A Japanese Team in Xinjiang

In previous posts, we saw how the fateful Sino-Japanese Joint Defence Agreement of May 1918 was activated during the Siberian Intervention. Empowered by the agreement, the Imperial Japanese Army dispatched troops across North Manchuria and the Chinese Eastern Railway. They clashed with Chinese forces, who had only just succeeded in ejecting the Russian railway guard and reviving some degree of Chinese control over the CER zone.

Xinjiang was not directly mentioned in the Defence Agreement. Nevertheless, it was also a target of Japanese imperial ambitions and, in October 1918, a nine-man team arrived in Xinjiang on the pretext of implementing the Agreement. Governor Yang Zengxin sounded a note of alarm:

cnyxinjiang
A Chinese New Year procession in Aqsu. From the Mannerheim expedition, c. 1907. Source.

竊自中日密約定后,日本調查員成田哲夫等九員到新來見,所述皆關協防俄德之事,該洋員隨遣其徒分赴塔城、伊犁、喀什等處從事調查。前者,成田哲夫計劃擬在蘭州、肅州一帶屯駐四師團之重兵,又酌分一、二師團集中於迪化,已在甘、涼、肅、迪之間調查,並質及運輸方法。增新以該洋員取陳,未遽指調日本軍隊,或者關心我國西北防務,借著代籌,亦未可知。乃昨據探員密稱:「成田哲夫對於新疆,急欲調遣一師團,一混成旅駐新,以資活動,名義上仍托為防俄防德」云云。是欲調日本軍隊來新明矣。

查中日陸軍共同防敵軍事已協定,在政府實迫於不獲己,究竟秘約所訂定第一條:中日兩國陸軍因敵國實力之日見蔓延於俄國境內,其結果將使遠東之和平及安寧受侵迫之危險,為適應此項情勢及實行兩國參加此次戰爭之義務,取共同防敵之行動。又說明載,凡日本之關東都督,中國之奉天、吉林、黑龍江各都督公署及在作戰區域內之各軍事機關均應互派參謀充當聯絡職務,此事在作戰開始時行之各等語。約內既揭明遠東、關東、又揭明奉天、吉林、黑龍江是公同防敵之范圍,同以東三省為限步。成田哲夫欲托為防德防俄,請調日兵來新,既與該秘約協定之內容不相符合,況新疆之國防中國自能籌之,新疆之官民亦自能籌之,毋庸借助日兵之遠來。

現在日俄開戰,俄新黨在西北利亞已失其勢力,而與新疆接壤之塔什干、安集延、七河省,薩瑪爾一帶沿邊數千裡仍為俄新黨勢力范圍所及。俄國有回民,新疆亦有回民,俄國有纏民,新疆亦有纏民,俄國有哈薩克,新疆亦有哈薩克,俄國有布民,新疆亦有布民。以上各種人民皆系同種同教,然新疆各種人民無外向之心,不致為外人所煽惑者,全系服從中央起見。增新與省議會密商數次,據議會全體代表人民願合新疆各種人民之力維持新疆籌餉籌兵,力任其難,第求中央接濟軍械,新疆人民自能協力籌防。若如成田哲夫所籌,必先調令日本重兵分駐新疆各地,不特惹起敵國特別注意,而人民驚擾,供應浩繁,邊遠窮荒,難堪此苦。若各種人民因而誤會,更必別生枝節,生心外向。新疆情形與東三省不同,未便聽日本派兵遠來喧賓奪主,致貽后患。況日兵調查駐新疆,沿途征發輸送等事,在在與居民有直接關系,或人民因誤會而生阻力,不論如何,結果地方已失其安寧。若因此牽動邊局,新疆東土耳其斯坦回纏與俄屬西土耳其斯坦回纏本屬同種同文,為淵毆魚,不可不防。是則日本人以協防新疆之美意其終久不免陷新疆於危險,中央尤不能不默為注意者也。

除將邊防事宜隨時籌備外,如果日人有因協防俄德問題經向我國政府提議調遣日兵來新疆之舉,務乞嚴詞拒絕,無令得逞,以固邊圉而延國脈,是為萬幸。披瀝密陳,是否有當,無任迫切待命之至。

After the Sino-Japanese secret agreement was settled, Japanese observer Narita Tetsuo and his staff – a total of nine – came to Xinjiang to meet me. They spoke only of joint defence against Russia and Germany. The foreign staff in his entourage would be sent under his direction to Tarbagatai, Ili and Kashgar to carry out surveys [Note: The term 洋員 implies someone of western origin, but the Narita mission was in fact staffed entirely by Japanese – R.L.]. Regarding the former, Narita planned to station four divisions of strong troops in the Lanzhou and Gansu area and considered allocating one or two divisions to be centred on Dihua. Surveys had already been conducted in the areas between Gansu, Liangzhou, Suzhou and Dihua, and a logistics plan drawn up. I considered that the statements from the foreign staff were premature in calling for the deployment of Japanese troops. Perhaps they are so concerned about the defence of our country’s northwest that they are making plans on our behalf, who can tell? But yesterday, according to an agent’s secret report, ‘Narita urgently wishes to deploy a division and a mixed brigade to Xinjiang to aid in his activities, in the name of defence against the Russians and Germans.’ Indeed, it is clear that he wants to send Japanese troops to Xinjiang.

The matter of the Sino-Japanese Joint Defence Agreement has already been concluded. On the government’s side, it absolutely had no choice and was forced into it. After all, the first article in the secret agreement states: In view of the steady spread of enemy influence in Russian territory, with the result that the peace and tranquility of the Far East is in danger of being violated, the Chinese and Japanese armies will undertake joint defensive action in order to meet these circumstances and fulfil the duty of both countries in participating in this war. The explanatory notes state that all Japanese military authorities in Guandong; the Chinese military authorities in Fengtian, Jilin and Heilongjiang; and the various military organisations in the battlefield must appoint attaches for liaison purposes. This will be implemented on the outbreak of hostilities. The agreement specifies the Far East and Guandong – as well as Fengtian, Jilin and Heilongjiang – as the area of joint defence, which is no different from limiting it to Manchuria [Note: The text of the Agreement does not name Guandong or the three Manchurian provinces – R.L.]. Narita wishes to use the excuse of defence against Russia and Germany to request the deployment of Japanese troops in Xinjiang. This is not in keeping with the contents of the secret agreement. Moreover, the defence of Xinjiang can be handled by China itself; the officials and people of Xinjiang can also handle it themselves. There is no need to seek help from Japanese soldiers coming from far away.

tachibanadunhuang
The second Otani expedition to Central Asia and Xinjiang, 1908-1909. Source.

Now Japan and Russia are fighting, the Reds have lost their power in Siberia. But in Tashkent, Andijan, Semirech’e and Zharkent, adjacent to Xinjiang, a frontier of several thousand miles is still within the Reds’ sphere of influence. Russia has Hui, Xinjiang also has Hui; Russia has Uyghurs, Xinjiang also has Uyghurs; Russia has Kazakhs, Xinjiang also has Kazakhs; Russia has Kyrgyz, Xinjiang also has Kyrgyz. All these people are of the same race and religion, yet the various nationalities of Xinjiang have not looked outwards and have not been incited by foreigners, all due to their submission to the Centre. I have secretly discussed this with the provincial legislature several times. The entire legislature represented the people in expressing the desire to unite the strength of the various nationalities in Xinjiang to preserve the province and provide both military finances and troops, valiantly shouldering this burden. They then asked the central government to assist with weaponry, whereupon the people of Xinjiang can join forces in defence. If we go with Narita’s scheme, he will first deploy strong Japanese troops, to be stationed throughout Xinjiang. Not only will this draw the attention of enemy countries, the people will also be alarmed and supply will be difficult; the frontier is distant and poor and cannot bear this burden. If, as a result, the various nationalities come to a misunderstanding, further complications will arise and their loyalties will turn elsewhere. Xinjiang’s circumstances are different from those of Manchuria, it cannot allow Japan to bring troops from far away, turning the guest into the host and causing future trouble. Moreover, if Japanese soldiers survey and are stationed in Xinjiang, all matters involving requisitioning and transport will bring them into direct contact with the inhabitants. It may be that the people will resist due to a misunderstanding. In any case, the result will be the disruption of peace in that area. If, due to this, the border situation is affected, the Hui and Uyghurs of Xinjiang-East Turkestan and the Hui and Uyghurs of Russia-West Turkestan are of the same race and language, poor management will lead to unintended consequences and we must prevent this. Indeed, Japan’s good intentions in assisting with Xinjiang’s defence will unavoidably plunge Xinjiang into danger in the end. This is something the central government must heed.

Apart from dealing with border defence matters as they arise, if the Japanese use joint defence against Russia and Germany as a pretext to suggest the deployment of troops to Xinjiang to our government, I ask that you strenuously refuse and prevent them from achieving their goals. This would consolidate the border and strengthen the nation, for which we would be very grateful. I have spoken fully and frankly; as for whether this is apt, I earnestly await your instructions.

Telegram from Yang Zengxin, 24 October 1918 (sent 18 October), in Zhong-E guanxi shiliao, Minguo liunian zhi banian (1917-1919): Xinjiang bianfang, pp. 127-128.
iwdxinjiang
International Women’s Day rally at a girls’ school in Ghulja, c. 1918. Source.

Xinjiang did not feature as much in the Japanese imperial imagination as Manchuria did, and the extensive troop deployment proposed by Narita did not materialise. Yang’s concerns, however, centred less on Japanese expansionism per se than on the province’s ethnic diversity. He had acquired and maintained power by balancing the interests of Xinjiang’s Han and Muslim populations. Any disruption to this equilibrium – be it from Whites, Reds or the Japanese – threatened to reignite ethnic tensions. Without referencing it directly, Yang’s telegram threatened Beijing with the spectre of another Dungan Revolt (1863-1877), when unrest among Xinjiang’s Hui population spread to other Turkic Muslims. “Loyalties turned elsewhere” as some Turki looked to Yaqub Beg for assistance and military leadership; the ensuing war led to the Russian occupation of Ili. This was not a risk he or Beijing should take.

Little is known of Narita’s activities after this episode; it seems that he remained at Dihua (today Urumqi), continued to provide Tokyo with intelligence and colluded with the White movement in the city. For his part, Yang consistently maintained that Xinjiang’s ethnic makeup rendered it particularly vulnerable to the effects of the Russian Civil War, including the refugee crisis, the spread of Bolshevik anti-imperialist propaganda and the recruitment of Muslim soldiers. As we shall see, it was the Russians and not the Japanese who would eventually upset his delicate balancing act as they, too, sought to use Xinjiang’s heterogeneity to their own advantage.

2 thoughts on “A Japanese Team in Xinjiang

  1. Pingback: Bolshevik Provocateurs in Xinjiang – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

  2. Pingback: Consular Misdeeds in Ili – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

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