The United States, China, and the Far East at the Close of World War II
Next to European reconstruction, political stability in Far East Asia was an equally important factor in the post-war thinking of American authorities at the time. Particularly the fate of China, a country not only occupied by the Japanese Army but also deeply riven by internal strife between nationalist and communist forces and thus dangerously teetering on the brink of civil war, was a matter of profound disquiet to senior officials in the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations. There existed several reasons for why China was given such a pre-eminent standing in American post-war designs. For one, as President Roosevelt had said in 1943, recent developments in world history had demonstrated that the personal freedoms of every American 'increasingly depend upon the freedom of his neighbours in other lands'. After all, a war which had started in seemingly remote areas such as Poland or China had soon spread to every continent, touching before long upon the lives and liberties of other peoples as well. Unless the peace which followed that war therefore recognized that the whole world was 'one neighbourhood and does justice to the whole human race', Roosevelt argued, 'the germs of another world war will remain as a constant threat to mankind'.1 Hence for Roosevelt, who regarded China as one of the great democracies in the world,2 it was self-explanatory that the United States had to render as much assistance as possible to shore up China, both during and after the war, all the more so since he counted China among the four nations with great military power which, if they stuck together in their common determination to keep the peace, would deny aggressor nations all possibility to start another world war.3
The achievement of that objective first of all necessitated measures to redress China's food shortages and the lack of other vital commodities until its citizens could again assume the full burden of their own support. As a result, UNRRA had to assure a fair distribution of supplies among all of the liberated peoples while also doing everything it could to ward off death by starvation or exposure. As Roosevelt admonished, it would be a supreme irony to win victory only to thereafter 'inherit world chaos simply because we were unprepared to meet what we know we shall have to meet'. Many cities and villages in countries such as China, Russia, and Italy already provided horrible evidence of what the retreating Axis powers would leave behind, so that it was thus not only charitable for the United Nations to supply medicine, food, and other necessities to their stricken peoples but also 'a clear matter of enlightened self-interest'. A secure peace notably could not obtain until there had occurred 'a return of law and order in the oppressed countries', nor until liberated peoples had been 'restored to a normal, healthy, and self-sustaining existence'.4 Yet for as long as the Chinese coast remained under Japanese occupation, it proved extremely difficult to deliver critical supplies into mainland China, with the result that the war directly interfered with American plans to give the Chinese people whatever aid they needed for a rapid rehabilitation.5
Although China was primarily viewed as a significant strategic front in the war against Japan, American assistance to the country altogether went far beyond purely military considerations alone. Above all, US statesmen realized that without a minimum degree of internal stability and social cohesion it would be impossible to reconstitute the nation as one of the principal guardians of the peace in the post-war era. Developments within the country, however, continued to point into the opposite direction, with the patent antagonism between the Nationalist government and the Communist forces threatening to turn the entire nation into a major hotspot well past the end of the conflict with Imperial Japan. Consequently, American authorities were actively looking for ways to pacify the country and reconcile the two competing factions in the hope that differences between them could still be settled before they reached a point where open warfare would become an all but inescapable reality. Thus already in March 1944 Roosevelt had sent Vice President Henry Wallace to China to establish more harmonious relations between Chiang Kai-Shek and the Communists with a view to not only avert the emergence of a communist regime under Soviet domination in northern China but also the possibility of Russia and the United States being drawn into a domestic conflict on different sides.6 To his consternation, however, Wallace found that Chiang was overly reluctant to enter negotiations with the Communists. As he wrote to FDR:
[T]he Generalissimo's attitude toward the problem is so imbued with prejudice that I perceive little prospect of a satisfactory long-term settlement...I have found economic, political, and military situations in China extremely discouraging. Chinese morale is low and demoralization is a possibility with resultant disintegration of central authority...The political situation is unstable and tense with rising lack of confidence in the Generalissimo and his reactionary entourage.7
Although Wallace concluded that for the moment there was no real alternative to continue lending support to the nationalist cause,8 with the United States hoping that positive developments within China might enhance the appeal and position of Chiang's government, it was by no means certain that his leadership would ultimately produce the kind of post-war China needed for safeguarding peace and order in the Pacific region. As the State Department summed up the American long-term objective vis-à-vis China, 'it is our purpose to maintain a degree of flexibility which would permit cooperation with any leadership in China that would offer the greatest likelihood of fostering a united, democratic, and friendly China'.9
In light of such imponderables surrounding the future direction of the Chinese government, it was not surprising that US officials grew increasingly impatient in their desire to generate favourable conditions for the formation of a unified Chinese government that was generally amenable to the American vision of post-war international organization or, at the very least, would not act as a permanent distraction or impediment to its realization. That goal, however, could only be accomplished through more vigorous multilateral attempts at establishing an integrated Chinese government composed of both nationalist and Communist elements. Accordingly, the US government ramped up its efforts to reach an accommodation between the two opposing sides, with both ambassador Patrick Hurley and General Albert Wedemeyer working feverishly to settle their gaping differences.10 By the same token, the Chinese question also featured as an important topic at the Yalta meeting between Stalin and Roosevelt, not least of all since territorial concessions to the Russians were inextricably bound up with their entry into the Pacific war. On that score, a secret protocol attached to the Yalta agreements stipulated that, among other things, the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base to the U.S.S.R was to be restored, that Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands were to be handed over to Russia after the war, and that the preeminent Soviet interests with regard to the port of Dairen and the Manchurian railroads should likewise be preserved. In turn, Russia assented to maintaining full Chinese sovereignty in Manchuria while moreover declaring its readiness to conclude a pact of friendship with the national government of China.11
Roosevelt, though somewhat disillusioned by the fact that Chiang did not show much inclination to collaborate with the Communists, nevertheless continued to hope that the Nationalist government would ultimately succeed in securing the establishment of a free, strong and united country in the post-war period. To that end, FDR was striving hard to obtain both Russian and British support of American policies towards China, trusting that a coordinated approach by the Allies would increase the chances for a unified and democratic China. However, not only the British refusal to return colonial possessions such as Hong Kong to China threatened to compromise America's post-war visions, but also the many uncertainties revolving around Stalin's own ambitions in Far East Asia.12 In that respect, different assessments of Moscow's policy towards the government of Chiang Kai-Shek engendered a not insignificant deal of confusion in Washington in the days following Roosevelt's death on 12 April 1945. Whereas ambassador Hurley wrote that Stalin would accede to the unification of China's armed forces as well as to the creation of a free and democratic government under the central authority of Chiang Kai-Shek,13 ambassador Harriman, on the other hand, relayed a distinctly more pessimistic appraisal of the situation in China to his superiors. Specifically, Harriman predicted that unless Chiang's government came to terms with the Communists before a Soviet occupation of northern China, Moscow would most likely try to put in place a Soviet-dominated Communist regime in these areas, resulting in 'a completely divided China, much more difficult of uniting'.14
This danger of a segmented China in which not only internal but also external rivals continuously vied for power and influence was perceived as one of the most harmful developments which might occur in the post-war reorganization of the Far Eastern political landscape. In that context, as ambassador Hurley cabled President Truman in May 1945, above all Great Britain had neglected to contribute in any meaningful way to the prevention of the collapse of the Chinese government. Worse, Hurley believed that there was evidence to suggest that some of Great Britain's agents were actually endeavouring to keep China divided against herself, while simultaneously seeking credit for what had been achieved against the Japanese occupation forces in the hope of reinstating 'the prestige of imperialism'. In a similar vein, other nations such as France and the Netherlands also still maintained staffs in China and—like the British—claimed merit for the fight against the Japanese invader despite their armies not having actively participated in the Chinese theatre of the war. Accordingly, these latest developments demonstrated that to all appearances the European empires were intent on retaining as much control as possible of their colonial possessions on the Asian mainland, thereby once again starkly bringing to the fore the one seminal issue which had dominated Asian politics for many years, namely the clash between democracy and imperialism.15
On that front, already Roosevelt himself had recognized that China was not the only concern in regards to future stability in Far East Asia, but that the necessity for sophisticated solutions to serious political and economic problems likewise applied to other Asian states as well. Anxious to make sure that the United States would not again suffer a sneak attack from another nation, Roosevelt had been confident that with the end of the Japanese threat there would be an excellent outlook for peace in the Pacific region, cemented by a great interchange of commerce between the US and Asian countries. After all, as Roosevelt noted, 'the destinies of the whole Pacific will for many years be entwined with our own destiny', and already there was 'stirring among hundreds of millions of them, a desire for the right to work out their own destinies'.16 Still, there remained many unresolved issues in terms of the political and constitutional make-up of these nations, particularly as regarded their wish for independence from colonial rule. Agreeing with Chiang Kai-Shek that countries such as Indo-China should not go back to their former colonial masters, Roosevelt was well aware of the need to sufficiently educate them for self-government before setting them on the path towards gradual independence. That is why he had advocated for trusteeships under the joint supervision of the United Nations, especially since he realized that the process of preparing Asian nations for independence would in all likelihood be going to take several decades while also encountering opposition from colonial powers.17
1 Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to the White House Correspondent's Association, 12 February 1943. In: Samuel I. Rosenman (ed.), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943, Volume XII, The Tide Turns: Compiled with Special Material and Explanatory Notes by Samuel I. Rosenman (New York: Harper, 1950), pp. 71-81.
2 Roosevelt, Eight Hundred and Eighty-first Press Conference, 19 February 1943. In: Rosenman (ed.), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943, Volume XII, pp. 100-108.
3 Roosevelt, Christmas Eve Fireside Chat on Teheran and Cairo Conferences, 24 December 1943. In: Rosenman (ed.), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943, Volume XII, pp. 553-563.
4 Roosevelt, The Establishment of U.N.R.R.A, 9 November 1943. In: Rosenman (ed.), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943, pp. 500-509.
5 Roosevelt, Nine Hundred and Seventy-first Press Conference, 3 October 1944. In: Samuel I. Rosenman, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944-45, Volume XIII, Victory and the Threshold of Peace: Compiled with Special Material and Explanatory Notes by Samuel I. Rosenman (New York: Harper, 1950) , pp. 307-309; Roosevelt, Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, 6 January 1945. In: ibid, pp. 483-507.
6 See Patrick J. Hearden, Architects of Globalism. Building a New World Order During World War II (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas, 2002), pp. 269-270. See also Herbert Feis, The China Tangle. The American Effort in China from Pearl Harbor to the Marshall Mission (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953), pp. 81-102, 145-157.
7 Message from Henry Wallace for President Roosevelt, forwarded through the Officer in Charge at New Delhi (Merrell) to the Secretary of State, 28 June 1944. In: FRUS, Diplomatic Papers, 1944: Volume VI. China (Washington: GPO, 1967), pp. 234-237.
9 State Department, Memorandum to the War Department, 29 January 1945. In: NARA RG 107, Henry L. Stimson Safe File, Box 3, National Archives.
10 Hearden, Architects of Globalism, p. 275.
11 Protocol of Proceedings of Crimea Conference, 11 February 1945. In: State Department, A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-1949. Prepared at the request of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations by the Staff of the Committee and the Department of State (Washington: GPO, 1950).
12 Message from Ambassador Patrick J. Hurley to the Secretary of State, 14 April 1945. In: FRUS, Diplomatic Papers, 1945: Volume VII. The Far East, China (Washington: GPO, 1969), pp. 329-332.
13 Hearden, Architects of Globalism, p. 276.
14 Minutes of the Secretary of State's Staff Committee, 21 April 1945. In: FRUS, Diplomatic Papers, 1945: Volume V. Europe, pp. 842-846.
15 Telegram from Ambassador Patrick J. Hurley to President Truman, 21 May 1945. Truman Papers, Map Room, Incoming Messages, May 1945, Truman Library.
16 Roosevelt, Radio Address at Puget Sound Navy Yard, 12 August 1944. In: Rosenman (ed.), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944-45, pp. 216-228.
17 Roosevelt, The Nine Hundred and Ninety-second Press Conference, 23 February 1945. In: Rosenman (ed.), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944-45, pp. 556-565.
- Quote paper
- Joe Majerus (Author), 2018, The United States, China, and the Far East at the Close of World War II, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1301736