Asia had a very different political and economic landscape in the 1930s before the Second Sino-Japanese War. Due to the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the Qing Dynasty collapsed into several weak states. This was a far cry from the unified superstate that dominates Asia today.
The dominant sphere was Nationalist China. But they held only a plurality of the power and lacked general control over the area. In addition, China’s economy was struggling. Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford and author of Forgotten Ally, points out that China had only 35% of the industrial capacity of Japan. Without a doubt, the latter country was the major political force in Asia at this time.
The Mukden Incident of 1931 signaled the start of a brewing conflict with China as Japan took over Manchuria, a major decentralized Chinese state. Similarly, in the 1936 Xi’an Incident, warlords captured Chiang Kai-Shek near the demilitarized zone who held him hostage, hoping to force nationalist policy to change against Japan.
This sparked major controversy throughout China and caused anti-Japanese riots throughout the major cities. Lin Yutang points out in his 1937 report on the Xi’an Incident that China made “…clear her intention to meet further Japanese aggression with force.”
With the foundation of a brewing power struggle laid out, Kai-Shek built up his nationalist forces. To survive against Japan, they looked to Germany, a key Japanese ally. Nationalist China began to receive aid from Germany in 1936 through the Sino-German Cooperation.
The Germans launched a Three Year Plan, a modification of Hitler’s own Four Year Plan in Germany; they hoped it would prepare China for war. The plan had three key objectives. First, they extended a $100 million credit loan to allow China to purchase military equipment from Germany. Second, they helped train and equip 80 army divisions. Lastly, Germany invested in Chinese industry and infrastructure to help them become self-sufficient.
Extensive Military Aid
From the German Reich, the Chinese forces received an immense amount of supplies. This included 315,000 uniforms, 389,500 rifles, 15,020 machine guns, and hundreds of other weapons.
In addition, the Germans sent several outdated aircraft that were no longer up to Luftwaffe standard as well as a few tanks and armored cars. These elements would greatly supplement the Chinese war effort, even though the supply was low and the effects of this aid would only be local.
The growing arms industry greatly supplemented the Chinese economy as a result of the German Reich granting the Chinese Nationalists access to a K98 prototype blueprint. Chinese arms manufacturers began producing their own version of the K98 which came to be known as the Chiang Kai-Shek rifle. They ultimately made over a million of these guns.
Formation of a Regular Army
As Max Bauer, German economic advisor and military officer in China from 1926-29, desired, the German government began to pursue military cooperation with the Nationalist Chinese forces.
Field Marshal Alexander von Falkenhausen, a general with 22 medals, went to oversee the Chinese build-up with the help of twenty German officers. His first objective was to train 30 divisions to the German standard, holding the goal of 80 by 1939.
Although beginning his operation with high hopes, the Japanese invaded China on July 7, 1937, a full two years before the end of the program. Despite these obstacles, the Germans fully equipped and trained eight divisions (roughly 80,000 men), partially trained and equipped 12 additional divisions, and trained 30,000 officers.
To supplement the forming army, von Falkenhausen trained smaller operational units as well. This included a Panzer battalion as well as a fighter squadron to provide a mobile wing to perform blitzkrieg tactics; they were eventually an immense help in the defense of Chongquing, the Chinese capital after the fall of Nanjing in December 1937.
Mitter furthers that Germany spent a total of 3.5 Billion dollars in direct loans and investment in China by 1937. According to data from the 2014 report of Chinese Studies in History by Ai Zhike, 20% of the Chinese government’s revenue was from Germany. By the time Japan declared war on China in 1937, Germany had invested, in 2017 terms, $88.9 billion into China’s military and industry.
The Sino-German Cooperation led to a dramatic increase in arms production. However, this data is hard to assess; when the Japanese invaded in 1937, they took significant swaths of the territory, which interrupted development. Despite this, the Chinese were able to increase the number of men equipped in the field. This suggests a stronger, more robust arms industry and in turn, industrial economy.
What Does This Mean Today?
In the current day, the news extensively covers foreign policy issues; it is important to dig deep and look for the truth. The United States portrays itself as an ally of the people of countries like Syria and Yemen, and yet the United States arms rebels and radical groups that suppress civil liberties, bomb hospitals, drone strike funerals and cause further tragedy and destruction to the people of these nations.
History does not allow one to definitively say how an event impacted an era. Nonetheless, the Sino-German Cooperation is an insight into the complexity and hidden nature of foreign policy.
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