ON THE WORLD TODAY
CHINA remains the key to our relations with the Soviet Union in the Far East. But to estimate the course of policy is more difficult today than at any time in the past decade. The growing complexity of the situation coincides with a decline in political reporting. It is hard to get news in China; it is hard to get it out; and it is even harder to get it printed in the American press.
Naturally, news of military clashes between the rival parties in China is taken as the obvious sign of the failure of American policy and the dashing of American hopes for a peaceful solution of China’s difficulties. From the news as we get it, the picture has rarely looked more uncertain.
How black is the reality? Has the hope for unity in China completely failed? Do these conditions point to a worsening of our relations with the Soviet Union? The opening of three major drives by the Nanking Government against the Communists — in Shantung Province, in the Han River valley, and in the Shanghai-Nanking area — indicated that Nanking was not going to parley with the Communists on its doorstep and that the group in favor of suppressing the Communists are having their way.
Certainly there has been a growth in the power and influence of the right wing of the Kuomintang during the last six months. The hopes raised by the political agreements early this year have been revived by Chiang’s recent statement. But in that struggle for the ear of the Generalissimo which constitutes so much of Chinese politics, a cabal of party men and generals who want to root out the Communists by force of arms is in the ascendant. Chiang is both their prisoner and their leader.
Those seemingly immortal party bosses the Chen brothers — Chen Li-fu and Chen Kuo-fu — are still the most important figures in keeping access to the Generalissimo and in preventing others from reaching him. The secret of their power is that they are among the very few whom the Generalissimo can trust; and in one-man government, loyalty takes precedence over all other qualities.
Chiang and the die-hards
Chiang Kai-shek is a military man who learned all he knows about the West from Russia and Japan. He is certainly in no position, either by background or by training, to champion Jeffersonian democracy, whatever concessions he may make on paper.
As leader of the government he is the balancer of many groups, but he is also to some extent the victim of his own system of one-man rule. He knows only as much as his closest associates tell him, and these he must choose because of their loyalty. One consideration in the appointment of Dr. J. Leighton Stuart as Ambassador to China was undoubtedly the fact that Dr. Stuart speaks perfect Chinese and has long had access to the Generalissimo.
Chiang Kai-shek has never come to terms with Communist generals except for the so-called United Front during the war. Even then the compromise was an ill-concealed blockade and was marked by intermittent fighting. Partly under pressure from the Communists, but ultimately on his own decision, Chiang agreed to patch up the internal conflict during the war in order to face the Japanese undivided. Now he wishes to return to the unfinished business of suppressing the Communists.
The Kuomintang is conservative and authoritarian. The policies of the three C’s, as the combination of the two Chens and General Chen Cheng (Minister of Military Affairs) is sometimes called, are not without support from the Party, the Army, the central and local bureaucracies. These policies cannot be changed by removing a few men or by half-hearted pressure from the outside. It is the die-hards in both parties who keep the conflict alive. There are leaders in both groups who would have preferred compromise.
The American choice
The difficulty for American policy is that there often seems little choice between the two groups of diehards. They both rule by secret police, assassination, and ruthless terrorism. Both the Kuomintang and the Communists are carrying on a bitter antiAmerican campaign, for both resent our fundamental objectives. As Nanking tightens up on censorship, the attacks on America grow more severe. This campaign works both ways: it puts pressure on General Marshall and at the same time steals the thunder of the Communists.
A major handicap for General Marshall, besides the reluctance of the ruling group to share political power, is the increasing corruption and incompetence. Much of the corruption is unquestionably due to inflation. One month ago living costs were estimated at 4000 times pre-war costs. A small, cheap house in Nanking rents for $1000 (United States currency) a month. The corruption of officials permits an increasing smuggling trade from Hong Kong through Canton to South China. Hong Kong is importing more goods than before the war, but prices continue to rise because no amount of controls can prevent more goods going to the black than to the legitimate market.
Production in China is actually going down as a result of the activities of high officials. The businessmen of China, formerly frustrated by the capital, privileges, and experience of foreigners, now appeal to Nanking to impose more and more curbs on foreigners trading with China. In spite of inadequate shipping, for example, Chinese shipping interests requested the closing of two Yangtze River ports to foreign vessels.
At the same time, Chinese businessmen find their own activities circumscribed by the setting up of more and more government monopolies, and appeals have been made to Nanking to prevent the stifling of private business by government. Such government trusts as the North China Iron and Steel Company, Central Shipyards Company, China Silk Industries Company, China Textile Company, recall the old Japanese Co-prosperity Sphere.
Much of the disorganization is due to the war. For instance, one third of the 35 million people of Honan Province live in areas seriously devastated by war. UNRRA claims that 33 million persons are living on an inadequate diet and that 7 million of these are on the verge of starvation. Disease has disrupted many communities.
The diversion of the Yellow River during the war to hold up the Japanese invasion has created a major problem. A quarter of a million people have settled on the original bed of the river and must be removed when the river is diverted back to its old channel. Work is already under way and tens of thousands of men are quarrying stone for the dykes and excavating the channel. UNRRA flour feeds them and UNRRA materials go into the construction.
In devastated areas there are encouraging signs of coöperative effort to restore the land to production. But the race against time is a grim one and many will die because of transportation difficulties and requisitioning of food for troops engaged in civil war. Conditions are similar in Hopeh, Hupeh, Hunan, Kwangsi, and Kwangtung Provinces. Desperate people will support any government that gives them even a small measure of aid.
The Gimo’s firm hand
The Chinese people do not want civil war. But there is little opportunity for them to express their opinions either in Kuomintang or in Communist China. For all the murders of liberals by the Generalissimo’s secret police and the breaking up of public meetings by hired thugs that we hear about, there are hundreds that we do not. The government is feared because of the secret police, but inflation, corruption, and civil war are steadily destroying respect for it.
The Generalissimo is a tenacious man. It took five years and finally a million troops to oust the Chinese Communists from Kiangsi Province before the war, but the job was done thoroughly. Today Chiang has more equipment and better-trained armies, and much more prestige at stake.
The Chinese insist on working out their destiny in their own way, but it is from now on that the good offices of America become more important both to the Chinese and to ourselves. Mr. Molotov gave a broad reminder of Russian interest in the dispute when he first blocked the proposal that China be a sponsor of the peace treaty.
In one way or another the problem of China will always come back to our relations with the Soviet Union. What we do in China affects the German problem, and what we do in Europe immediately influences the Far East. However much we ourselves may be inclined to treat Europe and the Far East as separate entities, it becomes increasingly clear that to the Russians they are merely different areas in which a coördinated policy must be applied.