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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(14 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 87, 14 November 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Constantin Smetanin, the new Soviet ambassador to Japan, has arrived in Tokyo. He is expected in the nearest future to open negotiations with the Japanese governments parallel to talks already going on in Moscow between Molotoff and the Japanese envoy there.

In Tokyo all the newspapers that reflect the views of the Japanese army command are demanding more and more insistently that Japan take the road of an accord with Russia rather than with the United States.

It has gone so far that Yomiuri Shimbun – one of the most influential Tokyo dailies – already boasts that Russia will be the first nation after Japan to extend recognition to the projected puppet central government in China to be headed by the renegade Wang Ching-wei.

Capt. Alexander Kovalev, the Soviet military attaché in Tokyo, was quoted by the Domei News Agency as declaring in an interview that “in so far as China is concerned, there is no reason for dispute between Russia and Japan.” He was also stated to have warned Japan against falling for Anglo-American propaganda “designed to drive a wedge between Japan and the Soviet Union.” He added, finally, that Smetanin might soon meet at some undisclosed place with Panuchkine, the recently-arrived Soviet ambassador to China.

The Yomiuri Shimbun said bluntly that the Russian-Japanese deal would be based upon Soviet abandonment of aid to the Chiang Kai-shek government and Japanese non-interference with the Soviet “sphere of influence” in west and northwest China. That region would be made the starting point, the paper added, for a Russian drive toward India.

This program, or something very much like it, now has the open approval of the Japanese militarists. Another 180 degree turn to amaze the historians of this twisted era!

Not that the Japanese militarists have abandoned their fundamental hostility to Russia! Not by a long shot. They have either actually concluded that a deal with Stalin would be more profitable right now than a deal with Britain and the U.S. – or else they are trying to raise the Anglo-American ante.

The issue in the Pacific may be forced sooner than many expect. Involvement of the Netherlands in the war would raise at once for Japan the question of the rich Netherlands East Indies at a time when British naval forces in those waters are totally incapable of dealing with Japan. It has long been assumed that the U.S. Navy has been assigned the task of policing the Pacific in precisely such an eventuality.

But it is obvious that it would be more expedient to avoid conflict with Japan at this juncture – if only the Japanese price does not come too high. That is what has yet to be determined. And until it is, the Russo-Japanese rapprochement will hang fire.

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