761.93/1–1046: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State

96. Since we note that interpretation of Soviet aims and tactics in China and of Soviet relations with Chinese Communists presented in some of material received from Washington seems to reveal imperfect understanding of this subject, we venture to set forth below survey of these questions as seen from Moscow. (To Dept 96, repeated Chungking 6, London 13, Paris 12. Dept please repeat to Shanghai and Tokyo).


USSR seeks predominant influence in China. It does so because, by revolutionary tradition, by nationalist ambition and by kinetic nature, Russian [Russia is an?] expansionist force.

USSR cannot be satisfied with a neutral China because to Kremlin minds “He that is not with me is against me”. Nor can USSR be satisfied with a “friendly” China in sense that Canada or Mexico are “friendly” to USA. Under real stress such relationship is, in Soviet view, politically, economically and militarily undependable. Ideologically convinced that Soviet system must eventually come into open conflict with capitalist West, strategically obsessed with concept of national defense in great depth, and incredulous that there can exist between nations any satisfactory permanent relationship not based on the recognized ascendancy of one to the other, USSR can be satisfied only with influence eventually amounting to effective control.


In seeking to achieve its aims USSR had always followed and will continue to follow tactics confusing to outside observers. This confusion arises in part from real nature of Soviet system—Govt and Party—both headed by same men who, unconcerned for any Govt–Party consistency in foreign operations, regularly pursue through Party’s international channels policies piously foresworn by Government. In general Soviet endeavors to obtain actual but concealed domination of neighboring regimes are characerized by “non-intervention”, obfuscation of real issues by special interpretations of such [Page 117] key terms as “democracy”. “Fascist”, “cooperation”, “loyalty”, “intervention” and “free elections”; tactical retreats which are wishfully greeted in West as omens of basic Soviet good will but which turn out to be temporary respites or are followed by other more effective tactics.

Toward China thus far USSR has been patient and cautious in its tactics; patient because USSR is in many respects playing a waiting game in China—with confidence that events will some day play into Soviet hands. Even where USSR is active, tactics are cautious because of desire to avoid (1) collision at this time with USA and (2) appearance in Asiatic eyes of interference in internal affairs of an Asiatic nation at time when USSR is loudly critical of imperialist intervention in Orient.

USSR has indicated that it favors a more “democratic” regime in China, i. e., coalition. It has not yet explicitly criticized National Government as a whole. Rather it has maintained generally correct attitude toward Chungking. At same time it is not concealing its approval of program and actions of Chinese Communists. In other words USSR is for time being retaining its diplomatic mobility. It would prefer coalition to division of China because latter would probably mean definite restriction of Communist influence to a closely defined area in Northern China, leaving Moscow without direct contact with vast Southeast Asian colonial area. But even if coalition fails, USSR is still in position to make best of two possible Chinas.

If Soviet interests would thereby be served, USSR would not permit ideological scruples to stand in way of a deal with Chinese “reactionaries”. USSR has at one time or another as matter of opportunism made deals with Matsuoka, Ribbentrop, and Tatarescu.65 With equal cynicism it is capable of embracing Chinese “feudal remnants” providing consummation of such alliance is sure to be worthwhile and substantially on Soviet terms.


In regions of China bordering USSR, Soviet tactics are somewhat more direct if scarcely less confusing. While granting presence in Sinkiang situation of all ingredients [of] spontaneous rebellion without outside encouragement, we hesitate to believe that USSR for first time in its history is so unimaginative and impractical as to forego an inviting opportunity to improve its position along its frontier. Soviet fissionist tactics employed in Iranian Azerbaijan may well be with local adaptations equally effective in Sinkiang (see also Embassy’s 690, March 966). Moscow has not yet revealed any desire to [Page 118] press for any change in nominal sovereignty as was done in Outer Mongolia. In this area it probably prefers authority without responsibility.


With Red Army occupying Manchuria, USSR is there resorting to heavy-handed tactics used in occupied Europe. At same time it is outwardly deferring to Chinese Govt sovereignty. This results in alternate application and relaxation of pressure, the zig-zag politico-military course so congenial to Soviet minds. In this confused situation USSR is presumably working for eventual realization of a Manchurian regime which no matter what its form or nominal relationship to Chinese Central Govt will be fundamentally more responsive to Moscow’s wishes than to Chungking’s or Nanking’s. It would be a mistake to assume that USSR necessarily seeks in Manchuria regime composed predominantly of Yenan Communists. In most respects USSR can perhaps be better served by docile opportunists of all colors of political spectrum than by exclusively Yenan personnel who are ideologically acceptable but who as result of their nationalist sentiments may prove headstrong. At present moment Moscow appears to be playing Yenan and Chungking off against each other with respect to Manchurian matters, exploiting adroitly the basic fact that neither faction yet feels strong enough to risk consequences of a total Soviet withdrawal.

Chinese Communists

We frankly do not know with any degree of certainty what present relationship between Moscow and Yenan is. Although we have received convincing evidence of Moscow control over Communist parties in Europe, our files contain no evidence either proving or disproving that Yenan now receives and acts on Moscow orders. This is an important question because our China policy turns largely on this one issue.

We are quite prepared to believe that Chinese CP66a like other CP’s is subservient to Moscow. This would be normal state of affairs with respect to any foreign Communist party of which Moscow publicly approved. And in this case Moscow’s approval has been made entirely clear over course of years by Soviet propaganda machine.

Yet we hesitate to accept such an interpretation as definitive. We submit that Moscow–Yenan relations are more subtle and obscure of [than?] any in [international Communism?] We would not be surprised [Page 119] for example to learn that Yenan enjoyed what might seem to be a surprising degree of independence of Moscow. Our reasons are:

Chinese Communists have little reason to be grateful to USSR. They have survived and grown not because of but despite relations with Moscow. Adherence to early Comintern directives resulted in near disaster for CCP. And in “Sino-Jap conflict USSR supplied only Chungking which used some of those arms in blockading Yenan. Current Soviet stripping of Manchuria is plucking plums on which Chinese Communists have long had their eye.
Chinese Communist Party is most mature of all Communist Parties and has developed its own brand of Marxism and indigenous traditions.
Chinese Communists are no fugitive band of conspirators. For 10 years they have had an established de facto regime, their own army and civil administration. Consequently they have developed substantial vested interests.
Chinese Communists have taken on nationalist coloration. From 1936 to Jap surrender they were confronted with and their propaganda concentrated against an external foe. Rapid expansion of their armed forces and civilian following was largely on basis of nationalism.

While foregoing factors would seem to represent forces tending to wean Yenan away from Moscow, it should be remembered that Yenan has had no latitude of choice in its foreign relations. Events have tended to keep Yenan in—or force it back into—Soviet orbit. This situation has enabled Moscow to conduct flirtations with Chungking, confident that Yenan could find no alternative to fidelity. Net result has been that Moscow has disarmed considerable Western suspicion of Soviet political respectability, befogged issues for Chungking, taught Yenan not to take too much for granted and placed itself in position to capitalize on developments in China no matter what direction they take. In these circumstances Moscow’s possibilities for making its influence effective in Yenan in decisive moments are enormous and need not be too closely related to subjective sentiments of Yenan Communists.

  1. Yosuke Matsuoka, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Dr. George Tatarescu, Ministers for Foreign Affairs respectively of Japan, Germany, and Rumania at times of Soviet rapprochement with these countries.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. vii, p. 995.
  3. Communist Party.