Reveals U.S. Interests in China

High Stakes in East Drive Toward War with Japan

(October 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 10, 16 October 1937, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In his Chicago speech, President Roosevelt announced the end of the “isolationist” policy of United States imperialism, as consecrated in the Neutrality Act, and embarkation on a course of active intervention in world affairs. A subsequent declaration by the State Department, “branding Japan as the “aggressor” in the Far Eastern conflict, set the authoritative seal on the new policy.

Only the publication of the archives of the State Department will reveal the immediate cause for this sudden reversal of foreign policy. For the time being, it is sufficient to note that the imperialists of this country have deemed the time ripe to commence playing that role on the world arena to which the position of the United States, as the strongest world power, assigns them.

A Chauvinist Flood

Roosevelt’s speech has let loose a flood of chauvinist propaganda designed to line up the workers of this country behind the new policy of the Washington government, a policy which, in the final analysis – let there be no illusions on this score! – leads inescapably to war. The governments of the “satiated” and therefore “peace-loving” countries (Great Britain and France) hail Roosevelt’s speech as a great contribution to “peace”. But they have no illusions as to Washington’s real aims. Stalin’s government in Moscow does likewise, and thereby consciously aids in deceiving the workers.

In the van of the flag-wavers in this country stands the so-called Communist Party. “The working class and all democratic-minded and peace loving peoples must become active to realize effectively and in life the policy given by President Roosevelt,” Earl Browder declared in the Daily Worker on October 6. Two days later, the same paper quoted him as saying, before a committee investigating “subversive activities” in Massachusetts:

“At one time I went to jail because I refused to do just that (fight for “his” country – L.) That was an imperialist war and I don’t regret my actions at that time. But now, if America was forced into war against fascism, I would certainly take up arms.”

American imperialism is interested in a “stable” Europe as a guarantee of its Continental investments and trade profits. Hence Roosevelt’s reference to “aggressor” states in general. The fascist powers are upsetting the apple cart and preventing the re-establishment of the capitalist equilibrium in Europe. But the principal target of the new American policy is Japan. Scarcely any attempt is made to conceal that fact. For it is in the Far East that the interests of American imperialism, both actual and potential, are being most gravely menaced. Japanese domination of China will close that country to American trade (following the example of Manchuria), destroy the value of American investments in China, and virtually end the role of American imperialism in the Far East.

Stimson Spills Beans

Moreover, a Japan economically strengthened by conquest of a vast colonial empire in eastern Asia would threaten American commercial interests in Central and South America, and ultimately the States of the Union situated on the Pacific seaboard.

This is recognized by none other than Henry L. Stimson, secretary of state under Hoover, in a letter to the New York Times on October 7, written as if in anticipation of Roosevelt’s Chicago speech. Stimson, out of office, can afford to be more direct and specific than Cordell Hull or Roosevelt. The latter feels it necessary to motivate the new foreign policy of American imperialism on idealistic or altruistic grounds. Stimson can speak plainly in the interests of the money bags.

“Japan,” Stimson wrote, “can ... cause immense loss to all nations commercially interested in China, and for a time she may make herself a stronger military power than she is at present, with the result of causing great apprehension and danger in the area of the North Pacific. For a considerable time, if Japan is able to proceed in her own way, there will be a great storm center in Northeastern Asia, with grave possible threats and disturbances to us and our own interests. For our Pacific States already occupy ringside seats at this battle.”

Against this “danger” to American imperialist interests the Washington government is now preparing to act, but the action, when it comes, will be publicly justified on the most altruistic grounds, as imperialist wars are always justified. Roosevelt has already given the cue to the capitalist press. The working youth of America will be deceived into believing that it is fighting to aid weak, defenseless nations against ravenous aggressors and treaty-violators. In this work of deception the Stalinists, themselves the authors of the slogans under which the coming imperialist war will be fought, are already giving not inconsiderable assistance.

U.S. Trade in Far East

What are the immediate Far Eastern interests of American imperialism which are to be defended? In total trade with China, the United States has held the leading place for several years, outstripping both Great Britain and Japan. Taking China’s imports, American trade supremacy is shown in the figures for January-April 1937: United States – $76,131,000; Japan – $70,423,000; Germany – $55,390,000; Great Britain – $45,191,000. China’s exports to the United States in the same period tell a similar story: United States – $103,095,000; Great Britain (including Hongkong) – $65,847,000; Japan – $44,968,000; Germany – $26,004,000.

These figures are revealing enough in themselves, yet their significance is modified somewhat when we consider that America’s trade with China accounts for only a tiny percentage of America’s total foreign trade. For the years 1930–31 (and the proportion has altered very little since) it represented only three per cent of the total. American trade with Japan, however, is much more considerable. In 1930 it amounted to seven per cent of America’s total foreign trade, or more than twice the amount of America’s trade with China. This proportion, too, has altered but little.

These facts go far in explaining the hitherto seemingly contradictory and obviously vacillating and hesitant policy which the imperialist governments at Washington have purchased in the Far East in recent years. In defiance of the “Open Door” policy in China enunciated many years ago by Secretary of State John Hay, Japan has been scheming and fighting to make of all China her own exclusive preserve for trade and investments. When Japan seized Manchuria in 1931, the Hoover administration did nothing beyond reaffirming the Hay doctrine. His successor, Roosevelt, continued the policy of watchful waiting. In large part, inactivity in face of Japan’s continental advance was a simple reflection of the fact that the principal immediate interests of American imperialism in the Far East resided with Japan rather than with China. But also reflected the hope that Japan would break her neck in Manchuria with Russia’s help.

U.S. Interests Commercial

American imperialist interests in the Far East are primarily commercial. This is why the Washington governments felt they could not afford to alienate Japanese trade (especially during the early period of American “recovery”) actively championing China’s cause when Japan invaded Manchuria. To have done so would have meant a costly war for which Washington was not in any sense prepared. American investments in China are comparatively negligible. Estimates made in 1931 placed the total at a mere $196,800,000 as compared with Great Britain’s $1,189,200,000 and Japan’s $1,136,900,000. The American share in total foreign investments in China was only 6.1 per cent as compared with Britain’s 36.7 per cent and Japan’s 35.1 per cent. In the ensuing six years, Japan has outstripped Britain and now occupies the leading place.

The unfolding of Japan’s “continental policy,” which aims to bring all eastern Asia under the banner of the Rising Sun, had inevitably, sooner or later, to effect a change in America’s Far Eastern policy. American trade with Japan, as we have shown, is important. And it is as vital to Japan, as it is important to America.

Japanese Depend on Rivals

Japanese imperialism, however, is in the peculiar position of being dependent on its rivals in vital economic spheres while struggling against these same rivals for hegemony on the Asiatic continent. Thus last year, according to the United States Department of Commerce, Japan imported from the United States alone 52 per cent of her iron and steel (including scrap), 76.6 per cent of her oil, 43.8 per cent of her raw cotton, 42.3 per cent of her machinery, 94.3 per cent of her automobiles, 47.3 per cent of her wood pulp.

Among other things, Japan aims to end this economic dependence by means of her “continental policy.” But this policy, if permitted to proceed to its specified conclusions, will have disastrous consequences for American imperialism:

  1. In seizing all of China and converting it into a Japanese colony, Japan will strike a deadly blow at America’s growing trade with that country, force American capital enterprises from the scene (as in Manchuria), and kill all possibility of fresh investments in China.
  2. With all China at its disposal, Japanese imperialism will have tremendous sources of supply of most of the vital raw materials which it needs (Manchuria did not come up to expectations), in addition to a vast monopolized market in which to dispose of the products of a greatly expanded industry. Japan will become virtually independent of American trade.

Thus United States imperialism, unless Japan is halted, will lose both its actual present trade with China and Japan, and therewith all its potential economic interests in the Far East. And a greatly strengthened Japan, as we have already pointed out, would be in a position to challenge the American colossus on the latter’s own home territory.

War Impends

Hence Roosevelt’s new and aggressive policy in Far Eastern affairs. How soon and in what manner that policy will be implemented remains to be seen. The spokesmen for American imperialism, both official and unofficial, have concluded that Japan can be stopped only by force or the threat of it. In any case, they understand that the Washington government can continue to allow Japan a “free hand” in China only at the cost of sacrificing, not only present economic interests, but the whole future role of American imperialism.

The new Roosevelt policy makes it clear that that role is not going to be sacrificed. American imperialism is preparing to defend and extend its Far Eastern interests arms in hand.

Last updated on 19 November 2014