Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hong Kong Thoughts: FDR, Chiang Kai-shek, and the Mont Tremblant Conference

I can assume you've heard of Hong Kong, and most of you know FDR stands for United States President-for-Life Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You should know that Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), the Generalissimo, was the generally acknowledged leader of the Chinese government (such as it was) during the era of Roosevelt and Hitler. Chiang even went on to a ghostly existence as the leader of the rebel island province of Taiwan once he lost mainland China to the Chinese Communist government.

I'm pretty sure you don't know about the Mont Tremblant Conference, because I only learned of it a few days ago while reading A History of Hong Kong
by Frank Welsh. Nothing like reading a Brit book to learn some things about American history that are ... not in American books.

Before we get into Mont Tremblant, let me mention that on page 424 I learned a new fact about the D. in FDR. During World War II, President Roosevelt's "visitors were reminded that his maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, had been a partner in Russel's [Hong Kong establishment] and that his mother had spent part of her childhood in Hong Kong. The fact that Russel's had been active in the opium trade ... did not seem to cross the President's mind." But I'm sure all you FDR fans already knew that. I just missed it somehow.

Today the Mont Tremblant conference is a mystery, it does not even have its own Wikipedia page [another item for my To Do list]. According to Welsh, scattered about pages 423-427, the conference took place between December 4 and 14th, 1942 at Mont Tremblant near Quebec, Canada. I learned elsewhere it was sponsored by a non-governmental organization, the IPR (Institute of Pacific Relations). The Chinese nationalists were doing little in the way of fighting the Japanese at that time, but Roosevelt was giving them a lot of money and arms that the British thought could be better used to fight for British dominance of Europe and North Africa.

Some American leaders were playing the anti-colonialism card, notably Vice-President Wallace. But Roosevelt stated he was willing to give the French colony of Indochina as well as Hong Kong to Chiang Kai-shek. The Brits present had no problem trading rhetoric. When FDR referred to the Brits grabbing Hong Kong, Oliver (Lord) Stanley retorted "Mr. President, that was about the time of the Mexican War, wasn't it?" The British, less blinded to certain realities than the anti-communists in Roosevelt's regime, in 1942 already suspected that Chiang Kai-shek would not be able to hold onto power if the Japanese left China. Recall that the number 2 man in the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) had been set up as the head of China by the Japanese, a pretty cozy relationship that no one any longer seems to want to talk about.

David MacDougall, formerly a member of the Hong Kong government, attended Mont Tremblant and reported that there was a division in the British delegation between those who were willing to pacify the U.S. by giving up Hong Kong, and those who believed that after the war a general settlement on colonialism in the Pacific would be necessary. In such a conference the British might give up Hong Kong if the Dutch and French gave up their colonies. And it the U.S. gave up the Philippines and Hawaii. Welsh does not mention it, but the U.S. had grabbed quite a few smaller Pacific islands during its colonial expansion. [FDR repeatedly turned down the requests of the Philippines for independence during his regime. The Japanese granted the Philippines formal independence.]

Now, as part of my research into the U.S. War Against Asia, I feel I need to read in more detail about this Mont Tremblant conference. No treaties were signed, but that should not relegate the conference to the dustbin of history. Are there minutes of the meetings somewhere? All this sort of stuff should be on the Internet now, where scholars and the merely curious can access it easily.

1 comment:

  1. nice reviews. i like to watch history in my satellite channel like wwII, hitler and pacific drama