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f i v e Stalemate: March to October 1939 As war clouds gathered in Europe, the impact of the conflict in China on the conduct of international relations became more pronounced. The SinoJapanese War also increasingly affected the grand strategy of several great powers. Since China’s survival depended on the importation of military supplies from abroad, the region south of the Yangtse River had become one of the most important theaters of the war. Until the Japanese attack on the United States in December 1941, control of the southern Chinese railway between Hunan and Kwangtung remained a vital condition for victory , and because of this, the cities of Changsha and Hong Kong became strategic military objectives of global significance by the fall of 1939. The pivotal period for Japan in the Sino-Japanese War was the summer and fall of 1939. Aside from the easy occupation of Hainan in February and the capture of Nanning in November, most military operations ended in defeat. Because of the political impact, three of the most important battles were Nomonhan in Mongolia, Changsha in Hunan, and Shekki (Shiqi) in Kwangtung (Shekki and Chungshan [Zhongzhan] are sometimes used interchangeably in the documents to refer to the same location, but Shekki is used here to identify the capital city of the Chungshan district, the area north of Macau). Taken together, the Japanese loss of prestige was great, and the psychological impact on the Chinese encouraged further resistance. 125 Nomonhan ensured that Soviet material assistance to China continued, although it diminished in scale over the next two years; this was followed by the battle for Changsha and the smaller yet equally significant battle for Shekki. Because of these three battles, the inauguration of the new Wang Ching Wei government was delayed, but a critical opportunity to secure a workable peace was discarded. Strategic stalemate failed to induce the British to end their vital support of Chiang Kai Shek from Hong Kong, despite the humiliations imposed on them at Tientsin and a temporary halt in Anglo -Soviet Far Eastern cooperation. Military reverses in the summer and fall of 1939 marked a turning point in Japanese fortunes in China, and the final result was an escalation of the conflict with the invasion of Kwangsi. Henceforth, after the fall of France in June 1940, the Japanese temptation to seize Indochina became too great to resist, and a reckless advance farther south was encouraged. Anglo-Japanese relations became further strained as the Japanese blockade against China and Hong Kong was strengthened. Disruption of the supply of war materials remained the paramount concern of the Japanese, while food became a weapon used against Hong Kong. Littoral warfare in south China spread along the coast, culminating in the occupation of Swatow and Foochow. Closer to Canton, the blockade had far larger ramifications as it produced the battle of Shekki. In Hunan the battle of Changsha was more vital for Chinese survival, but without supplies from Hong Kong, the Chinese army could not have persevered. In response to these defeats, the Japanese applied greater direct military pressure against Hong Kong in the form of recurring attacks on the colony’s fishing fleet, and army units returned to position themselves along the frontier. Throughout all this, Anglo-Japanese relations were further impaired by British ambassadorial misconduct, as revealed in the David Kung incident, and by an increased British covert military presence in Kwangtung. These developments contributed to an escalation of diplomatic tensions at Tientsin. The Japanese had become increasingly frustrated by the Chinese supply situation rooted in Hong Kong, but a strengthened blockade was ultimately counterproductive. It was not only militarily ineffective; it also provoked greater British involvement in the war and promoted Anglo-Soviet cooperation. So long as a Soviet alliance remained a British objective, however , Hong Kong was a hostage to Japanese ambitions, and the longer the Sino-Japanese War lasted, the more British options diminished. 126 chapter five 127 Stalemate Food as a Weapon in the Pearl River Delta: January to March 1939 From Toishan in the south to Samshui at the juncture of the West and North rivers, the western half of the Pearl River Delta was an important region to control, given its status as “one of the most highly developed agricultural areas in the world.”1 As such, its production accounted for much of the region ’s wealth, and it was an important source of food for both Macau and Hong Kong. This was particularly true of the...


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