Cairo Conference (1943)

Kai-shek, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Madame Chiang seated at the Cairo Conference in November 1943
Cairo Conference (1943)

China was Japan's first target during World War II and fought alone from July 1937 until Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and British interests in East and Southeast Asia in December 1941. These events led to a general declaration of war between the Allied and Axis powers and an expansion of World War II to Asia.

China's military position and diplomatic status improved significantly after December 1941. Militarily, it no longer fought alone. The Allies established the China-Burma-India theater of war, and Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek was appointed supreme commander of the China theater (which included Vietnam and Thailand) effective January 1, 1942.

U.S. Lend-Lease aid to China increased, U.S. general Joseph Stilwell was appointed Chiang's chief of staff, and the until-now U.S. volunteers of the Flying Tigers were incorporated into the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force under the command of General Claire Chennault.

On the diplomatic front, China was now recognized as one of the Big Four Powers among the 26 anti-Axis nations; it also became a founding member of the United Nations (UN) and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. New treaties were negotiated and signed between China, the United States, and Great Britain in 1943 that ended a century of inequality for China.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a proponent of personal diplomacy, proposed a joint meeting with British prime minister Winston Churchill, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and Chiang (Roosevelt had numerous meetings with Churchill). However, Chiang did not wish to meet Stalin due to his anger over the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Treaty (1941) and Soviet assistance to the Chinese communists, both damaging to his war effort.

Roosevelt agreed to meet first with Chiang and Churchill at Cairo, Egypt, and then with Stalin at Tehran, Iran. Accompanied by his popular U.S.–educated wife, Mei-ling Soong Chiang, Chiang met Roosevelt and Churchill in November 1943.

The Cairo Declaration, published on December 1, 1943, stipulated the unconditional surrender of Japan, the complete restoration to China of territories that it had lost to Japan since 1895, the return of southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands to the Soviet Union, and that Japan give up the north Pacific islands it had received as mandates after World War I.

The Cairo Conference was the only one during World War II that focused solely on Asia. It was also the first time in modern times that China's leader played a major world role. Roosevelt declared in his Christmas message in 1943: "Today we and the Republic of China are closer together than ever before in deep friendship and in unity of purpose."