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The Second Sino-Japanese War, which occurred between 1937 and 1945, was the largest war of the century. The war was fought between Japan and China, although other nations later joined to support China. Additionally, the war was a culmination of smaller incidents between the two Asian countries.
Apparently, Japan was trying to push its imperialist policy into the Asian region but China decided to resist this attempt. However, the Second Sino-Japanese War cannot be mentioned without Manchukuo featuring. Manchukuo as a country played a very significant role in the events leading to the culmination of the second Sino-Japanese war.
Manchukuo was a puppet state created by Japan on the Northeastern part of China in 1932 after invading Manchuria Province in 1931 (Itoh 12-13). Manchukuo, formerly an independent Manchu state, comprised of three provinces in Northeastern Asia, called Manchuria.
During the second Sino-Japanese war, Japan’s military exercised very strict control over the administration of Manchukuo (Gates 26). Consequently, Japanese military could carry out the continuous guerilla war against Manchurian native resistance groups (Timperley 295). Thus as a war base, Japan extensively expanded local industries as well as railroads. Chinese sovereignty was reasserted in the country after the World War II.
Manchukuo features in the history of the war because of its significance, or otherwise, in the war. While some scholars argue that Manchukuo played a major role in starting the Second Sino-Japanese War, others see it differently. From this dilemma, a fundamental question arises: What role did Manchukuo play in leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War?
Role of Manchukuo Leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War
Itoh provides one of the plausible answers to this question. He states, “…Manchukuo served as a northern foothold of the Japanese expansion into China” (13). From this statement, it seems that the Japanese used Manchukuo as a strategic point to invade the whole of China. Apparently, Manchukuo was an easy target because there was no strong authority to oppose the Kwantung army, especially after Qing Dynasty fell (Itoh 13).
This argument is sensible considering the aftermath of the creation of Manchukuo puppet state by Japan. The creation of Manchukuo preceded the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1941. Therefore, considering the flow of events, it is likely that the Japanese used Manchukuo as a strategic position to conquer the whole territory of China. They had to start from somewhere and Manchukuo formed the best starting point because of the low resistance force that existed.
Gates (26) mentions the Manchukuo problem that lasted for three decades preceding the second Sino-Japanese war. Apparently, Japan viewed Manchukuo as a strategic location, through which it could protect itself from external threats as well. Japan considered Korea and China as backward civilizations, through which Western powers could penetrate the region and hence threaten its independence (Gates 28). Russia and especially its Trans-Siberian railway caused Japan increased concern, despite of Russia having withdrawn from Manchuria as early as 1905 (Gates 29). Hence, development of Manchukuo actually intended to strengthen Japan’s position in the region and, and assert her sovereignty globally.
The withdrawal of Russia from Manchuria by 1905 following victory of Japan in the Russo-Japan war secured Japan dominance in Korea (Gates 29). Therefore, Japan increased control of Manchukuo sought to protect also the country’s interests in the region. Japan hoped on expanding array of enterprises in the mineral rich Manchukuo, for instance in coal and iron mining, as well as harbor facilities (Gates 30). Therefore, Japan also exhibited economic interests leading to the long presence in Manchukuo.
According to Timperley (295), Chinese economic aspirations in Manchukuo brought rivalry between the Asian nations for the duration Japan occupied the region. For instance, Chang Tso-lin’s attempts to build rail lines in competition with Japanese owned South Manchuria railroad precipitated bitter rivalry (Timperley 296). In addition, Chang’s refusal to build rail lines linking Japanese and Manchurian systems fuelled the conflict further (Timperley 296). For nearly three decades, Japan had been working on aligning Manchurian railroad system in line with her strategic and economic requirements (Timperley 297).
Connecting the railroads in Manchukuo with the Korean railroads would provide Japan with much needed direct communication link with Manchuria. The refusal by China to sanction these developments sooner enhanced establishment of Kwantung Army leadership in Manchukuo (Timperley 298).Thwarting these Japanese economic efforts was very significant in the development of the second Sino-Japanese war.
According to Lin (51), establishment of Manchukuo by 1932 turned Manchuria into a mainland Chinese region for trade with the Taiwanese. The trade mostly opened and operated by Japanese merchants or government, became option for many entrepreneurs in Taiwan. Conflict arose however, following that the Manchukuo-Taiwan trade occurred at the cost of Inland China-Manchukuo trade (Lin 52). An instance of trade conflicts between China and Japan include for instance promotion of Taiwanese tea in Manchukuo (Lin 53). Such trade options led to halting of the importation of Chinese tea into Manchukuo.
Establishment of Manchukuo by Japan also led to institution of numerous customs barriers between China and Manchukuo (Lin 57). On the other hand, custom barriers between Manchuria and countries such as Taiwan were comparatively lower. All these efforts seemed directed at asserting Japan’s economic dominance in Manchuria. Similar trade conflicts between the two Asian economies facilitated the second Sino-Japanese war further.
The argument that Japan used Manchukuo strategically to extend its imperialism into all part of China can however be refuted. According to Suk-Jung (461), Manchukuo was not under the direct control of Japanese government “…but the Kwantung Army”. The Kwantung Army was the Japanese army fighting in the Second Sino-Japanese War. This army had invaded Manchuria and created Manchukuo. Therefore, the puppet state was directly under the Army’s control.
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Major decisions in Manchukuo came from Kwantung Army even without Tokyo’s input. This negates the idea of Japanese imperialism, which allegedly used Manchukuo as a strategic entry point into China. The army did not spearhead Japanese imperialism. It only acted on the decisions that favored the army bosses in Manchuria. Therefore, Itoh’s argument lacks credibility in this regard.
Another plausible answer to the fundamental question raised in the first paragraph is that Manchukuo acted as a strategic area for spreading Japanese imperialism, not necessarily through war. Duara (48-50) refers to this type of imperialism as the new imperialism that differs from neocolonialism. One of the main distinguishing features of the new imperialism is the formation of regional blocs that would be used to win supremacy through economic development rather than war (49).
Based on this understanding, Duara considers Manchukuo as an economic bloc created by Japan to woo Chinese support for her imperialist ideologies. This is contrary to Itoh who considers Manchukuo as a strategic point for military invasion of China (13). Duara’s argument is sensible considering that Japan from the onset developed Manchukuo economically, and then used propaganda to win support.
Still, Duara’s argument can be questioned based on the manner in which the Kwantung Army entered into and managed Manchukuo. The army was brutal in dealing with opponents. The army pacified the area to rid it of Communists and anti-Japanese individuals. The brutality of the Kwantung Army in Manchukuo created international outcry. This forced Japan to pull out of the League of Nations (Rodao 442). If Japan’s intention were to woo support by creating an economically vibrant puppet state, it would not have used aggression and brutality. These would have created more resentment and criticism instead.
The role of Manchukuo in the second Sino-Japan war can also be attributed to politics and sovereignty of Manchukuo, and the effect in Manchuria. For instance, for nearly a decade, reports of Chinese attacks on Japanese subjects had become common (Gates 39). Frustration with regard to Chinese activities, coupled with the non-action stand of Japanese government left many subjects in confusion and disappointment.
According to Gates (31), Chinese Nationalism became a major obstacle to Japanese interests of expansion in Manchuria. In addition, Korean independence groups violently and consistently opposed the rule of Japan in the Manchurian frontier (Gates 32). The hostility of Korean revolutionaries, and Chinese nationalists against Japanese interests in the region aggravated the second Sino-Japanese war further.
Although the Russo-Japanese treaty recognized sovereignty of China in Manchuria, Japan also enjoyed extensive control of the region (Duara 52). The economic rights and privileges Japan enjoyed in Manchuria could not secure her land however. The efforts of Japan total control of Manchukuo therefore stood thwarted by China, hence increasing hostility between the two Asian countries.
Considering all the plausible views above, the more plausible answer would be that Manchukuo played different roles in leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War. Manchukuo role in the war spanned from economic, political, and social interests between China and Japan. From the above plausible views, it emerges that Manchukuo was a strategic entry point for Japan into China. Japanese entry into Chinese territory and creation of a puppet state was not welcome in China, which increased tension between the two countries.
Although it took several years between the creation of Manchukuo and the actual start of the war, we can relate the outbreak of the war to the creation of the puppet state. The second Sino-Japanese war has its roots in the events following the establishment of Manchukuo by Japan. The actual War broke out at the Marco Polo Bridge after Japanese forces moved closer to the important bridge linking southern China to Beijing. The bridge was close to Manchukuo.
The topic of this paper is significant in understanding the role that Manchukuo, a common name in various literatures, played in relation to the greatest Asian war in recent history. Although many scholars have mentioned Manchukuo in their works, they have not focused on the role that this puppet town played in fueling the war. Therefore, the topic, and by extension the thesis statement, will fill this gap. This will add more knowledge and insight to one of the most studied wars in history.
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