Beijing Is Still Playing the Long Game on Taiwan
Why China Isn’t Poised to Invade
TO the world at large China's rupture with Soviet Russia over the Chinese Eastern Railway came as a bolt from the blue. To those who have followed the development of events in that part of the globe, however, it was the almost inevitable culmination of a controversy which in the last five years has more than once brought the two countries to the verge of hostilities.
The Chinese Eastern Railway Company was organized in 1896 in the wake of the Chino-Japanese war. It may even be said that Russia conceived it in Japan's victory over China. By the Peace Treaty signed at Shimonoseki on April 17, 1895, China ceded to Japan the southern tip of Manchuria, the Liaotung Peninsula. At once Russia, Germany, and France, at the initiative of the Tsar's Government, intervened and advised Japan to give back the territory within fifteen days, ordering at the same time all their warships then in the Far East to proceed to Japanese waters as a demonstration of their determination to back up their "advice" by force. The Russian note said that "the possession of the peninsula of Liaotung by Japan would be a constant menace to the capital of China, and at the same time render illusory the independence of Korea, and would henceforth be a perpetual menace to the peace of the Far East." The German note (written, curiously enough, in "pidgin" Japanese) was frankly insulting, stating in effect that Germany was so powerful that it would be foolish for Japan not to heed her admonition. Indeed, Japan was in no position to face three great Powers at once in the arena, and saw no alternative but to permit herself to be bullied out of the ceded territory. China, and especially Li Hung-chang who had signed the Shimonoseki Treaty, gloated over the Japanese disgrace, little suspecting that Russia's real scheme was to add the whole of Manchuria to its own map.
The first step in that direction taken by Russia after the tripartite intervention was the organization in December 1895, of the Russo-Chinese Bank, largely financed by French capital. That this bank was launched for the purpose of advancing Russia's imperialistic ambitions in the east was clear from the fact that, in addition to ordinary banking business, it was authorized to collect duties and coin money in China, to pay loans contracted by the Chinese Government, to acquire railway concessions and even to install telegraph wires within Chinese territory. Russia's next step was the conclusion with China of the secret treaty of May 1896, the Li-Lobanov treaty, acquiring the privilege to build a railroad through Manchuria from Manchuli in the north to Pogranichnaya (Suifenho) in the southeast, a distance of some 920 miles -- the trunk line of the Chinese Eastern Railway now in dispute. It also provided for an alliance engaging the contracting parties "To support each other reciprocally by all land and sea forces against any aggression directed by Japan against Russian territory in Eastern Asia, China, and Korea." In addition China obligated herself to "open all Chinese ports to Russian vessels during military operations" and to allow Russia "free use of the railway for the transport and provisioning of Russian troops" in time both of war and of peace, while the Chinese soldiers and Chinese war materials were to be transported on the same railway at half the regular rate. Great as were the privileges conceded to Russia, China was by no means perturbed, as she was in a mood to welcome any measure which would spite Japan.
Upon the basis of this secret treaty of alliance an agreement was signed on September 8, 1896, between the Chinese Government and the aforesaid Russo-Chinese Bank, authorizing the bank to construct the projected railway between Manchuli and Pogranichnaya. The reason why the bank instead of the Russian Government signed the paper was because China insisted that as a matter of form the construction of the road should be undertaken as a private enterprise. To put this agreement into execution, the Russo-Chinese Bank promoted a company known as the Chinese Eastern Railway Company chartered by the Russian Government on December 4, 1896.
Before obtaining the Chinese Eastern Railway concession Russia had planned to extend the great Siberian railway along the northern bank of the Amur River and along the western boundary of the Maritime Province to Vladivostok. In accordance with that plan she had already built a line from Vladivostok to Habarovsk in the east, while in the west the Siberian line had been extended to Stretinsk. Between Stretinsk and Habarovsk there had remained a gap of 1300 miles. By changing this course so as to extend the Siberian line due east from Chita and through Manchuria to Vladivostok, Russia could shorten the road by 560 miles. That was one reason for Russia's eagerness for the Manchurian concession. Another reason, more significant than the first, was that Russia, in her age-long quest for a "warm-water" outlet, had fixed her eyes upon Dalny, the best natural harbor of Manchuria, as the eventual substitute for Vladivostok, ice-bound more than half the year. When, therefore, she obtained the right to extend the Siberian railway through North Manchuria to Vladivostok, she undoubtedly had it in mind eventually to build a branch line through South Manchuria down to Dalny, now called Dairen by the Japanese. To attain this end Russia, by the convention of March 28, 1898, obtained a lease, in reality annexation, of the Kwantung peninsula, including Dairen and Port Arthur -- the very territory of which she had only three years before deprived Japan in the name of peace. She then proceeded to build a spur from Harbin, on the Chinese Eastern Railway, to Dairen. The rest of the story is a matter of common knowledge -- how Russia's steady aggression called forth protests from the United States, England, and Japan, how Japan faced Russia single-handed in the arena of battle, and how the Portsmouth Treaty of September 5, 1905, transferred to Japan the Russian lease of the Kwantung peninsula, and that part of the railway from Harbin to Dairen (now called the South Manchuria Railway) thus righting, at least partly, the wrong which the Japanese thought had been inflicted upon them by the tripartite intervention of 1895.
Now we may proceed to examine the original composition of the Chinese Eastern Railway Company. Its president, a figurehead, was to be nominated by the Chinese Government, naturally but not necessarily a Chinese. The president and nine directors elected by the shareholders were to constitute the board of management. The vice-president was to be chosen by and from among the members of the said board, which was also to appoint an audit committee of five members. All members of the board, except the president, and of the committee, were to be approved by the Russian Minister of Finance. The share capital of the Company was fixed at five million credit rubles, divided into one thousand shares. Shareholders were to be exclusively Russians and Chinese. Additional capital was to be raised by issuing bonds from time to time with the approval of the Russian Finance Minister.
From the above it would appear that the Chinese were entitled to become shareholders as much as the Russians. As a matter of fact the shareholders were almost entirely Russians. This was done in open discrimination against the Chinese. The sale of shares was opened at one o'clock on a certain afternoon at St. Petersburg, and was closed in five or ten minutes. In such circumstances
Russian monopoly was a foregone conclusion. But even to the Russians it was doubtful whether the shares were really sold in the open market. The fact seems to be that all shares were taken outright by the Ministry of Finance. The Chinese claim that no one has ever seen any shares and that at the shareholders' meetings the common practice has been to recognize any Russian or Chinese as a shareholder. Naturally, in the old days, such meetings were "packed" with Russians, which effectively excluded the Chinese from the management of the company. Except the titular president, its officials were all Russians, with the Russian Minister of Finance reserving the right to pass upon their appointments.
The agreement between the Chinese Government and the Russo-Chinese Bank, as well as the statutes of the Chinese Railway Company, provides for the redemption of the road by China. In the phraseology of the statutes, the Chinese Government, "on the expiration of thirty-six years from the time of completion of the whole line and its opening for traffic," has "the right of acquiring the line on refunding to the company in full all the outlays made on it, and on payment for everything done for the requirements of the railway, such payments to be made with accrued interest." This raises the question of how much Russia expended on the railway. It is estimated that the construction of the entire Russian system in Manchuria, totalling some 1550 miles (including the Chinese Eastern and the branch from Harbin to Dairen and Port Arthur) cost approximately 450,000,000 gold rubles. Expenditure for the Chinese Eastern line alone amounted to about 350,000,000 rubles, to which 100,000,000 rubles must be added for the building of the city of Harbin. This excessive outlay was due partly to the great dispatch with which the whole system was completed, and partly to the fact that Russia hoped to impress the Chinese with her power and wealth by erecting imposing structures along the line and especially at Harbin. To these the third reason may be added, as has been done by Chinese critics, namely, that Russia purposely made the expenditure so great that China would never be able to redeem it. The agreement between the Chinese Government and the Russo-Chinese Bank also provided that the Chinese Eastern line, at the expiration of eighty years from its completion, "will pass free of charge to the Chinese Government."
As is clear from the foregoing, the Tsarist Government saw to it that the Chinese Eastern Railway would be a purely Russian property. The railway company enjoyed "the absolute and exclusive right of administration" within the railway zone, which consisted of "lands actually necessary for the construction, operation, and protection of the line," as well as "lands in the vicinity of the line necessary for procuring sand, stone, lime, etc." The lands thus acquired by the railway company totalled 514 square miles. Besides "the absolute and exclusive right of administration" within this zone, the railway company relegated to itself the right and duty of preserving law and order there. Before the outbreak of the World War the Russians placed along the Manchurian line 70,000 soldiers as railway guards.
Matters stood thus as long as the Tsar held sway. Then came the great revolution of 1917 which inevitably weakened the Russian hold upon Manchuria. In December of the same year the Chinese authorities disarmed and expelled from Manchuria the Russian Workmens' and Soldiers' Delegates who had come there to dislodge the "Whites" from the administration of the Chinese Eastern Railway. This was followed by the appointment of a Chinese official as president of the company, the post which had been left vacant for seventeen years after the first and only president was executed by the Chinese Government in 1900 because of his opposition to the violent Boxer rebellion. For the first time since the inauguration of the company in 1896 China made a more or less effective attempt to assert her sovereign rights in North Manchuria, her own territory.
Taking advantage of the increasing chaos in Russia after the fall of the short-lived Kerensky régime, China gradually extended her influence over the management of the Chinese Eastern line. She proceeded to put in her own "general manager" of the railway, though no such appointive authority had ever been granted her by any treaty or agreement. Three new Chinese directors were appointed in place of Russians. Finally, the policing of the railway which, as we have seen, had been partially transferred to China in December, 1917, was now entirely entrusted to the Chinese military authorities at Mukden.
This coup naturally called forth a vigorous protest from the Russo-Asiatic Bank which at the outbreak of the Russian revolution had been entrusted by the Tsarist Government with the safekeeping of the railway shares owned by the Finance Ministry. The bank, having been organized largely with French capital, was backed in its protest by the Quai d'Orsay. But China, knowing that the Powers of Europe, exhausted by the war, could not resort to high-handed measures, gave little heed to the French remonstrance. The protracted parley ended in the agreement of October 2, 1920, a great victory for the Peking Government, appointing four Chinese, besides the Chinese president, to the board of directors, whether such Chinese were shareholders or not, and ruling that in the event of a tie vote the president should have a casting vote in addition to his vote as a member of the board. The Chinese Government, moreover, was empowered to appoint two Chinese to the audit committee of five members, formerly all Russians, one of the two Chinese to be chairman. Other important positions in connection with the railway were to be equally divided between the Chinese and the Russians.
In the meantime Soviet Russia had come forth with amazing proposals. In 1919 Karakhan, Vice Commissar of Foreign Affairs (the man who is now defending the Russian claim upon the Chinese Eastern Railway), issued a declaration stating that the Soviet Government "has given up all the conquests made by the Tsarist Government which took away from China Manchuria and other territories," and that it "returns to the Chinese people, without demanding any kind of compensation, the Chinese Eastern Railway as well as all mining concessions, factories, gold mines, and all other things which were seized from them by the Government of the Tsar, that of Kerensky, and the brigands, Horvath, Semenov, Koltchak, the Russian ex-generals, merchants and capitalists."
This pronouncement was to the Chinese like strong wine, intoxicating them with the hope that the bag of gold, so long at the end of the rainbow, would soon be in their lap. In the year following, Russia issued another declaration elaborating that of the preceding year, but somewhat modifying the previous proposal regarding the Chinese Eastern Railway. Unlike the unqualified renunciation of 1919, it said that Russia would "sign a special treaty on the way of working of the Chinese Eastern Railway with due regard to the needs of the U. S. S. R." This naturally dampened the Chinese enthusiasm. Still the overture was alluring enough, and the Chinese really believed that Soviet Russia meant to relinquish the Chinese Eastern. In this China was doomed to disillusionment. For when Adolph Joffe, famous as the author of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, came to Peking as the first Soviet diplomatic representative to China, it became evident that the 1919 declaration, as far as it concerned the railway, was but a bait held out to lure China into recognizing the Soviet Republic. Joffe categorically denied that his government had committed itself to the rendition of the Chinese Eastern line. He asserted that the 1919 declaration merely laid down the general principle of Soviet policy in the east. Meanwhile Karakhan, author of that historic declaration, announced at Moscow that "even if Russia vests in the Chinese people her title to the Chinese Eastern Railway, this will not annul Russia's interest in this line, which is a portion of the great Siberian Railway and unites one part of the Russian territory with another." By this specious argument he tried to retract his pledge of 1919. In such circumstances Joffe could accomplish nothing in the way of Chino-Russian accord. Leaving Peking in disgust on January 16, 1924, he went to Shanghai on his way to Japan, and there came to a sort of understanding with Dr. Sun Yet-sen who was destined to become the idol of the Chinese people. In regard to the Chinese Eastern they agreed that "the existing railway management should be temporarily reorganized," "without prejudice to the true rights and special interests" of either China or Russia. Sun Yat-sen also told Joffe that Chang Tso-lin, war lord of Manchuria, should be consulted on the railway question. About this time Sun Yat-sen, conscious that his political ideas could not be realized without military support, had been befriending the Manchurian general.
That Soviet Russia attached extraordinary importance to the winning of China may be judged by the fact that Karakhan himself came to Peking in September 1923, determined to coax the Chinese Foreign Office into signing a treaty. Upon his arrival in the Chinese capital Karakhan let the cat out of the bag by demanding formal recognition of the Soviet Government by China before he would enter into negotiations on other problems. This China rejected, knowing that once she recognized the Soviet she would lose the trump card which she might use in wresting concessions from Russia. The dickering which lasted nine months resulted on May 31, 1924, in two agreements -- one "On General Principles for the Settlement of Questions" between the two countries, the other "For the Provisional Management of the Chinese Eastern Railway." Although the agreements conferred upon China few rights which had not already been acquired by her through the 1920 agreement with the Russo-Asiatic Bank described in a preceding passage, they were hailed by the Chinese as a great victory, for while the 1920 agreement was made with a private financial institution, which the Soviet Government refused to recognize, the new agreements were concluded with that government, thus clothing with official sanction the de facto authority China had already exercised over the Chinese Eastern Railway. Next to the treaty concluded with Germany in May 1921, the 1924 agreement with Soviet Russia "On General Principles" was China's first equal treaty, which, as a Chinese author, Dr. Ken Shen Weigh, says, "opened a new era in the diplomatic history of China," and which furnished "a foundation upon which China has striven to build a new structure of her international relations." The instrument, indeed, abolished the extraterritoriality of the Russians in China, and annulled all treaties and agreements concluded between the Tsarist Government and any third party or parties affecting the sovereign rights of China. It agreed to replace all the unequal treaties and agreements concluded by the old government with new ones to be made "on the basis of equality, reciprocity, and justice." Russia, moreover, renounced her share in the Boxer indemnity. With reference to the Chinese Eastern Railway, it declared the line "a purely commercial enterprise." As a corollary to this declaration it recognized China's right to administer the railway zone in "all matters affecting the rights of the national and local governments of China such as judicial matters, matters relating to civil administration, police, municipal government, taxation, and landed property (with the exception of lands required by the said railway)."
Undoubtedly these renunciations on the part of Russia were of great value to China morally, politically, and materially. The Soviet claimed that by these renunciations it faithfully fulfilled its obligations implied in the 1919 declaration, for they restored to China political rights over the Chinese Eastern Railway and its zone, thus converting the line into a business enterprise, pure and simple, to be managed jointly by the Russians and Chinese in accordance, in the main, with the principle of "equal representation." We say "in the main," because when we examine the agreement "For Provisional Management" in detail we find that the prescribed division of authority between the two nations still gives Russia a certain margin of "superiority." To begin with, the new agreement provided for a board of ten directors, five from either side, of whom one, a Chinese, was to be the president. Under the old arrangement with the Russo-Chinese Bank, the Chinese president of the board had a casting vote in addition to his vote as director. The new agreement is silent on this point. In the second place, it created a board of five auditors -- three Russians and two Chinese, a plain departure from the principle of parity, though one of the two Chinese was to be chairman. Thirdly, and this is most important, the general manager was to be a Russian, assisted by a Russian and a Chinese assistant manager. Fourthly, the agreement did not say that the principle of equal representation should be applied to the appointment of department chiefs and assistant chiefs. It simply said that if the chief of a department should be a Russian, the assistant chief should be a Chinese, and vice versa, which was, of course, a very different thing from equal representation. Fifthly, the "employment of persons in the various departments" was to be equally divided between the Chinese and Russians, but this general principle was modified by a joint declaration by Karakhan and Koo to the effect that this parity provision should not be interpreted so as to cause dismissal of the present employees of Russian nationality "for the sole purpose of enforcing the said principle." Lastly, the agreement "On General Principles" recognized China's right to purchase the Chinese Eastern Railway, but this right was virtually nullified by a clause inhibiting China from raising any foreign loan for that purpose. In any event China never would, even if she could, invoke this redemption clause, if the Soviet's valuation of the property was to be based upon the ancien régime's expenditure on the railway which we have already noted. However, the question of valuation, as well as the question of transfer or reversion of the railway to China, was left for further negotiation.
The 1924 agreements, though signed for the Chinese Government by V. K. Wellington Koo, then Foreign Minister, had been mostly negotiated by Dr. C. T. Wang in the capacity of special commissioner. When an agreement had practically been arrived at between Wang and Karakhan, the Chinese Cabinet, inspired, as was generally believed, by Foreign Minister Koo, who was jealous of Wang's rising star, made certain objections. Consequently Wang resigned, and Koo, who resumed negotiations with Karakhan, concluded agreements which differed little from those negotiated by the resigning commissioner. What irony of fate that today Wang, as Nanking's Foreign Minister, should be accusing the Soviet of the violation of a treaty concluded by his political rival, while Karakhan, Moscow's Vice Commissar of Foreign Affairs, is now again matching wits with Wang, defending the Soviet's interests in the railway which he had all but forfeited in his 1919 declaration!
We have examined the essential features of the 1924 agreements as far as they dealt with the railway. Obviously the Soviet saw to it that under a pretense of equal representation controlling power remained in its own hands. Not only in the management of the railway but in the number of the employees the Russians outclassed the Chinese. Before the recent rupture the railway had some 30,000 officials and employees, of whom seventy-five percent were Russians. Actual management and all essential work relative to operation and maintenance were in Russian hands. No Chinese were employed as engineers or conductors. Almost all station masters were Russians. The purchase of materials required by the railway was done by Russians. Only a few of the technical experts were Chinese. The operating and accounting departments were controlled by Russians. No doubt the Soviet can justify its solicitude to retain an advantageous position in the management of the Chinese Eastern by pointing to the deplorable condition of all Chinese-controlled railways throughout China -- by pointing, in particular, to what happened to the Shantung railway after it was returned to China by Japan. No one who has watched the increasing degeneration of those railways can be sure that the Chinese Eastern, once it is entirely under Chinese control, will effectively function as an important part of the great highway linking Europe with the Far Orient.
In order to put into effect the Chino-Soviet agreements of May 1924, Karakhan found it necessary to conclude a separate agreement with Marshal Chang Tso-lin, the all-powerful war lord at Mukden. This Chang-Karakhan agreement, signed at Mukden on September 23, 1924, was identical with the Koo-Karakhan agreements signed at Peking, except that the former reduced the time-limit for the unconditional reversion of the railway from eighty years, as in the original agreement of 1896, to sixty years, while the latter left this question to future negotiation.
Thus armed with an understanding with Marshal Chang, the Soviet proceeded forthwith to force all "White" Russians out of the railway administration. In October 1924, Ostroumov, "White" general manager, was dismissed, as were his colleagues and assistants, remnants of the Tsarist or Kerensky régimes. But Marshal Chang, himself a reactionary, was at heart sympathetic towards the "Whites," and watched "Red" ascendency with no small misgiving. And so when, in May 1925, Ivanov, the new Soviet general manager, took steps towards the wholesale dismissal of "White" officials and employees of the railway, the Manchurian war lord called a halt to this program, and rushed to Harbin a large contingent of soldiers to back up this intervention by force. Had the Soviet been prepared to accept the challenge it might have struck a blow then and there, but it was not. Its acquiescence in Chang's interference made the Chinese feel that after all the "Reds" were easy to manage. Half a year later Marshal Chang arrested Ivanov for no other offense than that the Soviet general manager refused to transport Chang's soldiers without receiving advance payment of fares at half the regular rate, as prescribed in the agreement of 1896. As this incident explains in a large measure the harassing difficulty experienced by all Chinese railways, and is, furthermore, certain to be repeated in more or less modified form, we may describe it at some length.
From the time Chang Tso-lin replaced the Russian railway guards with his own soldiers, in 1920, he demanded free passage for these Chinese guards whether travelling on or off duty. As a matter of fact they seldom paid fares. To this practice the Soviet manager of the Chinese Eastern persistently objected. Then there was the question of transporting Chang's troops, not railway guards. Chang demanded that the troops should be transported without payment of fares at the time of their embarkation, accounts to be settled later when convenient to him. Of course, accounts were never settled in spite of repeated remonstrances by the Soviet manager. Then came the spectacular rebellion of General Kuo Sung-ling against Marshal Chang in December 1925. Although Chang, with Japanese support, moral or material, managed to quell the revolt, his prestige and power suffered so great a setback that the Soviet thought it the time to settle the old score. Yet Chang was still too powerful to be brought to terms so easily. On January 21, 1926, he put Ivanov under arrest and kept him in imprisonment for four days, releasing him only after he had agreed to the following terms: (1) That the Chinese railway guards, using the railway on duty, should have free passage; (2) that they should pay fares when not on duty; (3) that the transportation of troops would not necessarily be paid for in advance but should be paid for as promptly as possible after the date of transportation. These terms show that Chang made no material concession, for his agreement to pay for the transportation of his troops "as promptly as possible" meant that payment might or might not be made as convenient.
Thus did the war clique at Mukden test its mettle against the Soviet, not once but twice, and twice did the Soviet fail to take up the challenge. Meanwhile, "White" Russians flocked to Mukden, eating crumbs from the war lord's table, and plotting with him against their "Red" brothers. To make matters worse for the Soviet, many of the Russian émigrés, destitute and starving, begged their Chinese neighbors for work or even for bread, many of their womenfolk compromising their honor or becoming concubines of Chinese. The full significance of this tragedy can be realized only by those who knew the palmy days of the Tsarist Empire when the Russians in Manchuria treated the Chinese as if they were the scum of the earth, the Chinese themselves looking upon the Russians with awe and respect. Now the tables were turned, and the Chinese began to think that they could treat the Russians as they pleased. In such circumstances the position of the Soviet manager of the Chinese Eastern became increasingly difficult. Harassed by Chinese pressure and hampered by ill health, Lashevitch, successor of the humiliated Ivanov, committed suicide in Harbin in July 1928. He had been bullied by Marshal Chang into acquiescing in an arrangement whereby the profits of the railway, amounting to some 30,000,000 rubles, heretofore deposited in the Soviet Dalbank in Harbin, were equally divided between Mukden and the Soviet. He had also agreed that in the future all the railway earnings should be deposited in equal amounts in the Soviet bank and Marshal Chang's bank, called the Bank of the Three Eastern Provinces. Once the money passed into the Chinese bank it was seldom used for the upkeep or improvement of the railway but was usually wasted in aimless political gambles.
With the Chinese share of the fund thus going astray, the Russians were not willing to use their share for the maintenance of the road. Naturally the Chinese Eastern Railway has dangerously deteriorated. Although the company's ledger shows an annual profit of some 30,000,000 rubles, this is made possible at the expense of the road and the rolling stock and by callous indifference to the interests of its creditors. Again, in former years education in the railway zone was administered by the railway company, which appropriated an annual fund of some 2,400,000 rubles for that purpose. For seven years from 1920, Marshal Chang, coveting this fund rather than educational authority, persistently demanded that all schools in the zone be handed over to him. In December 1927, the Soviet, unable to hold out any longer, agreed to a compromise whereby the annual educational fund was divided equally between the Chinese and Russian schools. It was the common belief in Manchuria that the Chinese half of the fund was as usual squandered in furthering Chang's politico-military ambitions.
In numerous other ways the Chinese have clipped the wings of the Russians. They have long since confiscated the river steamers belonging to the railway and are determined to take over the telegraph and telephone system of the railway zone. They have gained a control of the Russian Technical School, the Russian Museum, and the Russian Library in Harbin, though such institutions, if left in Russian hands, would perhaps better serve the purpose for which they were established. Even more galling to the Russians is the unceremonious, not to say brutal, treatment to which they have been subjected at the hands of Chinese railway guards and Chinese officials. Submissive when dominated by superior power, the Chinese, especially of the ignorant class, often became quite ruthless when given authority. Even to a casual observer this is all too noticeable. Travel on the Chinese Eastern Railway from Pogranichnaya to Manchuli, and you cannot fail to see Chinese soldiers, who pay no fares, crowding out or administering rough handling to civilian Russian passengers, or even taunting and insulting Russian conductors. There are some 150,000 Russians in the railway zone in Manchuria, Harbin alone harboring 80,000. As early as 1920, when the Chinese had just begun to assert their rights against the Soviet, many of these Russians organized a patriotic society for self-defense against Chinese oppression. In a pamphlet published in Russian in that year this society enumerated six hundred cases in which the Chinese railway guards attacked Russian railway officials or subjected Russian residents, including women and children, to extortion, brutality, and persecution. Before the revolution of 1917 it was the Muscovite who lorded it over the Manchu. Now the rôles are reversed.
Just before the Chinese, or rather Manchurian, authorities raided the Soviet consulate in Harbin on May 27 last, Chang Hsueh-liang, son and successor of the late Marshal Chang Tsolin, had been pressing various serious demands upon the Soviet. The first demand was that the Russian chief of the commercial department of the Chinese Eastern Railway, who did all purchasing for the railway, be replaced by a Chinese. To one who knows the common practice among the Chinese in such positions, the motive of this demand is clear. Secondly, Chang wanted to detach the telephone and telegraph system from the railway and control it himself, though the wires had been installed as one of the necessary appurtenances of the railway. Thirdly, he wanted the chief of the accounting department of the railway to be a Chinese. The fourth demand was that all lands heretofore controlled by the railway company but not essential to the maintenance and operation of the line be returned to China. Last but not least, Chang demanded that the mines and forests owned by the railway be relinquished in favor of the Chinese Government, though this demand contravened an article of the statutes of the railway which empowers the company "to exploit, in connection with the railway, or independently of it, coal mines, as also to exploit in China other enterprises, mining, industrial, and commercial."
These demands the Soviet struggled to ward off. By May the situation had become so serious that Melnikov, the Russian Consul General at Harbin, called to conference his colleagues and Soviet leaders throughout Manchuria. When, on May 27, forty of them were holding a meeting at the Harbin consulate, the Chinese police swooped down upon the scene and arrested them all. This was followed on July 10 by the summary dismissal by the Mukden authorities of the Russian general manager of the Chinese Eastern Railway, the Russian chiefs of the various departments, and other Russian officials in important positions in the railway management, in all three hundred. The published reason for these highhanded actions was that the Russian consulate had been used for the propaganda of the Third International, and that the Russian officials of the railway had been involved in the same sinister activities. It is a charge easy to conjure up but difficult to refute. China, knowing that "Reds" are unpopular in Europe and America, has exploited Soviet propaganda, real or alleged, to discredit Russia before the world.
In support of this accusation China invokes an article in the 1924 agreement which reads as follows: "The Governments of the two contracting parties mutually pledge themselves not to permit, within their respective territories, the existence or activities of any organization or group whose aim is to struggle by acts of violence against the Government of either contracting party." Although the phraseology of this article is awkward and ambiguous, it is plain enough that the obligation not to permit disruptive propaganda is mutual. Has China lived up to her part of the obligation? Has she not connived at, if not actually encouraged, the "White" Russians within her territory, especially Manchuria, to plot against the Soviet régime? At any rate China's charge of "Red" propaganda is a red herring drawn across the path of public judgment.
The long and short of it is that the Chinese Government, whether Nanking or Mukden, has set its mind upon sometime or other ousting the Russians, "Red" or "White," from the administration of the Chinese Eastern Railway, and upon operating it much as it pleases, regardless of the effect of such a course upon the interest of the railway. And the Mukden military clique, having so often cowed the Soviet representatives at Harbin into submission, without evoking any effective protest from Moscow, thought that they could again walk rough-shod over them. Now the two nations are to open pourparlers for the settlement of the old issue. The conference, though called in unfortunate circumstances, may be viewed as the reconvening of the fruitless parley which was held in a desultory fashion in the course of 1925 and 1926 in accordance with Article 2 of the 1924 "Agreement on General Principles." That article provided that the two governments should "hold, within one month after the signing of the present Agreement, a conference which shall conclude and carry out detailed arrangements relative to the questions" dealt with in the said instrument. These questions included a commercial treaty, the re-demarcation of national boundaries, the navigation of waterways, etc. Here, however, we are concerned only with the railway question.
In the railway question the first thing to be done is to reapportion authority or management between China and Russia. As we have seen, the 1924 "Agreement for Provisional Management," under an ostensible principle of equal representation, allowed Russia a certain preponderance. This China will seek to reverse. At the time these words are being written, China is reported to have already proposed that Russia surrender to the Chinese the post of general manager. She will also demand that the commercial and accounting departments be under Chinese chiefs. At any rate China will insist upon real and not nominal parity, with perhaps a certain advantage on her side. The next important matter to be settled concerns the land acquired by the Chinese Eastern Railway Company by virtue of the original agreement of 1896. Ever since Chang Tso-lin in 1920 temporarily seized the Land Office of the company, the question has been a subject of dispute between the Chinese and the Soviet. China will also raise the question of jurisdiction over the telegraph and telephone system, which, though properly appertaining to the railway, the Chinese assert has been used by the Soviet for "Red" propaganda. It is also possible that China will seek to detach mining and forestry enterprises from the railway, for the Mukdenites, and for that matter the Nankingese too, seem to be particularly covetous of all such rights as will give them immediate material return. But these things cannot be legally done without first revising the original 1896 agreement between the Chinese Government and the Russo-Chinese Bank, as well as the statutes of the Chinese Eastern Railway Company -- both remaining valid except those of their provisions which plainly violate the provisions of the 1924 agreements. Therefore, the revision of the aforesaid two documents will, or should, be one of the chief subjects on the agenda of the conference. The conference will also discuss the "amount and conditions governing the redemption" of the railway, though, I think, this will be largely a matter of form, for China, without recourse to a foreign loan which is inhibited by the 1924 agreement, cannot hope to redeem the line at the price likely to be demanded by Russia. The time-limit for the unconditional reversion of the road is another matter to be considered. In the 1896 agreement the limit was fixed at eighty years from the date of opening of the line to traffic, i.e. November 3, 1901, and in the 1924 agreement between Mukden and Moscow, at sixty years. With little hope for redemption, China will try to make the reversion period as short as possible.
Russia will not concede what China wants in these matters without a struggle. So long as her traditional idea persists that she must have under her control the shortest possible route to Vladivostok, so long will any Russian Government, Soviet or otherwise, strive by all means, perhaps even war, to keep what is left of her once complete domination of the Chinese Eastern Railway. Whatever may be accomplished by the Chinese and Russian delegates at the pending parley will not be the final solution of the vexed question. And the unbiased chronicler of events will have to close his chapter with the familiar words: "And the end is not yet."