All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
RAILWAYS have been the chief means by which both Japan and Russia have striven to establish special positions in eastern Asia. The economic and strategic frontier of the Japanese sphere of influence on the Asiatic mainland is now being advanced by the building of a branch line of the South Manchuria Railway from Taonanfu, near the border of eastern Inner Mongolia, to Tsitsihar, on the line of the Russian-built and Russian-managed Chinese Eastern Railway which runs through central Manchuria. The development of both of these systems has been subject to formal agreements with China, in whose territory they have been constructed, and China has sought repeatedly to secure control of them. But even through the vicissitudes of revolution and inter-Allied operation of the Chinese Eastern Railway during the period of the Allied expeditions to Siberia in 1918 and the years following, Russia has contrived to maintain her hold on that system. Meanwhile, Japan has strengthened her domination of the South Manchuria Railway.
The extension of the Taonanfu branch to Tsitsihar raises serious issues with Russia, both economic and military. The Japanese controlled system is of standard gauge, six inches narrower than the Chinese Eastern system which has the broadest gauge of all Russian railroads. The new branch gives the South Manchuria Railway an opportunity to draw from the Chinese Eastern Railway the freight traffic of a rich and developing region, for whose shipments the two lines are in competition. Also, in the event of any conflict involving Japan and Russia, it would give Japan the opportunity to transport troops over a line subject to her control directly to the main line of the Chinese Eastern Railway, thus cutting off Harbin and Vladivostok from communication with Russia except by the round-about route of the railway following the Amur River. Russia has no such means of flank approach to the Japanese line. Further, the broad gauge of the Russian line could be altered rapidly to the standard gauge. The Germans did this during the World War when they conquered railroads from the Russians, at the same time cutting off the ends of the ties to prevent the Russians from reversing the operation if they should come back. For similar reasons, it would not be possible for the Russians to utilize the narrower Japanese lines.
The main South Manchurian line from Harbin to Port Arthur was originally built by Russia, with a broad gauge, as an extension of the Chinese Eastern Railway, under a twenty-five year lease dating from 1898, in connection with the leasing from China of the lower Liaotung Peninsula. During the Russo-Japanese war the Japanese rebuilt a large part of the southern section as a narrow gauge line for military use, and also advanced a similar line from Antung on the Korean border toward Mukden. The Portsmouth Treaty of September 5, 1905, ending the war, transferred from Russia to Japan the Liaotung Peninsula lease and the control of the South Manchuria Railway as far as Changchun. There the Russian broad gauge line begins and runs to Harbin, connecting with the main line of the Chinese Eastern Railway. A treaty with China on December 22, 1905, recognized the new arrangement and confirmed Japan's right to build and finance a railway from Antung to Mukden, and to build branches from Changchun to Kirin and from Hsinmintun to Mukden. So the basis of the present Japanese position was laid.
In 1906 the South Manchuria Railway Company was founded by Imperial Japanese ordinance. The lines soon were altered from narrow to standard gauge up to Changchun. In 1912 the line to Kirin was opened. In May, 1915, as part of Japan's "Twenty-One Demands" upon China, the railway lease was extended to ninety-nine years, terminating in 1997, and Japanese subjects
were accorded the right to lease land for trade, manufacture and agriculture and to reside and travel freely in Manchuria. The Japanese administration of the Liaotung peninsula polices the railway and the zone of territory attached to it, in cooperation with the Chinese authorities.
The railway controls a zone of some 64,000 acres of land, in which it has independent powers of administration. It has built branch lines under loan agreements with Chinese authorities, including the line from Ssupingkai to Chengchiatun and Taonanfu, of which the new line to Tsitsihar is an extension. It has carried out large harbor works at Dairen, begun by the Russians as the port of Dalny, put in operation a fleet of steamers, developed coal mines and iron mines, a steel plant, soya bean mills and other industries. During the war and the revolution in Russia it began to take an increasing percentage of traffic from the Chinese Eastern Railway, which formerly went over that line and was shipped out from Vladivostok. This traffic, coming south from Harbin and being trans-shipped at Changchun to the narrower gauge Japanese line, has recently been estimated to amount to two-fifths of the total volume of traffic of the South Manchurian system.
Under the terms of the agreement reached at Peking on May 31, 1924, by which China resumed diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia, it was specified (Article IX, Section 5) that "the Governments of the two contracting parties mutually agree that the future of the Chinese Eastern Railway shall be determined by the Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the exclusion of any third party or parties." [i] The arrangement really re-established the Russian control of the line, for although a joint board of five Chinese and five Russians was placed in charge of administration, the Russians dominated its affairs and appointed a Russian manager. Marshal Chang Tso Lin of Manchuria at first opposed this arrangement, but recognized it some two months later, when he was hard pressed in a civil war with the forces of the Peking Government and needed to withdraw troops from the Chinese Eastern Railway zone. In return, Russia concluded an agreement with him as "Ruler of the Autonomous Three Eastern Provinces." But the relations between Russia and Chang Tso Lin have not been friendly. In January a quarrel occurred between the Chinese general commanding his forces at Harbin and the Russian railway management, which revealed the conflict of interests between them. The immediate issue was the question of cash payment for transportation of Chinese troops. About $11,000,000 (Mex.) is reported to be due the railway on this account, and the Russian manager, Ivanoff, refused further transportation on credit. Chinese troops began to seize trains and operate them regardless of schedules or signals; and the Chinese authorities at Harbin arrested Ivanoff. Chicherin, Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Government, at once protested both to the Peking Government and to Chang Tso Lin, demanding the release of Ivanoff within three days, restoration of order, and observance of the terms of the treaty agreements. He also requested of the Peking government the right to use Russian troops in the railway zone, in case these demands could not be met, "in order to secure treaty fulfillment and thus secure the interests of both countries." At the last moment Chang's acquiescence and the liberation of Ivanoff avoided further trouble, but negotiations regarding the control and management of the railway have been proceeding at Mukden between his representatives and Russian officials. In February delegates of the three Manchurian provinces met in a conference at Mukden and declared for an autonomous federal union under the government of Chang Tso Lin, without formal secession from the Republic of China. One of the main purposes of this move, it was understood, was to give him a claim to the right to act independently of the Peking administration in attempting to reach a new railway agreement with Russia.
Under its practical control of the Chinese Eastern Railway established by the earlier agreements, the Russian management was reported to have set preferential rates on traffic by way of Vladivostok.
The building of the new line from Taonanfu to Tsitsihar by the Japanese in part offsets the Russian endeavor to favor the Vladivostok route as against the Dairen route of the South Manchuria Railway. The new line, it is reported, has been carried as far as the Nonni River, and is expected to be ready for operation in August. Its completion is opposed by Russia.
The line is being constructed by the South Manchuria Railway under an agreement with the Government of Fengtien Province, controlled by Marshal Chang Tso Lin. It has been reported that the railway company advanced a loan of 18,800,000 yen for the project, bearing interest at the rate of 9 1/2 per cent, with the provision that the principal materials should be purchased in Japan. The line passes through a country devoted largely to stock raising, with some agriculture; and its main economic function is to provide a shorter and cheaper route for shipments from eastern Inner Mongolia and western Manchuria to the port of Dairen. The saving in distance as compared with the route of the Chinese Eastern Railway is not great; but the saving in time and charges through avoiding trans-shipment from the broad gauge Chinese Eastern line to the standard gauge South Manchurian line at Changchun is considerable. The direct unbroken line to an ice-free port naturally would attract traffic away from the Russian line.
Even more important, from the Russian point of view, is the fact that this new branch affords a direct military approach to the main line of the Chinese Eastern Railway. In the event of a dispute involving hostilities this obviously would have vital significance.
[i]The history of negotiations over the Chinese Eastern Railway is fully treated in an article by Frederick Deane in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, September, 1924, p. 146.