The Far East


November 1947

on the World today

FROM China through to India there has occurred a taking up of arms unprecedented since the end of the war. In some cases the aim is to bring about internal change. In others it is to hasten the white man’s unburdening. Often it is a combination of both.

The old order in India has long been ready to transform itself into the new disorder. The basic problem, contrary to the Exotic East school of writing on India, is neither caste nor religion but the prosaic task of keeping body and soul together. Three quarters of the population attempt to do so from an agricultural system that is closer to the Middle Ages than to the twentieth century.

The system is dominated by landlords who often double as moneylenders and merchants. Honest ones, say the Indians, are as rare as chaste courtesans. It is from triple-threat men of this sort that peasants have to rent land, borrow money, and buy goods. For a long time they have been seething at having to give up two thirds of their income for rent, taxes, and interest.

It so happens, not altogether accidentally, that in many places Hindu and Sikh landlords predominate over Moslem peasants, and Moslem landlords over Hindu peasants. In such cases the peasants have a double reason, religious as well as economic, for not seeing eye to eye with their landlords.

Fighting for power

One reason why economic grievances have exploded in the form of religious riots is that the political safety valve is not functioning properly. The electorate excludes nine tenths of the population. This submerged group does not include many landlords, industrialists, merchants, or moneylenders.

The latter groups hold tight to their political monopoly to help in attaining their economic objectives. Some hope to keep India predominantly agricultural. Others hope to superpose modern industry on a backward agriculture, on the model of Japan, the Asiatic prototype of Amcrican-slyle industry without American-style democracy.

A key point to bear in mind is that Imperial policy has had the effect of encouraging economic backwardness and political exclusiveness. Another is that tlui decision on the nature of Indian independence has been turned over to elements which were bound to utilize religious differences to further non-religious purposes.

Organized disorder

The communal strife of the past months, far from being spontaneous, has been, according to the London Economist, the best organized in Indian history. The chief significance of this is in revealing that the political initiative in the new dominions has been seized by the most medieval-minded elements in the populat ion.

Inspiration for many of the clashes comes from the autocratic princely states. Some of the leading Hindu industrialists have sponsored anti-Moslem activities. Hindu landlords have instigated Hindu peasants to attack Moslem landlords— on religious grounds, of course. Moslem landlords too have proceeded on the theory that tin* strategy of distraction is an effective means of entrenching themselves politically and economically.

The Atlantic Report on the Far East

A little-noticed effect of religious militancy is the weakening of organizations and individuals seeking to deal with the root problems of Indian society. The once powerful peasant unions and tradeunions, in which Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, and others formerly showed themselves able to work together in full harmony, have been especially hard hit.

Leaders like Nehru, who are known in the West for their culture and relative lack of religious prejudice, have been thrown on the defensive. They are going through a process of soul-searching as to whether to light for fundamental reform or to cover up their failure to do so by joining the religious chorus.

Economically the communal outbursts have been disastrous. Destruction of property and abandonment of their land by fleeing religions minorities have contributed to the current food crisis in India. This in turn is complicating the already tense world food situation.

Meanwhile the religious issue is distracting attention from the more fundamental struggle between the political ins and outs and also between varying wings within the Indian National Congress and the Moslem League. It is here, rather than in the purely religious sphere, that the solution of communal conflict is to be found. The thing to watch for is evidence that real action is being taken to institute basic reforms.

Also revealing is the international position of the two dominions. Religions differences are absent in the frontier quarrel between the Pakistan Moslems and their co-religionists in Afghanistan. Support for predominantly Moslem Indonesia comes more from Hindu India than from Moslem Pakistan. The Hindus expect to gain much credit at little cost bytaking the lead in championing the cause of the Indonesians and other colonial peoples in the East.

Solidarity in Asia

While Indians fight each other over religion, the Indonesians have subordinated their religious, ethnic, and other differences in order to wage a common struggle under the slogan of “Merdeka,”the Indonesian word for freedom. This catchword has rallied support even from non-Indonesians.

Of special significance is the “international brigade” of Indians, Malays, Filipinos, Chinese, and other Asiatics fighting on the republican side. In a struggle that is as much political as military, the existence of such a unit gives moral support to the Indonesians while dramatizing their solidarity with fellow Asiatics.

Indonesia splits the UN

The limited action taken by the United Nations in Indonesia reflects the complex division of opinion within the Security Council. France is fully behind the Dulch. The British support Dutch aims but not their means, believing strong-arm tactics to be out of date. Australia is torn between backing up the mother country and looking to her own interests by supporting the Indonesians as likely to provide greater opportunities for trade.

Nationalist China reflects the anti-Indonesian position of wealthy Chinese in the islands by siding with the Dutch. India seeks to fill the position abandoned by China as defender of colonial peoples. Russia plays her usual role of champion of the oppressed by shouting for support of the Indonesians. The United States, cocking one eye toward public opinion and the other toward the oil of the Indies and the Dutch position in the European balance of politics, sees somewhat better with the second eye.

Most Indonesians realize by now that as far as the United Nations is concerned they are largely on their own. Dutch propaganda is playing down Indonesian resistance in the hope that the world will forget, and in the contest for public opinion the Indonesians are at a distinct disadvantage. Their chief contact with the outside world is by means of Morse messages painfully tapped out on a wireless transmitter.

Japan: junior partner?

Japan, with modesty becoming to a defeated nation, offers to accept the status of junior partner. In return for American assistance in the form of loans and shipments of raw materials, Japan is willing to undertake the task of meeting the need of Far Eastern countries for manufactured products.

Already Japan has taken the lead in trade with Southern Korea. The Filipinos, who had hoped to capture 25 per cent of Japan’s pre-war overseas trade, look rather sourly at the revival of this trade. The Chinese likewise bemoan their lost opportunities.

Those who stand to lose from Japanese commercial competition are not the only ones who look askance at a Japanese comeback. Throughout the Far East, generally, ami most especially in China, there is an astonishingly widespread feeling that Japan’s overseas economic revival foreshadows her political and military resurgence.

In China fear of Japanese revival exists in the left, right, middle, and in between, and has become one of the hottest factors in internal polities. The Communists are capitalizing on this fear by charging Chiang Kai-shek with subservience to the United States in a policy dangerous to the future of China.

Further evidence of disquiet over policy toward Japan is seen in the resignation of William MaeMahon Hall as Australian representative on the Allied Council for Japan. Still more appears in the reservations toward developments concerning the peace treaty. Many Far Easterners reason that to get tough with Russia means to gel soft, with Japan.

Slsileiiiiite in Korea

In the case of Korea the United States hopes to muster enough United Nations support to make Russia look wilfully wrong. Our willingness to submit to the will of the majority in such a vote, contrasted with Russia’s refusal to do so, coincides with our position that the democratic thing to do in Korea is to give all groups a hearing in drawing up plans for merging the two occupation zones.

This does not mean that we consider all Korean groups to be democratic. Our dislike for right-wing extremists like Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo, whom the Russians want to exclude from the deliberations because of their opposition to trusteeship, is second only to that of the Russians themselves.

The reign of terror which the extremists have brought to Southern Korea makes it more difficult for us to get the support of middle-of-the-road elements. The latter suffered a severe blow with the assassination of Eyuh Woon-heung, chairman of the left-wing People’s Party, to whom we had turned earlier to offset the rightists. His death on the same day as the murder of the seven moderate leaders of the Burmese government is more than a. coincidence in time.

Both ends against the middlle

One of the most significant trends in the Far East is the destruction of the political center by the political right. The destruction is facilitated by the fact that, unlike the United States, which has a strong middle class as a bulwark of democracy, most countries of tlie Far East are stronger at the ends than in the middle.

The perfect example of this is China. Two winters ago what has since come to be known as the Marshall Plan began to pour money into that, country. What we hoped to do there was to build up the weak middle faster than either end. But out of fear that the left end might build itself up the fastest of all, we inclined a little more to the right than we might have liked. Contrary to our wishes, what got built up most was the right, and the extreme right at that. The left has survived only because it was protected by its own army. The middle has been decimated and survives mainly in so far as it has put itself under the protection of the left.

This is the situation that General Wedemeyer found on his inspection trip to China. With the virtual extinction of the moderates as an independent force, the left and the right have been slugging it out between themselves.

Wedemeyer the turn

After initial setbacks the Communists, aided by large quantities of American equipment captured from ihe Kuomintang forces, have so enhanced their power that Wedemeyer, who is no novice in evaluating the Chinese military situation, concluded that there is no chance of eliminating Communism in China by military force alone. In this conclusion he joined issue with Chiang, who for something like the nth time has predicted the extermination of the Communists in a few months.

Wedemeyer showed his annoyance at this kind of whistling in the dark. In contrast to Marshall, who was always careful to save the Kuomintang face by slapping it gently with one hand while using the other on the Communists, Wedemeyer struck out. with both fists at the lethargy, defeatism, incompetence, and corruption of the government. Although they were annoyed at having their defects exposed, the Chinese rightists are proceeding on the assumption that our hands are tied. They count on our continued aid, not because we admire them, but because we dislike the Communists more the same reasoning, incidentally, on which Syngman Rhee is staging his comeback in Korea.

The hopes of Chinese rightists to the contrary, we are not going to empty our purses into their pockets. Communist propaganda notwithstanding, we are not asking for bases all over the country. Wc are going neither all the way in nor all the way out of China. We plan to continue aid to the Kuomintang at something like the present level in the hope more of slowing up than of cheeking completely the disintegration of Nationalist China.