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Trouble in Manchuria

The Japanese saw Manchuria as vital to their nation's well-being. From Manchuria the Japanese acquired oil, coal and iron, and they acquired soybeans, forty percent of which they sold to Europe for much needed foreign exchange. Also from Manchuria, Japan acquired tobacco, and there Japanese industries spun silk and cotton. And in Manchuria were nearly 800 hundred Japanese-owned factories. Strategic thinkers in Japan believed that without Manchuria the population of Japan would suffer more hunger and deprivation. Japanese analysts believed that Japan's control over Manchuria had to be made secure. Military leaders saw a secure Manchuria as necessary if Japan's military was to compete with other militaries. Strategic and military thinkers worried about Chinese nationalism and also about a vastly improved Russian Army on the north side of Manchuria's border.

To make its position more secure in Manchuria, Japan invited Korean and Japanese immigration there, giving the migrants low-interest loans with which to buy land. Few Japanese responded to the invitation. Thousands of Koreans did, and Manchurians and Chinese rioted against the growing Korean presence.

Another incident occurred in June 1931. This began with a Japanese military officer, Captain Nakamura, being shot while traveling in an area near the western border of Manchuria. Japan's army in Manchuria, the Kwantung Army, was in charge of law and order in southern Manchuria, and it demanded an apology from the Chinese and a promise that such an incident would not happen again. Japan's government sought a peaceful settlement with China regarding this and other incidents, and it was willing to put aside the Kwantung Army's demands. For Kwantung Army officers this was more weakness and another outrage by their government, reminiscent of the concessions it had made at the London naval conference. They believed it was time to take matters into their own hands. They were aware of the military weakness of China's army in Manchuria – the army of Zhang Xueliang (son and successor of the murdered warlord, Zhang Zuolin). On the night of September 18, 1931, members of Japan's Kwantung Army blew up a section of railway just north of the city of Mukden and blamed it on Chinese subversives. Then, using their authority to respond immediately without waiting for approval from higher authorities, they drove the provincial government out of Mukden and occupied a number of strategic points, including all Chinese towns within a radius of 200 miles north of Mukden. This they accomplished in four days, facing only a token Chinese force.

The Kwantung Army described its operation in Manchuria as saving Manchuria from Soviet Russia. It wanted Japanese reinforcements sent from Korea, and the army's chief of staff in Tokyo made a formal request for this move. The Emperor ordered the army chief of staff to prevent the expansion of "the Manchurian incident," but later that same day Prime Minister Wakatsuki reported to the emperor that the cabinet had no alternative but to approve the move of reinforcements because it was already under way. Out of respect for the authority of the prime minister, the emperor gave his approval but Hirohito told the army chief of staff that the Kwantung Army must exercise the utmost restraint.

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