By the beginning of August, both Washington and Tokyo had committed themselves to military intervention in Siberia. The other Allied nations soon followed suit. While preparations were made for the deployment of troops, the interventionists also wished to support the Czechoslovak Legion in Vladivostok in linking up with their compatriots on the western side of the Trans-Siberian. To this end, it was crucial to secure passage for the Legion on the Chinese Eastern Railway. Permission would have to be granted by General Manager Horvath and the Chinese authorities – a delicate task, since control over the Railway was a particularly sensitive issue.
Horvath had not endeared himself to the Czechoslovaks by initially denying them the right to use the CER; Allied arm-twisting finally secured his compliance. Heilongjiang Military Governor Bao Guiqing also showed some misgivings and had to be brought in line by the Beijing government.
On the matter of Czech troops travelling on the CER, we have heard that Consul Shao [Hengjun] has reached an agreement with the Czechs and acceded to their request that the former Russian guard barracks should be granted to them by order of the supervisor. Now, according to a telegram from Military Governor Bao:
‘The Czech troops are seeking passage simply to go to the front, so why is there a sudden need to involve the Russian guard barracks in the Railway zone, and could they interfere with Railway matters? We have rights as the landlord. Exactly how many Czech soldiers are passing through and the dates on which the trains will run – Heilongjiang should be informed of this beforehand to avoid a misunderstanding. Moreover, before the Czech soldiers leave the border, they should be subject to control by the Chinese guard headquarters. The date for hostilities must also wait until they have sufficient strength, which should be determined and secretly permitted by us. Only then can we avoid an injurious situation.’
Now that the Allies are all helping the Czech forces, in allowing them to travel on the CER, our country is also doing our duty by the Alliance. But as for whether those forces can be controlled by us, we do not in fact have such a right at this time. We have since received a telegram from [Ambassador to France] Hu Weide that France has already dispatched a general to lead the Czech troops, and their activities in future will naturally be directed by him. While they are passing through, it may be that a shortfall in trains for transport could cause occasional delays, hence billeting in the Railway guard barracks is unavoidable. If, because of this, there is interference in Railway matters, we will naturally have proper grounds for negotiating with them. Apart from wiring Military Governor Bao, we also request that the number of Czech soldiers passing through, the serial numbers of the trains and their dates be made known to Heilongjiang.Telegram from the War Participation Bureau to Meng Enyuan, Bao Guiqing and Guo Zongxi, 5 August 1918. Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919): chubing Xiboliya, pp. 235-236.
Beijing had already communicated to the Americans on 24 July that the Legion would have “unrestricted freedom” in using the CER. Bao’s ambivalence, while not an outright act of insubordination, demonstrated his preoccupation with local concerns. His suggestion that the Chinese should “control” the Legion stemmed from his experiences with Semenov, who had used Chinese territory as a base from which to attack the Reds and whose repeated defeats had endangered the border. Nevertheless, the Czechoslovaks were a very different proposition from Semenov’s cossack band. As the War Participation Bureau pointed out, the Legion had the avowed support of the Allies. If China wished to fulfil its duties – and if it wished to secure future diplomatic advantage – local officials would have to accommodate the Czechoslovaks on the Railway.
Of equal importance to its international prestige was the participation of Chinese forces in the Siberian intervention. Pressure mounted as soon as the American note setting out proposed troop strengths was issued: Telegrams arrived from diplomats and officials in Jilin, Heilongjiang and Vladivostok calling for China to be represented among the Allies. Already on 20 July, a “representative of the Premier” suggested to American charge d’affaires John Van Antwerp MacMurray that Washington should issue them an invitation to intervene in Siberia similar to the one delivered to Japan. Even without such an invitation, China was prepared to send 1,000-2,000 troops as part of the Allied mission. America consented to this on 29 July and Beijing began preparing for deployment.
Telegram of the 2nd received. On the matter of military deployment, ministerial official Wang Ji and 9th Division military judge Jia Zengqia have been sent ahead to survey the routes for troop transport. Since the attitude among diplomatic circles is not entirely clear, it has not been possible to openly wire our requests, but they [Wang and Jia] have documents and will meet with you to discuss matters. They are expected to reach Vladivostok in a few days and we hope that you will brief them on all the necessary preparations in person. Please be so kind as to help them find barracks [words missing]. The number of troops earmarked for Vladivostok is around 1,600, including two battalions of infantry and one company each of cavalry, artillery, engineers and machine-gunners, not counting another 700 labourers. The leader of the detachment is Colonel Song Huanzhang. They will depart in two groups, the first comprising one battalion of infantry together with the command. Once the routes and trains have been arranged, they will leave immediately. A separate telegram will be sent when the time comes.Telegram from the War Participation Bureau to Shao Hengjun, 5 August 1918 (sent 4 August). Ibid., p. 237.
As with the delay over the Chinese warship, however, Vladivostok consul Shao found himself battling Beijing’s dilatory bureaucracy. Time and again, he wired asking when the troops would arrive; the French and Japanese forces had already made their entrance and the barracks he had found were soon occupied by the Japanese and Americans. The Chinese battalions finally showed up in Ussuriisk and Vladivostok at the end of August, just in time to take part in a joint offensive on the Ussuri line.
Like the Americans and Japanese, the Chinese forces eventually overshot their original number. Their total strength reached 4,000, stationed chiefly in Vladivostok and Ussuriisk. More importantly, however, this was the first time China had taken part in joint military operations on an equal footing with the Great Powers. Chinese commanders were granted a seat at the Allied military council in Vladivostok, Chinese prerogatives over the CER were recognised, and China’s responsibility for guarding the Railway officially sanctioned. The Siberian Intervention was an unprecedented opportunity for China to claim its place in the sun.