The Consul at Tihwa (Ward) to the Secretary of State 82

No. 3

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Consulate’s despatch no. 2, dated December 10, 1944, on the subject of the Ining uprising, and, further in that general connection, to submit the following analysis of the basic factors in the Sinkiang situation.

Summary. Geographically, Sinkiang is divided into two mountain-enclosed basins; in the southernmost of these, the inhabited oases encircle a desert; in the northern basin, the oases stretch generally east to west and are accessible to the steppe. The population of the Province numbers roughly 4,000,000, of whom about 75% are Uighurs, only 5% being Chinese. The great majority of the inhabitants are Turki-speaking Muslims. Politically, China has maintained a relationship with the area which has in periods amounted to sovereignty. Russian interest in the area is an important factor; that of Great Britain no longer is. The trade of the Province lies naturally to a considerable extent with Russia; it is not clear that the mineral wealth of the area is as great as many Chinese appear to believe. The present development of communications has already changed, and will further change, the relation of forces within the Province, where there are three basic conflicts: between the steppe and the oasis; between the governed and the governing minority; and between China and Russia. The abandonment by China of her present “forward policy” and the substitution of partial autonomy for Sinkiang would perhaps solve these conflicts. End of Summary.

[Here follows detailed report.]

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As has been noted, the racial and geographic relationships between Chinese and Russian Turkistan made inevitable a continuing Soviet interest in Sinkiang, apart from the basic principle of Soviet policy which disposes that country to favor—and sometimes to try to secure—in the states on its borders governments not inimical to itself. The problem of administration of the areas contiguous to Sinkiang is increased by unrest among people of the same races directly across the border, particularly since Russia has sought to solve that problem by nurturing the separate racial cultures and attempting to guide their development rather than by trying to absorb them.

Economically, the occupation of the steppe, with the resultant decline of sheep-herding, would deprive Russia of such of her wool as has in the past come from Sinkiang, and the industrialization of the Province would close it to Russian manufactured goods.

These considerations are, however, intrinsically of much less importance to Russia than to Sinkiang. What is perhaps more vital is that the absorption of Sinkiang would leave a potentially powerful and possibly hostile China entrenched in Central Asia, flanking Outer Mongolia.

The Soviet Union therefore has no reason to assist China in what appear to be her present plans for Sinkiang; in fact, Russian sympathies for racial minorities and for peoples whom she regards as exploited strongly dispose her to an opposite course.

VIII. Conclusions.

From the foregoing review of the basic factors in the Sinkiang situation, we may tentatively adduce the following postulates:

The people of Sinkiang will not voluntarily accept Sinification;
Steppe economy cannot profitably be converted to agriculture;
The compact and necessarily limited character of oases economy cannot now support either (a) an unlimited expansion of the population or (b) an industrial empire;
Trade is essential to the maintenance of the present economy; given the immediate situation, in which China cannot supply the necessary market or goods, it follows that, to prevent collapse, trade with Russia must be resumed;
There is no reason why, from the Soviet point of view, Russia should take any action to support, or stave off disaster from, a Government of Sinkiang whose policy toward minorities does not accord with her own, and whose basic objective is the integration of the area into a political system which Russia is not sure is not hostile to her own;
An economic collapse, with the increase in the already widespread suffering which it would entail, might so sharpen the continuing conflicts in this Province as to involve a collapse of the present Government:
The further weakening of the Central Government in China proper would make the danger of such a collapse in Sinkiang much greater;
In the fighting and confusion which would attend collapse, it would be difficult for the Soviet Union to avoid involvement:
Sinkiang might then be lost to China.

If these postulates are true, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it would be wise for China to reconsider her “forward policy” in Sinkiang in favor of a more realistic course which would meet three empiric tests: (1) it should have the effect of composing, rather than exacerbating, the basic internal conflicts; (2) it should be acceptable to Soviet Russia; (3) it should safeguard Chinese sovereignty in the Province.

One course (and perhaps the only one) which would meet these tests would be that the Uighur leaders have urged upon the Chinese Government: the granting of a limited but clearly defined and actual autonomy to Sinkiang, guaranteeing its constituent races against absorption and the distinctive cultures of those races from extinction.

Such a course would accord with Russian internal policy, would meet the demands of dissident or insurgent groups (such as those of the “Government” now in control of Ining), and would leave Chinese sovereignty much more secure than it is at present.

The adoption of such a plan would involve a realistic admission that in Sinkiang China is a colonial power and it would afford evidence that, like Great Britain after the revolt of the American colonies, she is capable of learning her lesson. In Outer Mongolia the Chinese Government condoned the development of a situation which practically doomed Chinese sovereignty there; in Turkistan, in different circumstances, she now has the chance to turn away from that error, or perhaps even to redeem it completely.

Respectfully yours,

Robert S. Ward
  1. Approved by the Appointed Ambassador in China (Hurley) for transmission to the Department.