Sino-Soviet War - 1929

The Sino-Soviet conflict of 1929 was fought over the administration of the Northern Chinese Eastern Railway [CER]. There had been numerous border wars beginning as far back as the 17th century. Tsarist Russia had acquired over 500,000 square miles of territory claimed by China, which dismayed successive Chinese officials -- imperial, Nationalist, and Communist -- who alike referred to the Russians disdainfully as "long noses".

At issue was the portion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad that cut across Manchuria to the Soviet port of Vladivostok. By 1895 the Trans-Siberian Railway, started in 1891, had just reached Lake Baikal. The question was as to which way it should extend - by the Kiakhta-Peking route, or by the Amur River route, or via North Manchuria. As the Kiakhta-Peking route would surely arouse the suspicion of the other Powers, and as the Amur River route was confronted with great engineering difficulties and might also be accompanied by the possible risk of economic losses, the North Manchuria route was chosen. Having decided upon the route, the question naturally followed as to how to secure the consent of the Chinese Government to the construction of this railroad.

In the secret Russian-Chinese treaty of alliance on May 22, 1896, which was directed against Japan, China approved construction of a railroad (the CER) from the Russian border across Manchuria to Vladivostok. The Manchurian route would be less expensive and shorter. The Manchurian railroad was to shorten the distance from Chita to Vladivostok by no more than 600 versts. The imperialism of the Tsar had taken the Chinese Eastern Railroad from the Chinese people. The managing apparatus of the Chinese Eastern Railroad had existed for a number of years. From October, 1922, to the signing of the Sino-Soviet agreement of May 31, 1924, management of the railway remained in the hands of the (White) Russian General Manager, M. Ostroumoff.

The existing administrative arrangement for the Chinese Eastern Railroad was carefully worked out in 1924 by a special commission under the chairmanship of Leon Trotsky. The commission's decisions were approved in April 1926. The members of the commission were Voroshilov, Dzerzhinsky, and Chicherin. In full agreement with the Chinese revolutionaries, not only the Communists but also the representatives of the then functioning Kuomintang, the commission considered absolutely necessary: "strictly keeping the actual apparatus of the CERR in the hands of the Soviet government- which in the next period is the only way to protect the railroad from imperialist seizure.." But the agreement for the joint management of the Chinese Eastern Railway between the Soviet Union and China was a makeshift, which did not remove one of the major bones of contention. The CER effectively became a Sino-Soviet joint venture on Chinese soil.

In the spring of 1929 the Chinese attempted to force the Soviet Union to give up its share of control of the CER. The cause of the conflict was the claim of the Soviet republic on the Chinese Eastern Railroad. The workers' organizations that the Chinese régime attacked had also existed for some time. The Chinese workers were defeated by the ruling Chinese bourgeoisie, with the aid of foreign imperialism. To turn over the railroad to Chiang Kai-shek under such conditions would mean to "give aid and comfort to the Chinese Bonapartist counter-revolution against the Chinese people" according to Trotsky. This itself is decisive. But there is another consideration of equal weight. Chiang Kai-shek never could get those lines by virtue of his own financial-political means-let alone keep them.

Some thought aggressiveness was manifested not by the Soviet, but by the Chinese government. The conduct of the Chinese government was explained by the fact that it was made stronger by the crushing defeat of the workers and peasants. Other thought the adventuristic policy of the Soviet bureaucracy is responsible for the conflict. By this view, the conflict was caused by an encroachment on China's right of self-determination by the Soviet republic. This view placed the policy of the Soviet government toward the Chinese Eastern Railroad in the category of a capitalist, imperialist policy, which resorts to the support of the imperialist powers.

In 1929 the Young Marshal, Zhang Xueliang, openly renounced the Soviets' presence in northern Manchuria. By the spring of 1929, disturbing reports from Harbin indicating that the Manchurian warlord was threatening to seize the Chinese Eastern Railway. During May 1929, the Chinese attempted to regain control over the CER. The Manchurian Government in Heilongjiang seized the Chinese Eastern Railway on July 10, 1929. China replaced the Russian manager with a Chinese national and seized the funds of the railway. Authorities began to adopt on July, 11, 1929, the necessary precautionary measures for the protection of the Railway. On 17 July 1929 the Soviet government severed diplomatic relations with Nanking. The tension rose rapidly until, in late July 1929, railway traffic was interrupted and all Soviet personnel arrested and expelled.

In September 1929, skirmishes broke out between Soviet and Chinese troops along the northern frontier. Throughout the time period to October, border clashes had occurred between Soviet and Chinese troops. In November, Soviet Red Army, with air support, occupied the Manchurian border city of Hailar. Soviet pilots flew combat missions supporting the Special Far East Army under General VK Blukher as it fought Chinese troops to retake the Chinese Eastern Railroad. Russians occupied numerous cities including Suibin, Tongjiang, Lubin and Hailaer by Nov. Chinese communist leaders, like Liu Bocheng and Liu Ying, together with Korean/Japanese communists, volunteered to go to Sino-Russian border to fight Zhang Xueliang as a show of action in "militarily defending the USSR". Stalin, after a second thought, forbade the "volunteers" from direct military action and arranged for them to take part in propaganda war against the Chinese prisoners of war.

The Sino-Soviet conflict, in its military stage, revealed the enormous superiority of the Soviet military, although weakened by the policy of the leadership in the last years, over the Chinese counter-revolution, which had at its disposal substantial diplomatic and material support from imperialism. In its last stage the conflict revealed, as is known, the complete military impotence of the present Chinese government. This in itself clearly demonstrates that there had not been a victorious bourgeois revolution in China.

The Kellogg-Briand Treaty permitted the peaceful settlement of a dispute in the Sino-Soviet conflict over the Manchurian railway line, since both China and the Soviet Union were signatories of the Pact of Paris of 1928. In a note of December 2, 1929, US Secretary of State Stimson, through the French Ambassador in Moscow, reminded the Soviet government of its obligations under the Treaty. The Sino-Soviet conflict was settled in December 1929, and the situation on the Chinese Eastern Railway was normalised. The 22 December 1929 Khabarovsk Protocol affirmed the original status of the railroad as a joint enterprise. In December, 1932, the Soviet Union fully restored with China the normal diplomatic and consular relations which had been broken off after the Sino-Soviet hostilities in 1929. In 1935 the Soviet Union agreed to sell the railway to Manchukuo, the puppet government installed by Japan in Manchuria.

The Soviet Communist Party (CPSU) had often treated the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the years. Trying to fashion the CCP in its own image, the CPSU had pushed the fledgling Chinese Communists into disastrous urban rebellions in the 1920s and early 1930s. Mao later claimed that, as a result of those disasters, the Chinese Red Army, "which in 1929 was comprised of 300,000 fighters, was reduced by 1934-35 to 25,000, and the territory which made up the (Communist) regions of China was reduced by 99 percent." In addition to suborning Chinese Communist officers, Moscow had purged Soviet officials believed to be too close to the Chinese. The USSR had lent the CCP some support over the years, but it had given Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese far more military assistance than it had provided to Mao's forces.

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