Sino-Soviet conflict (1929)
|Sino-Soviet conflict (1929)|
|Part of the Chinese Civil War and Interwar Period|
Soviet soldiers with captured Kuomintang banners.
White movement of Russia
|Commanders and leaders|
White guerilla groups
|c. 113,000 (peak)|
|Casualties and losses|
Official Chinese accounts:|
2,000 killed, 1,000 wounded, 8,550 captured
c. 5,000 lost
Official Soviet accounts:|
812 killed, 665 wounded, 4 missing
Far more than officially reported
The Sino-Soviet conflict of 1929 (Chinese: 中東路事件, Russian: Конфликт на Китайско-Восточной железной дороге) was an armed conflict between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Chinese warlord Zhang Xueliang of the Republic of China over the Chinese Eastern Railway (also known as CER).
The conflict was the first major combat test of the reformed Soviet Red Army – one organized along the latest professional lines – and ended with the mobilization and deployment of 156,000 troops to the Manchurian border. Combining the active-duty strength of the Red Army and border guards with the call-up of the Far East reserves, approximately one-in-five Soviet soldiers was sent to the frontier, the largest Red Army combat force fielded between the Russian Civil War (1917–1922) and the Soviet Union's entry into the Second World War.
In 1929, the Chinese Northeastern Army took over the Chinese Eastern Railway to regain solo control of the railway. The Soviet Union quickly responded with a military intervention, eventually forcing the Chinese to return the railway to the previous format of joint administration.
On 25 July 1919, the Soviet government's Assistant Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Lev Karakhan, had issued a manifesto to the Chinese government promising the return of the Chinese Eastern Railway to Chinese control with no financial cost. On 26 August, the Karakhan Manifesto was published by the Soviet press, but the document mentioned neither the return of CER to the Chinese nor the lack of financial compensation.
Along with the original Karakhan telegram, the Chinese had the Vilenski pamphlet as evidence. The Vilenski pamphlet also shows the Chinese that the Soviets were willing to return the CER to the Chinese without compensation. The July 25th Karakhan telegram shows the Soviet Union's original intention, which was to return the CER back to Chinese control without compensation. The July 25th telegram was used to satisfy the diplomatic requirements for the Chinese government, while the August 26th one was published to uphold propaganda requirements inside the Soviet Union.
The first major step in uncovering the hostile takeover of the CER by the Chinese in 1929 starts with the understanding of the Secret Protocol of March 14, 1924, and the Secret Agreement of September 20, 1924. The March 14, 1924, Secret Protocol stated that all former conventions, treaties, protocols, contracts and any other document between the Soviet and China would be annulled until a conference could convene. This made all treaties, border relations and commercial relations dependent on the upcoming conference. This, in turn, gave the Soviets time to turn to Zhang Xueliang in Manchuria, the strongest warlord there at the time. He had control of the Mukden government (today the city is known as Shenyang). The Soviets were the first to propose joint management of the CER with the Chinese, but Zhang stood in the way of this joint management. The Soviets decided to make a deal with Zhang.
On May 31, 1924, Lev Karakhan and Dr. V. K. Ellington Koo, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of China, signed the Sino-Soviet treaty. It included multiple articles, which played right into the Soviets' hand because in Article V it said “the employment of persons in the various departments of the railway shall be in accordance with the principle of equal representation between the nationals of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and those of the Republic of China.” The Soviets added, “In carrying out the principle of equal representation the normal course of life and activities of the Railway shall in no case be interrupted or injured, that is to say the employment of both nationalities shall be in accordance with experience, personal qualifications and fitness of applicants.”
While negotiations had been concluded with the Chinese, the Soviets turned to make a deal with Zhang Xueliang. They promised him full control of choosing which Chinese officials would be on the board in the joint Chinese-Soviet management of the CER. This would give him half control of CER. On September 20, 1924, he signed the Secret Agreement, not knowing the Chinese government had signed the Secret Protocol earlier in the year. Since the CER was originally controlled by the Soviets, the majority of the positions would be under Soviet control. Then the Soviets claimed they should keep majority control because any other solution would interrupt or injure the railway.
The Soviets were also the puppet master of the President for the CER. The Soviet government was able to regain majority control of the CER by playing the secret protocols off each other and outmaneuvering the Chinese. The Soviets allowed the Chinese to think they were adding workers loyal to their government. However, in reality, the Soviets were creating more jobs on the railway and hiring Soviet workers. In the end, the Soviets controlled 67% of all positions on the CER.
The Chinese entertained joint management until mid-1929. The change from Soviet control to Chinese control started when the Chinese authorities made a radical move to try to remove Soviet management. Chinese authorities stormed the Soviet Consulate in Harbin. They arrested the General Manager of the CER, his assistant and other Soviet citizens and removed them from power in the CER. The Soviets retaliated by arresting Chinese citizens inside the USSR. On July 13, 1929, the Soviets sent their formal demands to the Chinese concerning what was happening on the CER. On July 19 they discontinued their diplomatic relations with the Chinese. They suspended railway communication and demanded that all Chinese diplomats leave Soviet territory. By July 20 the Soviets were transferring their funds to New York. While in the cities of Suifenhe and Lahususa, the Soviets were terrorizing the Chinese civilians by having their warships' guns pointed at the city and having their planes make fly-bys. Many members of the Soviet leadership such as Kliment Voroshilov urged for a military intervention, but General Secretary Joseph Stalin initially hesitated, fearing a Japanese reaction to a Soviet invasion of Manchuria. However, after the Soviet consul general in Tokyo obtained information according to which Japan would stay out of the conflict as long as the Soviets limited any invasions to northern Manchuria, Stalin decided to act. On 6 August, the Soviet Union created the Special Red Banner Far Eastern Army commanded by Vasily Blyukher with the assistance of Voroshilov. Around 20% of the entire Soviet Armed Forces was mobilized to participate or assist the operation. By doing so they were willing to do whatever it took to return the CER back to their control. The Chinese leadership was surprised by this turn of events, as it had not expected the Soviet Union to react this aggressively. Zhang quickly enlisted more troops, most importantly thousands of anti-Communist Russians who lived as White émigrés in Manchuria. Some of the White Russians even organized guerrilla groups to carry the war into the Soviet Union.
Small skirmishes had broken out in July, but this would not be considered the first major military action. The first battle happened on August 17, 1929, when the Soviets attacked Chalainor. Chinese troops retreated to an entrenchment which was supported by machine guns. The Soviets suffered heavy losses in the battle, and it would be the only battle where the Soviets would incur such casualties.
Blyukher consequently developed a plan for an offensive in two rapid operations, the first one targeting Chinese naval forces and the second destroying the Chinese ground forces through rapid encirclement operations. The naval attack began in October, as the Soviets forced their naval fleets up the Amur and Songhua rivers and capture the Lahasusu. This maneuver caused the Chinese to move to a different location. On their way to Fujin, Chinese troops would kill any civilian they came across and raid any stores. The Soviets stated that they did not touch the civilian population, and encouraged Chinese civilians to fight alongside them against the Chinese army. They also denied killing civilians, and were said to only take military goods. All civilian personal items were left in place; this was strictly enforced.
On November 17 the Soviets decided to take ten divisions and split their attack into two stages. The first stage was to go past Manzhouli and attack the region of Chalainor. After capturing the region, Soviet troops set their sights on Manzhouli. When they reached Manzhouli they found that the Chinese were not prepared for battle and that Chinese forces were looting houses, stores and stealing civilian clothes and trying to escape. The Soviet strategy was a success; on November 26 the Chinese were ready to sign a treaty with the Soviets on Soviet terms. On December 13, after much debate on the Chinese side, the Chinese signed the Khabarovsk Protocol. This restored peace and the 1924 status quo ante, which was the Sino-Soviet treaty of 1924.
The victory over China was an eye opener for the world. During the conflict, the Soviets used propaganda to help spread communist ideology and confuse the Chinese Army by using radio and leaflets. They did this by deceiving the Chinese command on which town was the Soviets' next target. "Its military forces combined carefully measured use of depth and variety, coordinated in the fashion of a swift action design to achieve the precise goal of ‘an annihilating offensive under complex condition’ against enemy forces." Stalin boasted to Vyacheslav Molotov that "our fellows from the Far East Army gave [the Chinese] a good scare." The conflict brought a sense of military prestige back into the Asian region. The Soviet victory was also applauded by such western nations as the United States, France and Great Britain. It showed the west that the Soviets were able to use both diplomacy and military might to achieve its goal. However, while some might have applauded the Soviets for using this technique, others feared it. This was a legitimate concern. The western nations were frightened that this method could potentially mean the Soviet Union might one day be able to beat a western nation at its own game.
The impact of the conflict left the Manchurian region in a power vacuum. This left the door wide open for the Japanese to take control of the region. After observing how easily Soviet forces beat the Chinese, the Japanese employed a similar technique to defeat the Chinese and occupy Manchuria following the Mukden Incident in 1931.
When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and also occupied the Soviet zone of influence, the Soviet Union was not strong enough yet in the East to oppose the Japanese. Stalin adopted a policy of strict neutrality and the Soviet Union sold its rights to the Chinese Eastern Railway to the Manchukuo government on 23 March 1935.
Deportation of the Chinese
In 1928, Arsenyev Mikhail Mikhailovich (Арсеньев Михаил Михайлович), Staff Colonel of Red Army Headquarter, submitted a report to Far Eastern Commission, advising that free migration from China and Korea in the areas bordering the countries should be stopped, and that the area should be filled with migrants from Siberia and Europe instead. 
As the Sino-Soviet conflict over the Chinese Eastern Railway worsened the bilateral relation, the Soviet Government began to stop Chinese crossing the border since 1931. All Soviet diplomats in China were called back, all Chinese diplomats to Soviet Union expelled and train between China and Russia forced to be out of service. :30
The Soviet Government forced the Chinese to move to Northeast China. Thousands of Chinese in Irkutsk, Chita and Ulan-Ude were arrested due to reasons including breach of local orders and tax evasion. When they were to leave Russia, any Chinese to cross the border with more than 30 rubles in cash will need to pay the surplus to the authority. 1,000 rubles in cash to cross the border would make them arrested, with all the money confiscated.
The Chinese were massively detained, according to Shanghai-based newspaper Shen Bao. on 24th July 1929, the newspaper said, "around a thousand Chinese who lived in Vladivostok were detained by the Soviet authority. They were all said to be bourgeoisie." On 12th August, the newspaper stated that there were still 1,600-1,700 Chinese in jail in Vladivostok, supplied with a piece of rye bread daily and undergoing various tortures. On 26th August, the newspaper stated that those detained in Khabarovsk only had a bread soup for meal daily, among which a lot of people had hanged them due to unbearable starvation. On 14th September, the newspaper stated that another thousand of Chinese in Vladivostok were arrested, with almost no Chinese remaining in the city.  On 15th September, the newspaper continued that Vladivostok had arrested more than 1,000 Chinese during the 8th and 9th of September, and that estimatedly there were more than 7,000 Chinese in jail in the city. On 21st September, the newspaper said, "the Government in Russian Far East cheated the arrested Chinese, and forced them to construct the railway between Heihe and Khabarovsk. The forced workers only had two pieces of rye bread to eat daily. If they work with any delay, they will be whipped, making them at the edge of living and dead.":31
Although after signing the Treaty of Khabarovsk, the Soviet Government released most arrested Chinese, considering that the Chinese had been severely tortured by the Soviet Government, that the confiscated possessions of the Chinese were not returned, difficult situations among the workers and businessmen, the high prices of goods, and the unaffordable living costs, the released Chinese all returned to China afterwards.:31
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