Here is a new side post - chronologically backdated and presented today for reasons, focusing over Italian interests in China before, during and after WWII, and Italian-Japanese and Italian-Chinese Nationalists relations as well. As usual revised and with decisive contributes in the end by Sorairo. Enjoy! ‘The Two Suns and the Eagle: Italy and Asia’ by John Landing Traditionally, Italians believed their contacts with China, somewhat romantically, would have started with the voyage of the Polo family during the reign of Kubilai Khan – few knowing of the previous embassy of Giovanni from Pian del Carmine, the influential voyages of the Italian Jesuits in the Qing court, or the attempted exploits of religious synchronization of Matteo Ricci in the Forbidden City. But in the end, the Italian role in the Far East, especially around China and in the 19th century was scarce. One clear piece of evidence was the frustrated attempt to establish a permanent concession at Sun Man Bay, in Fujian, due to American interference at the end of the century. There was however an important moment for Italy during the Boxer war, accepted into the international coalition with Italian soldiers playing a role in the defence of Beijing’s diplomats. At the end, Italy was rewarded with a small quarter in Tientsin – nothing compared to the other quarters, but at least a concrete presence in the Middle Kingdom. In successive years, aided by the small size of the quarter, the concession was entirely renovated like an Italian town, its major landmark being the square dedicated to Queen Elena with the monument to the winged victory. Despite the scarce Italian presence, the quarter flourished, becoming a large town with about 10,000 souls. However, the Italians continued to play an irrelevant role in the Far Eastern affairs, especially after the end of World War I. Due to Chinese convulsions, the rise of militarism in Japan, and the Anglo-American plots, Mussolini merely wanted to keep Tientsin as a testimony of Italian prestige, nothing more. The most notable event in the interwar period was the honeymoon of Ciano and Edda Mussolini in Tientsin. Still, in the 1930s, something started to happen. Small but influential cultural exchanges started to increase between Japan and Italy, as the Rising Sun appreciated the Fascist regime for similarities with its own, their shared hostility towards Communism, and the fact Italy had no interest at all in the Far East. The Italian recognition of Manchukuo enforced those ties as well. However, Japan found itself driving towards in a de facto alliance with Germany – which found its realization in 1938 with the stipulation of the Dual Pact in Berlin. At the time, Hitler was burned by the Italian refusal to sign a similar agreement in a moment where Italy and Germany could have been towards a reconciliation due of the lingering Entente disapproval of the invasion of Ethiopia and the joint commitment in the Spanish Civil War. However, Mussolini’s refusal to introduce racial laws against the Jews brought the negotiations into failure. The Japanese remained rather puzzled about the reasons of the Italian refusal, but unlike the Germans they joined anyway. The Japanese were supportive of the “separate Italian wars” during World War II, recognizing Croatia and expressing appreciation towards the Roman Alliance – there was the hidden hope by keeping good terms with Italy, Mussolini could be inspired to join the war on their side and give a final blow to the Allies. They were also indifferent about Italy not joining the war against the Soviet Union – after all they previously ensured neutrality with the USSR as well. At the same time, they saw Italy as the potential neutral but friendly mediator to barge a peace with the Allies. In 1943 the Dual Pact found itself on the defensive. However, the Japanese were still in a better overall strategic position than the Germans. The role of Italy as mediator became priority for Japan – messages and contacts were sent through the concession of Tientsin, conveyed towards Rome and Tokyo. Mussolini wasn’t hostile to helping the Japanese. He believed as Germany would likely lose the war, with Hitler and the Nazis being removed for good, Japan could have been still useful as bulwark against the Soviets In the end the Japanese appeared more reasonable than the Germans. Also, despite the failure of Munchen, the Duce still was convinced of his talent of negotiator and being able to barter a peace in the East. Unfortunately for him, the Cairo Conference disabused him of this idea. Is unclear what until now Mussolini thought of Chiang Kai Shiek and viceversa – probably, mutual disinterest towards each other. But through 1944 eventually their views started to collide. Despite being foraged by the British and the Americans though their infamous “China Lobby”, which dreamed of a Middle Country “democratic and Christian” (and under its influence), the Nationalist leader was ideologically more near to Mussolini than Churchill or Roosevelt. Chiang still resented the series of events which brought him to ally with Mao’s Communists and was determined to get rid of them soon as possible, and certainly the success of the Duce so far impressed him, while starting to become more cold towards Roosevelt, who was believed too friendly with Stalin – fearing through the American consensus that the USSR would end to support actively Mao again. The German sudden declaration of war to Italy was a shock to the Japanese – even the most ardent pro-German supporter couldn’t deny it was suicide. So the Japanese government hurriedly declared it was a unilateral German move, affirming friendship and neutrality with Italy. Effectively, until the end of January of 1944 Italy and Japan were still neutral, the latter attempting to sign a proper treaty with the former in time, but after the meeting of Churchill and Mussolini in Lisbon, the Duce was convinced by the British of the necessity to declare war to Japan as well. On February 1st 1944, Mussolini issued the declaration of war to the Japanese ambassador in Rome. However, the Italians didn’t touch the Japanese embassy – because it was also the one for the Holy See as well. The Allies closed an eye, being aware to being an important lifeline to negotiate the final terms with the Japanese when their time will come. On their side, the Japanese were forced to occupy the Italian concession of Tientsin and the embassy of Tokyo, which personnel was however moved to the Vatican City one as sign of final courtesy and above all in the hope to keep a final negotiation channel with the Italians, especially after the end of 1944 and during 1945 – at least among the “civil” part of the government and the Imperial court. Hirohito privately started to doubt the “final strategy” of the militarists to repeal the invasion of Japan. Shortly after the Italian declaration of war, Chiang started to plan a meeting with Mussolini – after all they were allies now. But he needed to do that before the German eventual defeat, when the Allies would turn towards the Japanese entirely. The Italians agreed to host a meeting in Rome, which happened to be few weeks after the Kiev conference, and first of a series of European meetings (Chiang planning to meet De Gaulle in Paris, especially to discuss about Indochina, and then Churchill in London). Despite the fanfare used by Fascist propaganda showing Chiang and his wife Soong Meiling as welcomed in Rome and talking of a smooth success of the talks, in truth the negotiation faced some difficulties due to poor interpreters on both sides – it was resorted for most of the meeting to use English at best. The first point of the meeting revolved over Chiang’s request from Italy to relinquish the original recognition over Manchukuo. Mussolini wasn’t hostile in principle, but he didn’t wish to back down over something he was clearly wrong to bet over; the Duce preferred to rescind the recognition without going public and going towards a fait accomplit of the Chinese annexation of Manchuria when Japan would surrender. In that sense, Italy would acknowledge the declaration of the Cairo Conference publicly without mentioning Manchukuo. This brought to a rather blunt discussion where Chiang asked Mussolini why at the time Italy acknowledged Manchukuo – Mussolini candidly stated he believed Japan would win the war against China at the time. Mussolini defended himself by stating that the Italian and Chinese relationship was weak because Italy didn’t have strong interests in the Far East. Besides Chiang worked first with the Germans, then the Americans and the British, but him or the Kuomintang never considered to search some form of support from Italy. This calmed Chiang. The Chinese leader acknowledged Mussolini’s point and stated he was willing to establish deeper ties of friendship and cooperation with Italy after the war. While stating that his China likely wouldn’t join the Roman Alliance, he was still convinced of the necessity to cooperate with the Fascist bloc. He even arrived to explain Mussolini how he was forced to join arms with Mao (speaking of the so called Xi’an Incident where some republican officers captured him to accept an alliance with the Communists) and how the Americans funnelled money to him through the China Lobby of theirs. It was an indirect source of information for Chiang about US politics. Chiang knew that Roosevelt was willing to make concessions to Stalin, and knew from his supporters in America Wallace was even worse, fearing that the new US president would concede much to the Soviets in the Far East, even against Chinese interests. On this, Mussolini and Chiang agreed, thinking that a common front with the British to support the Chinese claims in successive negotiations could be found. They couldn’t speak for the French, knowing De Gaulle’s Far Eastern policy was all over the recovery of Indochina and may be disinterested to support China – besides France at the time didn’t acknowledge the Cairo deliberations. Therefore the discussion focused over the last point – to help the Nationalists, Italy needed an operational base in the Far East – or to better say in China proper. For the Duce the most logical choice was the Tientsin concession, but Chiang was rather cold because he honestly wanted to reclaim all the former European concessions (Hong Kong and Macao tied up in other agreements). Mussolini likewise was not thrilled. Then a new idea came out: what about an Italian base in Taiwan? While both agreeing the island would be annexed to China, Taiwan wasn’t continental China and therefore an Italian presence in that territory, freshly returned to the Middle Country, where a local Chinese presence would have to be built from zero (Japanese culture was really strong back then), would have been more tolerated by the Republicans. Chiang wasn’t hostile to the idea, but wanted such Italian presence to be limited and temporary – Mussolini was able to force a potential duration to last until the year 2000. If Italy obtained the outpost, she would relinquish the Tientsin concession and pay proper rights to China. This point, kept secret between the two sides, was the seal of the agreement between the two leaders. Chiang left Rome with an improving relationship with Mussolini. The Duce naturally wanted to get that Chinese outpost soon as possible… though it would not be until 1945 when the chance arose. At Potsdam, aside from angering the Western Europeans allies for the Soviet concessions in general, Wallace urged additional support especially from the Western Europeans in ending the Pacific War: ships and planes weren’t sufficient anymore – he needed men. Of course, it amounted to little more than cannon fodder. While he still confided the atomic bombs could force Japan to surrender (much more so to Stalin), the President explained that the enemy government may not surrender, hence keeping the invasion as the last solution. But he requested, in some way, all the Allies to share the eventual pain of this operation. Because Britain was already fighting in that theatre, Wallace asked this tribute especially of the French and the Italians. Neither De Gaulle or Mussolini were happy about it. The French General wanted to occupy Indochina first and the Italian dictator wasn’t ecstatic to send his men to die gassed in Japan. But both arranged a deal where would send troops but operating under American command only when the invasion of Japan would effectively put in option – so to allow the Western Europeans to free their colonies first, which were less at risk to face chemical attacks as the Japanese supplies were mostly stockpiled in the home islands. Wallace wasn’t fully happy but he caved – he needed those men, because during the year the American public opinion grew wary over the fact they had to shoulder the war with Japan only on their own. So De Gaulle planned the recovery of Indochina and Churchill of Malaysia and Singapore, but Mussolini planned a more ambitious plan that would mark the Italian role in the Pacific war: a landing in Taiwan. It wasn’t difficult to arrange an agreement with Chiang – the general knew of Potsdam from his American supporters and was livid of rage against Wallace. It wasn’t difficult from him to throw himself in the arms of the Western Europeans for good – whatever the price had to paid to them, he won’t allow Mao to prevail or let the American president to do what he wanted with China. In the spring of 1945, the Italian Far Eastern expedition, assembled at the end of 1944 and shipped to India, worked initially with the British for the campaign of liberation of Singapore, followed by the landings in Indochina helping the French. Gained a stable base of operation in Indochina, the Kuomintang and its newfound Italian allies on May 29th 1945 began Operation “Bellissima” (Italy’s version of ‘Formosa’) the amphibious assault on Taiwan. Ultimately, the operation proved extremely troublesome. The Italians were not used to these kinds of operations and manpower was obviously quite scarce, given the distances between Taiwan and Italy. Indeed, British advisors had to be called in to help with the planning (which Churchill, seeing it as great to propping up colonialism and opposing Communism, was fine with providing). The Japanese were just as dogged as they were anywhere else in Asia and gave the Italians a sturdy fight, even if they were half-starved and cut off from all help. By the end of June, Taipei would be placed under siege. The Italians, realising they didn’t have the troops to pull off the operation, agreed with Chiang to transport large amounts of KMT troops to finish the job. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be necessary. By the time the Chinese were ready, Japan had already surrendered. Taiwan’s Japanese population (some 300,000) were soon expelled. With Italy given the go ahead for the base, an under the table agreement was met with Chiang to expand the scope of the base. The terms of peace had horrified him; the Communists were in an incredibly strong position, ironically making Stalin his best friend, as he was the one reining in Mao. Realising he needed all the help he could get, Mussolini gladly provided further men and materials to Fort Mussolini, as it was unimaginatively called. Any plans Chiang had to fight Mao were scrapped – he needed time to organise southern China into an effective region. Chiang’s rule mostly comprised of bought fiefdoms from warlords who he couldn’t trust in any capacity. Ironically, his more limited control helped to drill down authority in the southern regions. The Italians proved willing helpers. On February 28th 1947, anti-government protests rocked Taiwan, concluding in a violent suppression that let to the deaths of some 10-30,000 people known as the ‘White Terror’. Photos from that day and the subsequent reprisals included Caucasian men co-operating with the KMT authorities. Declassified documents would show that OVRA agents had actively trained the Chinese in how to deal with counter-insurgency operations, based on their experiences in Africa. Fort Mussolini would prove invaluable in the final stage of the Chinese Civil War, known as the ‘Chinese War’ in the West (a term that amuses many Chinese people for the limited scope in its description). As Mao’s troops began their advance down the expanse of China, the Regia Marina bombarded them from the sea, while the Regia Aeronautica provided air cover to the KMT. Limited numbers of Italian troops were provided, though mostly for training and rear-guard actions. Ultimately, this alone would never have been enough to save Chiang, or South China, but most historians acknowledge that if it weren’t for Italy’s early intervention (even then limited due to Italy’s involvement in the First Arabian War), the Chinese War would have ended as soon as it began.