The Far East


TEMPORARILY the politics of bases is more important in the Far East than the politics of people. It is true that, for the long future, China and India have become big-time countries. There is bound to be a time lag, however, before they can become great powers. The certificate of graduation of a great power, unhappily, is its possession of an independent industrial system which can be turned to the purposes of war.

Britain and America are exploiting the time lag to carry out their own programs of security, protected by bases, independent of any security to be obtained within the United Nations. The Russians have also acquired a Pacific base, at Port Arthur.

The British program has been carried out with remarkable immunity from public comment. The first step was to allow the Burma Road and the Burma pipeline for oil and gasoline, which might have served to open up Southwest China, to go out of use, through lack of maintenance. The jungle, assisted by the heaviest monsoon rains in the world, swallowed them up. The second step was to make Singapore more secure from the land side by destroying the railway which the Japanese built across the Kra Isthmus.

World opinion equates imperialism with expansion. If the British had had the financial resources and the economic energy to exploit the approaches from Burma to Yunnan and from Malaya to Siam, world opinion would have concluded that British imperialism was alive and kicking.

Yet Britain’s policy of circumscribing the limits of imperial responsibility also has its significance. By sealing off Burma from Yunnan, intimate contact between Chinese nationalism and the colonial nationalism of Burma and India has been curtailed. And Singapore, though its inadequacy as a base in a world war was demonstrated by Japan, has been restored to domination in colonial Asia.

Both as a base and as an entrepôt of trade by sea and air, to the exclusion of land routes, Singapore radiates its influence into Dutch Indonesia and over the approaches to Burma, Siam, and French IndoChina. Despite the political progress they have made, all these countries have been pushed back to a colonial footing in trade and the exploitation of raw-material resources. Any attempt to win freedom of economic development, if it leads to disturbances on a large scale, will be exposed to repression based on Singapore.

Our bases are immune

The American security program, unlike the British, has already aroused lively comment and will arouse more. American claims to trusteeship over Pacific islands formerly mandated to Japan, and to bases in purely Japanese territory such as Okinawa, involve an expansion of the American realm. We propose that we alone are to designate the security areas, which are then to be excluded from the trusteeship provisions. The bases would be made over to us by the United Nations, and with them we would undertake to defend world security as well as American security, but with immunity from control or even inspection by the United Nations.

If we safeguard ourselves by this method, we cannot avoid casting over the Philippines, and toward Siberia, Korea, China, and French Indo-China, a shadow which merges into the shadow cast by Singapore and forms a somber ring around the nationalisms of Asia.

No American will admit to any possibility of aggressive intent in American foreign policy. We want no territory out of lust of possession. We want no subject peoples; in fact, we rather regret that the Pacific islands are inhabited at all.

We find it hard to realize that the defensive positions we want could be regarded by other peoples as even potentially offensive. Yet the truth is that the Chinese and the other peoples in Asia, as well as the Russians, think that American bases in the far western Pacific are too far from America to be significant as defense bases, and so near Asia that an American war of offensive defense would be fought over their lands and among their peoples.

The peoples of Asia think of the bases which threaten to ring them around as capable of radiating an uncomfortable imperial influence into their homelands. In mathematical proportion to their over-all industrial growth, India and China will each want to develop an independent air industry. And in mathematical proportion to the growth of independent air power, India will resent British control of the airways of empire approaching India, and China will fret over the presence of American air power on the doorstep of the Asiatic continent.

Moreover, since both countries are open to air approach from Russia, they will eventually want a system of world air security which includes Russia, not one which fronts against Russia and by so doing makes them the field of conflict.

The end of the Pax Britannica

American power politics in Asia dovetail with British power politics, but they should not be considered identical, in spite of staff talks and a possible agreement on uniformity of arms and equipment. Both countries are accused of trying to restore the status quo ante. But neither Britain nor America has in fact the faintest intention of trying to restore, in Asia, the status which existed before the war. More important still is the fact that the present similarity between British and American policies arises out of interests which are not identical and which in the course of time are bound to diverge more and more.

Britain has accepted, as the verdict of history, the end of the Pax Britannica. Churchill, when England’s back was to the wall, swore roundly that he had not become the King’s first minister in order to liquidate the British Empire. Now the wall has moved, and that is why Churchill is no longer Prime Minister.

The British, in all sobriety, had to elect a Government which, though not liquidating the Empire, would drastically write down the value of the stock. Being British, they prefer to do what has to be done in as orderly a way as possible; but there is no doubt that they are retreating. They will go on retreating until their backs are once more against a firm wall. The great doubt — and this is one of the most important doubts troubling the balance of the world — is whether the wall will eventually prove to be American capitalism, as Ernest Bevin thinks, or a socialist planned and controlled economy, as the Labor Party “rebels” think.

We cautiously advance

America is like Britain in wanting a slow rate of change, but for different reasons. In Asia and throughout the colonial world Britain is conducting a cautious retreat. We are engaged in a cautious advance, because the nation, the government, and the armed services are not yet agreed whether we are advancing toward what will ultimately be an American-led league against Russia, or toward a world coöperation including Russia.

Hence our attempt to set up a double-duty system of island trusteeships and bases which will, we hope, contribute to world security, but will in any case reinsure national security if world security fails.

For example, the American use of the Kuomintang is twofold. We recognize that as a result of the war, the rise of Russia, and the eclipse of Japan, wide adjustments must be made in China. We therefore put pressure on the Kuomintang to recognize the realities, one of which is the almost universal demand among the Chinese people for some degree of democratization of the government, through recognition of more than one party and the principle of direct election of representatives.

At the same time, in mediating the demand for an end to the Kuomintang’s authoritarian monopoly of power, we seek to weight the scales so that the “representativeness” of any coalition government will still favor not only the Kuomintang as a whole, but those military and economic interests which are regarded as most reliably anti-Russian, most likely to continue to lean on American support, and most likely therefore to yield a protected position to American investment and trade.

Britain, not missing the hint, has applied with no little success our Kuomintang technique, by utilizing the right-wing groups of both the All-India Congress and the Moslem League. Competing for British influence, both Hindu and Moslem conservatives are crowding the radical nationalists to one side and shielding the British from their pressure.

Dutch compromise in Indonesia

The Dutch, in turn, with more than a little British coaching, have been applying a version of the same technique in Indonesia. Governor General Van Mook, without whose great skill in being conciliatory and tenacious at the same time the Dutch might have lost Indonesia altogether, could never have patched up a compromise without the understanding support of the British.

It is noteworthy that the most vituperative criticism of Van Mook has come not from Indonesians but from those unyielding conservatives in Holland who still believe that the whole art of statesmanship is to put your thumb in the hole in the dike and wait until rescued.

The settlement in Indonesia goes farther than anything yet attained in China, India, or any other Asiatic country. A compromise was possible because both the Dutch and the Indonesians think that they can improve their positions in the long run.

The agreement provides for three phases. In the first phase Java, Sumatra, and Madura become the Indonesian Republic, while the less developed islands to the east remain under Dutch administration. The Republic has some 80 per cent of the total population and some enterprises in the extraction of raw materials which are already going concerns. The raw-material resources of the outer islands are greater, but less developed.

In the second phase, the Republic and the Dutchgoverned areas are to be federated as the United States of Indonesia. Ultimately, in the third phase, it will be determined whether these United States are to remain indefinitely within the Dutch Empire, or to become independent as well as self-governing.

The nationalist leaders hope that they will be able to consolidate popular support for eventual independence. The Dutch hope that vested interests will develop, with native Indonesians participating in them, which will have more to lose by breaking away from the Dutch Empire than by staying within it. They hope that a united front will develop between the Dutch and the conservative Indonesians against radical Indonesians.

The changing radical leadership of colonial nationalism is to an important extent independent of changing fashions in ideology, such as the tendency to use Marxist terms instead of the terms of libertarian democracy. The real change is morphological. It is rooted in the combination of economic growth, political growth, and the growth in the number of competent government administrators, which bring about eventually a change in the kind of freedom wanted by the people as a whole.

Early colonial nationalism does not think far beyond “freedom from”—freedom from political subjection. Maturing colonial nationalism thinks more and more in terms of “freedom to” — freedom to develop economic independence, as even more fundamental than a political independence.

It is over differences in attitude toward this change in the nature of colonial nationalism — including Chinese nationalism, which after all has a quasicolonial background, especially in economic subordination. — that British policy may part company with American policy.

American enterprise in China

America is going through a strong resurgence of private-enterprise thinking, which began even before the elections and is confirmed by the Republican ascendancy in House and Senate. Our thinking is crudely expressed in the treaties which give Americans equal economic rights in the Philippines and China. The economic high command in Washington, unfortunately, is erratically coördinated with the political high command, and nobody has stopped to think that equality of rights means inequality of opportunity to peoples whose banking, manufacturing, and trading structure is weaker than ours.

Tensions are building up at a time when our whole policy in China needs overhauling. The logic of our original enterprise in China has betrayed us. We set out to forestall a Russian attempt to take over China through the Chinese Communists; but the Russians are not competing. They are not sending in arms, money, or political or military experts, as Washington is somewhat wryly aware.

Only American supplies and American training personnel are keeping the civil war going — and the Communists, while unable to overthrow the government, seem capable of indefinite resistance. A revision of American policy would be easier if it could be made on the basis of a bargain, with the Russians also revising their policy, thus saving face all round.

But what has Washington on the hip is the fact that China is the one place in the world where we do not want the Russians to change their policy. We want them to keep right on doing exactly what they are doing: not intervening and not interfering.

In Japan, we are in much better shape. MacArthur, in spite of charges that his land reforms and his measures for dissolution of the Zaibatsu are not drastic enough, still has enough freedom of maneuver to get tough with the reactionary government through which he works. Premier Yoshida has failed in his aim, which was first to salvage the old reactionary political machinery of Japan and then to convince MacArthur that he had to work with it, through thick and thin. MacArthur has retorted with a demand for a new purge, down through the ranks, which may destroy Yoshida’s control.