The “Big Three” of the Yalta Conference: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin at the Livadia Palace, Yalta, 9 February 1945.

Planning for the post–World War II world, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt met at Yalta, a resort town in the Ukraine, in 1945. The agreement restored imperialist privileges in Manchuria that Russia had enjoyed in the early 1900s. In exchange the Soviets signed a treaty of friendship with Chiang Kai-shek and entered the war against Japan.

At the February 1945 conference held in Yalta, a resort town in the Ukraine, British prime minister Winston Churchill, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt sought to plan for the defeat of Germany and Japan and to shape the post–World War II world. The results of the conference proved that China was not going to be one of great powers of the postwar era. China was not represented at the conference, and Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Nationalist (Guomindang) government, was informed of the Yalta Agreement by the United States only after the conference’s conclusion.

The final agreement concerning China, published 13 February 1945, declared that “The commercial port of Dairen shall be internationalized, the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union in this port being safeguarded, and the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base of the U.S.S.R. restored” and “The Chinese-Eastern Railroad and the South Manchurian Railroad, which provide an outlet to Dairen, shall be jointly operated by the establishment of a joint Soviet-Chinese company, it being understood that the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union shall be safeguarded and that China shall retain sovereignty in Manchuria” (Tucker et al. 1738). These terms essentially restored the imperialist privileges in Manchuria that Russia had enjoyed immediately prior to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. In exchange the Soviets signed a treaty of friendship and alliance with Chiang’s government and entered the war against Japan in August 1945. The Yalta Agreement also contained plans for the disposition of other territories occupied by the Japanese, such as the temporary division of Korea.

Roosevelt hoped that tying the Soviets to the Nationalist regime would solidify two postwar relationships: cordial ties between Washington and Moscow and a coalition government in China led by the Nationalists with Communist participation. Under U.S. pressure Chiang grudgingly accepted the agreement, which he hoped would drive a wedge between Stalin and Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party. Mao’s forces, at their own base at Yan’an in north-central China, had a shaky truce (often called the “Second United Front”) with Chiang’s Nationalist government during the War of Resistance against Japan. Few expected the truce to last after Japan’s surrender. Stalin’s actions, however, seemed to belie claims of Communist solidarity and illustrated his ambivalence toward the Chinese Communists.

The Yalta framework did not last to the end of the decade. The short-lived alliance between the Soviet Union and Nationalist China could not save Chiang’s regime or deter Stalin from supporting the Communists. The Soviets fulfilled their promise to withdraw from Manchuria in 1946, but they stripped the region of its industry and left behind Japanese weapons to assist the Communists. By early 1947 civil war began anew, and by 1948 the Nationalists were collapsing. Stalin threw his support behind Mao as it became evident who would win the civil war. The dream of Soviet-U.S. cooperation or a coalition government in China was dead.

Chiang would point to Yalta as an example of U.S. naiveté about Communist machinations. Within the United States Yalta became part of a heated debate over “who lost China” and a rallying cry for conservative supporters of Chiang’s regime, which had retreated to Taiwan. In fact, both Mao and Chiang were bitter that the United States and Soviet Union attempted to define the international order of northeast Asia with little attention to Chinese interests—or sovereignty.

Further Reading

Tang Tsou. (1963). America’s failure in China, 1941-1950. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tucker, S. C., et al. (Eds.). (2005). World War II: A student encyclopedia. (5 Vols.). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Zhang Zhenjiang. (2004). Yaerta mimi xieding yu Zhongguo [The secret agreements at Yalta and China]. In Niu Dayong and Shen Zhihua (Eds.). Lengzhan yu Zhongguo de zhoubian guanxi (pp 131–164). Beijing: Shijie zhishi chubanshe.

Source: Phillips, Steven. (2009). Yalta Agreement. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2541–2542. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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