. The motives behind this were mixed. The Japanese felt it was essen¬ tial to keep control of the province because it was a valuable trade outlet. China seemed to be growing stronger under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek, and the Japanese feared this might result in their being excluded from Manchuria. At the League of Nations, Sir John Simon, the British Foreign Secretary, presented a strong defence of Japan’s actions. Japan had been involved in the province since the 1890s, and was given Port Arthur and a privileged position in South Manchuria as a result of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). Since then, the Japanese had invested millions of pounds in Manchuria in the development of industry and railways.
By 1931 they controlled the South Manchurian Railway and the banking system; they felt they could not stand by and see themselves gradually squeezed out of such a valuable province with a population of 30 million, especially when the Japanese themselves were suffering economic hardship because of the Great Depression. The Japanese announced that they had turned Manchuria into the independent state of Manchukuo under Pu Yi, the last of the Chinese emperors. This fooled nobody, but still, no action was taken against them. The next Japanese move, however, could not be justified, and could only be described as flagrant aggression.
In 1933 the Japanese began to advance from Manchuria into the rest of north-eastern China, to which they had no claim whatsoever. By 1935 a large area of China as far as Beijing (Peking) had fallen under Japanese political and commercial control, while the Chinese themselves were torn by a civil war between Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang government and the communists led by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung.
After signing the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany (1936), the Japanese army seized the excuse provided by an incident between Chinese and Japanese troops in Peking to begin an invasion of other parts of China (July 1937). Although the prime minister, Prince Konoye, was against such massive intervention, he had to give way to the wishes of General Sugiyama, the war minister. By the autumn of 1938 the Japanese had captured the cities of Shanghai, Nanking (Chiang Kai-shek’s capital) and Hankow, committing terrible atrocities against Chinese civilians. However, complete victory eluded the Japanese: Chiang had reached an understanding with his communist enemies that they would both co-operate against the invaders. A new capital was established well inland at Chungking, and spirited Chinese resistance was mounted with help from the Russians. However, Japanese troops landed in the south of China and quickly captured Canton, but Chiang still refused to surrender or accept Japanese terms.