893.00/3–945: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to the Secretary of State 48

690. No information is available here at this time on developments in Sinkiang. (ReDeptel 450, February 28, 7 p.m.49) We will not fail to report anything that may come to light on the subject, but it is not likely in present circumstances that we will be getting much first hand current information on happenings in that area or on the Soviet attitude thereto.

Some general observations on Soviet policy toward the other countries of the Asiatic mainland were set forth in my 118, January 18 [13], 4 p.m.50 concerning particularly the Soviet attitude to Indochina, and the Department may wish to note those observations once more in connection with Sinkiang. The basic lines of Soviet policy toward Sinkiang seem reasonably clear; and in the belief that it might be useful to the Department to have them resummarized at this time, as they appear to this Embassy, I submit the following:

While not necessarily adverse to a considerable show of local autonomy in Sinkiang, Moscow means to achieve sooner or later a [Page 996] preponderant influence over the direction of government police [policy?] there, particularly with regard to all outward connections of the province. The immediate objective will probably be the exercise of a form of concealed veto power over the acts of the local authorities and not any open assumption of executive responsibility.
In the pursuit of this goal, the Russians will not hesitate to use any of the methods customarily employed in the struggle for political power in that area.
Moscow is in no hurry. Russian policy will be kept as fluid as possible. Russian prestige will not be unnecessarily or prematurely engaged in any direct action by the Soviet Government. The Russians, for reasons of caution, will operate by preference largely through puppet groups, and will take no move unless convinced that the dangers thereof do not outrun the positive possibilities. For this reason, the reassertion of Soviet influence may follow a tentative, zigzag course, the various turnings of which will not be easily apparent to the outside world.
For some time at least the question of sovereignty will be secondary. The preservation of Chinese sovereignty, provided it is not accompanied by too vigorous or independent assertion of Chinese power, has certain advantages from the Russian standpoint. The day may come when Moscow will find it fit to bring pressure, directly or indirectly, for a change in the sovereign status of the area. This day may even be hastened if Russia’s “face” should at any time become involved, either through irritating and challenging tactics on the part of the Chinese or by the impetuosity of some of the primitive groups through whom the Russians are working. But for the immediate future, the question of sovereignty is not likely to arouse much outward interest in Moscow, and Russian attention will be concentrated on the realities, rather than the trappings, of political influence.
Russian policy will be consistently directed to the elimination of western influence and western activity from the area. It may be expected that this will eventually apply to official western representatives, as well as to other manifestations of western activity. But in approaching the question of foreign representatives, the Russians will proceed with great circumspection. They will strive to avoid direct action; and their efforts will probably be confined for some time to making conditions of life and work for these representatives such as to induce their government to withdraw them voluntarily.
Russian diplomacy will doubtless continue to make extensive use of the racial affinity between elements of the Sinkiang population and similar elements in the USSR. Any advantages of Soviet internal [Page 997] national minority policies over those prevailing beyond the Soviet borders will be fully exploited.
Trade with Sinkiang will be conducted by the Russian Foreign Trade Monopoly, as in the past, largely with an eye to political considerations. Every effort will continue to be made to build up there a popular impression of the cheapness and plentitude of Russian consumer’s goods, and of the generosity of Soviet foreign trade organs in their dealings with backward peoples.

  1. Repeated to the Chargé in China (Atcheson) as telegram No. 443, March 14, 4 p.m. In a memorandum of March 13, the Chief of the Division of Chinese Affairs (Vincent) commented: “As stated in the Embassy’s cable, this estimate is based not on new information from Soviet sources but on deductive reasoning. It should be noted that Moscow’s observations are not consistent with our reports from Chungking and Tihwa.” (893.00 Sinkiang/3–1345)
  2. See footnote 46, p. 994.
  3. Not printed.