I just discovered an interesting historical tidbit: China and Germany were fast friends in the 1920s and 1930s, all the way to the end of 1941. China under the Kuomintang Nationalists exported much-needed raw materials to Germany. The Germans helped them build up industries to produce armaments in case of another war with Japan, and continued to help until Hitler declared alliance with Japan.
German officers even helped train Chinese troops. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had several elite divisions of German-trained soldiers (squandered at the Battle of Shanghai, against the advice of the Germans). The elite divisions wore uniforms that made them look like the German SS.
German military advisors helped devise the Chinese defensive plan of trading territory for time and drawing into the interior to wear out the Japanese, which Chiang largely followed except for Shanghai. They were on very good terms with Chiang, and were sincerely regretful when Hitler told them to break off ties in December 1941.
Which offers an interesting alternate history: what if Japan didn’t invade China. The Chinese Nationalists are not weakened by a brutal war, stomp the Communists and become the masters of all China.
Not for decades.
In our timeline the Nationalists were routed by Mao Zedong and retreat to Taiwan. Now, most Westerners will assume Taiwan was democratic, but it really was ruled by a succession of Generals from the late 1940s until the late 1980s. Student protests in the late 1980s eventually brought down military rule. Taiwan had its first ever democratically elected President in 1996.
Yes, 1996! More than forty years of rule by military junta!
(South Korea followed a similar political trajectory: Generals, Generals, Generals until student protests forced the first elections in the 1990s. There was even a student massacre in 1980 at Gwangju. All very hush-hush. The whole Korean Peninsula did not know democracy until forty years after the Korean War.)
So… China under the Nationalists, friendly with the Germans. Japan does not invade China, the Americans don’t cut off their oil supplies, the Pacific War doesn’t begin, and Hitler continues to trade with China.
China’s armies modernize and finally unify the fractious nation by force, stomping out warlords, Communists and other dissent.
Temptation to revive the glory of China under strong central Nationalist rule becomes very strong indeed. The old political philosophy of Legalism (obscured for ten centuries by Confucianism) might regain favour, coupled with admiration for German efficiency.
Belligerrent Fascist China? Not necessarily. Strange to say, most military juntas are actually averse to offensive warfare (Germany and Italy being the notable exceptions). Spain kept out of the Second World War, Franco turning his back on his Fascist friends after they helped him win the Spanish Civil War and gain power. There’s Myanmar, Taiwan and South Korea (until the 1990s).
Most Generals just prefer to get rich. Myanmar’s by forming monopoly of its gem production (some might include the opium business). Taiwan’s and South Korea’s formed large politically connected business conglomerates that export manufactured goods and made them tons of money.
(Not that different from Germany, had the Nazis been run by Goering rather than Hitler. Goering loved the good life, loved money, did advise against starting a war, and was a fairly capable figure until he became addicted to painkillers and got fat.)
So… Fascist China that can either become aggressive; or far more likely, one where Kuomintang leaders concentrate on making money. I don’t think China’s leaders would actually want more territory; just keeping its already vast territories together is a full time job.
(The current brouhaha over some small islands, I believe, is just China grandstanding for the masses. It’ll end with the islands being a neutral zone. Like before.)
The question is how they would like to make money. Unlike Taiwan and South Korea, mainland China does have tremendous natural resources. Would Fascist China just form cartels for exporting raw materials, resulting in a small fabulously wealthy ruling class and vast trickle-down poor proles? Or would they continue to industrialize with German help, with more widespread opportunities?