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China and Soviet Russia, by Henry Wei

Intervention & Non-Intervention
by G. F. Hudson
China and Soviet Russia. By Henry Wei. Van Nostrand. 379 pp. $7.75.

Dr. Wei’s book covers the history of Sino-Soviet relations from 1917 to the present day, that is to say a period of thirty-nine years, during the last seven of which the government of mainland China has been identical with the Chinese Communist party. Previous to the creation of the Chinese People’s Republic, the Soviet party-state maintained for most of the time diplomatic relations with the internationally recognized government of China, but from the founding of the Chinese Communist party in 1921 also maintained comradely relations with that party in its activities directed toward the revolutionary capture of the Chinese state. This was not in itself remarkable, for the policy of Soviet Russia toward every non-Communist state showed the same dualism between the official relations conducted by the Foreign Ministry (or Commissariat, as it used to be) and the intrigues carried on under the same leadership through the Comintern or other agencies of the international Communist movement. But whereas in other countries the state power was too consolidated for the Communists to be able to capture power, even regionally, in the period between the two world wars, in China the state had so far disintegrated that they could establish their regime in one area of the national territory, even though they did not control the internationally recognized central government. The peculiarity of China was that for many years it was the only country outside the Soviet Union Where a Communist party was in possession of a piece of territory with its own administration, army, and police.

Dr. Wei shows how Soviet influence became an important factor in Chinese affairs already in 1920, before the Chinese Communist party was yet in existence, with Karakhan’s declaration addressed, in the absence of any diplomatic relations, “to the Chinese people and the governments of North and South China.” The new Soviet government’s grand gesture of renouncing all rights and privileges acquired in China by Czarist Russia made a deep impression on the Chinese intelligentsia, at that time stirred by nationalist agitation against the “unequal treaties” and particularly against the transfer to Japan by the Treaty of Versailles of the former leasehold in Shantung. Many Chinese for whom the newly imported political thought of the West was nothing but a medley of confused and unintelligible ideas were strongly attracted by the claim that “if the Chinese people, following the example of the Russian people, wish to become free . . . they should understand that they have no other ally or brother in their struggle for liberty except the Russian peasants and workers and their Red Army.” Acceptance of this aid was not supposed to depend on the leadership of the Communist party within China, and when the Kuomintang-Communist coalition was formed in Canton, there was more conflict among the Communists about joining the Kuomintang than in the Kuomintang about letting them in. But the Kuomintang soon found that a political price had to be paid for Soviet aid, and the climax of Comintern interference came, as Dr. Wei points out, when the Indian M. H. Roy, Comintern representative, showed Wang Ching-wei, leader of the left Kuomintang, the text of a Comintern directive in the mistaken belief that he would have to accept it.

At this stage of the revolution, indeed, the Russians overplayed their hand, and there was a strong reaction against them; all relations with Russia were broken off by the Kuomintang, the Russian advisers expelled, and the Chinese Communists outlawed. Recriminations followed between Stalin and Trotsky over responsibility for the failure to bring about a Communist revolution in China, and in this controversy, which received wide publicity, no reference was made to the fact that during the whole period the Soviet government had had an ambassador in Peking accredited to the government against which both the Kuomintang and the Communists had been jointly waging civil war.

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A decade after this initial reverse, the Soviet Union was again commending itself to Chinese nationalism as a friend and supporter—this time against the expansion of Japan. The Chinese Communists on prompting from Moscow formally submitted themselves to the supreme leadership of Chiang Kai-shek in the national struggle against Japan and supplies of Soviet arms sent to China were delivered to the National government, not to the Communists. As long as Russia feared an attack by Japan it was expedient for Moscow to maintain Chinese national unity in resistance to Japan and to keep the Chinese Communists within bounds. But after Japan went to war with America and Britain, and especially after the victory of Stalingrad, the Russian attitude toward the Chinese National government became less and less friendly, while the Chinese Communists began to act more and more in defiance of Chungking.

In the summer of 1943, shortly after the rupture of diplomatic relations with the exiled government of Poland, Moscow began the propaganda campaign against the Chinese National government which was to have such far-reaching effects on American opinion. As Dr. Wei mildly expresses it, “nobody is more popular than a triumphant ally in the midst of an all out war,” and with the Red Army marching on Berlin, “Soviet prestige in Allied countries was soaring heavenward.” In contrast, China’s war effort, after seven years of unequal struggle, was by 1944 at a low ebb, and to many impatient Western observers the Communist guerrilla fighting, little as it actually achieved against the Japanese forces, seemed the only creditable feature in a depressing military situation. This was the context of Vice President Wallace’s adverse report to the President on the postwar prospects of the Chungking government and later of Roosevelt’s agreement with Stalin at Yalta secretly disposing of Chinese sovereign rights in return for the Russian undertaking to enter the war against Japan. It was not, however, the Yalta agreement itself which was so disastrous to China as Russia’s subsequent violation of its terms (and of those of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance of August 1945, which was based on the Yalta pact) and American connivance at the violation.

The Russian behavior in occupation of Manchuria was no different from what it was in the countries of Eastern Europe which Russian forces overran in the course of driving out the Germans; in the Far East, as in Europe, military occupation was used as a means to transfer political power to local Communist parties and to suppress, or prevent the return of, non-Communist governments. But with regard to China, Russia had given very definite undertakings not to do what she in fact did; the Yalta agreement pledged Russia to restore Chinese sovereignty in Manchuria (which precluded support for armed rebellion there against the government which Russia herself recognized), and in the treaty which Moscow subsequently negotiated with Chungking in order to legalize the concessions granted at Yalta it was specifically laid down that all “support and aid” to be rendered to China was to be “entirely given to the National government as the Central government of China.” These agreements were flagrantly broken by the Russians, who admitted Chinese Communist forces to Manchuria and allowed them to equip themselves there from Japanese arms dumps while they obstructed in every way the entry of National government troops conveyed to Manchurian ports by American shipping. This Russian intervention on the side of the Communists would fully have justified an American counter-intervention to enable the Chinese National government to establish its authority at any rate south of the Great Wall, but instead the American policy was to ignore the Russian intervention, to withhold arms from the National government, and to send Marshall to China to press Chiang Kai-shek to take the Communists into his government. In all these proceedings the pretense was maintained that the conflict between Kuomintang and Communists was a purely internal matter in which Russia was not involved.

Dr. Wei is concerned with the history of these events from a Chinese point of view; for the American angle on them it is instructive to compare the account of the same events in Herbert Feis’s book The China Tangle. As a Chinese living in the United States, Dr. Wei is tactful in what he has to say about American policy toward China in the crucial postwar period; he writes that the “highly controversial and complicated” questions involved must be “left to future historians.” However, there is not much doubt about what he thinks, and his whole book is indeed a refutation of the view that the Communist revolution in China was a purely internal development. Moreover, there has already been a provisional post mortem on Nationalist China at a high level in the United Nations debates on China’s appeal against Russia for violation of the 1945 treaty—an appeal which unfortunately was not made until after the Communists had won decisive victory in the civil war. Dr. Wei devotes a whole chapter to the now forgotten episode of this appeal. The Western powers found it extremely embarrassing and feared that any decision in favor of Nationalist China would restrict their freedom of action in dealing with the new regime; the Communist states were at their most truculent and evasive in replying to the charges and Secretary General Trygve Lie departed from the supposedly non-partisan character of his office in order to support the Communist claim to China’s United Nations seat. In spite of all these adverse factors, however, the Nationalist delegation was able to present such irrefutable evidence in support of its charges that it obtained on February 1, 1952, the passing of a resolution that the Soviet Union had “failed to carry out” the Sino-Soviet treaty of 1945. Not that the United Nations ever did anything about it; the Chinese appeal, in Dr. Wei’s words, “was tossed from Committee to Committee like a dead cat or a hot potato which nobody cared to touch or carry.” But this was hardly surprising, for the time to oppose aggression is when it occurs and not after it has succeeded.

Dr. Wei has written a good book in a lively style, though his occasional facetious touches, as when he speaks of “Stalin and Company,” may give the impression that it is a much less serious work than it really is. His last chapters, on Sino-Soviet relations since 1949, are less informative than the earlier ones, as the author floes not appear to have any unusual sources of knowledge about the present regime, whereas he is well acquainted with the background of Kuomintang policies. He makes sensible comments, however, on the present situation, and emphasizes the point that the popularity of the Soviet Union in China cannot be established merely by propaganda but must depend on how much aid is actually forthcoming for China’s economic development. The aid so far given has certainly not been lavish, except for armaments, and Khrushchev’s recent bounty toward uncommitted non-Communist nations must make somewhat painful news for members of that universal organization of the new China, the Sino-Soviet Friendship Association.

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