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Soviet Policy Toward the Chinese Eastern Railroad, 1917-1922: A Reassessment by Matt F. Oja The Soviet Government's efforts to establish diplomatic relations with Peking~ beg!pning as early as November 1917, centered in large part around the issue/ of the Chinese Eastern Railroad (CER).[1] The various shifts;in the Soviet position with regard to the Railroad zone between 1917 and 1922 are generally interpreted as ~vidence of a fundamental reorientation of Soviet foreign policy, from an initial revolutionary altruism toward a more traditionally self-interest pragmatism. In the following, I will suggest a rather different interpretation: that actual Soviet policy, at least in the specific case of Russian interests in the CER zone, was never anything but self-interested, geared from the start toward avoiding a permanent loss of the influence the Russians had gained in the zone over the previous two decades. I will begin with some background and a discussion of the common interpretation, and then suggest several ways in which it is seriously incQnsistent with certain key indicators of Moscow's policy toward the CER. After the October Revolution the Bolsheviks were faced with two principal concerns vis-a-vis China: establishment of diplomatic relations, which naturally meant obtaining recognition from the Peking government; and a clarification of the status of the CER. These ·two goals were, of course, closely related. An important purpose for obtaining Peking's recognition was to secure Chinese cooperat ion in fighting the various White forces under Horvath, Semenov, Kolchak, Ungern-Sternberg, etc. who were using the CER zone as a base from which to attack Soviet power in Siberia. The desire for some help from Peking cannot but -have increased along with the intensifying pressure from what the Bolsheviks surely perceived as an international counterrevolutionary conspiracy: the Allied intervention in the Far East, commencing with the Japanese landing at Vladivostok on April 5, combined with the unsettling successes of the Czechoslovak Legion, a group of some 50,000 Czech prisoners of war en route to the western front, who had fought their way along the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Omsk, in mid-April, to Vladivostok where they overthrew the local Soviet by late June.[2] It was under this pressure that the Sovie~ Governaent began a se~ies of proposals to Peking concerning the CER and Russian interest in it, which were by ~11 accounts mutually contradictory. Three 3 statements are most frequently cited by historians. First is a statement read by Commissar for Foreign Affairs Georgii Chicherin on July 4, 191.8, at the Fifth Congress of Soviets, and published in gvestiia the next day, proclaiming that the Soviet Government renounces the conquests of the Tsarist government in Manchuria and restores the sovereign rights of China in this territory, in which lies the principal trade artery--the Chinese..,.Eastern railway, property of the Chinese and Russian people.[3] The second is the "Karakhan Manifesto" of July 25, 1919, which unequivocally offered to return the CER to China without any compensation . Curiously, this offer was edited from the document when it appeared in I~vestiia after ~month's delay. The third is the "Second Karakhan Manifesto" of September 27, 1920, which was essentially a repetition of the first, with the crucial exception of the original offer to return the CER without compensation.[4] Historians have focused much attention on the difference between Chicherin's statement and Karakhan's earlier position, on one hand; and on the other, Karakhan's later position[5] and the uncompromisingly self-interested attitude demonstrated by Adolf Joffe, upon his arrival in Peking as the head of a Soviet negotiating delegation in August 1922[6]. This difference is commonly interpreted as a manifestation of a fundamental shift in the Soviet view of foreign policy during the earliest years after the Revolution. Because this interpretation has been most forcefully and persuasively articulated by Allen S. Whiting, I shall refer to it as the "Whiting thesis". [7] ' According to this view, the mysterious incongruity between the offer of the first Karakhan Manifesto, which "epitomized the 'new revolutionary' Soviet policy toward China"[8], and the less generous position later adopted by Karakhan and Joffe, may be explained...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 3-14
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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