Introduction to the Moscow Years from 1943-1949

By Yixiao Zheng

As a seasoned diplomat and trusted foreign policy veteran, Fu shared and supported Chiang Kai-shek’s Soviet policy and faithfully executed the Generalissimo’s international strategy. Fu’s posting to Moscow was a strategic choice made by Chiang Kai-shek at the end of 1942 when Soviet friendship and cooperation were deemed crucial for China’s war efforts to roll back the Japanese invasion, to defend Chinese sovereignty in border regions such as Xinjiang, and to enhance China’s standing in the international community. Fu’s success in Moscow was remarkable during the first three years of his tenure there from 1943 to 1945, especially when he managed to secure China’s seat as one of the Four-Power signatories to the Moscow Declaration of 1943, a landmark diplomatic victory which helped lay the groundwork for China’s emergence as a major power in the post-war international order, and a political legacy that still lives on till this day. In the prime of his diplomatic career in 1946, Fu was asked by Chiang Kai-shek to continue to serve as his ambassador to Moscow, as the Generalissimo deemed Fu’s continued presence and service in Soviet Russia indispensable at a time when relations with the Soviet Union had never been more important for China’s future and must therefore be placed in the most capable hands.

Fu’s diplomatic efforts in the final years of the Second World War were in no small measured blessed by the Allied harmony that had been so painstakingly preserved by all sides as a strategic necessity in the interest of the Allied cause during the war. However, the post-war period of Fu’s ambassadorial tenure in Moscow was not as fortunate as his first term had been between 1943 and 1945. Though the world war was over and China emerged as a victorious Allied power after eight years of extraordinary sacrifices during the War of Resistance against Japan, the rapid and profound changes that were taking place in both the international system and China’s domestic situation in the post-war years had significantly reshaped the context in which Fu had to operate as China’s top diplomat in Moscow. By the time Fu had returned to Moscow from Chungking in the spring of 1946, that favourable international condition was being quickly replaced by a categorically new set of strategic dynamics with the emergence of a fledgling Cold War pattern of distrust and enmity between Moscow on the one side and Washington and London on the other. It may be said that the favourable international condition on which Fu’s diplomatic success and personal accomplishments had largely hinged in the preceding years of his ambassadorship was no longer in existence towards the final years of the 1940s.

From Fu Bingchang’s viewpoint, the rise of great power rivalry between the Soviet and Western powers in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East could hardly represent an auspicious development for China, especially at a time when the country’s problems rendered by eight years of devastating war were compounded by the imminent threat of another civil war between the Kuomintang government and the Chinese Communists. Despite pressing needs for internal reform, rehabilitation, reconstruction and the Chinese people’s unanimous desire for peace, the nation was once again dragged into a deadly internal conflict, which eventually culminated into a full-scale military struggle and ultimately led to the Communist conquest of China by the end of the 1940s. With growing Soviet support to the CCP, increasing KMT reliance for American aid, intensified Soviet-American rivalry and an ongoing civil war between the CCP and the KMT, relations with Soviet Russia became an exceptionally complex and difficult challenge for ROC diplomacy. It was against this background that Fu Bingchang had to carry out his ambassadorial duty in Moscow during the final years of the 1940s. Amidst such continuing international and domestic crises, what Fu Bingchang had experienced as Chiang Kai-shek’s last ambassador in Moscow in those years is of enormous historical significance for gaining a fuller understanding of both Chinese and international history during that period.

Fu’s experience of representing the ROC on the post-war international stage, including Fu’s involvement in the first United Nations conference in London, the Paris Peace Conference, and with the Moscow diplomatic corps respectively are documented in 1946. Readers may also note Fu’s observation of the deteriorating relations between Soviet Russia and the United States and Britain at the first United Nations conference and their diplomatic conflicts over the various international issues such as the Greek question; also discussed in this regard are the Security Council’s deliberations on the Iranian question and the constructive mediating role played by Chinese delegates, including Fu, in the Iranian-Soviet dispute. In the Paris Peace Conference of 1946, apart from the conference’s proceedings and political dynamics between the major powers, readers will also learn in the diaries about how Chinese representatives had made efforts to carefully calibrate China’s position on various issues while seeking to promote a post-war peace settlement in Europe, as well as Fu’s personal role at the Conference, especially his success as the Acting Chair of the Military Commission.

Fu’s diaries in the post-war years in Moscow cast light on some of the hard choices faced by Fu as the doyen of the diplomatic corps since 1946, especially the hard-won success in precluding a serious crisis between the diplomatic corps and the Soviet authorities following the introduction of Soviet currency reform in 1947. The diary also features the deepening division in Europe between the Soviet bloc and the West in the post-war years as seen through Fu’s eyes on the doorstep of the Kremlin, as well as Fu’s much-valued advice to the Swedish government on policy vis-a-vis the Western European alliance and the Soviet Union.

Regarding Fu’s ambassadorial involvement in relation to the failing KMT-Soviet alliance amidst the Chinese civil war, the diaries tell in detail of Fu’s diplomatic work during the crisis in Manchuria in early 1946, the Four-Power Moscow conference of 1947 and the KMT-CCP peace talks around 1948-1949 respectively. The political and diplomatic crisis created before and during the withdrawal of Soviet troops from China’s Northeast in 1946 as the National government sought to assert Chinese sovereignty over the region was a constant thorn for Fu and caused much anxiety. Soviet pressure was brought to bear on the National government on various issues pertaining to the deadline for troop withdrawal, ‘war booty’, economic cooperation and, most importantly, the handover of occupied territories. The diaries show clearly the surging popular nationalist sentiments against what was perceived as Soviet infringement of Chinese sovereignty and the National government’s deliberations on policy towards Soviet Russia as Fu had observed in Chungking in the spring of 1946. The crisis in the Northeast marked the beginning of a period of huge uncertainty in China’s relations with the Soviet Union. The diaries at this time bring into focus the fundamental challenge faced by Fu for his remaining years in Moscow, which was the gradual collapse of the political understanding that formed the basis of the 1945 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, and the limitations of the Soviet-American understanding reached at the Yalta Conference on China.

Fu wrote about his engagement during the Four-Power Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Moscow in 1947. With the formal ending of Marshall’s mediation mission and the collapse of the KMT-CCP political consultation, intensified struggle between the CCP and the National government in Manchuria and North China had led to expansion of hostilities that had turned to a full-scale civil war by 1947. It was against this backdrop of the civil war that the Nanking-Moscow alliance had almost reached breaking point. Fu was instructed by Nanking to preclude discussion of any matters pertaining to the situation in China in the face of repeated Soviet attempts to bring up the issue of Allied powers’ involvement in China at the Moscow conference. The diaries are witness to Fu’s success in bringing about as much consensus as possible on a concerted approach to what appeared to be Moscow’s move to undermine the position of the National government and to internationalise the Chinese conflict. The diary reveals Fu’s discreet diplomacy in Moscow vis-a-vis the American, British and French delegates, especially his relentless efforts to persuade and urge the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain and France to continue to respect and support China’s sovereignty and independence against Soviet pressure. At the time, Nanking was fearful of Soviet interference in the National government’s war efforts against the CCP as the Kuomintang regime, aware of its overall military superiority, was seeking to crush the Chinese Communists by launching its military offensive against Communist troops.

In 1948-1949 there were renewed peace negotiations between the National government and the CCP and Fu took a role in eliciting Soviet support for a peace settlement with the Communists. While the Chinese National Army had a preponderance of force, the overall military position of the National government deteriorated over the course of 1947 and 1948 as KMT forces gradually lost ground to Communist troops. The sweeping Communist victories in the decisive battles fought in Manchuria and North China at the end of 1948 and in early 1949 completely reversed the military situation. The Kuomintang’s offering to reopen negotiations with the CCP in early 1949 was therefore made at a time when the strategic initiative rested entirely with the Chinese Communists. The diaries offer a detailed account of Fu’s unenviable task of pleading with the Soviets to help mediate a settlement with the Communists in early 1949. Acting under instructions from Nanking, Fu’s undertaking was part of Nanking’s desperate efforts to bring in foreign powers (Washington, London, Paris and Moscow) to mediate between the CCP and the KMT, a move which represented a dramatic and humiliating reversal of policy by the National government regarding foreign intervention in China’s domestic conflict following the cabinet reshuffle in early 1949.

Anecdotal account provided by Fu’s family suggests that, to bring about a peace settlement, Fu had possibly on an earlier occasion engaged in secret negotiations with Soviet leaders on his own initiative with his proposal to divide China between the CCP and the KMT along the Yangtze River, a plan which was said to have been agreed to by the Soviets, Americans and the Chinese Communists, but eventually turned down by the Kuomintang itself. Documentary sources to ascertain this anecdotal evidence of Fu’s secret diplomacy are yet to be discovered, although readers may see a note in Fu’s diary in 1961, that he was prepared to sacrifice himself by proposing a North-South partition of China in order to save half of the country from Communist conquest. The final days of Fu’s ambassadorship before his departure from Moscow, including the circumstances surrounding his appointment as Foreign Minister take place in 1949. The diary ends abruptly on 16 March 1949.