I mean that China was attacked by Japan, yet they held no well-known contributions to the allies. So could they have been a third side?

  • 2
    The Russians technically never shared a front with the rest of the allies either (until the armies converged anyway). So you could make this argument about Russia too, if you wanted to carry it to a ridiculous extreme.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 14:28
  • 2
    @T.E.D.: Not ridiculous at all. Russia was initially allied with Nazi Germany in 1939 and forced to "switch sides" in 1941. In a forced choice, I'd make this argument more strongly for Russia than for China.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 18:49
  • @TomAu - Yes, you could. But then I'd think Russia could turn that around easily as well. But then you'd have to explain why Stalin thought it so vital the entire war that the Allies open up a major new (unconnected) front against Germany. The answer to that (the large diversion of German forces that would have ensued), is exactly the answer to the question when you change the subject from Russia to China as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 19:41
  • 2
    The answer to all questions phrased, "Could X be considered. . . " is "yes". By asking the question, you are considering it to be so. Can you revise the question to clarify what you really want to know? What is a third side? Why would a third side be relevant/interesting? What information would distinguish a third side from a second side? Perhaps what you mean to ask is whether considering China a "third side" (whatever this means) would lead to a deeper understanding of the events of WWII?
    – MCW
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 12:47
  • @T.E.D.: While Russia didn't share a front with the US / the UK, they DID share battle plans.. They did so many one-two punches together. Commented May 6, 2019 at 17:38

4 Answers 4


Not really. They were busy with Japan, and with the Chinese Communist forces, which is why they didn't do much outside of their own territory (they supplied significant forces for the Burma Campaign). In the same way, USSR operations were confined to their own territory for a large part of the war. But in both cases, the Chinese and the USSR kept most of the Japanese and German armies, respectively, busy, making Allied operations in the Pacific and European theatres far easier.

The Chinese did have representatives from the other Allied powers, and some effort was put into trying to get arms and supplies to China, so that they could use their vast supplies of manpower effectively. The Burma Road was built for that purpose, but was not successful because the Japanese invaded Burma to block it.

The USAAF ran a large airlift operation from India to China during 1942-45 which did get supplies through, but a decent road or railway line would have been much more cost-effective. The experience of this operation was helpful in the Berlin Airlift, which was run by the same officer.

The USAAF also planned to operate its B-29s from Chinese territory, but supplying them by air from India just wasn't practical, and little was accomplished until they were moved to bases in the Marianas islands, newly captured from the Japanese. Their operations from there were far more successful, because they could be supplied by ship.

You might well consider the Chinese Communists a third side in the Chinese theatre of WWII. After the breakdown of their united front with the Chinese government in 1941, the two Chinese sides fought each other covertly. The Communists certainly didn't side with the Japanese, and occasionally co-operated with other Allied powers. They agreed to assist US airmen operating against the Japanese who ended up in territory they controlled, for example.

  • 3
    To be pedantic, China did do something outside its territory: they contributed significant forces in the Burma Campaign. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 13:19
  • Could China be considered a 3rd side during World War 2?

The US saw involvement with the Chinese war effort as very much part of their overall war effort. Ref (2) below is a US Army military history brochure which portrays the Chinese activities as a US campaign. (Probably even more than it was). By keeping China in the war, in the order of 1 million Japanese troops were kept occupied and were thus not available for use elsewhere. This was probably around 20% of total Japanese military manpower.

  • The Chinese had been fighting Japan since the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931. So WW2 was a long way into the Chinese fight with the Japanese.

  • The Western powers (notably USA, UK, Netherlands) had been opposing the Japanese activities in China essentially since the start of the invasion. Large amounts of history here {web search}

  • While the war between Japan and the US became a fighting one when the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbour, the undeclared war effectively started in a tit for tat manner almost 5 months earlier when the Japanese, with occupied Vichy France's "agreement" took control of France's Indo Chinese colonies and then

  • On July 24th 1941 Japan occupied Cam Ranh naval base in Vietnam, about 800 miles from both the US garrisoned Philippines, and the British base at Singapore.

  • In response, on July 26th 1941 the US froze all Japanese assets in America and placed a trade (including oil) embargo on Japan Ref(1) Britain and the Dutch followed soon after. Japan lost access to 75% of its overseas trade, and about 90% of its imported oil. Japan’s had 3 years oil reserves at normal usage rates or about 18 months if on a war footing.

  • Once formal hostilities commenced the "Allies" aid to China could and did assume a war supply basis.

  • Initially supplies were sent via "The Burma Road" but this was cut off by the Japanese in April 1942.

  • From mid 1942 until August 1945 daily flights were run over the then formiddable Eastern end of the Himalaya ranges - known as "The Hump". In the 42 months of action about 650,000 tons of materiel were delivered by air (3)- or about 500 tons per day. Considering the capacity of the aircraft used and the difficulties in the route "they were busy".

  • The number of Japanese troops deployed in China during WW2 varies not only by date but significantly with reference source. Ref (4) indicates thjat in 1943, despite the demands on resources elsewhere, there were still 25 infantry divisions, 1 armoured division, 11 mixed brigades, 1 cavalry brigade and 1 flying division – a total of 620,000 men and 14,000 vehicles in China.
    This no doubt constituted "a useful quantity of men and resources" to not have fighting against the US in the bitter island to island campaign. A few hundred thousand extra Japanese soldiers on eg Guadalcanal 'would have been annoying'.

More could be said, but I think this demonstrates the integral part of the Chinese war effort in WW2 as a whole.


(1) United States freezes Japanese assets.

(2) US Army Centre of Military History brochure showing clearly whose campaign they think it was ! :-) - China Defensive - The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II

(3) Wikipedia The hump

(4) The hump - historical (web search)


Imperial Japanese Army


Supplies sent by Burma Road in 1 year - May 1941 - April 1942.
110,864 tons (so precise :-)) or about 300 tons per day.
About 60% of what was achieved by air per day subsequently.
Major impediments, in addition to the road itself, were Burmese customes procedures (somewhat surprisingly), and a very steep in-Burma railway section that required the use of "mountain railway" engines and small load sizes.

enter image description here

A section of the Burma Road [!!!!]
A degree of dedication by the Allies in maintaining supplies is indicated.

Wikipedia - Burma Road

enter image description here


China was a "Big Four" nation in World War II, as defined (principally) by America's Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that signed the Atlantic Charter with 22 smaller nations that later became the "United Nations" (Allies).

To characterize China as a "third side" would mean that China was in a three way war, fighting both Japan and the Allies at the same time. In World War II, that simply wasn't true.

China's accomplishments were not as well known as those in Europe of the South Pacific because it was landlocked and isolated during the war, and far from "news" centers. Nevertheless, something like one third of the Japanese army was tied up in China and Manchuria, (one third on the home islands), leaving the Americans and British to face only one-third in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and India. In fact, China's best divisions provided valuable "cover" to the British forces in their retreat from Burma to India in 1942, and in the subsequent reconquest of Burma.

  • I doubt you could have convinced General Stillwell that Chiang was not on his own side. ;-) Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 16:20
  • @KorvinStarmast: Which is why Stilwell was fired by FDR.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 17:24
  • @KorvinStarmast True enough - given that you could probably not have convinced "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell that any of the Allies were his allies. He hated the British, and went on from there. Wikipedia - "Vinegar Joe" Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 11:42
  • Stillwell just really wanted to fight the Japanese his way.... whether anyone agreed with him or not. Commented May 6, 2019 at 17:21

What do you mean with "a 3rd side"?

Russia was on the side of Germany until Hitler invaded them in 1941.
(Would you consider Russia to be its own side?)

The US was neutral until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor…
(Would that make America another co-belligerent?)


The US, the UK, Russia, and China actually fought side by side against Germany and Italy and Japan… (Japan actually was almost a co-belligerent, as they had very little coordination with Germany and Italy.)

The coordination among the allies was one of the key reasons the allies ultimately won.


General Stilwell of the United States commanded tens of thousands of Chinese troops in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater against the empire of Japan.

General Chennault led thousands of American airmen and crew in China (backed by Chinese ground personnel), first as the Flying Tiger, later as the 14th Air Force. They played a key role in the air war against Japan.

The Doolittle raid was only possible, because the bombers ended up landing in China…

Another thing to notice is, China was ultimately a massive winner of WWII.

Being part of the Big Four got China a seat at the high table, which sets China up very well for its current position on the world stage. If nothing else, the diplomatic currency of a permanent security council member can't be understated. Who doesn't want a staunch permanent council member as an ally? (A friend who can block any UN action against you... is a powerful friend indeed... )

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