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t h r e e The Sino-Japanese War Begins: Proxy War in China, July 1937 to October 1938 With the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in July 1937, China assumed greater significance on the world’s diplomatic stage, but aside from the Soviet Union, most other countries lacked clear objectives or policies for responding to events. For several powers, China appeared to be a significant bulwark against further Japanese expansion, and the Soviet Union extended material aid in support of the Chinese army and air force. In this way, Stalin used Chinese military forces to fight a proxy war of attrition against the Japanese army. The British Foreign Office also began to see the Chinese army as a means of waging a proxy war against Japan. With the war in Spain ongoing, some in the Foreign Office, under the leadership of Anthony Eden, saw China as a useful vehicle to promote the establishment of a collective security agreement with the Soviet Union; thus, vast amounts of war supplies were allowed to be transshipped from Hong Kong into free China. From the outset of the Sino-Japanese War, the HankowCanton railway was the most vital Chinese military lifeline, since the port of Hong Kong became the primary source of war materials from abroad. In contrast to the Foreign Office, Britain’s military services remained focused on the preservation of imperial security and endeavored to limit commitments by maintaining Hong Kong’s status as an outpost of the British Empire. These contradictory policies led to a discussion in Whitehall during August 1938 on a Chinese-inspired scheme to encourage greater 37 British intervention with the purchase of the New Territories. This plan ultimately stalled, but it remains useful in demonstrating how conflicting Far Eastern objectives among various governmental departments in London impeded the formulation of a useful strategy to meet the challenge posed by Japan. In short, after years of disarmament, Foreign Office objectives increasingly outdistanced military capabilities, and as the country’s foreign policy became more confrontational, its Far Eastern military strategy became less effective.1 Japanese strategic planning also lacked uniformity. From the battle of Shanghai onward, Japanese army commanders continued to expand the scale of the war on their own initiative; simultaneously, a variety of diplomatic efforts were mounted to impose peace. Because of the threat posed by the USSR, Japan had originally hoped to limit military commitments in China, but the strength of resistance surprised many senior officials. To end the war quickly, the navy conducted an aggressive aerial and naval interdiction campaign along China’s lines of communication to neighboring areas. Although southern Chinese ports were blockaded, foreign shipping could still enter and depart from Hong Kong, so the colony became the warehouse through which the greater part of all munitions and supplies to the central government passed.2 Chinese resistance continued despite the grave losses sustained, largely because of this constant flow of supplies. The transshipment of military supplies from Hong Kong to the Chinese army was a significant factor that contributed to the outbreak of the Pacific war. To secure greater international support, especially from Great Britain, Chiang Kai Shek fought the war in areas of foreign economic interest , and the use of Hong Kong as a strategic military logistical center was an element of this strategy. Its port capacity and connection to central China by rail caused Japanese officers to perceive the British colony as a significant obstacle to victory. Strained Anglo-Japanese relations were the result, and preliminary moves to effect Hong Kong’s isolation started with the political destabilization of Kwangtung. Chinese morale was often under great strain, and during 1938 the Japanese strove to eat away at the Chinese central government’s legitimacy by neutralizing the province of Kwangtung both politically and militarily. In doing so, they hoped to sever Chinese lines of communication. Violence spread across the province by air and by sea, and a state of low-intensity conflict with Britain blanketed the region surrounding Hong Kong. Japanese frustration over their growing military difficulties led to an increasingly violent blockade, and as the war 38 chapter three 39 progressed, Hong Kong’s military function as the primary Chinese supply depot helped escalate the conflict from a regional problem into a devastating war of global destruction. Upon its conclusion, Japan lay prostrate, while British exhaustion led to a forfeiture of empire. Southern China was the trap that ensnared them both. Chinese Strategy: Escalation and Third-Power Intervention Hong...


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