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] 


Ji Xiang said...

Hmmm, I see one big difference between Japan's invasion of Manchuria and Russia's invasion of Crimea: pretty much none of the natives in Manchuria were pleased to be under Japanese rule (as far as I know anyway), and the Japanese had no historic claims to the region.

Russia has good historic claims to Crimea. It was part of Russia until it was cede to Ukraine in 1954, but at the time it was all USSR so nobody cared. Most of its inhabitants are ethnically Russian, and are happy to have been annexed by Russia.

Of course Russia conquered Crimea in the eighteenth century from the Ottomans, and most of the native Tartars were deported by Stalin. But still....

Gilman Grundy said...

"pretty much none of the natives in Manchuria were pleased to be under Japanese rule"

There were a few hundred thousand Japanese living in territory who probably would have been supportive of the invasion.

"Russia has good historic claims to Crimea."

Debatable. After the Ukraine became independent, Russia never asserted any territorial claim over the Crimea until it invaded and annexed the territory.

" Most of its inhabitants are ethnically Russian, and are happy to have been annexed by Russia."

Disputable. The majority of people in the Crimea voted for independence from the USSR as part of the Ukraine in 1991, polling pre-2014 showed that the majority did not want to be part of Russia, and the only party that did want to be part of Russia (Russian Unity) never received more than 5% of the vote in the Crimea pre-annexation. Somehow were supposed to believe all of this changed in an instant and now 96% of Crimeans want to be part of Russia.

Ji Xiang said...

The polling pre-2014 was taken when the central government of the Ukraine was still pro-Russian, and before all of the upheaval. That is probably why things are different now. I don't believe in the 96% figure, but it does seem likely that a majority of the inhabitants of Crimea have supported the Russian takeover. Apparently they also associate Russia with stability and higher living standards, which says a lot about Ukraine.

In any case Putin's way of addressing these problems is aggressive and dangerous, you get no argument from me there.