Fallout resulting from Japan’s actions in northern China
In May 1933, Japan and China signed the Tanggu Truce agreement ending the Manchurian Incident. As a result, Japan secured not only Manchuria but also a vast demilitarized zone south of the Great Wall. The Japanese-Chinese relationship entered a period of relative stability. However, the Japanese Army set up autonomous governments in the five northern Chinese provinces of Hebei, Chahar, Shandong, Shanxi and Shuiyuan, completely cutting the area off from the Nationalist Chinese government. These actions led to the Sino-Japanese War.
Kenji Dohihara, head of the Special Service (Intelligence) Agency in Mukden, Takashi Sakai, Chief of Staff of Japan’s China Garrison Army in Tianjin and Assistant Army Attach Tan Takahashi were mainly responsible.
Together with Takahashi and others, Sakai met Ho Ying-chin (He Yingqin), chief of the Kuomintang government’s Military Affairs Department and vice chairman of the Peiping (Beijing) branch of the Military Committee, in May 1935 while Commander Yoshijiro Umezu was on a business trip. They demanded that General Ho clamp down on anti-Japanese moves. In June, the Umezu-Ho Accord that included the withdrawal of Chiang Kai-shek’s army from Hebei Province, was concluded.
Dohihara plotted with Takahashi and urged Chin Te-chun (Qin Dechun), acting chairman of Chahar Province, to let the army of Sung Che-yuan (Song Zheyuan) withdraw from Hebei Province. Chin accepted and signed the Dohihara-Chin Accord.
Why did the Japanese Army seek to divide northern China?
Then chief of the Military Affairs Section of the War Ministry, Colonel Gun Hashimoto, explained later that “If we didn’t separate northern China, no matter how we improved Manchuria, we would have failed without halting the unabated infiltration from the neighboring areas. So it was necessary for us to set up a buffer zone.”
Also, a document of the Kwantung Army’s headquarters noted that tapping resources such as iron ore, coal and cotton in northern China would strengthen the self-sufficiency of Japan, Manchuria and northern China.
In September 1935, the new Commander of the China Garrison Army Hayao Tada hinted at the possibility of resorting to force to crush any movement hindering Japan’s operations in northern China. At a conference in Dalian the following month, chief of the Second Bureau (Intelligence) of the Army General Staff Yasuji Okamura, who was in China on an inspection tour, Vice Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army Seishiro Itagaki and Tada agreed that “China should not be unified” and thus confirmed the separation.
Sakai stated: “China is one society but it is not a nation. It might be more appropriate to say that China is a society of marauding hordes.”
Based on this idea, Itagaki advocated “Bunji-Gassaku-ron” (the theory of separate governance and collaboration), calling for an alliance with each of the separated, independent districts in China.
Dohihara established a pro-Japanese government, the so-called East Hebei Anti-Communist and Self-Government Council, in eastern Hebei Province in November 1935. Under Japanese pressure, the Nationalist Chinese government set up the Hebei-Chahar Political Council led by Sung Che-yuan.