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1 o n e Collective Security in Asia: The Global Significance of Hong Kong and Southern China In most accounts of the Second World War, China has not attracted much attention, and this is particularly true of the region south of the Yangtse (Yangtze) River. When authors have considered China, it has been presented largely as an Allied liability of limited significance. One of the important reasons for this characterization was the weakness of China’s military forces; by the end of 1941, this condition enabled the Japanese to conduct operations in the southwest Pacific without fear of defeat in East Asia. Because of subsequent Allied failures in the region, the idea persists that Chinese efforts against the Japanese army were hopelessly ineffective. Although there were many setbacks between 1942 and 1945 for which several powers shared responsibility, this view cannot be supported when the period from 1937 to 1942 is examined closely. During this time the Chinese survived the initial onslaught and ground their enemies down in what became a stalemate of attrition. Despite widespread expectations of failure, the Chinese were not defeated. It is fair to say that many internal problems were present—political, economic, and military—and that these limited China’s potential for waging war. Yet elements of the Chinese army improved as the Sino-Japanese War unfolded, and the Chinese were able to hold the Japanese and defend key strategic areas. Of these, southern China was certainly of great importance. Throughout the war the defense of southern China was vital for the continuance of Chinese resistance, and chapter one 2 several Japanese offensives were defeated there. Chinese success in the south was due to a variety of reasons, but the level of international interest and influence in the region was highly significant. The involvement of third powers, albeit covert, was greater in southern China than elsewhere because it was one of the last areas free from Japanese occupation where foreign military resources could enter the country. This situation was significant because it enabled several powers to use their logistical support for China as a way to influence the actions of others. Had war not erupted in other areas around the globe, the crisis in China would likely have remained a regional problem. But as the global international order disintegrated, the Sino-Japanese War emerged as an increasingly consequential geopolitical contest. This occurred because several influential third-power officials saw the war’s continuation as a useful way to limit Japanese aggression elsewhere. For some, the commonality of interests in China also served to create an environment where the alliance against the Axis could be consolidated. In time, this proved to be the case, especially in the south. China’s logistical gatekeepers were the British in nearby Rangoon and Hong Kong, along with the French placed between them at Haiphong. It was through these portals that munitions from the United States entered and where most of the key strategic resources earmarked for the United States and the USSR were exported. Because of this situation, however, Western relations with the Japanese deteriorated greatly. By the end of 1941 Japan attacked the forces of both the United States and Great Britain, in part because of its problems in China, thereby ushering in the start of the Pacific war. With this escalation, global conflict reached unparalleled heights, and the anti-Axis alliance was finally forged. But this evolutionary process had been at work for quite some time. Starting with the British, several future Allied powers had attempted to pursue a policy of collective security in southern China as a way to compensate for an earlier faith in disarmament and the lack of military preparedness that ensued. By 1941, the war in southern China had become a significant consideration in the formulation of Allied grand strategy. Historically, China has not been given sufficient attention as an international arena that contributed to the expansion of a wider conflict. Hence, one goal in the pages that follow is to address this historical oversight and increase our understanding of the Second World War as a whole. Another is to demonstrate how the war in southern China helped accelerate the end of British and Collective Security in Asia 3 Japanese imperial power, as each sought to challenge an array of enemies too numerous to fight successfully. After years of tension and crises between China and Japan, the most serious of which involved the establishment of Manchoukuo, full-scale war erupted in July 1937. At...


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