Memorandum by the Second Secretary of Embassy in China (Davies)5

China and the Kremlin

Without attempting to guess what Russian intentions in the Far East may be, it is nevertheless useful to examine some of the factors, present and future, in the Chinese political scene which may influence future Soviet decisions.

The Present. The Current situation in China must afford the Kremlin a certain sardonic satisfaction.

The Russians see the anti-Soviet Government of Chiang Kai-shek decaying—militarily, politically and economically. They observe the Chinese Communists consolidating in North China, expanding southward in the wake of Chiang’s military debacles and now preparing for the formal establishment of a separatist administration. The Kremlin sees that as the Japanese become increasingly concerned with the American naval threat to the China Coast and Japan Proper, they are less able to focus on the defense of North China and Manchuria.

Britain, the Russians undoubtedly recognize, has recently adopted a policy of supporting Chiang diplomatically as a counter poise to the Chinese Communists, but is unable at this stage to give him material aid and would not, even if it could, assist him to the extent that he could unify China.

The Russians have witnessed the instructive frustration of American efforts to bring out by exhortation a Chiang–Communist agreement. If by our refusal now of military cooperation to the Communists the potentially pro-American and nationalist group at Yenan has lost prestige and those doctrinaires favoring reliance upon the Soviet Union have been further strengthened, the Kremlin doubtless knows it.

The Russians need not regret their present hands-off policy. From Chinese Turkestan to the China coast events seem gratuitously to have served the Kremlin well.

The Future. Before many months the situation in China may be ripe for Russian intervention.

It is probably evident to Moscow that, if the Japanese do not within the next three months take Kunming, Kuomintang China’s decline [Page 156] may by the spring of 1945 be somewhat arrested by American supply transfusions through the Burma Road and by American reforms enforced on the Chinese Army. The Chiang regime may have been lent an American lease on life.

It is equally evident to the Russians that the Chinese Communists will not in the meantime be idle. The Communists have amply demonstrated a capacity for independent, dynamic growth. However Marshal Stalin6 may describe the Chinese Communists to his American visitors, he can scarcely be unaware of the fact that the Communists are a considerably more stalwart and self-sufficient force than any European underground or partisan movement.

A rejuvenated Chiang, Moscow probably recognizes, means an increased likelihood of civil war. If the Central Government continues to receive American, and later British, aid it may attempt sooner or later to reimpose its authority on North China. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that at such a time the Kuomintang’s Russo-phobia will have abated. The Kremlin may therefore anticipate an internal Chinese situation possibly necessitating Russian preventive or corrective action.

The Russians cannot expect during the coming months any marked reduction of Japanese front-line strength in Manchuria and North China. But they should be able to count on a dissipation of Japanese reserves. If there are compulsions for an invasion of Manchuria and North China, the Kremlin can reckon on a hard but increasingly brittle shell of Japanese resistance.

As for the future role of Britain in China, it can hardly appear to the Russians other than one already familiar to them—an underwriter of bankrupt regimes. In the case of China, however, the British may well get what they want—a disunited China with the southern half of the country a British and, if we so desire, American sphere of influence.

American policy in the Far East, the Kremlin undoubtedly knows, is based on the quickest possible defeat of Japan and a united, strong and independent China.

It is presumably evident to the Kremlin that for at least the immediate future we seem to be committed to (1) reliance upon only Central Government forces for the conduct of the war against Japan on the continent and (2) unconditional support of Chiang Kai-shek. Yet Chungking can contribute little, the Russians know, to hastening the defeat of Japan, not only because of its military anaemia but also because the area of possible military operations under Chungking-control lies outside of Japan’s inner zone. And as for Chiang’s being able to unite China, the Russians are scarcely likely to cherish illusions on that score.

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No one is perhaps more aware than Marshal Stalin of the fallibility of foreign loyalties to the Soviet Union. Or of the potency of nationalism. And perhaps no one more than Marshal Stalin appreciates the malleability of a revolutionary movement.

It is therefore difficult to believe that the Kremlin does not recognize certain conditions in Communist China which the United States might, if it would and could, exploit to its own great advantage. They are:

The eagerness and capability of the Communists to cooperate with the United States in aggressive prosecution of the war against Japan.
The strategic position of Communist China extending deep into Japan’s inner zone.
The present nationalistic feeling among the Communists which, with practical American encouragement, would probably become the dominant motivation of the Communists, but which, with continuing American indifference to Yenan, will be superseded by a sense of persecution, isolation and dependence upon the Soviet Union.
The present moderate social and economic program of the Communists, the mass support which they command and their outstanding vitality, all of which mean that they are potentially the most modern and constructive unifying force in China.
The Communists’ need of foreign capital for postwar reconstruction of North China and the inability of the Soviet Union to fill that need for some time after the war.

Moscow may well doubt that we will and can exploit these conditions so favorable to us. The profound suspicion and hostility in the United States to the tag “Communist”, the Kremlin probably knows, prejudices the American public against the Chinese Communists. Marshal Stalin must also be informed that, notwithstanding recent debunking, most Americans are attached to the fiction that only through Chiang Kai-shek can China in war and in peace realize its destiny. It is further evident that the necessary sensitivity in a democratic system of the administration to public opinion makes it unlikely that American policy can be anything other than a vacillating compromise between realism and wishful thinking.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that we are in Russian (and British) eyes the victims of the insularity and international political immaturity of our people and of the unwieldy processes of democracy. By our unwillingness and inability to engage in realpolitik, the Kremlin may well believe, we stand to lose that which we seek—the quickest possible defeat of Japan and a united, strong and independent China. And the Soviet Union may stand to gain, if it chooses to seize the opportunity, a satellite North China. The Kremlin is not likely to be unaware of what is at stake in this situation—the future balance of power in Asia and the Western Pacific.

John Davies
  1. Original marked “Unofficial and Private”. Forwarded by Mr. Davies to the Chief of the Division of Chinese Affairs (Vincent) and addressed in a covering memorandum of January 26 by Mr. Vincent to the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Ballantine), the Deputy Director (Stanton), and the Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs (Durbrow). Mr. Vincent stated in his covering memorandum to the three officers of the Department that he would have a summary prepared for the Under Secretary of State (Grew) and the Assistant Secretary of State (Dunn) “if you think the subject matter would be of interest.” In a penciled notation Mr. Ballantine remarked: “I think summary would be useful. J. W. B.”
  2. Marshal Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Chairman of the Council of Commissars of the Soviet Union.