(‘Mao Zedong’ is sometimes transliterated as ‘Mao Tse-tung’ and ‘Chiang Kai-shek’ is sometimes rendered as ‘Jiang Jieshi.’)
Between 1927 and 1937, the nationalists introduced democratic reforms to increase political liberty in China. Free and fair elections made Chiang president. For this reason, the United States and other western allies were inclined to support the nationalists during China’s civil war.
The USSR, however, supported Mao. If the communists took control of China, it would work with the Soviet Union to intimidate and dominate smaller regional powers, and impose communism on those weaker countries.
Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, found a way to decrease American support for Chiang. A network of communist agents, operating inside the United States, could disseminate misinformation about the situation in China, and influence both policymakers and public opinion against Chiang.
This espionage network operated behind the cover of a ‘front’ organization - a group with a seemingly innocent purpose, hiding the real activity of its members. This organization was the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR). Allegedly a think-tank of academics and journalists, it connected Soviet operatives. Historian Willmoore Kendall writes:
The IPR was in considerable part responsible for the proposal, finally put forward by the United States, that Chiang Kai-shek form a United Front coalition government with the Communists. Chiang, to be sure, knew from the first that the coalition in question would be only a first stage in an eventual Communist takeover of China: he resisted the proposal at every turn, and only under constant pressure from Washington officials, who were in turn being prodded by the IPR, was in induced to yield, little by little, on first one point of substance, then another. During the celebrated China civil war truce engineered by ambassador George Marshall, for example, Chiang found himself stripped of nearly all forms of military assistance (he was refused ammunition for the very weapons the United States had placed in his hands). “I was informed by the Chinese Government officials that they had ceased to receive war equipment manufactured in the United States,” General Chennault subsequently testified. “When I inquired why, they said that General Marshall had forbidden its shipment from American-held islands and from the United States.” The Chinese Communists, of course, made the most of the truce - to built up their army with equipment that the Soviets had captured from the Japanese-Manchurian army and turned over to them.
The results of the IPR’s influence were inconsistent and contradictory policies. The United States, supporting Chiang, gave him weapons, but then later refused to give him the ammunition for those weapons.
To defend China, the United States sent General Claire Chennault and his famous Flying Tiger group of fighter pilots; some of the most skilled air combat specialists, they fought for China starting in 1941. Yet American policy was soon content to allow China to fall into the hands of the communists, who executed millions of Chinese and subjugated the rest under a harsh tyranny.
The Soviets succeeded, therefore, in using the IPR as a tool to weaken American support for Chiang, and to eventually ensure Mao’s victory and the establishment of a bloody dictatorship in China.