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t e n Collective Insecurity: The Demise of Imperial Power in Asia From the start of the German invasion of the USSR until U.S. entry into the war, the conflict in China assumed great geostrategic significance. Aided by difficult winter conditions, General Georgy Zhukov and the Red Army blunted the German offensive for Moscow on 6 December 1941 after launching a major counterattack against Field Marshal Fedor von Bock’s Army Group Center. By using freshly organized forces, albeit of mixed quality, the Soviets won a decisive victory. Zhukov later claimed that he and other officers doubted their ability to hold in front of Moscow, but the addition of several strong divisions transferred across the country from Siberia was a significant factor that tipped the balance in his favor.1 Had Stalin not been assured of the Japanese intention to strike south instead of north, it is doubtful these units would have been available in sufficient numbers to aid in the defense of Moscow. One of the most important reasons behind the Japanese decision to move south was the desire to bring the war in China to a close, but the increasing level of Anglo-American intervention meant that time was running short to achieve victory. A clear example of Western commitment to China was the reinforcement of Hong Kong. The British colony was the primary point of entry for military supplies from abroad, which made it a significant Chinese military logistical base. The decision to strengthen the colony’s garrison with Canadian soldiers in the fall of 1941 had far-reaching ramifications, but the im340 341 Collective Insecurity pact of the deployment was far greater than that of the battle itself. The reinforcement of Hong Kong was the most significant geopolitical event in the colony’s wartime experience. It demonstrated that the Anglo-American proxy war in China was designed primarily to keep the Japanese army bogged down and thereby provide indirect support to the Soviet Far East. Canadian reinforcements were sent to Hong Kong when the Soviets faced defeat in Europe, but this move was conducted largely because of American influence. A Japanese attack into Siberia during this time was a scenario the Allies wanted to avoid at all costs, and the reinforcement of Hong Kong was meant to prevent this eventuality by sustaining Chinese morale. As an exercise in collective security, its impact was felt globally. Indirect support was provided to the Soviet Union, and the deployment helped expand the scale of the war in the Far East. The battle of Hong Kong itself, however, was a direct Allied attempt to block Japanese aggression , but it was an event of regional significance. In the end, both events were hatched largely from a combination of dangerous military and foreign policies. These included limited British alternatives in implementing the Singapore strategy, successive years of disarmament, and a confrontational foreign policy based on the tenets of collective security. The result was a tragic disaster. British alternatives included disengagement from the war in China and the demilitarization of Hong Kong. These options were largely discounted due to the country’s economic interests in the region and the damaging impact on British influence. Another option was to hold their position in southern China with an overt military agreement that included the acceptance of Chiang’s offer of 200,000 Chinese troops for the defense of Hong Kong. Airfields were available at Kweilin and elsewhere to support such a plan, but Sino-British cooperation was never fully developed. Instead, the proxy war in China was continued at great risk to British imperial security. Throughout this period the Chinese required substantial support, and Hong Kong remained the most vital logistical center for the importation of Western military supplies. With the Japanese lodged in Canton, low-intensity conflict against Britain in the Pearl River Delta became a significant factor in escalating the crisis toward the outbreak of the Pacific war—a prospect that grew following the invasion of southern Indochina. Because of its military weakness, it was in Britain’s interest to help broker a Sino-Japanese peace, but prior to 1941, numerous officials in Whitehall hoped that support for the Chinese war effort could be leveraged to 342 chapter ten encourage greater cooperation from Stalin against Hitler. When collaboration appeared possible, the transshipment of war supplies from Hong Kong was continued. When it did not, such as in mid-1940, the flow of weapons into China was restricted, as occurred during the closure...


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