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Flying Tiger: Why I Turned Down an Invitation to China’s Victory Parade

I was invited to attend the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the World Anti-fascist War and the Chinese People’s Anti-Japanese war this September, as a guest of a government that wanted me to represent friendship with the U.S. and other countries.

I spent the most exciting moments of my life in China. I am 92 years old. I was born in New York and was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1943 while a senior at the City College of New York. I was active in left-wing politics during my college career. In January 1945, I was sent to China and served in the Statistical Unit of the Flying Tigers, at headquarters of the 14th Air Force in Kunming. l quickly became involved with six other GIs who had similar views. They had made contact with a group of students at Lianda—a university made up of students from Peking University and others schools, which had moved west to Kunming after the Japanese occupation of the cities in which their campuses were located. I joined the group and we had regular meetings at the home of a YMCA secretary. When the war wound down in August, our headquarters were moved to Chongqing. Three of us were sent back to the U.S. to be discharged from the army and the remaining three of us—Ed Bell, Howard Hyman, and myself—remained in China.

One of our Chinese friends asked us if we would like to meet some of the Chinese Communists who had an office in Chongqing. We, of course, said yes. He told us to follow him at some distance and he would nod his head when we passed their building. We did this and were greeted by Gong Peng, who was Zhou Enlai’s secretary. She introduced us to Zhou. 

There was a teahouse opposite this office, manned by an agent of the Nationalist government who made note of everyone who entered. Mao Zedong was in Chongqing to negotiate with Chiang Kai-shek, in an attempt to end the civil war. He was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Patrick Hurley to safeguard him. Zhou asked us whether we would like to meet Mao. We were thrilled at the prospect and, of course, said yes. At the date of the meeting, we went to the office and were driven to Red Crag Village. Mao did most of the talking, asking questions about what America thought of Communists. We took pictures, which today hang in a Beijing museum devoted to the history of China.

Subsequently, I had several visits and talked with Zhou, Gong Peng, and her husband, Qiao Guanhua, who later became China’s Foreign Minister. At one of these meetings, Peng said that they were worried that Mao would be taken captive. Peng asked me to contact a New York Times reporter to let him know what progress was being made in the talks.

After returning to the U.S., I became active in the U.S. China People’s Friendship Association, at one point serving as a national board member and as head of both Marin County and San Francisco chapters. I denied stories of excesses committed during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward. But I couldn’t ignore the 1989 Beijing Massacre around Tiananmen Square. What is more, I felt that the jailing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo, and of so many others like him, is another indication of China’s dismal record on human rights abuses.

When I received the invitation to attend the victory parade in Beijing celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, after reflecting on my life’s work in the cause of human rights, I decided that, until China acts decisively and publicly to support human rights in ways that I believe its people fundamentally want, I can only support those principles and the people and not the government.

Conversation

09.02.15

What Is China’s Big Parade All About?

Pamela Kyle Crossley, Richard Bernstein, John Delury, M. Taylor Fravel, Hans van de Ven

On September 3, China will mark the 70th anniversary of its World War II victory over Japan with a massive parade involving thousands of Chinese troops and an arsenal of tanks, planes, and missiles in a tightly choreographed march across Tiananmen...
Viewpoint
Small Photo Credit info: 
Fotosearch / Stringer
Fotosearch / Stringer A Photograph of Chinese Soldiers and Armourers of 74th Fighter Squadron Inspecting a Curtiss P-40 in Kumming, China, February 1, 1943.
Small Photo Caption info: 
Chinese Soldiers and Armourers of 74th Fighter Squadron Inspecting a Curtiss P-40 in Kumming, China, February 1st 1943.
Jack Edelman
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System Photo Credit info: 
Jian Chen / Grant Heilman Photography

The U.S. Was the True Mainstay in the Fight Against Japan in World War II

“When the Chinese people and the Chinese nation were in peril, the United States came to the rescue and asked for nothing in return. The U.S. never occupied a single inch of Chinese territory, never reaped any particular reward.”

I

At 9:00 a.m. on September 2, 1945 (September 1, U.S. time), the two hundred Allied naval vessels moored in Tokyo Bay were shadowed by dark clouds overhead, but the mood on the American naval battleship USS Missouri was jubilant, at least among the Allied and American military officers and troops attending the ceremony marking Japan’s official surrender.

Under the supervision of American five-star general General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, the first signatories to the “Instrument of Surrender” were Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, signing on behalf of the Japanese government and the Emperor Hirohito, and Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, signing on behalf of the Japanese military. At 9:22 a.m., the final delegate from the Allied nations affixed his signature to the document, thus putting a formal end to the most brutal chapter of mass slaughter in human history.

As the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating Tokyo Bay, over 1,200 American Naval, Army, and Marine Corps fighter planes and bombers roared overhead, flying in magnificent formation over the USS Missouri. It was yet another demonstration of the military might that had led the Allies to victory in the Second World War.

Conversation

09.02.15

What Is China’s Big Parade All About?

Pamela Kyle Crossley, Richard Bernstein, John Delury, M. Taylor Fravel, Hans van de Ven

On September 3, China will mark the 70th anniversary of its World War II victory over Japan with a massive parade involving thousands of Chinese troops and an arsenal of tanks, planes, and missiles in a tightly choreographed march across Tiananmen...

Over the last seventy years, the tragic experience of World War II has yielded many valuable lessons and insights, and helped to bring about the establishment of a new global order and a system of international rules and norms. Although armed conflict between nation-states still occurs from time to time, the system has been fundamentally effective at maintaining world peace, creating economic prosperity, and raising the living standards of citizens all over the globe.

In recent years, however, there have been persistent attempts to rewrite that period of history for various purposes: some seek to cast the aggressor as victim, while others attempt to arrogate the accomplishments of others by exaggerating their own role in and contribution to the war effort. But falsehoods remain falsehoods, and facts speak louder than words: in the end, it was the United States that was the true mainstay in the fight against Japan in World War II.

This view is based on one irrefutable historical fact: it was the United States—not China, not the Soviet Union, nor any other nation—that vanquished Japan in the Second World War.

According to U.S. Congressional Research Service data, in the three short years following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. managed to mobilize over 16 million of its citizens to enlist in the military while it engaged in a war in two theaters, in Europe and Asia. The conflict resulted in 670,000 American casualties and 400,000 fatalities (300,000 during combat). More than 100,000 of American combat deaths occurred in the Asia-Pacific theater alone.

While these numbers may seem trivial in comparison to the casualties inflicted on Soviet and Chinese soldiers during WWII, the U.S. death toll was the highest among the western Allied nations. More importantly, the military death toll is not proportional to the sacrifices and contributions made by the United States to the war effort as a whole, for it was American leadership, industrial capacity, technological innovation, and military might that laid the cornerstone for the Allied victory. Indeed, as the five points below demonstrate, the United States was the mainstay of Japan’s defeat in the Second World War.

1. The United States was “the world’s arsenal” in the fight against Japanese and German fascism.

We know that within a very short period of time, the United States mounted a large-scale wartime mobilization effort that produced 150 battleships, aircraft carriers, and escort carriers; 120,000 other types of seagoing vessels; 300,000 planes; 100,000 tanks and armored vehicles; 2.4 million vehicles of various description; 40,000 howitzers and pieces of artillery; 2.6 million machine guns; and 41 billion rounds of ammunition. By 1944, the U.S. was supplying two-thirds of the military equipment and materiel used by the Allied nations, including China. The U.S. produced twice as many aircraft as Japan and Germany combined (according to data supplied by The National WWII Museum, New Orleans).

2. The U.S. Navy annihilated Japan’s Imperial Navy, the lifeline of the Japanese empire.

Beginning with the Battle of Midway, the United States turned its attention to attacking the Japanese Navy in the Pacific. There followed a period of naval warfare on an unprecedented scale that resulted in a crushing defeat for Japan and the establishment of American control of the seas. Data supplied by the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) reveals that U.S. forces sank a total of 611 Japanese warships and naval vessels (including 21 of Japan’s 25 aircraft carriers, and Japan’s only two Fusō-class dreadnought battleships), as well as 2117 merchant vessels, for a total of 9.74 million tons. Over 400,000 Japanese sailors were killed in the attacks. The combined total for the other Allied nations was 45 Japanese warships and naval vessels sunk, as well as 73 merchant vessels, for a total of 280,000 tons. The sole contribution of the Chinese navy during World War II was the sinking of three Japanese merchant vessels.

In dealing a fatal blow to the Japanese navy, the U.S. not only impeded Japan’s ability to project military power throughout the Asia-Pacific region, but also cut off Japan’s strategic material supply lines. This greatly weakened Japanese military production capacity and front-line combat readiness, left the Japanese home islands exposed to U.S. attack, and ensured Japan’s inevitable defeat.

The loss of naval supremacy touched off a fuel crisis in Japan. Petroleum was the ingredient that kept the Japanese war machine running; when American cryptographers cracked Japanese naval codes, laying bare the details of Japan’s oil production facilities and transport routes in the South Pacific, the U.S. dispatched submarines and aircraft to bombard Japanese tankers and oil fields, and a total of 110 Japanese oil tankers were sunk by American submarines. In the summer of 1942, the U.S. sinking of the Japanese transport ship Taiyo Maru, carrying one thousand Japanese petroleum engineers and technicians en route to the East Indies to exploit petroleum resources there, nearly wiped out Japan’s entire corps of petroleum experts in one fell swoop. The severe fuel shortages resulting from American attacks caused the Japanese war machine to sputter. Reportedly, when American soldiers arrived at Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s official residence to arrest him in the wake of Japan’s surrender and found him wounded from a suicide attempt, it was two hours before they could locate an ambulance with sufficient petrol to transport him to the hospital. In the waning days of the war, equipment shortages were so severe that newly formed divisions of Japanese troops charged with defending the home islands from Allied invasion were unable to obtain the equipment they needed.

Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, former Japanese Prime Minister and Minister of the Navy, once said that after the U.S. defeat of Japan at the Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942, some far-sighted Japanese military officers realized that the loss of naval supremacy meant that Japan would inevitably lose the war, and that they awaited almost certain death.

3. While contesting the Japanese navy at sea, U.S. forces also dealt a devastating blow to Japanese air power.

The U.S. succeeded in destroying over 20,000 Japanese aircraft, but at a cost of 14,533 of its own aircraft (according to The World War II Data Book, John Ellis, 1993). Having achieved air superiority, U.S. forces could then carry out direct bombing attacks on the Japanese home islands, striking strategic targets, transport supply lines, and ground forces.

Headquartered in Kunming, the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force (formerly known as the “Flying Tigers”) was the only functional combat air force in the Chinese theater of war. To aid China, they flew over the “rooftop of the world” to airlift 650,000 tons of much-needed military supplies to the Chinese. In the course of flying these perilous missions over the Himalayas (referred to by pilots as flying “over the hump”), the Fourteenth Air Force lost over 500 planes and 468 pilots in crashes. By the end of the war, the Fourteenth Air Force had over 20,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft based in China. Despite various restrictions on their activities, the Fourteenth Air Force shot down or seriously damaged 2,908 Japanese aircraft, at a loss of only 193 aircraft on the American side. They also sank or destroyed Japanese merchant vessels totaling 2.1 million tons, 99 Japanese warships, and 18,000 smaller vessels transporting Japanese troops and supplies along China’s inland waterways. Bombing raids carried out by the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force demolished 1,225 locomotives, 817 bridges, and 4836 trucks, killed nearly 60,000 Japanese troops, and guaranteed American air supremacy in the Chinese theater, effectively preventing further Japanese attacks. Due to the severe fuel shortages and the collapse of railway supply lines caused by U.S. Air Force attacks, the Japanese Sixth Area Army determined that it had no choice but to retreat from southern China.

4. The United States destroyed Japanese land forces and disrupted troop supply.

The U.S. destroyed far more Japanese troops than any other Allied nation. According to a report by the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, in the period between Pearl Harbor and the end of the war, the total number of Japanese troops wiped out on the Asian Front was 1.5 million. (This figure includes only those killed or permanently wounded in combat, or taken as prisoners of war; it does not include non-combat deaths or troop attrition.) Seventeen percent of these occurred on Chinese battlefields, and eleven percent on battlefields in India or Burma; the remaining 72 percent were wiped out by U.S. forces single-handedly. Fully 80 percent of Japanese battle fatalities were inflicted by U.S. forces, while only 10 percent were inflicted by Chinese forces. The American military was also responsible for the vast majority of fatalities among elite overseas divisions of the Japanese Imperial Army.

5. Through technological innovation and the invention of the atomic bomb, the U.S. fundamentally altered the course of the war.

Despite the various criticisms leveled by historical revisionists and anti-nuclear activists about the ethics of deploying atomic weapons, one cannot deny that the use of these weapons played a role in hastening the Japanese surrender. We know that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were strategic military sites: Hiroshima was the headquarters of Shunroku Hata’s Second General Army, whose troops were responsible for the defense of southern Japan. (Hata was the former commander-in-chief of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army.) Hiroshima was also a military communications center, a depot for stockpiles of military supplies, and a staging ground for Japanese troop movements. Nagasaki was Japan’s most important military-industrial base for the production of ordnance, weapons, warships, and other materials used to fuel Japan’s war machine. American forces suffered more combat casualties in the six months preceding Japan’s surrender than they did in the first three years of the war: The closer U.S. troops came to the Japanese home islands, the fiercer Japanese resistance grew. In order to reduce casualties, hasten Japan’s unconditional surrender, and prevent Soviet intervention, the United States was forced to use the atomic bomb. And it was precisely the terrible destruction wrought by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that finally forced Emperor Hirohito to accept the Potsdam Declaration and put an end to the war.

In summary, it is abundantly clear that the United States was the mainstay of the effort to defeat the Japanese in Word War II. In fact, with or without the Soviet Union’s efforts to pin down the Japanese Imperial Army in Manchuria, with or without Chinese harassment of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army, it was always just a matter of time before the United States would vanquish Japan.

“When the Chinese people and the Chinese nation were in peril, the United States came to the rescue and asked for nothing in return. The U.S. never occupied a single inch of Chinese territory, never reaped any particular reward.”

I

At 9:00 a.m. on September 2, 1945 (September 1, U.S. time), the two hundred Allied naval vessels moored in Tokyo Bay were shadowed by dark clouds overhead, but the mood on the American naval battleship USS Missouri was jubilant, at least among the Allied and American military officers and troops attending the ceremony marking Japan’s official surrender.

Under the supervision of American five-star general General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, the first signatories to the “Instrument of Surrender” were Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, signing on behalf of the Japanese government and the Emperor Hirohito, and Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, signing on behalf of the Japanese military. At 9:22 a.m., the final delegate from the Allied nations affixed his signature to the document, thus putting a formal end to the most brutal chapter of mass slaughter in human history.

As the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating Tokyo Bay, over 1,200 American Naval, Army, and Marine Corps fighter planes and bombers roared overhead, flying in magnificent formation over the USS Missouri. It was yet another demonstration of the military might that had led the Allies to victory in the Second World War.

Over the last seventy years, the tragic experience of World War II has yielded many valuable lessons and insights, and helped to bring about the establishment of a new global order and a system of international rules and norms. Although armed conflict between nation-states still occurs from time to time, the system has been fundamentally effective at maintaining world peace, creating economic prosperity, and raising the living standards of citizens all over the globe.

In recent years, however, there have been persistent attempts to rewrite that period of history for various purposes: some seek to cast the aggressor as victim, while others attempt to arrogate the accomplishments of others by exaggerating their own role in and contribution to the war effort. But falsehoods remain falsehoods, and facts speak louder than words: in the end, it was the United States that was the true mainstay in the fight against Japan in World War II.

This view is based on one irrefutable historical fact: it was the United States—not China, not the Soviet Union, nor any other nation—that vanquished Japan in the Second World War.

According to U.S. Congressional Research Service data, in the three short years following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. managed to mobilize over 16 million of its citizens to enlist in the military while it engaged in a war in two theaters, in Europe and Asia. The conflict resulted in 670,000 American casualties and 400,000 fatalities (300,000 during combat). More than 100,000 of American combat deaths occurred in the Asia-Pacific theater alone.

While these numbers may seem trivial in comparison to the casualties inflicted on Soviet and Chinese soldiers during WWII, the U.S. death toll was the highest among the western Allied nations. More importantly, the military death toll is not proportional to the sacrifices and contributions made by the United States to the war effort as a whole, for it was American leadership, industrial capacity, technological innovation, and military might that laid the cornerstone for the Allied victory. Indeed, as the five points below demonstrate, the United States was the mainstay of Japan’s defeat in the Second World War.

1. The United States was “the world’s arsenal” in the fight against Japanese and German fascism.

We know that within a very short period of time, the United States mounted a large-scale wartime mobilization effort that produced 150 battleships, aircraft carriers, and escort carriers; 120,000 other types of seagoing vessels; 300,000 planes; 100,000 tanks and armored vehicles; 2.4 million vehicles of various description; 40,000 howitzers and pieces of artillery; 2.6 million machine guns; and 41 billion rounds of ammunition. By 1944, the U.S. was supplying two-thirds of the military equipment and materiel used by the Allied nations, including China. The U.S. produced twice as many aircraft as Japan and Germany combined (according to data supplied by The National WWII Museum, New Orleans).

2. The U.S. Navy annihilated Japan’s Imperial Navy, the lifeline of the Japanese empire.

Beginning with the Battle of Midway, the United States turned its attention to attacking the Japanese Navy in the Pacific. There followed a period of naval warfare on an unprecedented scale that resulted in a crushing defeat for Japan and the establishment of American control of the seas. Data supplied by the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) reveals that U.S. forces sank a total of 611 Japanese warships and naval vessels (including 21 of Japan’s 25 aircraft carriers, and Japan’s only two Fusō-class dreadnought battleships), as well as 2117 merchant vessels, for a total of 9.74 million tons. Over 400,000 Japanese sailors were killed in the attacks. The combined total for the other Allied nations was 45 Japanese warships and naval vessels sunk, as well as 73 merchant vessels, for a total of 280,000 tons. The sole contribution of the Chinese navy during World War II was the sinking of three Japanese merchant vessels.

In dealing a fatal blow to the Japanese navy, the U.S. not only impeded Japan’s ability to project military power throughout the Asia-Pacific region, but also cut off Japan’s strategic material supply lines. This greatly weakened Japanese military production capacity and front-line combat readiness, left the Japanese home islands exposed to U.S. attack, and ensured Japan’s inevitable defeat.

The loss of naval supremacy touched off a fuel crisis in Japan. Petroleum was the ingredient that kept the Japanese war machine running; when American cryptographers cracked Japanese naval codes, laying bare the details of Japan’s oil production facilities and transport routes in the South Pacific, the U.S. dispatched submarines and aircraft to bombard Japanese tankers and oil fields, and a total of 110 Japanese oil tankers were sunk by American submarines. In the summer of 1942, the U.S. sinking of the Japanese transport ship Taiyo Maru, carrying one thousand Japanese petroleum engineers and technicians en route to the East Indies to exploit petroleum resources there, nearly wiped out Japan’s entire corps of petroleum experts in one fell swoop. The severe fuel shortages resulting from American attacks caused the Japanese war machine to sputter. Reportedly, when American soldiers arrived at Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s official residence to arrest him in the wake of Japan’s surrender and found him wounded from a suicide attempt, it was two hours before they could locate an ambulance with sufficient petrol to transport him to the hospital. In the waning days of the war, equipment shortages were so severe that newly formed divisions of Japanese troops charged with defending the home islands from Allied invasion were unable to obtain the equipment they needed.

Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, former Japanese Prime Minister and Minister of the Navy, once said that after the U.S. defeat of Japan at the Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942, some far-sighted Japanese military officers realized that the loss of naval supremacy meant that Japan would inevitably lose the war, and that they awaited almost certain death.

3. While contesting the Japanese navy at sea, U.S. forces also dealt a devastating blow to Japanese air power.

The U.S. succeeded in destroying over 20,000 Japanese aircraft, but at a cost of 14,533 of its own aircraft (according to The World War II Data Book, John Ellis, 1993). Having achieved air superiority, U.S. forces could then carry out direct bombing attacks on the Japanese home islands, striking strategic targets, transport supply lines, and ground forces.

Headquartered in Kunming, the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force (formerly known as the “Flying Tigers”) was the only functional combat air force in the Chinese theater of war. To aid China, they flew over the “rooftop of the world” to airlift 650,000 tons of much-needed military supplies to the Chinese. In the course of flying these perilous missions over the Himalayas (referred to by pilots as flying “over the hump”), the Fourteenth Air Force lost over 500 planes and 468 pilots in crashes. By the end of the war, the Fourteenth Air Force had over 20,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft based in China. Despite various restrictions on their activities, the Fourteenth Air Force shot down or seriously damaged 2,908 Japanese aircraft, at a loss of only 193 aircraft on the American side. They also sank or destroyed Japanese merchant vessels totaling 2.1 million tons, 99 Japanese warships, and 18,000 smaller vessels transporting Japanese troops and supplies along China’s inland waterways. Bombing raids carried out by the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force demolished 1,225 locomotives, 817 bridges, and 4836 trucks, killed nearly 60,000 Japanese troops, and guaranteed American air supremacy in the Chinese theater, effectively preventing further Japanese attacks. Due to the severe fuel shortages and the collapse of railway supply lines caused by U.S. Air Force attacks, the Japanese Sixth Area Army determined that it had no choice but to retreat from southern China.

4. The United States destroyed Japanese land forces and disrupted troop supply.

The U.S. destroyed far more Japanese troops than any other Allied nation. According to a report by the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, in the period between Pearl Harbor and the end of the war, the total number of Japanese troops wiped out on the Asian Front was 1.5 million. (This figure includes only those killed or permanently wounded in combat, or taken as prisoners of war; it does not include non-combat deaths or troop attrition.) Seventeen percent of these occurred on Chinese battlefields, and eleven percent on battlefields in India or Burma; the remaining 72 percent were wiped out by U.S. forces single-handedly. Fully 80 percent of Japanese battle fatalities were inflicted by U.S. forces, while only 10 percent were inflicted by Chinese forces. The American military was also responsible for the vast majority of fatalities among elite overseas divisions of the Japanese Imperial Army.

5. Through technological innovation and the invention of the atomic bomb, the U.S. fundamentally altered the course of the war.

Despite the various criticisms leveled by historical revisionists and anti-nuclear activists about the ethics of deploying atomic weapons, one cannot deny that the use of these weapons played a role in hastening the Japanese surrender. We know that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were strategic military sites: Hiroshima was the headquarters of Shunroku Hata’s Second General Army, whose troops were responsible for the defense of southern Japan. (Hata was the former commander-in-chief of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army.) Hiroshima was also a military communications center, a depot for stockpiles of military supplies, and a staging ground for Japanese troop movements. Nagasaki was Japan’s most important military-industrial base for the production of ordnance, weapons, warships, and other materials used to fuel Japan’s war machine. American forces suffered more combat casualties in the six months preceding Japan’s surrender than they did in the first three years of the war: The closer U.S. troops came to the Japanese home islands, the fiercer Japanese resistance grew. In order to reduce casualties, hasten Japan’s unconditional surrender, and prevent Soviet intervention, the United States was forced to use the atomic bomb. And it was precisely the terrible destruction wrought by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that finally forced Emperor Hirohito to accept the Potsdam Declaration and put an end to the war.

In summary, it is abundantly clear that the United States was the mainstay of the effort to defeat the Japanese in Word War II. In fact, with or without the Soviet Union’s efforts to pin down the Japanese Imperial Army in Manchuria, with or without Chinese harassment of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army, it was always just a matter of time before the United States would vanquish Japan.

Because China was not the decisive battlefield in the war against Japan, neither the bloody battles fought by Chinese forces on Chinese soil nor the mountains of corpses of Chinese soldiers and civilians could alter the strategic landscape of the war. Conversely, without American assistance—particularly the U.S. “island-hopping” strategy and naval victories in the Pacific that helped to force Japan’s surrender—it is very likely that China would have been annihilated by the Japanese. Suffice it to say that the Chinese “victory” was merely a byproduct of the United States defeating Japan. To a vanquished Japan, the victor was the United States, not China. It is for this reason that some Japanese have never acknowledged China as the victor of the war.

II

After the initial outbreak of the Pacific War, the United States had high expectations that China, as such a large nation, would make a significant contribution to the war effort. By leveraging China’s vast geography and abundant manpower, the U.S. believed it could use China as a base from which to launch an attack on the Japanese home islands. Harsh reality, however, soon left the Americans disenchanted, and forced them to scrap their idealistic plans. American military historical records reveal that many in the U.S. military felt that the Chinese Nationalist government, local militias, and the Chinese Communist Party were more concerned with advancing their own interests and agendas than in making a concerted effort to fight the Japanese. Rampant corruption, inefficiency, and incompetency meant that neither the Chinese government nor the Chinese military were up to the task of fighting the Japanese. Therefore, the United States adjusted its strategy accordingly, and shifted its focus to “island-hopping” military operations in the Pacific. At the same time, the U.S. scaled back its expectations of the Chinese government, reducing it to one simple demand: that the Chinese continue to resist Japanese control and not make peace with their invaders.

In 1941, Japan’s China Expeditionary Army numbered 600,000 soldiers; by the end of the war in 1945, that number had grown to 1.05 million. Winning every battle it fought, Japan’s China Expeditionary Army had slaughtered over 3.2 million Chinese soldiers, occupied more than half of China, and showed no signs of weakening. Even at the time of Japan’s surrender, the China Expeditionary Army seemed unstoppable. The last commander of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army, General Yasuji Okamura, said that the news of Japan’s surrender came like a bolt from the blue, because,

The China Expeditionary Army, unlike [Japan’s] other area armies, had not lost a battle in the eight preceding years. So for it to come to this [referring to the order to surrender] while we still had the fighting strength to defeat our enemy put us in a very awkward position, indeed. Our country had surrendered, so we had no choice but to surrender. The frontline troops weren’t able to listen to the Emperor’s entire August 15 broadcast, and I heard that many of them thought that the imperial edict was just an exhortation to fight even harder!

Okamura’s point is not unreasonable: on the eve of the Allied victory, the Japanese China Expeditionary Army—hoping to reduce the number of American bomber attacks on the Japanese home islands—dispatched troops to attack U.S. air bases in China. In 1944 and early 1945, Japan launched “Operation Ichigo,” a military offensive against Chinese and American targets in Henan, Hunan, and Guangxi provinces. Although the Americans enjoyed air superiority in the Chinese theater, and Chinese Nationalist forces far outnumbered Japanese forces on the ground, Operation Ichigo was a success: the Chinese Nationalist forces were routed, resulting in a large loss of Chinese territory and the destruction of nearly 36 U.S. military airbases in China. Fortunately for the Allies, American victories in the Pacific meant that the U.S. was able to shift its air bases to the Mariana Islands, even closer to Japan, and continue its bombing attacks on the Japanese archipelago.

The best-fought battle waged by the Chinese army in the entire course of the war would also be the last offensive waged by the Japanese army in China: the Zhijiang Campaign (April-June 1945), in which both sides fought to a draw. However, the battle was just part of a larger regional campaign launched by the Japanese 20th Army, involving three divisions totaling 60,000 troops, with the goal of capturing the Chinese airfield at Zhijiang. China committed 600,000 troops to the battle, but after the Japanese 116th Division had routed four corps of the Chinese Nationalist army, the Americans had to make an emergency airlift of the U.S.-trained and -equipped New 6th Corps and other elite “ALPHA” forces. The Americans also sent 4,000 U.S. military advisors to work alongside the troops, and provided modern communications and logistical support. Thanks to these, and particularly to strong tactical support from the USAAF 14th Air Force, the Chinese finally managed to repel the Japanese attack and force the Japanese troops back to their original positions. Japanese casualties were 1,500 troops killed and 5,000 wounded; Chinese totals were 6,800 killed and 11,200 wounded (according to U.S. military historical data). This was the best showing by Chinese armed forces in the whole history of the war against Japan.

As early as 1942, Japan’s China Expeditionary Army was planning to implement “Operation Five” (also known as the Chongqing Operation, or the Szechwan Invasion) in which the Expeditionary Army—reinforced by an additional 360,000 combat troops from Manchuria, Korea, and the Japanese home islands—would attempt to capture China’s temporary capital in Chunking (now Chongqing) and smash Nationalist (Kuomintang) resistance in one fell swoop. However, the fierce battle between the U.S. and Japanese navies fighting for control of the island of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific was pinning down Japanese forces and depleting Japan’s resources. Unable to muster enough troops, Japan was forced to cancel plans for the invasion of Chunking and abandon 300,000 tons of military supplies.

In late 1944, after General Yasuji Okamura was appointed commander-in-chief of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army, he recommended that plans to invade Szechwan (Sichuan) and destroy the Chinese Nationalist capital at Chunking be reinitiated. He felt that this plan would help reduce attacks on the Japanese home islands, but Japanese military headquarters denied his request, fearing an imminent land attack on Japan by American forces. Once again, the U.S. military helped to preserve the Chinese government in Chunking.

Regarding the question of who was the real mainstay in the war against Japan, both the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang, or K.M.T.) and the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) are guilty of falsehoods and inflated claims. At the time, the Chinese army numbered 45 million soldiers, making it the largest army in the world, and yet it was consistently routed by a few hundred thousand Japanese soldiers. In the entire eight-year history of the war, it did not manage to recapture a single key city or wipe out even one Japanese regiment. Conversely, Chinese military officers and soldiers defected to the enemy in large numbers. According to Yasuji Okamura, in the few short months before the end of the war and after he was appointed commander of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army, an astounding total of 400,000 Kuomintang troops defected and pledged their “allegiance” to the Japanese side. Between spring 1942 and autumn 1943, the entire Kuomintang army in North China capitulated to the Japanese. Defections and surrenders by local Chinese forces in other areas of China were commonplace as well.

The decision to break the levees of the Yellow River near Huayuankou (to slow the Japanese advance), forced conscription, scorched earth tactics, and other draconian measures taken by the Chinese Nationalist (K.M.T.) government during the war probably wrought more death and destruction on the Chinese people than the indiscriminate slaughter of Chinese civilians by the Japanese military. Nevertheless, although the Chinese government led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek could not defeat the Japanese, at least it did not capitulate or surrender to Japan. Even the Japanese military recognized that its most potent local opponent was the KMT Central Army—particularly the Whampoa Army, whose elite units were trained at the Whampoa Military Academy—rather than the Chinese Communist army units. Although Japan’s Kwantung Army and China Expeditionary Army eventually managed to shift some of their elite divisions from China to the Pacific theater, the Chinese helped by pinning down the vast majority of the Expeditionary Army in battles on the Chinese mainland. Although this was of negligible strategic importance in engineering Japan’s defeat, it certainly contributed to a corresponding reduction in American casualties in the Pacific.

Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) claims that it was the key to victory over Japan are even more ridiculous. The C.C.P. was under instructions from Stalin to leverage Japan’s war of imperialism in China to expand C.C.P. influence, attain political power, and emerge victorious in the proletarian revolution, so for the duration of the war, C.C.P. forces basically sat on the sidelines and waited for the conflict to end so that they could reap the spoils afterward.

The C.C.P.’s most boasted-about exploit during the war, the heroic Battle of Pingxinguan (Pingxing Pass), was little more than a surprise attack on a Japanese convoy. Although the C.C.P. did fight some tough battles during the Hundred Regiments Offensive (August-December 1940), most of these were strikes against small, scattered Japanese units. The C.C.P. never directly engaged Japan’s main fighting force, and did not have much impact on the overall trajectory of the war.

The memoirs of former Chinese Communist Party General Wu Faxian offer a revealing look at C.C.P. guerrilla operations behind Japanese enemy lines. As commander-in-chief of the crack troops of the C.C.P.’s 685th Regiment, 115th Division, Wu Faxian fought in the Battle of Pingxinguan in 1940, infiltrated enemy lines south of the Yangtze River in 1938, and rapidly recruited new troops, increasing the number of men under his command from 3,000 to 12,000. After his regiment was incorporated into the New Fourth Army’s 3rd Division, the division grew from 20,000 to 70,000 active soldiers. Of the over 5,000 battles that Wu Faxian participated in, he describes most as turf wars with so-called Kuomintang “diehards” or the armies of local Japanese puppet régimes. During two relatively large campaigns to thwart Japanese “mopping-up” operations, Chinese Communist forces adopted what was essentially a “divide-and-conquer” strategy—harrying and hiding from third-rate Japanese security forces whose numbers were several times smaller than the Communist forces. Wu Faxian also reveals that for nearly a year, from the summer of 1941 to mid-1942, his troops did not fight a single battle. During the three-year period from the latter half of 1942 to the first half of 1945, Wu Faxian’s troops were busy carrying out a political “rectification campaign” that had been decreed by C.C.P. leaders in Yan’an. The situation for Communist guerrilla actions behind enemy lines in other areas was largely the same.

The Chinese Communist Party’s greatest achievement during the war against Japan was simply bringing the Xi’an Incident to a peaceful conclusion, paving the way for Chiang Kai-shek’s safe return to Nanjing and his continued leadership of the war effort. But more and more evidence suggests that the Xi’an Incident was orchestrated, and that Zhou Enlai and Yang Hucheng were merely playing good cop/bad cop to compel Chiang Kai-shek to acknowledge the legitimacy of the C.C.P. One of the direct consequences of the Xi’an Incident was drawing Chinese forces prematurely into the Battle of Shanghai, forcing them to squander their fighting strength and making the remainder of the war more difficult.

Another historical fact, often overlooked by my fellow Chinese, is that the United States had long been a staunch defender of the Chinese cause. In fact, it was American insistence that Japan withdraw from China that precipitated the Japanese attack that forced the U.S. into the war.

After the Mukden Incident of September 18, 1931, which Japan used as a pretext to occupy the three Manchurian provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo, the United States took China’s side by condemning it as an act of Japanese aggression, refusing to recognize Manchukuo, and imposing limited sanctions on Japan. But due to a lack of American public support for a land war in East Asia, the belief among many U.S. officials that American interests in China were insufficient to justify wading into a military conflict there, and the complexity of the Chinese political landscape at the time, the U.S. declined to take any tougher measures against Japan.

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937, which touched off a full-scale Japanese invasion of China, led to a reversal of American public opinion, and the United States began to challenge Japan. On July 7, the very day of the incident, President Roosevelt announced that the “Neutrality Acts” passed by the U.S. Congress did not apply to China. The U.S. government began providing military equipment to China through credit and lend-lease programs, while also ratcheting up trade sanctions against Japan. In July of 1939, the United States informed Japan that it was terminating the U.S.-Japan trade treaty; in 1940, the U.S. enacted a partial trade embargo that prohibited the export of oil, steel, and other strategic materials to Japan. In July of 1941, the U.S. implemented a full trade embargo against Japan, and went a step further by freezing Japanese assets in the U.S. However, due to a lack of military preparedness, both the U.S. government and the U.S. military were reluctant to get involved in armed conflict or a war with Japan, and they still hoped that the matter might be resolved through diplomatic negotiations.

Because Japan was dependent on the U.S. for 80 percent of its oil imports, the American embargo posed great problems for Japan’s expansionist aims in Asia. In order to secure the strategic resources necessary to continue its war of invasion, Japan decided to head south and occupy oil-producing regions in Indochina and the South Pacific. The Japanese knew that the presence of the U.S. Pacific Fleet would make it impossible to protect their strategic resource bases in the south, so in July of 1941, Japan’s Imperial Council approved a plan to take these southern resource bases, and followed up with approval for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, developed and led by Japanese Admiral (and Harvard graduate) Isoroku Yamamoto.

Meanwhile, diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Japan continued. As one of the main conditions for lifting the embargo, the U.S. insisted that Japan withdraw its troops from China and Indochina, but Japan was unwilling to relinquish the territory it had conquered in China, and diplomatic negotiations were deadlocked. Japanese leaders, concluding that the United States was not negotiating in good faith, decided that the time had come to launch an immediate strike on the American Navy. American leaders, however, still believed that a diplomatic solution was possible, and felt that Japan lacked the military strength to mount a direct attack on U.S. territory. Japan’s successful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 came as a tremendous shock to Americans from all walks of life, and made the American public even more determined to fight back. This was the fundamental reason for the outbreak of the Pacific War.

However, a considerable number of postwar conspiracy theorists and revisionist scholars believe that President Roosevelt was leveraging the U.S.-Japan relationship for his own machinations, trying to lure Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor, thus precipitating a Pacific War that could serve as a pretext for American entry into World War II. This is the explanation found in the written commentary regarding the causes of World War II at Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine; in 2007, the commentary was removed. Such a statement is not consistent with historical facts, for it is essentially an attempt to exonerate the aggressor. From what I have been able to glean from historical accounts and data, although President Roosevelt did receive warnings through various channels, not a single intelligence source was able to pinpoint exactly when and where Japan would launch an attack on an American target. Without a doubt, it was the nature of Japanese militarism that prompted Japan to launch a war of aggression.

Another argument has it that Japan’s surrender happened in response to the Soviet Union sending troops into Manchuria, rather than in response to the U.S. use of atomic weapons. This is utter nonsense, an attempt to tar the United States for the unnecessary use of inhumane weapons of mass destruction. In fact, when Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Tōgō visited Emperor Hirohito at the Imperial Palace on August 8, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima, and showed him the reports of the atomic bombing that had been compiled from foreign news sources, the Emperor decided to put a stop to the war immediately. The news about Soviet troops entering Manchuria did not reach Tokyo until August 10. And the reason that Japanese authorities were so shaken by the Soviet entry into the war was not because they feared a fight with the Soviet Union, but because Japan had requested that the Soviets remain neutral in the hope that they could negotiate on Japan’s behalf for a conditional surrender to the Americans. News of the Soviet entry into the war shattered Japanese hopes for a face-saving conditional surrender.

In short, despite the tragedy, heroism, bloodshed, and terrible cost of China’s war against the Japanese, it is an indisputable fact that China could never have emerged victorious. For China, that chapter in history is one of disgrace and humiliation, blood, and tears, but it a chapter that must be reckoned with. If we ignore brutal historical fact and bury our heads in the ground, if we behave arrogantly and treat our friends as enemies, if we presume to distort wartime history in order to bolster the legitimacy of the one-party state, if we make threatening gestures at our neighbors and betray peace while raising high the banner of peace—if we do these things, then we have learned nothing from the Second World War, and are in danger of repeating the disastrous mistakes of Japanese militarism.

When the Chinese people and the Chinese nation were in peril, the United States came to the rescue and asked for nothing in return. The U.S. never occupied a single inch of Chinese territory, never reaped any particular reward: good work was its own reward. For this, we should be grateful. We should establish a long-term alliance with the United States, embrace universal human values and democratic constitutional government, make the necessary repairs at home while pursuing a benevolent policy abroad, beat our swords into ploughshares, and work together to safeguard stable international relations and maintain the postwar world peace. That is the attitude we should take, and that is the true meaning of commemorating the Allied victory in World War II, reflecting on the history of the war, and cherishing the memory of those who sacrificed their lives.

Translated by China Change.

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This article was first published by China Change.

A version of this article is available in Chinese on Voice of America Chinese. 中文《韩连潮:美国才是抗日的中流砥柱》.

A ‘China Watcher’s China Watcher’ Decamps

As anyone who reads the Sinocism newsletter knows, Bill Bishop is among the most plugged-in people in Beijing with an uncanny ability to figure out what is actually happening in the halls of power. But as casual readers may not be aware, he is also an excellent podcast guest due to his habit of bringing first cupcakes and now amazingly smooth bottles of Japanese whisky to our recording sessions before trading the latest gossip about the goings-on in Zhongnanhai.

On today’s show, we mark Bill’s departure from China and his return to the United States where he plans to live for the next few years with his family. While not exactly your requisite “Why I Am Leaving China” blog post, this show gives Kaiser Kuo and David Moser the chance to talk to Bill about the reasons behind his decision, and explore why he sees an increasingly strained relationship between China and the United States over the next few years.

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Chinese Media Jumps on Tragic Virginia Shooting

On the morning of August 26, a reporter and a cameraman for a local Virginia television station were fatally shot during a live television interview. The alleged gunman, now dead, apparently shot himself before being apprehended by police.

The shooting quickly made national news in the United States, and outlets across the country have provided regular updates. The tragedy occurred shortly after 6:45 in the morning, Eastern Standard Time, or around 6:45 p.m., Beijing time. That’s significant, because despite the evening hour, media outlets across China were quick to provide front-page coverage of the breaking story. State new agency Xinhua featured the shooting among its online list of top ten news items. By 10:30 p.m. in Beijing, Chinese news website NetEase had created a separate live-update webpage for the shootings. By 11 p.m. in Beijing, the state-run, often fervently nationalist Global Times had made a related photo its website’s cover photo, accompanied by a report with details of the shootings.

The United States is a major preoccupation within China, often as a geopolitical rival held up as a kind of foil. It’s a focus for many everyday Chinese, as an object of scorn, an object of desire—even Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his daughter to Harvard to study—or both. Within China, the high rate of gun violence in the United States is widely known and often seen as a flaw in the U.S. political system, a criticism repeated after the Virginia shooting.

Though Chinese media reports on the Virgina incident were strictly factual, the accompanying social media commentary quickly became a domestic political battleground. Around 9:20 p.m., Beijing time, Chinese web giant Sina began live-blogging about the shooting on its official news account on microblogging platform Weibo, with one post garnering more than 570 comments. One user wrote in response, “No wonder I’ve seen so many public intellectuals”—an often disdainful term for Chinese liberals who promote Western values—“posting candle emoticons. When there’s a tragedy [in China], they criticize the government. When there’s a tragedy [in America], they post candles.” Another user mocked criticism directed at the Chinese political system when inefficiency, corruption, or lack of transparency has resulted in tragic accidents there. “How could this kind of thing happen in a free, democratic country?” wrote the user. “So this is to say, China is actually better,” wrote another. “At least we’re not allowed to carry guns. In foreign countries it is legal.”

Other Weibo bloggers remarked, with what seemed a note of irony, the speed with which Chinese media—which has come under fire for delayed or insufficient coverage of major domestic disasters—had picked up reports on the Virginia shooting. “We’re always among the first to learn America’s bad news,” wrote one Weibo user. “CCTV”—state broadcaster China Central Television, which had reported the news by 10 p.m. in Beijing—“can really be counted as a global first tier news outlet,” wrote another Weibo user. “Such timely coverage.” Another wrote that CCTV was likely “eager to provide 24-hour broadcasting” on the shooting.

Information about violence within China is often strictly limited, especially when it relates to ethnic conflict in China’s restive far west. The ruling Communist Party tightly controls both state-run and even non-state media outlets, often seeking to burnish its domestic image or prevent instability through censorship. The Chinese government has not hesitated to punish journalists who push the envelope; in 2014, China jailed more journalists than any other country in the world, according to the annual Press Freedom Index by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

Shootings are rare in China, which largely outlaws private gun ownership. But knifings have occurred there with some frequency in recent years, including an assault at a school in central China in December 2012 that injured 22 children and one adult; a coordinated attack at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming in March 2014 which killed 29 victims; and another mass stabbing at a train station in the southern city of Guangzhou, which wounded nine.

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This article was first published by Foreign Policy’s China channel, Tea Leaf Nation.

How Should the U.S. Conduct the Xi Jinping State Visit?

As tensions increase between China and the United States over the value of the yuan, human rights violations, alleged cyber attacks, and disputed maritime territories, among other issues, how should the Obama administration conduct the upcoming state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping? (Update: GOP Presidential candidate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on August 24 called for Obama to cancel Xi's visit altogether.) —The Editors

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Related Reading

Human Rights Should Not Sidetrack Summit between Xi and Obama,” China Daily, August 19, 2015

Senators Urge Obama to Press Xi on Rights During Visit,” Reuters, August 11, 2015

Officials Pave Way for Xi’s Autumn Visit,” China Daily, August 11, 2015

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A Response to ‘China’s Foreign Policy Isn’t Transparent? You’ve Got to Be Kidding’

Following is a response by Susan Shirk to “China’s Foreign Policy Isn’t Transparent? You’ve Got to Be Kidding,” an essay written by Chu Yin in response to Shirk’s earlier piece, “What China’s Lack of Transparency Means for U.S. Policy.” —The Editors

I’m pleased that my article on the lack of transparency in China’s political system has stimulated this intellectually interesting commentary from Chu Yin.

Chu elaborates my argument that China’s leaders keep the policy process secret because they are afraid of revealing differences among themselves to the public. The system is too fragile to allow citizens access to information about how policies are made. As he explains, “information is tightly controlled in an effort not to give the public the impression that the Party is divided on any issue.” He confirms that the reality contradicts this manufactured image of elite unity. There are sharp disagreements within the Party and the government. But, Chu says, “public disagreements on policy issues can undermine the Party’s authority and cohesiveness, and technical debates can easily evolve into ideological struggles.” In other words, because C.C.P. rule is prone to leadership splits and has no institutionalized mechanism for resolving them, secrecy is required for Party rule to survive.

Chu goes on to contrast the risks of transparency during two different periods of time: the 1979-2012 period when the Communist Party stepped back and delegated more authority over policymaking to the government; and the Xi Jinping era when the C.C.P. has “made itself the main force responsible for policy making and implementation.” In the earlier period, the “the Party’s diminished clout” led to what he labels “regionalist and sectarian forces” that threatened the system’s fragile unity. Presumably what he means is that different provinces and bureaucratic agencies competed for economic policies that would most benefit them, a normal feature of public administration in most other countries.

Today, however, now that the Communist Party under Xi Jinping tries to manage policy by itself, “issues of administration,” which normally belong to the government, and “issues of ideology,” which normally belong to political parties, have become intertwined. As a result, Chu Yin says, policy debates have become imbued with a political significance that goes beyond administration, “even raising them to the level of intensely ideological disputes over the ‘Party line.’” Therefore, he argues, if the policymaking process were to become more public, it could “easily evolve into publicizing internal Party disputes.” Moreover, the Party’s conservatives who “command the ideological heights” (presumably through powerful bodies like the propaganda and security agencies) will “suppress the pragmatic reformists and reforms will consequently lose ground.” In other words, Chu argues that if you support reforms you should support keeping the policymaking process secret from the public.

Chu’s commentary supports my view that the lack of transparency about policymaking reflects the fragility of the Chinese political system. Chinese leaders believe that only by presenting a façade of unanimity at the top can they prevent élite conflicts from spilling out and mobilizing public opposition.

Chu’s final point about China’s lack of willingness to be transparent on foreign and security policy because it is weaker compared with the U.S. is a more conventional and less interesting argument that I won’t address here.

No doubt, he has provided yet another rationale for why China’s political system remains secretive, but my argument was that too much secrecy, even in the area of foreign and security policy, hurts a country’s relations with the outside world. One does not have to look too far to find how North Korea’s secrecy has hurt its relations with the rest of the world.

Two Way Street

08.01.15

China’s Foreign Policy Isn’t Transparent? You’ve Got to Be Kidding

Chu Yin

In her recent article, “What China’s Lack of Transparency Means for U.S. Policy,” U.S.-China relations expert Susan Shirk caused a stir when she argued that China’s “lack of transparency” around public policy making, defense, national security, and...
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U.S. Not Concerned About Chinese Competition in Africa ... But It Probably Should Be

The difference between U.S. and Chinese foreign policies in Africa was on stark display in July when president Barack Obama made his landmark visits to Kenya and Ethiopia. The president brought along with him a vast agenda that transcended trade, democracy, human rights, gay rights, women’s issues, and on and on and on. Compare that to similar visits to both of these countries by either Chinese president Xi Jinping or Prime Minister Li Keqiang who focus their attention largely on trade and development.

In the run-up to the president’s trip, senior U.S. officials, including Obama himself, repeated their long-held position that the administration is not concerned in the least about China’s rapidly expanding presence on the continent.

Given that Chinese trade with Africa now dwarfs the United States by about three to one, a growing number of analysts say it might be time for the U.S. to take the Chinese in Africa more seriously.

This week, Eric and Cobus take a look back at the president’s trip and analyze the increasingly divergent paths the U.S. and China are taking to engage Africa.

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China’s Foreign Policy Isn’t Transparent? You’ve Got to Be Kidding

In her recent article, “What China’s Lack of Transparency Means for U.S. Policy,” U.S.-China relations expert Susan Shirk caused a stir when she argued that China’s “lack of transparency” around public policy making, defense, national security, and Chinese attitudes toward the United States are hurting Sino-U.S. relations. Many of Shirk’s observations about this “lack of transparency” reflect the well-known realities of Chinese politics. However, Shirk overlooks the real reasons behind these patterns, and to a great extent she confuses cause and effect.

In contrast to the political process in more developed Western countries, Chinese policymaking rarely involves public hearings or lively parliamentary debate. But that does not mean it is a total “black box.” In fact, most policies are hammered out by means of an intensive process of debate and argumentation. But unlike in Western countries, this debate process takes place within the system and is rarely open to criticism from outside parties. Information is tightly controlled in an effort not to give the public the impression that the Party is divided on any issue.

Two Way Street

05.28.15

What China’s Lack of Transparency Means for U.S. Policy

Susan Shirk

I am a political scientist and former diplomat who has studied China for more than forty years, and yet I still can’t answer some of my students’ most basic questions about China’s policy-making process. Where—in which institutional arena and at...

Debate, even outright confrontation, is the norm in Chinese policymaking, and the fact that it is taking place is common knowledge. It is not “open” in the sense of being broadcast to the public, but there is a large elite class that is fairly well informed about what is going on. Because these élites are increasingly connected with the outside world, the speed at which news about policymaking reaches the public, even in foreign countries, can be quite fast. Of course, the unsystematic dispersal of information creates much rumormongering and hearsay. To be blunt, because of economic ties between elites within the Chinese system and foreign corporations and institutions (who often employ their children and relatives), these outside groups often get quicker, more detailed, and more comprehensive news about Chinese policymaking than do many elites within the system.

Except for policies that concern sensitive ideological issues or national security (which I will go into later), the Chinese policymaking process has been relatively open for a long time. The reason that China has not developed the debate-show style of political discourse so familiar to citizens of Western democracies is that, in addition to China’s cultural emphasis on harmony and unanimity, and the view that factional struggles are bad for the country, the C.C.P. believes that public disagreements on policy issues undermine the Party’s authority and cohesiveness, and that technical debates can easily evolve into ideological struggles. In the past, such struggles have been catastrophic for both the Party and the nation as a whole.

For China, as a latecomer to modernization, regionalism and sectarianism are the primary foes. These forces not only impede the formation of a unified market and a modern legal system, but create interest groups built on nepotism. In a sense, the development of late-modernizing countries comes down to the taming of regionalism and sectarianism by a rational bureaucracy. However, rational bureaucracies do not appear out of thin air, and in most failed Third World states the supposedly modern bureaucratic apparatus has been coopted by regionalist and sectarian forces. Only a few countries have recognized the importance of a rational bureaucracy, and thereby avoided this tragedy. In South Korea, Korean military groups that served in the Kwantung Army during Japanese occupation evolved into the civilian bureaucratic hierarchy. And in China, the model of social mobilization used by the Party in wartime later formed the basis of a rational bureaucracy.

The Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) won the civil war because it was a tighter-knit organization, was better than the Kuomintang at mobilizing support, and was more effective at combatting sectarianism and regionalism and at drawing on society’s resources to meet the needs of the war. After the Revolution succeeded, the P.R.C.’s system of governance developed according to the organizational model established by the Party during the revolutionary years. The C.C.P.’s power depended directly on the state apparatus’ ability to mobilize society.

When the Party’s power declined, the state’s governing capacity declined as well. After Reform and Opening, the Party’s diminished clout led to a resurgence of regionalist and sectarian forces within the government. It is these forces that now present the greatest challenge to deeper reforms. Only from this perspective is it possible to understand why Xi Jinping must first enforce strict Party discipline in order to promote further reform, for only the Party has the power to propel China into modernity.

The problem is that when the C.C.P., through “centralized management” and the principle of “the Party governs the cadres,” made itself the main force responsible for policy making and implementation, issues of administration, which belong to the realm of government, and issues of ideology, which are the domain of political parties, began to overlap. This often imbues policy debates with a political significance that goes beyond governmental administration, even raising them to the level of intensely ideological disputes over the “Party line.”

As a result, making the policymaking process more public can easily evolve into publicizing internal Party disputes. And history tells us that as soon as this happens, not only will factional infighting sap the Party’s vigor, but as “hundreds of flowers bloom,” the Party’s conservative wing, which commands the ideological heights, will very likely suppress the pragmatic reformists and reforms will consequently lose ground. It is at times like these, as we enter the “deep-water phase” of reform, that it is most crucial to exercise proper restraint in opening the policymaking process to the public.

While Shirk makes some valid points about public policy making in China, her conclusion that China’s defense and national security policies make other countries apprehensive is a typical confusion of cause and effect. Ever since 1949, China has been subjected to many external pressures. With the Soviet Union to the north, India to the south, and the U.S.-backed Japan, Taiwan, and ASEAN countries to the east, the P.R.C. has always been surrounded by powerful rivals. After a century of invasion and encroachment beginning in the late Qing dynasty, it is understandable why, when subjected to such pressures, China leans toward secrecy, not openness. This does not mean that China is plotting against its neighbors; rather, secrecy arises from China’s insecurities about its own safety.

Two Way Street

07.09.15

The ‘Two Orders’ and the Future of China-U.S. Relations

Wang Jisi

The China-U.S. relationship may be the most complex relationship that has ever existed between two major powers. Ties between China and the United States are deepening, and at every level the interaction between the two countries is marked by both...

Needless to say, any country threatened by a superpower is likely to be reluctant to share its military secrets. And in fact, as China grows stronger it is becoming more open on national security issues. But right now, the greatest obstacle to China’s embracing “transparency” is its fear of America. The U.S.’s hardening stance toward China, along with its support of Japanese remilitarization and its backing of other claimants to the Spratly Islands, has made China feel more and more pressured in recent years.

Considering the power imbalance between China and the U.S., particularly in the military arena, it is easy to understand why China prefers a policy of secrecy. Outgunned as it is, hemmed in on all sides by the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, the ASEAN countries, and Australia, and facing an increasingly unilateral, even imperialist, America, it would be irrational for China not to play its cards close to its chest. That the U.S. and other Western countries can maintain such a high degree of transparency on national defense issues is largely a product of historical circumstance. During the Cold War, Europe was effectively occupied by the U.S. military, and under the structure set up by NATO, European countries had no secrets to keep from the United States. China can never achieve this degree of openness.

Moreover, is the U.S. satisfied with Europe’s current level of “transparency”? Given what we know about the CIA’s surveillance of three French presidents and German chancellor Angela Merkel, it seems that even the high degree of openness maintained by America’s closest partners does not satisfy the U.S.’s lust for control. And considering what befell Qaddafi and Mubarak when they transitioned from secrecy to openness, we must conclude that withholding no information from the U.S. is an invitation for U.S. interference. It is unfair for America to demand that China, the weaker partner, be open about its military affairs while not giving China adequate reassurances about its own security, for at times like these, secrecy is a part of security. In other words, it is not China’s lack of openness that hurts Sino-U.S. relations, but the tenseness of Sino-U.S. relations that keeps China from being open.

Complaining that China’s lack of transparency scares America is as laughable as a heavyweight boxer whining about how his middleweight opponent will not reveal his fighting techniques. And plus, is this heavyweight boxer really so ignorant about the competition? It is common knowledge that the CIA has hordes of Chinese informants and does a tremendous amount of work in China. China has no secrets that the U.S. does not already know. Shirk suffers from a cognitive impairment about China not because of China’s lack of transparency, but because the U.S. is not open about its intelligence work. To complain that China’s lack of transparency hurts U.S.-China relations is a joke, and not a very funny one at that.

Translated by Austin Woerner.

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It is not China’s lack of openness that hurts Sino-U.S. relations, but the tenseness of Sino-U.S. relations that keeps China from being open.
Chu Yin
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A version of this article in Chinese appears on FT Chinese.

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How China and the U.S. Will Manage Competition for Influence

This article was written in response to Wang Jisi’s “The ‘Two Orders’ and the Future of China-U.S. Relations.”

Wang Jisi is surely right that “the main factor determining the future of Sino-American relations will be internal political and economic developments, not the struggle for supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region.” Both governments have other important challenges to meet.

First, Washington refuses to accept that though the United States is not in decline, its international influence is not what it was. It is unlikely to regain the leverage it once wielded, because China and so many others now have more than enough economic muscle and political self-confidence to resist U.S. plans and demands, even if they can’t directly challenge U.S. pre-eminence. Until U.S. officials develop a strategy that accepts and adapts to this reality, Washington will continue the costly foreign policy improvisations of recent years—and its deepest wounds will be self-inflicted.

For its part, China faces a domestic economic reform process of unprecedented complexity, one that demands a massive transfer of wealth from the state-run sector into Chinese households in order to shift growth toward a more sustainable consumption-driven model. That’s why Beijing’s greatest challenge comes not from U.S. political pressure and military might but from wealthy, well-connected Chinese who will lose from this process—and from an angry Chinese public if things go wrong.

Two Way Street

07.09.15

The ‘Two Orders’ and the Future of China-U.S. Relations

Wang Jisi

The China-U.S. relationship may be the most complex relationship that has ever existed between two major powers. Ties between China and the United States are deepening, and at every level the interaction between the two countries is marked by both...

But Wang’s concern that Washington will try to “destabilize China’s internal political order” reflects not a practical approach but a bout of paranoia. No rational person believes the U.S. government has the means to destabilize China, and let’s hope no one is foolish enough to consider it a good idea even if it were possible. China is well on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy, and the “mutually assured economic destruction” at the heart of today’s U.S.-Chinese relationship ensures that no such massive-scale ideological sabotage makes the slightest sense.

U.S. officials will continue to promote American values. They will talk up democracy and criticize abuses of human rights. But the Chinese leadership surely understands that failure to deliver a better life for the Chinese people, not pressure from Washington, is the most likely source of unrest inside China.

Wang also argues that in China, the Party and press accuse Washington of “supporting independence for Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet, and upsetting the stability of Hong Kong.” It’s hard to see how anyone in China’s government can fail to notice U.S. warnings to Taiwanese leaders against provocative actions toward the mainland or imagine how Washington might move beyond rhetoric to “liberate” Tibet and Xinjiang. After tepid U.S. support for protests in Hong Kong, why would Beijing worry about a U.S.-sponsored “color revolution” there?

It’s not as though Washington is as focused on China as it should be. The architects of U.S. foreign policy will continue to debate how best to contain ISIS, manage changing relations with Iran, back Vladimir Putin out of Ukraine, discretely help steer Greece and its creditors toward a sustainable deal, and build momentum behind a newly invigorated U.S. trade agenda. All but the last of those is probably beyond increasingly limited U.S. means.

Wang also argues that if the U.S. will respect Communist Party dominance of China, that Beijing will respect the U.S.’s “leadership position in the world.” First, China has no ability to project significant military power outside East Asia, and it won’t for many years to come. In that sense, it poses no threat to U.S. dominance.

But why should Beijing accept U.S. economic pre-eminence? Aware that it cannot challenge U.S. military supremacy for the foreseeable future, Beijing will continue with its strategy of creating space for further development by advancing its investment agenda in ways that undermine Western-dominated international lending institutions. This is a shrewd approach.

China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy has committed Beijing to invest billions in infrastructure along the historic trade routes that connect Asia to Europe, boosting financial and trade ties with more than 40 countries. More broadly, China now invests in every region in the world to secure the long-term supply of commodities needed to keep its economy growing and to open new markets for its goods and excess production in heavy industry. In the process, it wins new friends willing to align with Chinese rules and standards.

This strategy extends to finance. China aims to make the renminbi a global reserve currency. This will expand Beijing’s influence over global commodity prices, lower its borrowing costs, and further increase international demand for the yuan. To that end, Beijing is developing the CIPS alternative payment system, which is designed to make cross-border yuan exchanges quicker and easier for global investors.

A Partnership with China to Avoid World War

George Soros

International cooperation is in decline both in the political and financial spheres. The U.N. has failed to address any of the major conflicts since the end of the cold war; the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference left a sour aftertaste; the...

Further, Beijing’s decision to launch the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank offers a direct challenge to U.S.-led lending institutions like the World Bank and IMF. The willingness of dozens of countries, including key U.S. allies, to sign on as members enhances Beijing’s bid to build credibility as an international lender of first resort. This strategy, not posturing in the South China Sea or a quixotic U.S. bid to destabilize China from within, marks the central point of U.S.-Chinese competition.

The key question, for both governments, is how to respond to heightened competition, including in cyberspace. Beijing has demonstrated an ability to hack sensitive U.S, targets and a willingness to use it. We can assume that Washington has capabilities and plans of its own. Communication between leaders—and the U.S. and Chinese militaries—is much more mature and extensive than it used to be. That matters. And there are plenty of areas where the two countries’ interests align. Both need a stable international system in which to invest. Each needs the other’s economy to grow.

The ultimate question is how Washington and Beijing will manage the growing competition for influence. Will the U.S. look for opportunities from China’s rise, or attempt to contain it? If the latter, will China become more aggressive? Who will win the internal policy debates within the two governments?

In coming years, these will the most important questions—for America, China, and the entire international order.

Two Way Street Ian Bremmer
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A version of this article in Chinese appears on FT Chinese.

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Petar Kujundzic—Getty Images

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