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Jack Weber

The Aims of the United States
in China

(July 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 29, 19 July 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Japan embarked on its China Incident in 1937, it seemed to the imperialist world a foregone conclusion, that China would be forced to capitulate in a brief time. All that Japan would require to conquer was the time to overrun the vast stretches of China. But that was itself recognized to be no mean undertaking. Hence the United States hoped that at least Japanese, imperialism would become exhausted in the victorious struggle. No aid was then offered to China. United States strategy was to allow the two combatants to bleed each other to death.

Two factors changed this strategy of “watchful-waiting,” One was the outbreak of the second World War with Germany and Japan as allies. This brought the threat of a two-ocean clash for the United States in case it entered the struggle on the side of England.

But the second factor was somewhat of an offset to this danger. China refused to acknowledge itself defeated and after four terrible years, Japan was stalemated and bogged down in China.

To avoid flank attack by Japan, the United States saw the chance by lending active aid to Chiang Kai-shek, to counterbalance Hitler’s encouragement to Japan to seize more Pacific loot. China might keep Japan too much occupied for the Mikado’s forces to be very effective elsewhere. Furthermore, if Japan did come into conflict with the United States, then it might be possible to secure bases of operation on the mainland against the island empire. Now Roosevelt is very anxious to keep the Chinese Incident going in a big way.

American “Political” Aid to China

The President has appointed all sorts of commissions to act as transmission belts for aid to Chungking. Beside military and technical aid, there is also political “aid.” Owen Lattimore has just been chosen as political adviser to Chiang Kai-shek. He was one of the first to recognize the importance of Chinese resistance to Japan from the point o£ view of American imperialism. In the magazine Asia, he wrote time and again of the mistake being made by the government in, failing to give active support to China. One of his editorials was entitled There Is No Time to Lose to emphasize the extreme importance for keeping Chinese resistance going.

In view of Lattimore’s appointment, it is instructive to quote some of his views on the aims to be pursued by the United States. Lattimore is an “enlightened” spokesman for American imperialism. He realize fully the importance to the United States of the Pacific area, particularly of China, as the Lebensraum for American capitalism. No one is better aware of the contradictions faced by imperialism in the present world conflict. Many American capitalists preferred to reconcile themselves to the swallowing up of China by Japan, rather than to aid defeat Japan. For if China were successful, highly inflammable colonial forces, would be released throughout the entire Far East. The Chinese Revolution, betrayed by Chiang Kai-shek, might very well be revived.

Lattimore sees the need for taking some chances, but at the same time using American aid to good purpose. Here is what he says:

“There are those who fear that a decisive Chinese victory – which undeniably would change the center of gravity of Asia might set in motion a general process of emancipation which would be too tumultuous to handle. The danger is that, for fear of going too fast, we shall go too slowly. For sweeping changes are at hand all over Asia ... They cannot be prevented altogether.”

But Lattimore will do his best to steer things into the right channel. This is both implicit and explicit in all that he says

“It is quite true that we shall not have an easy time with an Asia headed towards emancipation. We shall not have an easy time in any case ... If we are to have chaos in China, then it will be of our own making. For there is no possibility that all China will acquiesce meekly to Japanese imperial conquest. Apart from the fact that this chaos would spread all over Asia, civil war in China would mean, in the end, the triumph of the Chinese communists.”

This was written at the time when Chiang Kai-shek was attacking the Fourth Route Army of the communists, Lattimore was very much alarmed at this blunder of Chiang Kai-shek the moment he received American aid. For Lattimore understood that the communists would gain in influence as a result and that the war against Japan might become a revolutionary war of the workers and peasants supported by the middle class not only against Japan but against, the bourgeois Chinese government.

Nothing could reveal more clearly why Lattimore was chosen as the political “guide” for the Chinese regime than his attitude towards the Chinese revolution. “Our cardinal need there is a united China, carried forward on a current of orderly reforms. There is no need for violent revolution (that is, communist revolution); but unless the current of orderly reform is given a free channel, there will be violent revolution.”

The interpretation of this view is clear. Lattimore proposes that American imperialism help Chiang Kai-shek in building a “democratic” capitalist China.

We venture to say that history will hardly lend itself to Lattimore’s maneuvers for United States imperialism. Even if Chiang Kai-shek is quite willing to become the tool of American capitalism, the Chinese masses will not have learned how to fight Japanese imperialism for the sake, of building a united and free China, only in order to fall under the domination of American imperialism. To conquer China the United States will have to resort to precisely the same methods as Japan – with perhaps the same outcome. For the second imperialist war will not end without colonial revolts, especially in Asia, China will not only undermine the Mikado’s empire, but all the imperialist empires.

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