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e i g h t The Triumph of Collective Security: Hong Kong, 1941 By the end of 1941, the United States assumed the lead in the anti-Axis coalition, and this transition developed partly in the Far East. Britain had already scaled back its proxy war in China after the temporary closure of the Burma Road in the summer and fall of 1940, yet under changing geopolitical conditions, the conflict remained a potentially useful tool with which to influence other great powers. Important adjustments occurred in mid-1941, making the latter half of the year the most crucial period of the Second World War. Two major events were the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the release of the Maud report in Britain, a document that confirmed the feasibility of producing an atomic bomb within the projected time frame of the war.1 Anglo-American grand strategy depended on the continuation of Soviet resistance, but this appeared unlikely, given the near destruction of the Red Army. Because it was not possible to provide immediate direct assistance to Stalin, it was considered essential to increase support to China as an indirect method of securing the Soviet Far East. China therefore became the most significant area affecting Allied plans in East Asia, and because of this, Hong Kong completed its transformation into a globally significant strategic objective. As the Far Eastern crisis deteriorated throughout 1941, American opposition to Japanese ambitions steadily grew. The Japanese were desperate to end the war in China and began to view an advance to the south as a 246 means of terminating Allied material support transiting Burma and Hong Kong. Occupation of southern Indochina was the first step in this direction , and the blockade of Hong Kong was also tightened. Anglo-Japanese tensions only worsened in the Pearl River Delta, where localized brinkmanship threatened to erupt into open war. The American oil embargo was a response to this Japanese expansion, and it was an ultimatum that could not be ignored in Tokyo. The pace of Far Eastern developments quickened accordingly. Anglo-American weakness invited attack; the British lacked forces to spare for Far Eastern defenses, and President Roosevelt ’s ability to intervene was restricted by Congress. American financial power proved effective as a temporary substitute for real military support, and it ultimately ensured the country’s dominant position in the burgeoning anti-Axis alliance. Potential allies were kept in the war, but unfortunately for the British, this came at the expense of imperial power. An erosion of Chinese sovereignty also began, as American aid was followed by interference in domestic political affairs. In time, American military assistance became dependent on the central government’s cooperation with the communists, and it would eventually be supplied only under direct American supervision or control. Whereas aid to the Soviets would be given unconditionally, support to others would not.2 As China became central to the Far Eastern crisis, Canada emerged as a useful Anglo-American agent that helped bind the anti-Axis alliance in Asia. With the Permanent Joint Board of Defence in place, along with the Hyde Park and Lend-Lease agreements sustaining the Commonwealth war effort, the stage was set for Canada to take a more active role in the Pacific . The primary Canadian actor that ushered in this development was Prime Minister Mackenzie King. The prime minister had visited Hong Kong in 1909 during a roving diplomatic mission to China and Japan on behalf of the government then headed by Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Since that time, Mackenzie King had remained well versed on Far Eastern affairs, and he saw the region as a useful arena where Anglo-American cooperation could be strengthened.3 Because Hong Kong was vital for the Chinese war effort, and because continuation of the Sino-Japanese conflict was increasingly important for the maintenance of Soviet resistance against Germany, the colony became a more volatile Anglo-Japanese flash point. To encourage Chinese resistance and help satisfy British and American obligations, Canadian troops were sent as reinforcements for Hong Kong, but the move ended in unmitigated military disaster. Part of the reason for this outcome 247 The Triumph of Collective Security was that the Allies were less concerned with assisting the Chinese than with aiding Stalin, and this information was suppressed from the public at the highest levels. More important, as a manifestation of Allied collective security doctrine, the Canadian deployment did little to deter further conflict . Instead, the Japanese viewed it as a...


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