasants. His vision of a unified China bore no relationship to reality. To the Western world he nevertheless embodied China; his ambassadors were accredited to other countries and represented China at the League of Nations in Geneva. Here it was that Chiang Kai-shek sought to mobilise the help of the Western powers when in 1931 the Japanese began transforming their special rights in Manchuria into outright occupation and control of the province. The issue appeared to be a simple one for the Western powers of supporting the League and China against Japanese aggression. The contrast between the real condition of China and its international legal position, together with its image in the eyes of the public in the Western world, was one critical factor in the eastern Asia crisis of the 1930s. The struggle between a central power claiming to speak for and to rule China and regional and provincial rulers was nothing new in modern Chinese history; the contest between integration and disintegration had been going on for decades and continued until 1949. China’s chronic weakness had allowed the European powers to establish colonies and special rights in Shanghai and other treaty ports. Since the beginning of the century the Japanese leaders had been conscious of a great divide in their options for a China policy. Japan could identify with China as a fellow Asian nation and help it to achieve independence from the ‘white’ imperialists; or it could copy the Western imperialists and join them in acquiring colonial possessions and ‘spheres of influence’ in China. To combine with China after dominating it meant certain conflict with the more powerful Western powers. Japan’s best interests seemed to be served by emulating the Western powers and joining in the scramble for China. This meant participating fully in Western great-power diplomacy, which Japan did when concluding an alliance with Britain in 1902. Britain for its part welcomed the Japanese alliance to check Russia and to preserve its own position in China. After the Russo-Japanese war three years later Japan acquired its own considerable empire by annexing Korea and by replacing Russia and carving out a sphere of interest in southern Manchuria. During the next fifteen years the Japanese sought to extend their influence in northern China in agreement with the Russians and at China’s expense. The First World War gave Japan its biggest opportunity and for the first time its ambition now encompassed controlling the government of China itself. But hostile Chinese and international reactions forced the Japanese to withdraw from these extreme pretensions. This was a blow. Worse was the army’s profitless Siberian intervention from 1918 to 1922. It had brought neither glory nor gain. The Japanese in the 1920s then appeared ready to limit their empire to what they already held with the acknowledgement of the Western powers, and beyond this to work with the Western powers within an agreed framework of international treaties, military and territorial. At the Washington Conference of 1921–2 this framework was set up. Japan accepted an inferior ratio of battleships to Britain and the US (3:5:5), but this inferiority was counterbalanced by the agreement of Britain and the US not to build any naval bases in the Western Pacific. Then the Japanese also signed the Nine-Power Treaty (1922) whereby the powers undertook ‘to respect the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and the administrative integrity of China’, and not to take ‘advantage of conditions in China’ to seek special rights or create ‘spheres of influence’. But what of existing rights? The Western powers were not about to relinquish their rights in Shanghai. Japan also interpreted the treaty as not affecting its existing rights and ‘special interests’ which, the US had acknowledged in the past, it should exercise wherever its own territories were close to China’s. Since the opening of the twentieth century the US had tried to secure the consent of the other powers with interests in China to two propositions. First, they should allow equal economic opportunity to all foreign nations wishing to trade in China (the Open Door). The behaviour of the foreign nations, however, showed that this ‘equal opportunity’ was not extended to the Chinese themselves, who did not exercise sovereign power over all Chinese territory. Second, the US urged that China should not be further partitioned (respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity), but in practice the US had acknowledged Japan’s special rights and spheres of influence. The second proposition was more a moral hope than real politics. Nevertheless, these principles were not abandoned. They were reasserted in the 1920s and 1930s. For Japan, the Washington treaties of 1921–2 stabilised international conduct towards disintegrating China and lessened the chance of conflict with the Western powers. Japan would now maintain its existing rights against a new possible threat, Bolshevik Russia, without fear of conflict with Britain and the US. A third reason for Japan’s peaceful adaptation to the entirely new post-war world was its inability to compete in a naval race with the US. Japanese finances were exhausted. Japan was dependent on the West to a degree matched by few modern nations. Its capacity to modernise was at the mercy of the Western powers, especially the US. A Japanese journalist in 1929 summed up Japan’s position, reflecting views widely held at the time: Japan is a country whose territory is small and whose resources are scarce. It has to depend upon other countries for securing such materials. Furthermore, to sustain the livelihood of its excessive population, Japan finds it imperative to place a high priority upon exporting its products abroad. The worldwide depression hit Japan less seriously than the West. Japan had an industrious and wellorganised people to further economic progress. With the help of a large devaluation of its currency, it had pulled out of the slump by 1932. But now the need for capital, especially from the US, and for raw materials (cotton, coal, iron ore and oil) from abroad became increasingly essential. The Japanese believed that their own continued economic existence, the ability of the nation to progress, depended on developing the resources of Manchuria (where the Japanese could secure some of the raw materials they needed) and on continued access to the American market. The heavy rearmament programme launched in 1936 and the needs of the military in China, moreover, could not be sustained without American imports of scrap metal and oil. Thus, the poverty of resources was Japan’s Achilles heel. Recognition of this weakness united the Japanese leadership in the military, business, diplomacy, bureaucracy and politics in one aim: that Japan had to maintain its economic empire in China. Four-fifths of all Japan’s overseas investment at the close of 1929 was in China. On the importance of China there was no difference between the ‘pacific’ 1920s and the militaristic 1930s. The rift occurred between the leaders who argued that Japan could achieve this while staying within the legal framework of treaties and concessions held in common with the West, and those who wished to extend the Japanese economic empire not only at China’s expense but regardless too of Western economic interests in China. The whole of eastern Asia and southeastern Asia would become a Japanese-dominated empire serving Japan’s interests under the highsounding guise of a cooperative Japanese commonwealth of Asian nations called the Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Foreign Minister Matsuoka of the later 1930s, looking at Western behaviour with its earlier emphasis on imperialism and its later support for the League of Nations, simply derided it as a cynical way of changing the rules of international law to suit the West’s own selfish interests. ‘The Western Powers had taught the Japanese the game of poker’, he once remarked, but then, ‘after acquiring most of the chips they pronounced the game immoral and took up contract bridge.’ One significant strand in Japanese thinking about the world was the belief that only by its own endeavours would Japan be accepted as an equal of the ‘white’ world powers, which did not treat it as an equal. It was still in the process of catching up militarily and industrially with the leading Western nations; to survive among the world powers it must grow in strength or go under. Since the days of Meiji, Japan, for all its later talk of Asian cooperation against the West, did not seek a new role as the leading anti-imperialist nation; it wanted to join the imperialist powers and foresaw a partition of the whole world among them. In that partition Japan and its empire would dominate Asia. Now inevitably this set Japan on a collision course with Western possessions and economic interests in Asia. Against the European imperialist nations, Japan, though weaker than their combined strength, had a chance of success. Just as the weaker US in the eighteenth century had made itself dominant in the Western hemisphere – a parallel not lost on Japan – by taking advantage of Europe’s distress, of Europe’s great internecine wars, so Japan in the twentieth century would profit from the conflicts of Europe. But unlike in the eighteenth century, there was one great power now outside the European continent. The fulfilment of Japanese ambitions came to depend on the US. American policy in Asia in the twentieth century has been beset by confusion and contradictions. Paradoxically, one basic tenet of American policy – to uphold the unity and national independence of China in the face of Japanese and European ambitions of piecemeal territorial partition – triumphed in 1949 with the communist victory. For the first time in the century the Chinese mainland was then fused into national unity. What the Americans had always maintained, that China rightly belonged to the Chinese, had come about. China was set on the road to joining the world’s great nations. Only a vestigial presence remained of the former Western imperial era – Portuguese Macao and British Hong Kong – and both outposts were returned to full Chinese control by the end of the century. The Chinese became masters of their own internal economic development, their trading relations and their policy towards the outside world. The fulfilment of the Americans’ objectives was followed by more than two decades of bitter dispute between the US and China, including war in Korea. One reason for past ambiguities in US policy was that it was rooted in the genuine desire for eventual Chinese unity on the one hand and equal commercial opportunities for all Western powers on the other. During the 1920s and 1930s the US was determined to participate in a share of China’s market, whose potential was believed to be of critical importance for future Western prosperity. In 1930 American investment in China, concentrated in Shanghai, was less than American investment in Japan. The Japanese had also acquired rights and privileges, especially in southern Manchuria, based on the Japanese control of the south Manchurian railway and the concessions that went with it. But these rights in Manchuria could not compare with the outright colonial possessions of the European powers acquired by force from a weak China in the nineteenth century, or the semi-colonial ‘extra-territorial rights’ which the Europeans and Japanese enjoyed in the treaty ports. In southern Manchuria, Japanese control was not absolute but had to be attained by manipulating China’s difficulties and working through the local Manchurian warlord. Thus, what came to be regarded as the ‘nation’s lifeline’ was threatened by chaotic conditions and the internal conflicts of China. The Japanese in the 1920s considered China’s claims to Manchuria to be purely nominal, arguing that without Japan’s defeat of Russia Manchuria would have been annexed by Russia in 1905 and that Japan’s presence in Manchuria for a quarter of a century had ensured peace there. That was not the view of the US, which upheld China’s sovereignty over Manchuria; it should be preserved for a future time when China had overcome its internal problems. But successive American presidents from Theodore to Franklin Roosevelt never contemplated the possibility that America’s commercial or strategic interests were sufficiently large in China to justify the US’s defending them by force of arms and so risking war with Japan. It was not in defence of American interests in China that the Pacific War of 1941 to 1945 was fought. For Franklin Roosevelt much wider and more fundamental issues were at stake. These were based on American ideological assumptions which were neither shared nor understood in Japan. The fascinating account of American–Japanese relations from 1939 to 1941 needs to be related later where it belongs chronologically. With the onset of the depression after 1927, Japan was beset by additional problems. Though industry recovered more quickly than elsewhere in the world, the farmers suffered severely. The domestic silk industry provided an important additional income for the peasantry and the price of silk plunged in the US. The countryside became the breeding ground for militarism. A strident nationalism, a sort of super Japanese patriotism with a return to emperor-worship, marks the 1930s. It unified most of the Japanese people. Harsh repression in any case ensured broad conformity, and the educational system was geared to uphold military national values. The more ‘liberal’ tendencies of the 1920s, which saw a strengthening of the Diet, of political parties, of the influence of big business (the zaibatsu) on politics, of the civilian politicians as against the military, was engulfed by the new militaristic nationalism. All these changes occurred without any formal changes in the Meiji constitution. It had never been a part of that constitution to guarantee personal liberties and thereby to limit the powers of the state. Whenever necessary, censorship and control were instituted. The Japanese were taught to obey the state, and patriotism centred on the veneration of the emperor. But it was characteristic of formal Japanese institutions and laws that they allowed for flexibility. The fount of all power, however, remained the emperor. Whichever group succeeded in speaking in his name could wrap itself in his unchallengeable authority. The Meiji Emperor had taken a real role in the decisions of crucial national policies on the advice of his elder statesmen, the genro. The position of his successors was weaker. Emperor Hirohito was elevated to an object of worship and, as a god, was thereby moved away from practical influence on national affairs. Temperamentally gentle and scholarly, the emperor followed rather than controlled the tide of events. Despite the introduction of male suffrage, Japan was not about to turn into a parliamentary constitutional state in the 1920s. Its uniqueness as a society, blending emperor-worship and authority with elected institutions, was not essentially changed by any democratic demands. A Peace Preservation Law imposed severe prison penalties on anyone who even advocated such a change. So the description of the 1920s as the years of Taisho Democracy is a misnomer. The people were not prepared or encouraged to think that they should decide the policies of the state through their elected parties in the parliament. Thus the political parties had no real roots and were the easy victims of military reaction in the 1930s. There was a real difference between the policies pursued by the Japanese in the 1920s and those followed in the 1930s due to the change of balance among the groups that exercised power in the state. The army and navy were not subject to the control of the government but, through the right of separate access to the emperor, constituted a separate position of power. The informal genro had coordinated civilian and military aspects of national affairs. With the passing of the original genro through the deaths of its members, no other body advising the emperor was ever again able to exercise such undisputed overall control. The civilian politicians, leaning for support on parliament and backed by some moderates in the army and navy, in the 1920s gained the upper hand over the more extreme officers in the navy and army. It found expression in Shidehara’s foreign policy and especially in the naval disarmament treaties of the Washington Conference. But both in the Kwantung army stationed in Manchuria and in the navy a violent reaction to civilian control was forming. From 1928 until 1936 the leadership groups were caught in cross-currents of violent conflict. They were no longer able to provide a unified Japanese policy. So there is the contrast between the outwardly unified nation embodied in the emperor’s supremacy and the breakdown of government culminating in the assassination of those politicians who had fallen foul of nationalist extremists. The army was no longer under unified control. The army command in Tokyo was rent by conspiracies to encourage the Kwantung army to act on its own in Manchuria regardless of the policy of the government. In 1928 the Kwantung army attempted to seize military control over Manchuria and so to anticipate Chiang Kai-shek’s attempts to extend his rule by conquest or diplomacy. Chiang Kai-shek might decide to strike a deal with the Manchurian warlord at the expense of Japan’s ambitions. The Japanese Kwantung army command organised the warlord’s murder by blowing up the train on which he was travelling. Although at the time there was an aggres- sive Japanese government in power ready to use military force in China to prevent northern China from falling under Chiang Kai-shek’s control, the Kwantung army had overreached itself and its attempt to take over Manchuria was disavowed. The murdered warlord’s son took over control of the Chinese Manchurian administration and army. A more moderate Japanese government came to power in 1929 and the pacific Shidehara returned to the Foreign Ministry. The army smarted under its humiliation. But the Kwantung army was not punished – the colonel in command was merely retired – and two years later, in September 1931, it struck again more effectively. Meanwhile the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Hamaguchi was soon involved in a confrontation with the navy. The government had consented to a new treaty of naval limitation at the London Conference of 1930, this time applying to cruisers. The Japanese navy had not secured the ratio of cruisers that the chief of the naval general staff, Admiral Kato Kanji, and those naval officers who supported him, considered indispensable. The navy minister, another admiral, supported the prime minister, who won after months of bitter debate. The split into factions even within the armed services themselves is illustrated by this whole episode. It ended tragically when a nationalist fanatic shot Hamaguchi, who lingered several months before succumbing to his wounds. In September 1931 the insubordination of the Kwantung garrison army in Manchuria attracted the attention of the world. Its plot to seize Manchuria by force from theoretical Chinese suzerainty and the warlord’s actual control was an ill-kept secret. The government in Tokyo was powerless. Shidehara received worthless assurances from the war minister that the plot would be quashed. In fact, there was sympathy within the army general staff for the plotters. During the night of 18 and 19 September the Japanese themselves blew up the tracks of the South Manchurian Railway just outside Mukden in Manchuria. On this flimsy pretext the Kwantung army attacked the Chinese and occupied Mukden. The Japanese army in Korea now concerted with the Kwantung army, and units crossed into Manchuria. Soon the whole of Manchuria was under military administration. If this action had been the work of only the middle-ranking subordinate officers of the Kwantung army, then the government in Tokyo might have re-established its authority. The conspiracy at Mukden extended to the army leadership in Tokyo. Government was disintegrating. Shidehara tried to hide this fact from the outside world and to make the diplomatic best of it. The difficulty that Shidehara and the politicians, supported by big business, faced was also in part selfmade. While they strongly disapproved of the armies’ insubordination and interference in politics, as well as their resort to force, they held in common with the army the belief in Japan’s China destiny. The army was pursuing essentially the same goals as they. Only their means differed. Internally the army was out of control and followed its own policy of solving Japan’s China policy by force. In February 1932 it set up a puppet state which it called Manchukuo and so declared that Manchuria was severed from Chinese sovereignty. Then it placed the last boy emperor of the ousted Manchu dynasty, with the unlikely name of Henry Pu-yi, on the puppet throne. Possibly the motive for this bizarre move was to have a useful symbol under their control who might be put forward as a Japanese-backed emperor of China. During the next few years the army’s ambitions were not limited to securing Japan’s rights in southern Manchuria. The Kwantung army was soon extending Japanese influence beyond Manchuria, which was completely conquered by 1933. The Great Wall, the ancient traditional defensive boundary which the Chinese had built to keep out the northern barbarians, proved no barrier to the Japanese. The Japanese army crossed the Great Wall along the railway line running from Mukden in Manchuria to Peking. Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government was far too weak to oppose the Kwantung army by force. In many provinces warlords persisted in exercising power and the communists, from the bases they had established, disputed the Kuomintang’s right to speak for and unite China. Resistance against Japan would be hopeless unless China could first be effectively united, and this became Chiang Kai-shek’s priority. He was therefore glad of a truce, which the Japanese were ready to conclude with the Nationalist government in May 1933. Chiang Kai-shek concentrated his forces against the communist stronghold in the south, to crush peasant uprisings and the Red Army. He almost succeeded in the autumn of 1934. But the Red Army broke through the encircling Nationalist armies and set out on the epic Long March, a military manoeuvre without parallel in the annals of history. The Red Army and the communist political and administrative cadres, about 50,000 people in all, sought safety from the pursuing Nationalist forces by walking a long circuitous route to the last surviving communist base in the north-west of China. They had to fight all the way. The distance that this army covered, through mountains and swamps, in heat and freezing cold, was almost 6,000 miles. The Long March took just over a year to accomplish and of the 80,000 who had set out possibly only 9,000 reached Yan’an in Shaanxi in October 1935, though others joined on the way. In this province Mao Zedong then rebuilt the Communist movement from an initial nucleus of 20,000 to the eventual millions that drove Chiang Kai-shek’s armies from the mainland in 1949. The Kwantung army meanwhile was not idle. It was rapidly expanded from 10,000 officers and men in 1931 to 164,000 in 1935 and by 1941 it had reached a strength of 700,000. These figures alone provide a graphic illustration of the escalation of Japan’s military effort in China. Chiang Kai-shek did not declare war on the Japanese; nor did the Tangku truce in May 1933 between the Nationalist Chinese and the Japanese stop the Kwantung army. By the end of 1935 large regions of northern China and Inner Mongolia were occupied. This brought the Japanese army into contact with the Soviet Union along hundreds of miles of new frontier. The Kwantung army regarded Soviet Russia as the real menace to Japan’s aspirations in eastern Asia: Russia alone could put a modern army of millions into the field of battle on land. The Japanese disregarded the Chinese as a serious military force. But just because there were no real obstacles to expansion in China, it was difficult for the army general staff to decide where to stop. They argued that the war in China should be limited so that the army could concentrate on the Soviet Union. Other officers wanted first to expand in China. It was the latter who won out in July 1937 when a clash of local Chinese and Japanese troops on the Marco Polo Bridge outside Peking became the Japanese excuse for launching full-scale war. Chiang Kai-shek had used the years from 1933 to 1937 to consolidate the power of the Kuomintang in the rest of China with some success. But the Western image of republican Chinese democracy was removed from reality. Chiang’s regime was totalitarian, with its own gangs and terror police and an army held together by fear and harsh discipline. Supported by intellectuals as the only rallying point for anti-Japanese resistance, and by big business and the landlords as the bulwark against communism, Chiang ruled the country through harshness and corruption. The peasantry were the principal and most numerous victims. Chiang prided himself on having copied techniques of government from Mussolini and Hitler. German military advisers were attached to his army. He also cultivated American friendship by his attitude to business and his welcome to American educators and missionaries. The achievements of the Kuomintang in modernising China during a decade of reforms from 1928 to 1937 also should not be overlooked. Industry grew, communications improved, new agricultural techniques raised produce, education was extended. The cities benefited the most. Tens of millions of peasants, however, remained sunk in abject poverty. Further progress in modernising and unifying China was terminated by the all-out war launched by Japan in 1937. The educated elite, in particular, displayed a sense of national pride in the face of internal conflicts and foreign aggression. Trade boycotts were organised against the Japanese and students demonstrated. Groups argued that the Kuomintang and the communists should form a new united front to fight the Japanese. Chiang Kaishek’s priority, however, was to follow Mao to the base he had recently set up in Yenan and smash the ‘bandits’, before turning to meet the Japanese aggression. He sent Zhang Xueliang, called the Young Marshal, to Xi’an in the province of Shensi with the intention that he should march his troops to Yenan and liquidate the communist stronghold. What happened then is one of the most astonishing episodes in the Chinese war. The Young Marshal installed in Xi’an with his army had ideas of his own. Mao skilfully undermined his loyalty to Chiang Kaishek appealing to him to make common front against the Japanese. The Young Marshal then looked for allies and sought the support of the powerful warlord in the neighbouring Shansi province; he found him guarded but not unsympathetic. When in October 1936 Chiang Kai-shek left Nanking and flew to Xi’an to rally the generals against the communist ‘traitors’ the response was lukewarm. So in early December 1936 Chiang Kai-shek returned to Xi’an hoping for better success. The Young Marshal now brought matters to a head. He probably saw himself as replacing Chiang Kai-shek in a united national movement against the Japanese who were starting a full-scale military drive in the north. On 12 December the Young Marshal’s troops stormed Chiang’s headquarters just outside Xi’an, killed many of his bodyguards and took Chiang Kai-shek himself captive. Two weeks later he was released and allowed to fly back to Nanking. He owed his release, and possibly his life, to the intervention of Mao Zedong. It was an extraordinary turn of events. Mao had received a telegram from Moscow conveying Stalin’s advice that Mao should form a united front with Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese. Mao sent Zhou Enlai to Xi’an to negotiate, to propose that the communists unite in the fight against the Japanese with Chiang Kai-shek and to offer to subordinate their forces. Zhou Enlai also persuaded the Young Marshal that Chiang Kai-shek was the only possible leader of a ‘united’ China. A formal communist offer in February 1937 was not officially accepted by Chiang Kai-shek, but the military effort of the Kuomintang did switch to resisting the Japanese. As for the Young Marshal, he was arrested and imprisoned. But the ‘Xi’an incident’ did mark the beginning of cooperation at least in theory between the Kuomintang and Mao’s communist forces. After the Japanese had resumed a full-scale war in the summer of 1937, the two sides reached agreement that the 30,000 soldiers of the Chinese Red Army should become the Eighth Route Army under nominal Kuomintang control. It was not a union of spirit, but a tactical move on both fronts and Mao retained control of the communist base areas. Of all the Western powers, Britain had most at stake in China. Its total trade and commercial investment in China were very large in 1930, just exceeding Japan’s. Together, Britain and Japan dominated all foreign investment in China, accounting for 72 per cent of the total. The US’s investment was far behind at 6 per cent, about the same as France’s. No other power had any significant investment. The most sensitive point of Western interests and influence was the great city of Shanghai. The Western powers and the Japanese held ‘concessions’ there which virtually removed the heart of the city and its port from Chinese control. In January 1932 the Japanese bombed the Chinese district, army reinforcements attacked the Chinese parts of Shanghai, meeting fierce resistance from a Chinese army. The conflict in China was now brought home to the ordinary people in the West. For the first time the cinema newsreels showed the effects of modern warfare. People were horrified by the sufferings inflicted on civilian populations and by the terror bombing from Japanese planes on the hapless Chinese. This new image of war, which was to become even more familiar after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, had a tremendous impact on public opinion. It produced contradictory currents. It provoked a revulsion against war, thus underpinning later attempts at conciliating Hitler in Europe. The public also identified with the sufferers and therefore cast attackers in the role of aggressors to be stopped. China was seen as the innocent victim. The Japanese did incalculable harm to their cause by adopting such a ruthless style of warfare within the range of Western cameramen. When the League of Nations met to consider China’s appeal immediately after the Japanese launched their operation in Manchuria, public opinion in the West sided with China. There was an element of wishful thinking that the League of Nations would be able to punish the aggressor by using the machinery of sanctions set up to provide for collective security. Governments were urged to support the League. But the League of Nations could not fulfil such unrealistic expectations. To oppose Japan by military force on the Chinese mainland would have required an enormous military effort. Who would be ready in the midst of deep depression to raise and supply the large armies? Alternatively, by a great effort and with large funds the Chinese armies might be better equipped and led. Germany was doing all it could in providing military advice to Chiang Kai-shek’s forces. The political divisions of China, however, made it difficult in 1932 and 1933 to conceive of any effective check on Japan. The British Foreign Office and the American State Department had a more realistic appreciation of the situation. With so much at stake, the British attitude to Japan was ambiguous. Chinese nationalism threatened Britain’s imperialist interests as much as Japan’s. In the US it was clear from the start that American material interests were not sufficient to justify the possibility of conflict with Japan or even a trade embargo, which would have deeply injured Japan. That remained the view of official America throughout the 1930s. Yet there was a genuine sense of outrage that Japan had offended against the ethical code that should dictate how it was to conduct its relations with neighbours. It had broken solemn treaties, and this was to be condemned. Secretary of State Henry Stimson issued a famous statement on 7 January 1932 that became known as the Stimson Doctrine – much to President Hoover’s chagrin since, he claimed, he had first thought of it. The US, it declared, would not recognise any treaties or situations brought about in violation of earlier treaties. The US thus refused to accept all Japanese attempts to regularise its control of Manchuria. The League endorsed this view a little later. Meanwhile, the League of Nations had sent Lord Lytton as British chairman of a commission to investigate on the spot Chinese claims and Japanese counter-claims. His report in October 1932 condemned the Japanese military action and suggested a compromise solution that would have given Manchuria autonomy while preserving Japanese rights. In February 1933 these recommendations were accepted by the League Assembly; the Japanese delegation thereupon left the League and never returned. The League of Nations had nothing more to offer in the absence of will on the part of Britain and the US to back further action. The League suffered greatly in prestige. This, in itself, did not bring a general war between the other powers nearer; indeed, it might have served a useful purpose if the peoples in the democratic countries had thereby gained a greater sense of realism. Too often the call to ‘support the League’ was believed to be all that was required; it could be comfortably combined with pacifism and a refusal to ‘fight for king and country’. Many preferred to believe that they did not need to shoulder the responsibilities of peacekeeping or make the sacrifices required to check aggression – that was the job of the League. An ardent desire for peace and wishful thinking led to blame being transferred to the League. In Japan itself the success of the Kwantung army and the failure of the League had important effects too. A wave of patriotism and ultranationalism swept the population. Japanese governments now seemed to those Japanese patriots much too cautious. Patriotic secret societies, with sometimes only a few hundred members, sought to influence policy decisively. One method was to assassinate ministers who, in the societies’ view, did not follow patriotic policies. Frustrated army officers joined such societies and there were repeated attempts to stage military coups. Several prominent ministers were murdered. This reign of terror did succeed in intimidating many opponents of extremism. The army meanwhile did not try to put its own house in order – at least not until several hundred officers and rebellious troops in February 1936 had seized the whole government quarter of Tokyo and assassinated a number of Cabinet ministers, in the name of the emperor. The Japanese navy now played a leading part in putting down the insurrection. But it proved no victory for moderation. From then on, civilian ministers came to be even more dominated by the military. Japan was set on an expansionist course. Although Britain and the US did not wish to fight Japan, in the last resort the issue of peace with the West would depend on whether Japan’s aims in China were limited or whether ambition would drive it on to seek to destroy all Western influence in eastern and southern Asia.

 

 

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