Once the war in Europe came to an end in May 1945 and the booty in Europe was divided amongst the winners, the battle over the domination of Asia unleashed. Already when the fighting in Europe was drawing to a close, 3 zones of conflict immediately became fierce battle grounds in East Asia.
The first zone of conflict was the domination over Japan. It was obvious that the collapse of the Japanese military regime and its elimination from China and Korea would leave a power vacuum, which could only increase the appetites of all imperialist gangsters.
The first country to try and occupy this “vacuum” was Russia, which barely 4 decades earlier in the 1904-1905 war had suffered a big defeat by Japan. However, in a first phase, i.e. after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 (and also later in 1944/early 1945, at the time of the Yalta conference held in February 1945) the USA still assumed since fighting with Japan was reaching unheard of intensity in the far East that it would want Russian participation in defeating Japan, which meant that they wanted above all Russian cannon fodder for the final battles with Japan. Although economically exhausted and with a death toll of more than 20 million people, the USSR had been able to strengthen itself on the imperialist chess board. At the Yalta conference the USSR laid claim on Manchuria, the Kuril archipelago, Sakhalin and Korea north of the 38th parallel; the Chinese ports of Dalian and Lüshün (named Port Arthur when occupied by the Russians) should become a Russian navy base. Stalin’s regime targeted Japan directly. Thus Russia once again aimed at expanding its rule towards East Asia. With the war drawing to an end in Europe, Russia’s strategic interests had changed. Russia, had been benefiting from the carnage between China and Japan and later from the war between Japan and the USA. If Japan was tied down in war with China and the USA, Japan would not be able to attack Russia in Siberia, as Nazi-Germany had been trying to push Japan to do. Since Russia and Japan had the common interest to keep their back clear from any aggression, (Russia wanting to keep away Japan, the ally of its enemy Germany; and Japan wanting to keep Russia, the ally of the USA, in a neutral position) the two countries practised a “non-aggression policy” towards each other during World War II. But towards the end of 1944/45 when the end of the war in Europe was in sight, the USA pushed Russia to take part in the storm against Japan. Stalin even managed to wrist off US military and logistic support for the arming and transport of Russian troops to the east.
At Yalta, the USSR and the USA still agreed, that once the war had come to an end in Europe, the USSR would receive its share after the defeat of Japan. However, once the war was over in Europe, which saw the USSR as a big winner receiving large parts of Eastern Europe and the Eastern part of Germany, US-imperialism had already changed its strategy. The USA no longer wanted any Russian participation in the war against Japan.
Russian imperialism, however, stuck to its guns, it wanted to seize its chance and mobilised an army of 1.5 million soldiers, more than 5.000 tanks, and 3.800 planes within 100 days after the end of the war in Germany.1 Its troops marched through northern China and occupied a territory of the size of Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Poland taken together. Russia declared war on Japan on August 9th, the day when the USA threw the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and on August 10th Russian troops stormed into Japanese occupied Korea advancing rapidly to the 38th parallel just north of Seoul. With Russian troops having become the occupying force of large parts of China and of northern Korea and mobilising for a landing in Japan, the USA saw their position threatened. The USA had to pay an exorbitant price – having to throw two nuclear bombs on Japan, but at the same time this step was above all aimed at preventing Russia from falling over Japan.
Although militarily Japan was already substantially weakened through the massive carpet bombings before August 1945 and although parts of the Japanese bourgeoisie tried to settle for a truce, the USA decided to launch the first atomic bombs against two Japanese cities because the fight for domination over East Asia saw already a new polarisation between Russia and the USA.
Thus the first major, albeit indirect, clash between Russia and the USA occurred over Japan. But a second theatre of confrontation had already cropped up – the battle over China, where the collapse of Japanese rule sparked the appetites of all the imperialist gangsters.
1 “The defeat of the Russian army in 1904 left bitter memories in the hearts of our people. It has been a stain on our nation. Our people have waited, believing that they would one day have to smash Japan and wash away this stain. Our old generation has waited 40 years for that day to come.” (quoted by Jörg Friedrich, Yalu, An den Ufern des dritten Weltkrieges, (On the verge of the 3rd world war) Berlin, 2007).