The Far East

on the World today


December 1948

A DRASTIC overhaul has long been due in Asia, where the various strands of our policy, instead of being twisted into a strong rope, have become dangerously snarled. It is essential for us to differentiate and coordinate those policies which we channel through the United Nations, those which we handle outside of the United Nations but in regional association with other states, and those which we handle on our own.

In Korea, the Russians have confronted us with the makings of a Kuomintang-Communist situation with variations. As in China, they base their policy on confidence in a pro-Russian regime which will, they think, be able to make headway against an American-backed regime. They have begun to withdraw their troops, and will complete their evacuation by January, thus timing the crisis for the new Administration in Washington.

In a civil war the North Koreans would probably, like the Chinese Communists, be able to supply themselves in the main from their American-armed opponents. Most Koreans with combat experience against the Japanese are in the Russiantrained forces. In the South, where it is no secret that we supported the Syngman Rhee government only with many misgivings, the armed forces have attained merely a police level of training, not a military level. We are in fact backing a regime which is not nearly the going concern that the Kuomintang was in China in 1945, when Japan fell.

Our policy in Korea, moreover, is at variance with our policy in China. We make no gestures toward the United Nations in supporting the Kuomintang; but at least this government is not of our manufacture, and our support of it goes back before the crisis with Russia, and therefore, though involved in this crisis, is also independent of it.

In South Korea, on the other hand, the government has no relation to anything except the crisis with Russia; it was put together by us, admittedly as a makeshift, as part of the policy of stopping the spread of Russian influence through Asia. Yet in this case we are endeavoring to use the United Nations as a buttress for our support of the Syngman Rhee regime.

The Kremlin, scoring a strong propaganda point by announcing the withdrawal of Russian troops from North Korea, challenges us to do as much in South Korea. Our riposte is that the presence of troops is only “one aspect" of the problem of the future status of Korea, which must be decided not bilaterally by us and Russia, but by the United Nations. If civil war breaks out after the Russians have gone and while we remain, we shall have difficulty in getting from the United Nations a form of mandate for intervention which will satisfy the public opinion of the world.

Japan: workshop of Asia

Next door to both China and Korea, in Japan, we operate on a wholly different footing. Here the United Nations has no standing. The allies who helped us defeat Japan do have a standing, both in the Far Eastern Commission in Washington and in the Allied Council in Tokyo; but it is an ineffective standing. All real power, both to execute policy and to make policy (by “interpreting “ directives from the Far Eastern Commission), is concentrated in the hands of General MacArthur, as our proconsul. Our position in Japan is immensely strong, both in military occupation and in the control of an administration which, in return for our support, is much more eager to oblige than the administration of either Greece or China. Here also, however, there are decisions which will have to be made not by General MacArthur but at the level of the White House and the Capitol.

Chief among these are the decisions affecting long-range policy without which we cannot integrate Japan, as the “workshop of Asia,” with the economic hinterland in Korea, China, and Southeast Asia which Japan no longer controls. We face difficulties, in working out any such integration, which have not yet been fully realized by either the political planners, the strategic planners, or the economic planners. For nowhere in Japan’s old imperial hinterland is our strength so deeply rooted or so evenly developed as the strength that Japan itself was once able to bring to bear.

Throughout this area where Japan could proceed direct ly from decision to execut ion, we must advance by a three-stage procedure. First we must make policy decisions — and these have not been thought out nearly far enough ahead. Then we must negotiate political agreements — and for these the machinery, in many countries, is woefully shaky. Only then can we come to economic implementation — and for this, in many cases, we cannot use the old Japanese connections and do not have an experienced personnel of our own.

Anyone seen any Japanese democracy?

The Japanese themselves, sensing that we have not planned with certainty and in detail the deployment of our future policy, and seeing no logical cohesion between our plans for Japan, so far as they have been announced, and our plans elsewhere in Asia, have put in only halfhearted licks on the “spiritual revolution” which General MacArthur has proclaimed on their behalf.

After three years of American occupation, there is no Japanese democracy which has any survival value of its own. In both parliamentary procedure and administration the new leadership, freely and democratically elected, drags its feet and looks over its shoulder, waiting at every step to be prodded by SCAF; and it is already riddled with financial scandals.

With democracy lackadaisical, the Russians work like beavers to foster not simply Communism, but the class-consciousness of the trade-union members and the feeling of class solidarity among workers. The tactics of the Japanese Communists are not winning victories, but they are gradually hammering a sharp political cutting edge onto the ”straight ” trade-unionism which we would prefer. There is a real danger that the ideology cultivated by Russian propaganda may in the long run naturalize itself and come to seem more genuinely Japanese than the somewhat perfunctory democratic observances thus far cultivated by SCAF.

No coördination

In colonial Asia we have been operating on assumptions, and under forms of political association, which differ from those governing our procedure in China, Korea, or Japan. At the topmost level of policy planning in Washington there has been a failure to coordinate what we do in Southeast Asia, and why we do it, with what we do and why we do it in either China, Japan, or Korea.

American policy in Southeast Asia is primarily governed not by direct involvement, as in Japan, nor by moves to align the United Nations on the American side against Russia, as in C hina. The basic association is outside of the United Nations, with those Marshall Plan countries of Western Europe that have colonial interests.

The Marshall Plan itself is outside of the United Nations; and Indo-China, Indonesia, and Malaya mean raw materials and dollar income for France, Holland, and Britain if they can be subdued, while on theolher hand the attempt to subdue them is one of the most serious drains on American aid to Western Europe.

It is therefore not surprising that there is a growing conviction in Southeast Asia that the United Nations Good Offices Committee in Indonesia, participated in by the United States, Australia, and Belgium — a country sympathetic to Holland because of its own vast colonial interests in the Congo — is a device for preventing more effective action by the United Nations, rather than one for increasing Its authority.

Indonesia: key to the Southeast

Indonesia is now the key country in Southeast Asia. The different strands of American interest there have not yet been coordinated, but they must be if American policy is to be made effective. It is urgently necessary in order to protect a flank vulnerable to propaganda — to clarify the relationship between our position as a member of the United Nations and of the Good Offices Committee, and our position as an interested party, because of our support for Holland through the Marshall Plan,

Indonesia is also a key country because the interplay of nationalist politics there has become much more complicated than in Indo-China, Malaya, or even Burma. Finally, Indonesia is of unique importance in Asia as a count ry w here the Communist movement is led by an exile who has returned from Russia since the war, and who, because he has returned so recently, indisputably represents the spread of the Cominform pattern to Asia.

Indonesia is different in this respect from Korea, where the Communist regime was installed under Russian military occupation, and from Indo-China, where the Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, resembles Tito of Yugoslavia in having begun to operate during the war and in having built his own political and military prestige from the ground up without Russian aid.

What kind of Communists?

There is no problem more difficult than the analysis of the true relationships between Russian Communism which operates at home in Russia, Cominform Communism which operates outside of Russia but in more than one country at a time, and the kind of national Communism which operates primarily or exclusively in its own country.

Ideas now widely current both among people in Washington and among people who hope to get to Washington may hinder clear thinking and a fresh approach to these problems. The most prevalent of these ideas has been succinctly expressed by Commander W. T. Greenhalgh of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Washington, who has been quoted in the press as follows: —

“As soon as the American policy of containment began to stop Communist penetration in Europe, the Soviet Cnion took advantage of our concentration upon Europe and our comparative neglect of the Orient by expanding its Far Eastern activities.”

This analysis contains the kind of mistake that a boxer makes when he thinks that his opponent is shifting his weight to his left foot in order to hit with his right hand, when in fact he is about to come down on his right foot and throw a left hook. It is not Russia’s attention that switches back and forth between Europe and Asia, but ours. And while in some instances, as in Korea, it may be a Russian move that draws our attention back to Asia, in other countries there are men of political thought and action who are quite capable of timing their own moves.

A check on the calendar shows that in China major Communist thrusts have been made, not necessarily when the Russians were checked or stopped in Europe, but simply when the concentration of our efforts on Europe would make it difficult for us to act vigorously on new decisions in China. Comparable moves can be studied elsew here in Asia.

What makes the situation in China precarious, and the success of our support for the Kuomintang government doubtful, is not the “tragic neglect” of which Thomas E. Dewey accused the Truman administration during the campaign, but the fact that the Russians have for three years been able to neglect the Chinese Communists with impunity.

If the Communists owed their successes to handouts from Russia as handsome as those we have given Nanking, our problem would be serious. But Washington has been able to identify virtually no aid since the Russians turned over dumps of Japanese arms three years ago. The Chinese Communists have been winning on their own, and that makes the situation much more serious.

Political maturity in Asia

We are now contending, in fact, with a rapidly increasing political proficiency all over Asia. The nationalist who is lighting against odds, whether he is a Communist or not, has learned that if he heightens the crisis at the moment when the friends of t he count ry he is fight ing have their hands free, he will bring trouble down on his own head. At such times, therefore, he stays on the defensive; but when the situation elsewhere is such that the country against which he is fighting will find it difficult to get supplies or reinforcements in a hurry, he jumps to the offensive and hits hard. We overestimate the Russians, and underestimate Asia, if we attribute the whole strategy of timing to the Moscow high command.