U.S. interests in China developed through the late 19th century following trading agreements in the 1840s. Concern that China might fall victim to European partition in the late 1890s led Secretary of State John Hay to send out “Open Door” notes to various powers indicating U.S. commitment to the preservation of Chinese territorial integrity and a policy of equal trade access. This position was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 and the Nine Power Treaty at the Washington Conference in 1921-1922. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 was denounced in the Stimson Doctrine, and the United States refused to recognize the creation of Manchukuo under Japanese control. Thus for the U.S. administration, China became the equivalent of Poland for the British government, and there was increasing conflict over Japanese expansionist policies that led to Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into World War II. During the war, two groups fought the Japanese: nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek and communist forces led by Mao Zedong. With the defeat of Japan in 1945, the future of China became a major issue for the administration of Harry S. Truman. In November 1945, General George C. Marshall was sent as a special envoy to determine whether China could be reestablished as a strong, united, independent, democratic country. In February 1946, Marshall announced that agreement had been made to establish a government including both major groups, but the subsequent failure to include the communists led him to denounce the nationalists as “reactionaries” in January 1947. As a result all U.S. agencies and armed forces were withdrawn from China. Aid to the nationalists ceased in 1949.
   When the communists triumphed in 1949, Republicans in Congress formed the China lobby and denounced Truman’s policies as a failure and betrayal. On 5 August 1949, the State Department issued a White Paper absolving the United States from responsibility in the defeat of the nationalists, but the “loss of China” became a major focus for McCarthy and his followers. The United States refused to recognize the People’s Republic of China established on 1 October 1949 and instead backed the nationalists now established as the Republic of China on Taiwan (Formosa). Diplomatic relations were not reestablished with the communists until 1979, and U.S. forces fought Chinese communists in the Korean War. The Chinese also later supported the North Vietnamese against the United States in Vietnam.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.


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