Politics qualifies party's praise for US and Soviet help

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2005, 12:00am

US and Soviet support for China's wartime opposition to the Japanese military proved decisive in the country's final victory 60 years ago and should not be forgotten, Chinese analysts say.

The international contribution has received little attention in the build-up to nationwide celebrations marking the historic anniversary of the end of the second world war. The commemorative activities have been gearing up for months and Chinese authorities have instructed that they must focus on promoting patriotism and the Communist Party's leadership.

As a result, there has been little detailed information available on the mainland regarding the massive foreign political, economic and military aid to China during the war, especially that from the US-led Allied forces.

Jing Shenghong , a war historian with Nanjing Normal University, insists that victory in the Sino-Japanese war would have been greatly delayed without the Soviet and other Allied assistance.

Professor Jing said Chinese people should not overestimate their own ability and overlook crucial support from other countries. 'We may blame the cold war for our past failure to acknowledge the foreign aid we received during the war. But now, it is time to re-establish the truth of history.'

Professor Jing said China's international image, as well as the historical status of the Chinese war against the Japanese invasion, could be overshadowed by Beijing's reluctance to face the wartime past in a fair and open manner.

Both Professor Jing and Leung Man-to, a Hong Kong-based China analyst, point out subtle differences between Beijing's attitudes towards Washington's support 60 years ago and towards the assistance supplied by Moscow.

Mr Leung said the warming of relations between China and Russia might have influenced moves by Beijing to elevate the importance of the Soviet Union's contribution to the war against Japan.

'It shows China does not mind making reappraisals of the Soviet Union's support in the war because of the need to forge closer ties with Russia,' he said. 'Realistic political interests can shape the way we remember history and decide how the past will be written into history books.'

To highlight Beijing's enthusiasm for the Soviet contribution, the State Council Information Office has published a collection of photographs called Memories of the Victory, much of whose material has been made public for the first time.

According to the book, the Soviet Union was the only foreign power to give financial, military and personnel support to China before the outbreak of the second world war in 1939. In 1938, the Kuomintang army received US$250 million worth of tanks, trucks, and aircraft from the Soviet Union, the biggest and the last loan from Moscow during the war.

According to Russian statistics, more than 32,000 Soviet soldiers died in China between 1937 and 1945, including 236 elite pilots.

The biggest loss of Soviet lives in China took place in August 1945 after the USSR declared war on Japan. The declaration, which came the same day as the US dropped its second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, was followed by the death of more than 12,000 Soviet troops in China.

Compared with attention given to the Soviet support - which mainly went to Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government - similar aid from the US had not so far been adequately acknowledged, said Professor Jing. The exception is the contribution of the legendary Flying Tigers.

He said the US provision of advice and material assistance, although limited, came at the most critical stage of the war when the Soviet Union was reluctant to provoke Japan.

From 1942 to September 1945, the Flying Tigers, led by Claire Lee Chennault, brought essential supplies such as ammunition and fuel from India to China. To do so, air crews had to traverse the 880km 'Hump' route over the Himalayas, dodging Japanese attacks and fierce weather.

By 1945, the Flying Tigers, with more than 2,000 Chinese and US planes, ferried 730,000 tonnes of material over the Hump, destroyed 2,600 Japanese aircraft and 44 warships and killed 66,700 Japanese soldiers, Xinhua said.

China even built a museum in 1991 dedicated to the top US adviser, General Joseph Stilwell, who served as Chiang's chief of staff between 1942 and 1944.

Mr Leung said the lack of open access on the mainland to material regarding America's involvement in the Sino-Japanese war was due to US support of the KMT, the communists' old foe.

Professor Jing said he was concerned by the authorities' insistence on stressing the Communist Party's central role in the war and their decision to ignore many mainland historians who have called for greater flexibility.

'It is regrettable that the celebration this year does not reflect many important research findings over the past two decades,' he said.

But Mr Leung was optimistic that the truth would one day be made public.

'The writing of history books used to be done exclusively by the state. But with the popularity of the internet and growing demands from the people, there are already signs that the authorities have begun to relax control of history materials.'