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s e v e n Leveraging War and Peace: May to December 1940 The spring and summer of 1940 proved to be a transitional period of great significance, with the fall of France ushering in far-reaching changes. Powers on the defensive, such as China and Britain, were able to leverage the possibility of peace to secure greater international support, since the French defeat created a power vacuum in the Far East that was quickly exploited by Japan. The Japanese began to see an advance into the southwest Pacific as a solution to their problems in China, and although Sino-Japanese peace negotiations were occurring at very high levels, war with the Western powers became accepted as necessary. From the Soviet Union, Stalin was emboldened to attack neighboring states as he aligned himself closely with Hitler.1 More isolated than at any other period of the war, the British lacked the necessary resources to continue fighting, so the War Cabinet, armed with a new prime minister, was forced to consider the possibility of making peace with Germany. This course was rejected, but with their grand strategy in tatters, the British temporarily restricted their commitment in China to increase American and Soviet cooperation against the Japanese. Facing the threat of war in the Far East, the British closed the Burma Road but hoped that by making such a move, others would take the lead in opposing the Japanese. This drastic measure was employed as Stalin made it abundantly clear (by August 1939) that collective security was dead and as U.S. diplomatic and military support for Britain was lagging.2 202 203 Leveraging War and Peace Yet, as Britain stood alone, the United States started to assume a leadership role against the fascist dictatorships. From this point forward, British power steadily declined, as manifested by the establishment of a U.S.Canadian security alliance. This shift was an important factor behind the decision to reinforce Hong Kong in 1941 with Canadian troops. British strategic options remained limited, but China was still an area where pressure could be exerted on the USSR and the United States, since both saw the continuation of the Sino-Japanese War as essential to their interests . With the French driven out of the war and northern Indochina occupied , only three avenues into China remained open to maintain Chinese resistance. The Soviets controlled the northwest route into Sinkiang, but the British still held the keys to the all-important doors at Rangoon and Hong Kong. The British thus maintained their influence in China through Hong Kong, when all other southern routes, including the Burma Road, had been closed. The strategic value of the colony as a military supply center was greatly enhanced during this period, as was its geopolitical significance . Barring any fundamental diplomatic or military changes on the part of Great Britain or Japan, the colony’s seizure would remain a Japanese strategic objective, even at the cost of war with Great Britain and the increased likelihood of war with the United States. The Sino-British Coalition in Retreat The fall of France on 25 June 1940 was a pivotal event, affecting the course of the war in both Europe and Asia. Japanese hopes for victory had been wrecked on the battlefield at Changsha in October 1939, and the establishment of the Wang Ching Wei government was delayed because their prestige had been thoroughly undermined. Part of the problem was that until mid-1940, Japanese strategy had been opportunistic and lacked a clear direction. They hoped to bring the war in China to a close by cutting Chinese strategic lines of communication, but beyond that, the overall inconsistency in planning grand strategy was an impediment to Japanese efforts and often produced political instability at home. Abrupt shifts in foreign policy usually followed the installment of a new faction in power, and reactions to changing geopolitical conditions were often aggressive and hasty. Needless friction was thereby created in relations with other powers, more so after the fall of France.3 With an eye on Indochina, hardline officers returned to power in Tokyo and increased the pressure on Brit- 204 chapter seven ain to end its support of China; simultaneously, they continued to push the Chinese central government to make peace. Both London and Chungking were stretched to their limits of endurance, but each continued to fight in the hope of securing greater international cooperation. Once that was accomplished , however, the cost was high, and Britain grew weaker as...


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