Monday 25 May 2015

"Ambiguous warfare" in Manchuria and the Ukraine.

I've recently been doing a bit of amateurish research into the 1931 Manchurian "Incident" (a curiously anodyne word for the brutal invasion, conquest, and annexation under the paper-thin excuse of establishing an independent state) with the half-formed idea of doing some kind of project on it. Whilst there aren't really any good histories written specifically on the subject, there is a wealth of material that touches on it in passing, as well as information collected for the 1946 Tokyo war crimes trials and the 1932 Lytton Commission. Going through it, it is striking how closely Japan's 1931-33 aggression in Manchuria parallels the "ambiguous warfare" of modern-day Russia in the Ukraine. These parallels include:
  • An attempt to seize part of a state following a change in government of the whole of it. In the case of China, Japan's aggression followed the defeat of Marshal Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-Lin) by Chiang Kai-Shek's northern expedition, their intervention to prevent the KMT armies pursuing him into Manchuria, and their assassination of the Marshal in favour of his son who then proved much less amenable. In the Ukraine, the Russian seizure of the Crimea followed the overthrow of the Moscow-friendly Yanukovich government.
  • An ambiguous situation created by the presence of locally-based troops. Japanese troops were already based in Manchuria to supposedly defend their railway there, a situation that made it not immediately clear that an invasion was in fact underway. In the Crimea, Russian soldiers were already present due to their basing rights in the peninsula.
  • Propaganda warfare and information-control. The Japanese barred the area around Shenyang (Mukden) to foreign journalists, held press-conferences relaying their version of events, and even employed foreign journalists such as George Gorman and H.W. Kinney to write articles for Japanese-controlled English-language media such as the Manchuria Daily News. The parallels to Russian propaganda outlet RT (and, for that matter, CCP-controlled outlets like Global Times and CCTV 9) hardly need be pointed out.
  • The abuse of ceasefire agreements. Between the initial seizure of Shenyang in 1931 and the conclusion of the 1933 Tanggu Truce, the Japanese repeatedly concluded cease-fire agreements with the Chinese and then broke them, seizing ever-larger chunks of Manchuria. We have seen the same process at work in Eastern Ukraine, with the first Minsk Protocol concluded, then broken, and now the second Minsk accord teetering on collapse.
It is easy to draw parallels from past evils to the modern day and seek to condemn modern day evils as the equal to the previous ones, but that is not my intention here. The likelihood of Russia invading the rest of the Ukraine and slaughtering the population of the capital city as the Japanese did in China in 1937 is low. What is important to note here is that the "ambiguous" or "hybrid" warfare that Vladimir Putin has been credited in some quarters as essentially inventing is in fact nothing new, and that the effect of allowing it to succeed unpunished can be to inspire more open forms of aggression.

Just as a failure to respond to Japan's aggression in Manchuria helped to inspire more open forms of aggression from Italy and Germany, the ongoing failure of the international community to reverse Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of its territory may well cause people both in China and elsewhere to wonder if they could not also do the same thing. Indeed, China's recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, with construction of island-bases there (itself a form of ambiguous warfare) having greatly accelerated since March 2014, may be the product of exactly this kind of thinking.

[Picture: Japanese troops enter Shenyang, 1931] 

Thursday 7 May 2015

The View From The Polling Station

I spent a few hours today standing outside a polling station wearing the rosette of a political party whose identity I'm sure will not surprise regular readers of this blog. The atmosphere was friendly - I saw several parents taking their children with them into the voting booth to show them what democracy looks like. There were a few gripes, and a few "I'm not voting for your lot"s, but they mostly fair enough. The representatives of various parties took turns to hold the leads of the many dogs whose owners took them to the polling station with them, and otherwise chatted quite naturally. Regardless of all the nonsense some of the political parties put out, the UK is still a very healthy democracy - the ongoing sentiment of rolling-crisis is a mirage. Whatever the results of this election - and they are likely to be somewhat messy - the UK will muddle through much as it always has done.

Monday 4 May 2015

A Timely Correction

As far as I know, the PRC has never retracted, or re-examined, its claims that UN forces in Korea during the Korean war used bacteriological and/or chemical weapons. This is a pity because evidence that has come out since the collapse of the USSR puts it beyond doubt that this never, ever happened. As the USSR council of ministers itself resolved on the 2nd of May, 1953 (after Stalin's death):

For Mao Zedong

"The Soviet Government and the Central Committee of the CPSU were misled. The spread in the press of information about the use by the Americans of bacteriological weapons in Korea was based on false information. The accusations against the Americans were fictitious."

To give recommendations:
To cease publication in the press of materials accusing the Americans of using bacteriological weapons in Korea and China.

To consider it desirable that the Government of the PRC (DPRK) declare in the UN that the resolution of the General Assembly of 23 April about investigating the facts of the use by the Americans of bacteriological weapons on the territory of China (Korea) cannot be legal, since it was made without the participation of representatives of the PRC (DPRK). Since there is no use of bacteriological weapons, there is no reason to conduct an investigation.

In a tactical way to recommend that the question of bacteriological warfare in China (Korea) be removed from discussion in international organizations and organs of the UN.

Soviet workers responsible for participation in the fabrication of the so-called "proof" of the use of bacteriological weapons will receive severe punishment." 
Every so often there is speculation that the CCP may, for example, decide to rehabilitate politicians who at various times had unjustly fallen foul of the historical CCP leadership, most often it is those behind the Tiananmen demonstrations are discussed in these terms. However, this is yet to ever happen, since it is painfully difficult for the CCP leadership to allow admission that it ever failed or was wrong about anything - in fact, since Deng's era it is hard to think of anything new beyond the admission that Mao was wrong an (undefined) 30% of the time that constitutes an admission of failing.

Perhaps something like the Tiananmen square demonstrations is still too recent, and too painful an incident for the Chinese authorities to reopen, but if something now as distant and uncontroversial as the CCP's long-abandoned (and not now taken seriously by anyone) claims of biological warfare in the Korean war cannot finally be admitted as fake, then it is hard to ever conceive of what might be admitted as a mistake beyond the generic admissions of failings during the Mao era. This inability to admit failing creates an ever growing number of controversies which the CCP denies even exists, and an ever-growing list of people aware of these controversies. This attempt to create a "country without history" cannot continue forever.

[Picture: A Korean-war-era Chinese Communist propaganda poster]