Valery Tymoshenko – Soviet-Chinese relations in the 30s of the 20th century and fate of the Northeast United Army

In September 1931, the Tanaka Memorial was published in the “China Critic” magazine. In 1927, Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Giichi laid out for Emperor Hirohito a strategic world conquest document. The document stated that in order to take over the world, Japan needs to take over Asia; In order to take over Asia, Japan needs to take over China; In order to take over China, Japan needs to take over Manchuria and Mongolia. Tanaka’s plan also envisaged a war with the USSR. “The program of our national growth includes the need to cross swords with Russia again in the fields of Mongolia in order to seize the riches of Northern Manchuria… – the memorial was broadcast. — We will flood Northern Manchuria with our forces in every possible way. USSR will have to intervene, and this will be a pretext for an open conflict for us.” Today, you can say as much as you like that the “Tanaka Memorial ” is a fake, published almost in Moscow, but the subsequent course of events leaves no doubt about its authenticity.

The “memorial” was delivered to Moscow by the JSPD’s foreign intelligence through the residency in Harbin and Seoul, where it was immediately assessed as a document of exceptional importance. Plans for Japanese expansion and a possible war with the USSR greatly alarmed the Soviet leadership. And the further capture of Manchuria became the reason for the fastest search for allies. First of all, China was represented as an ally. But there was a second civil war between the Kuomintang and the CCP in China at that time, special Soviet regions were being created.” The leadership of the USSR faced a difficult choice: on the one hand, the sympathies of the Soviet Union were on the side of the Communists, on the other hand, the USSR could not ignore the Kuomintang government, which controlled most of the country and was recognized by the international community. In countering Japanese expansion, it was necessary to rely on both sides.

On October 5, 1932, Kuomintang China and the Soviet Union normalized bilateral relations. Chiang Kai-shek even suggested to Stalin to conclude a non-aggression pact. The Soviet Union rejected this proposal, having no desire to get closer to China too rapidly for several reasons. Firstly, the Soviet Union did not want to be tied to the Sino-Soviet non-aggression Treaty, which could lead to complicated relations with Japan. Stalin desperately wanted to avoid a conflict in the Far East under conditions of the strengthening of Hitler’s military machine in Europe. The signing of such a pact could mean that Moscow would lose its diplomatic flexibility in dealing with Japan. Secondly, the position of the nationalist Chinese government was unstable. There was a possibility of the Communist Party of China’s victory, which would eventually contribute to the victory of communism over the capitalists in Asia.

The Soviet leadership, following its tactics of not harming its relations with Chiang Kai-shek and Japan, actually took a neutral position in the struggle of China against the Japanese aggressor, when the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army was created on the base of the CCP in 1936. At this time, the situation of the United Army was getting worse. She actually lost touch with the leadership of the CCP. Lacking supplies, under pressure from Japanese troops, army units were forced to cross the Soviet-Chinese border and seek refuge in the Far Eastern regions of the Soviet Union. Soldiers of the United Army who crossed the border were disarmed, arrested, and sent to special camps. And although the army soldiers were treated well, and they were not extradited, as Japan demanded, in fact, the soldiers and officers of the United Anti-Japanese Army were hostages of a difficult military-political situation.

The situation changed after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in July 1937, when the USSR supported China. In addition to the conclusion of the Soviet-Chinese non-aggression pact and the signing of military supply agreements, the Soviet leadership also paid attention to the United Anti-Japanese Army. The Soviet authorities in the Far East were ordered to assist the Chinese partisans with weapons and equipment, however, to do it secretly in order not to provoke Japan. Interned Chinese servicemen were released and secretly transported to China for continuing the struggle. Many Chinese militaries were used by the Soviet intelligence agencies to collect information about the Japanese army in Manchuria.

As the war dragged on, support for the United Anti-Japanese Army and the CCP party organizations from the Soviet Union intensified. Meetings of CCP representatives in Manchuria were regularly held in Khabarovsk. Special camps were created on the border, which served as shelters and recreation centers for Chinese partisans. At the same time, it should be noted that the Soviet leadership tried to reassign the units of the United Army to the military command of the USSR. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, from a military point of view, it seemed more logical to the Soviet military leaders. Secondly, the Stalinist leadership did not give up hope of regaining the positions lost by tsarist Russia in the Far East, including the CER, Port Arthur and Dalny, and for this, it needed well-trained pro-Soviet cadres. Only under pressure from the CCP representatives did the Soviet government agree to the continuation of the leadership of the United Army by the Chinese Communists.

However, this situation did not last long. On April 13, 1941, the USSR signed a non-aggression pact with Japan. In China, the news about the treaty caused great disappointment – many perceived it as a betrayal. The Soviet government reassured Chiang Kai-shek that it was not going to reduce the assistance provided to his country, but with the outbreak of war with Germany, military supplies to China stopped and the advisers were withdrawn. After the German attack on the USSR, the Soviet government did not have the opportunity to provide assistance to the United Anti-Japanese Army.

The Stalinist leadership had several arguments for signing the pact with Japan: the USSR will not be able to fight on two fronts. There were no guarantees of Japanese non-aggression, Chiang Kai-shek’s army retreated, losing ground, position after position, and the Chinese Communists did not show the necessary activity in the guerrilla struggle in Manchuria. And in general, it was about the very existence of the USSR. History has shown that it was the right choice. The pact allowed the USSR to redeploy troops from the Far East in time and effectively for a winter counteroffensive near Moscow. We must take account of the fact that the Soviet leadership feared the reaction of Western countries to participate in the war against Japan. Thus, a researcher at Hawaiian Pacific University, Bingyan Cai, believes that the major Western powers were still hostile to the Soviet communist government, and stated that they would consider the USSR’s attack on Japan as aggression and a desire to “communize” China.

As for the United Army, its remnants finally came under the military command of the USSR. Under the terms of the pact with Japan, the Soviet leadership could not allow any anti-Japanese forces to operate from the territory of the USSR. Some of the Chinese and Korean military personnel who were in the USSR were used by Soviet intelligence, and some were reorganized into the 88th separate brigade of the Far Eastern Front of the Soviet Red Army. The brigade commander was Zhou Baozhong, political commissar Zhang Shoujiang, Deputy Chief of Staff Cui Yunjian. The brigade consisted of 4 infantry battalions, a communications battalion and a mortar battery. One of the battalions was commanded by Kim Il Sung.

It should be noted that many Koreans fought in the Anti-Japanese United Army. So, in the second army of the united forces, Koreans accounted for up to 60%. Kim Il Sung was the commander of the second front of the first army. In October 1942, he led the remnants of the front and transferred them to the territory of the USSR. Many leaders of the CCP in the past and some historians now believe that Kim Il Sung committed treason by taking the remnants of the first army to the USSR, although he could continue to fight. However, it’s not that simple. Kim Il-sung was guided by the situation. According to the famous Chinese scientist Shen Jihua, the leadership of the CCP at that time was unable to help the Northeastern United Anti-Japanese Army. Moreover, there were great differences between the leaders of the CCP and the military on the issue of the activities of the United Army. Many military men reproached Mao Zedong for the wrong strategy and tactics of actions in Manchuria. Communication with the army was practically not maintained. In the current military-political situation, the United Army had no choice but to come under the control of the Soviet Union.

Author: Valery Tymoshenko, doctor of history

Translation: Evstratova Elena

Source: Вестник ЦИМО в АТР. № 6. 2021

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