The Ambassador in China (Stuart) to the Secretary of State

No. 381

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Secretary’s secret letter of June 6, 1946 to the Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., which transmitted the policy and information statement of May 15, 1946 on the Soviet Union.8 I believe that it might be useful to set forth a few suggestions on the role and policy of the Soviet Union in China at this particular time when the development of events in China is making it necessary to re-assess the American position.

One of the remarkable features of Soviet policy in China, in distinction to its activities elsewhere in the world, has been its relatively quiescent character. It should not be deduced, however, that this stems from a lack of interest. On the contrary, the population and resources of Asia and the situation of Russia are such that it goes without saying that the Far East is an area of primary importance to the Soviet Union. That Russia has been as inactive as it has must be charged to three factors: 1–preoocupation with more urgent matters elsewhere; 2–the appraisal of the situation in terms which lead to the conclusion that time and events will for a while work for the Soviet Union without its active intervention; and 3–presence of a very large indigenous Communist group which can be counted on to follow a course which at worst will not be inimical to Soviet interests and at best would be completely subservient.

One of the most debated questions has been the extent of Soviet influence and control over the Chinese Communists. The indications suggest that actual control exerted may have been slight; but that the influence at work has most assuredly been great. Apologists for the Chinese Communists periodically attempt to prove that they are not Communists, but, rather, native agrarian reformists. The Communists themselves are the first to disavow any such notion and to assert that they are Marxists. There is no reason to doubt that they are. As such it is inevitable that they should think in the same terms as Marxists elsewhere, that they should draw their main inspiration from [Page 7] Russian sources and that on most questions they should react in accordance with a Marxist line. When General Chou En-lai,9 in pleading his case in Nanking, states that since American policy must be interpreted as favoring the Central Government, thereby damaging Communist interests, the United States is forcing the Communists into Russian arms and alienating their very considerable sympathy for the United States, he may be stating the truth or he may be engaging in a fancy usage of words, or both. But in any case the Chinese Communists would be inclined to friendliness toward the United States only so long as it would prove useful to them, and not conflict with their sense of ideological kinship with Communist groups elsewhere in the world. The extent of physical assistance given them by Russia is problematic. There has never been any reliable evidence of direct Soviet assistance to the Communists, nor for that matter has the Communist position since the termination of the war against Japan been such that the party has been faced with that threat of immediate extinction which would presumably force the Russians to reconsider their position. It should not, however, be overlooked that the Chinese Communists in Manchuria did come into possession of very considerable Japanese military stores when the Soviets evacuated the area—a fact which can hardly be considered as pure coincidence and which fits customary Soviet predilection for indirect activity wherever possible. Furthermore, the manner and timing of the Soviet withdrawal resulted in remarkable territorial gains for the Chinese Communists.

In line with its usual policy, Soviet policy in China is no doubt directed to the eventual establishment of a government friendly to it, reliable from a Soviet standpoint, and preferring Soviet advice to that of any other country. It would seem that the immediate means for accomplishing this is the encouragement of confusion and chaos—to precipitate a collapse which can be fully exploited. The most logical instrument for the accomplishment of this objective is the Chinese Communist party. The Soviets might, at one time, have been expected to give a larger amount of material support to the Communists than has been the case, or to have supported a coalition government which would give the Communists a legal locus standi to operate freely throughout the country. The attempt at coalition has failed—if, indeed, it was ever really intended by the Communists to succeed. Military support sufficient to ensure victory has been withheld presumably for the same reasons which at this time counsel inactivity and make it undesirable to risk conflict with the United States.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Chinese Communists, and [Page 8] by implication, the Soviet Union, now favor any internal Chinese agreement except on their own terms which are now such that no reasonable person could expect a sovereign state to consider them. The Communists have indicated that they conceive of the Kuomintang as a dying body—that its collapse is only a matter of time and that in the resulting confusion an opportunity will come for them to seize power. To become a collaborator with such a government could at best, they estimate, only prolong its existence for a short period and would inevitably tarnish all associated with it. The long-range Communist interest is, therefore, best served by delay, obstruction and the encouragement of political and economic chaos. Since hunger and confusion are the breeders of Communism, time works for them. The above is a Marxist analysis in the grand tradition. Communist words and actions now suggest their belief that this time may not be far off. What they have most to fear is a genuine reform of the Kuomintang Government which would give the Chinese people enough to eat, relief from exorbitant taxation, and bearable administration—these being the objectives of a peasantry which is basically apolitical, whose experience suggests that no government is good, and which takes on uncritically the ideology of any group that will feed them and limit its oppression to what is endurable. Believing in the Tightness of their own rigid dogma, the Chinese Communists, therefore, can hardly be expected to deviate from their policy of waiting for events which would enable them to step in and exploit a given situation, meanwhile developing and disciplining an effective and ruthless leadership. Supporting this thesis is the knowledge that whatever efforts the Government may put into a campaign of military extermination of the Communists, it cannot succeed without effective political persuasion. The National Government may seize the main centers and the lines of communication, but it will always be under harassment from guerilla units in the countryside which by their incessant needling and raids can paralyze large areas.

This struggle will undoubtedly subject the Chinese Communist party to very severe strains but it seems unlikely, despite wishful thinking within the National Government, that it will produce any serious split in the party. Government sources have attempted to read such a split into the return of Li Li-san.10 The Communists, of course, violently deny this, alleging that Li has repented the error of his ways and returned to the fold—whatever that may mean. It would actually seem to indicate a strengthening of Soviet control, since it [Page 9] is fatuous to believe that Li was permitted to return by the Russians for sentimental reasons or unless he enjoys the confidence of the Kremlin. Li’s reappearance on the China scene may also reflect Soviet concern over developments in Manchuria and the resulting effect on Soviet prestige.

Unless one assumes that the industrial looting of Manchuria and the outrageous behavior of the Soviet army in the Northeast (Malinovsky’s Hungarian odyssey11 was good training) was done because the Soviets were prepared to abandon their interests in Manchuria and simply wished to make it uninhabitable for anyone else, then these actions must be regarded as a colossal blunder. For fifteen years Manchuria had lived under the Japanese rule which, though ruthless and designed to service Japan, at least brought order and economic progress. The previous record of the Chinese National Government gave much indication that China’s recovery of the area would only produce the same kind of mismanagement and abuse through exploitation that has subsequently proven to be the case in other areas. Furthermore, there was no reason to believe that China was qualified in any sense to take over and operate efficiently the Manchurian industrial plant by itself. Proper administration of the areas by the Soviets could have increased their influence in China and the Far East enormously. Instead of that they tore it down and left, not even permitting the Chinese Communists to come in until they had themselves evacuated. The result has been that the Manchurian people have a hatred for the Russians which is so great it almost has to be experienced personally to be believed. If Russian troops should ever come back they would have to do so as conquerors in the usual Central Asiatic tradition rather than as allies and liberators. It is impossible to estimate accurately how great has been the damage to Soviet prestige in Asia because of Manchuria, but the facts are widely known and must be a factor of major importance in any of their calculations. Officers of the Soviet Embassy in Nanking have been known to suggest that this complication in their situation makes all Soviet officials concerned with the Far East uncomfortable today. It was the sort of bludgeon action which only a politically primitive people would have taken.

This situation must have had some influence in producing the unusually negative character of Soviet activities in Manchuria since their evacuation—a position taken despite their legal rights. It is unquestionably true that the Chinese have not lived up to their part of [Page 10] the Sino-Soviet agreements of August 194512 which referred to Manchuria. In areas under Central Government control, the Russians have been kept from exercising their treaty rights on the railroads. The lives and properties of Soviet nationals have been under constant threat and a number have died under none too pleasant circumstances. Through these developments, the Soviets have taken no action until they finally withdrew their Mukden railway employees—a kind of restraint, despite the earlier provocation, which the Russians exercise only under the most compelling necessity. It must be assumed, of course, that sooner or later a day of reckoning will come but the fact that it is still in the future must be attributed in part, at least, to Soviet realization that they blundered seriously. The reckoning will have to be based on the fact that their de jure position in Manchuria is unimpeachable by virtue of the Yalta agreement13 and the Sino-Soviet Treaty of August 15 [14], 1945, which, with proper manipulation and case-building, can be interpreted as legal justification for fulsome action. They must realize now that conciliation might have won them support and sympathy for their Manchurian objectives which they can now obtain only through the hard route of patience, questionable manipulation of legal rights and, if necessary, violence. Probably they are hoping that patience and the encouragement of confusion will bear the kind of fruit which will cause forgetfulness of the past in Manchuria or create a situation where they can get away with force if necessary. It is impossible that they have written off the Northeast. The railway action, at least, is for the record. The obvious Soviet intention that northern Korea will not slip from its grasp is further indication of intentions in the Far East. At the same time its occupation by Soviet forces greatly extends the Manchurian borders contiguous with the Soviet Union, thereby facilitating the execution of any positive action which may be decided upon in the future.

Outer Mongolia, as an extension of Communist aims, must be considered as differing in degree only from the Soviet Union itself. Outer Mongolian utility can be greatest with other Mongol groups since, through catering to the desire for a Greater Mongolia, it can, and doubtless will, persuade. Chinese ineptitude in dealing with minorities will also be a useful complement. The recent National Assembly has given a demonstration of Mongol disaffection which the Chinese [Page 11] have handled so brusquely that reports of Mongol preparations for revolt may yet materialize, doubtless prepared by the Soviet trained lamas who are apparently filtering in.

The final special area is Sinkiang. Here, too, Chinese minority treatment will certainly lose the province for the Chinese unless they have a drastic change of heart and attitude. The racial kinship of tribes across the border, Chinese exploitation and indifference and the training of bright young Turki leaders in Soviet Central Asia seem calculated in the end to create a combination which will prove irresistible. Observers from Sinkiang frequently claim that the rebel Turki groups are not Communists and, in fact, prefer the Soviet Union only as the lesser of probable evils. From an American standpoint the distinction seems academic, since the result will be the same, namely, the extension of Soviet control over an additional area.

The problem in China, so far as the Soviet Union is concerned, differs from our relations with the Soviet Union in other parts of the world. It is only in the Far East that we face the Soviet Union directly and without the presence of a third power: whereas in Europe and the Middle East the problem is made more flexible by the presence of other effective interests which have primary commitments, thus permitting the United States to be less directly involved and to assume the role of a balancing factor. The simplicity of the position in China reduces the limits of manoeuverability and heightens the gravity of the consequences arising from any given action.

The Chinese Communists appear to be irreconcilable and in that position may now receive such Soviet support as may be necessary to bind them in their attitude until the arrival of the expected debacle. (It is assumed that the primary desideratum of any Soviet action will be self-interest, despite any verbal rationalizations). Chinese Communist unwillingness to compromise in the national interest and willingness to provoke economic and political collapse for their own partisan interests, in disregard of attendant popular suffering, suggests an impersonal cynicism, a recklessness, and a social irresponsibility which cannot be condoned in a group that claims it has sufficient political maturity to warrant its assumption of or participation in nationwide political power. Communist ascendency, it would seem, can best be prevented if the National Government can take such steps as to convince the masses of China and specifically demonstrate that it can give them a life at least as good, if not better, than the Communists hold out. The record reveals no evidence which suggest that the right wing groups which now control the Kuomintang have either the vision to see this or the will to take that action which would abdicate [Page 12] their ancient and feudal controls and provide the opportunity for reform. These groups, if left in unmolested control, will assuredly dig their own graves and prepare confirmation of the Communist thesis. There are liberal and modern groups both in and out of the Kuomintang who are quite aware of what is happening and realize that unless there is reform Communism will win ground. These groups, though numerous, are presently weak, badly organized and without armed support. Unless somehow they come to power, they will in the end go down to destruction just as surely as will the right-wing groups, and they know it. The adoption by the National Assembly of a constitution which is reasonable now provides the Generalissimo14 and the moderate elements in the country with an opportunity to demonstrate whether they are capable of leading China out of extremism and toward democracy. Since neither the Communists nor the right-wing of the Kuomintang is in consonance with American ideals, attitudes, interests or purposes, the pressing problem for the United States is how to help the middle groups to power without provoking a self-defeating chaos. The answer, of course, will have to be found in deeds, not in words.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
W. Walton Butterworth

Minister-Counselor of Embassy
  1. Neither printed.
  2. Head of the Chinese Communist Party delegation during the negotiations of 1946 with General Marshall and the Chinese Government.
  3. Also known as Li Ming; he returned to Manchuria with Soviet troops in August 1945, after a stay in the Soviet Union of over 14 years. He had previously headed the Chinese Communist Party. He became political adviser to General Lin Piao, Chinese Communist commander in Manchuria.
  4. Marshal Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky, Soviet commander in Manchuria, had been Soviet commander in Hungary in 1945.
  5. Signed at Moscow, August 14, 1945; Department of State, United States Relations With China (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1949), pp. 585–596; United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 10, p. 300.
  6. Signed at Yalta, February 11, 1945; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1945, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, p. 984.
  7. President Chiang Kai-shek.