The Unknown Frontier of Manchuria

Courtesy Reuters

PERHAPS the most obscure of all the questions raised by the Japanese policy of drastic intervention in Manchuria is the problem of Mongolia; or rather the problem of the several Mongolias. It is true that Manchuria is a great enough problem in itself, affecting the destinies of China, Russia and Japan; yet Manchuria is no more than the eastern abutment and ocean gateway of the far greater region of Mongolia. The struggle in Manchuria has been associated so exclusively with problems of ocean ports and railways that not nearly enough attention has been paid to the great continental background lying west of the immediate area of conflict. Yet no conflict in Manchuria can be anything but a prelude to struggle in Mongolia, nor can any settlement of the "Manchurian problem" be effective unless it is based on an understanding of the geographical facts of Mongolia and the political developments and racial movements going on in that dark hinterland. Manchuria is the vital flank; but Mongolia is the main line of the frontier between Continental Asia and Continental Russia, and the Mongols, long regarded as a helpless and decayed race, are likely to emerge once more as an active force in the history of the world.

There are, in effect, three Mongolias--Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Manchurian Mongolia. In the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Manchus were on the eve of the conquest of China, the Mongols occupied between one-fourth and one-third of the area of modern Manchuria; their occupation extended to within a hundred miles of Mukden, and played a decisive part (for which in ordinary historical accounts they have never been given proper credit) in the Manchu conquest of China. It is only within the last thirty years that a great part of this Mongol-inhabited Manchurian territory has been expropriated and settled by Chinese colonists.

While this displacement of Mongols by Chinese is complete and probably permanent, the very success of the Chinese has created a "Mongol question."

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