Based on the book, China Clipper, published in the United States and Japan, the documentary reveals how the US Navy secretly prepared for war with Japan starting in the 1920s. In the early 20th century the political stability of the Pacific was collapsing. Because of a popular sentiment of isolationism and international treaties the U.S. had only the most rudimentary and feeble defenses for an inevitable war with Japan. Japan, on the other hand, was ruthlessly storming through Manchuria, Korea and China slaughtering millions. The American military was stymied. But Pan American Airways' proposed construction of commercial seaplane bases at Pearl Harbor, Midway, Wake, Guam and Manila offered the perfect ruse for the US to fortify the Pacific. Pan American’s China Clipper flying boats were the definition of elegance, excitement and romance – flying from San Francisco to China in the 1930s.
Woven into the historic tale is also the story of Wah Sun Choy a wealthy restaurateur from Jersey City. Choy used his wealth not for personal gain but to save his native China from the ruthless Japanese onslaught. In 1938 Choy boarded a Pan Am Clipper determined to transport millions to Chiang Kai-shek and so help save his native land.
But the Clipper, Choy and all others aboard vanished between Guam and Manila on a July afternoon. Japan had every reason to stop Choy and Pan Am’s route which in fact endangered their own Pacific bases across the Pacific.
The documentary reveals how the US government worked covertly with Pan American to build Pacific island defenses, how Pan American became a monopoly and a powerhouse airline.
While China Clipper can be seen as an exciting war story based on true events, its major power lies in the recreation of people and events heretofore previously unknown. China Clipper is a compelling examination of the forces that eventually caused Pearl Harbor to explode and the entire world go to war.