Ideas and Dollars in Asia

KINGSLEY MARTIN became editor of the NEW STATESMAN in 1931, and in the intervening years he has made his magazine the most penetrating,caustic, and widely read weekly of critical content in Britain. He travels extensively,especially in Asia,and he here tells us how the United States can again win back the advantage it once held in the undeveloped countries.

IT USED to be said that you could do anything with bayonets except sit on them. Today you can do nothing with nuclear bombs except create an incalculable number of deaths. The story of Germany, with a whole series of military aggressions to its credit; the revolution in Turkey, supposedly the most reliable of American allies; the upheaval in South Korea, an American puppet state since the war ten years ago; and Eisenhower’s abortive visit to Japan — all these prove that power does not convert nations, though modern weapons may destroy them. Khrushchev has grasped this fact and is now trying, so far vainly, to persuade the Chinese that the final war between capitalism and Communism is an ideological luxury that need not be deduced from Leninist texts. The Pentagon may also be convinced by recent events that if bombs do not convert, America must rely on dollars and ideas.

Khrushchev would not indulge in this damaging argument with Mao if he did not know that the future of Communism is at stake. Whatever his other misdeeds and prevarications, he is certainly sincere when he says, “Our supreme aim is to make socialism, as practiced by the Soviet Union, the economic system of the whole world” and “We declare war upon the United States in the peaceful field of trade.” In short, the correct Communist weapon is the ruble, plus the propaganda that goes with it.

In this peaceful war, the Communist bloc starts with great initial advantages. These must be honestly faced if we are to understand why the vast American expenditure on foreign aid seems to have much less political impact than the smaller sum spent by the Soviet Union. In the five years between mid-1954 and mid-1959, Sino-Soviet aid to twenty countries totaled S2.7 billion, three quarters of which was for economic purposes. In the same period, the same twenty countries received $5.3 billion in economic aid from the United States. Thus, taking account only of those countries where there is direct competition between U.S. and Communist aid, Washington gives more than two and a half times what the Communists contribute.

Russia’s first advantage is in having a philosophy about backward areas. The Soviets are not merely fighting a trade war. Khrushchev agrees with the Americans that rivalry in aid to the less developed peoples is the form that the war between Communism and capitalism now takes. There will be general agreement, too, that technology is rapidly uniting the world. But America has no clear theory of how to create One World out of the three great groups into which it is now divided. Every Communist child, on the other hand, is told that world unity is inevitable, that nearly half the world is now Communist, and that when the undeveloped areas have been won over by the Communists, America and its satellites will be isolated and — peacefully or not — overwhelmed.

The Communist bloc has the advantage of being able to act swiftly and decisively as a unit, offering aid where it is most wanted and where it will earn the most gratitude and influence. It can switch to Iceland, Burma, and Egypt and cut off Yugoslavia, Israel, and Japan if it desires to reward or punish. This contrasts with the contradictions and conflicts within the Western camp. It must be added, as a factor understood much more readily in Djakarta and Rangoon than in London or Washington, that the fluctuations of world prices may, at a stroke, wipe out the benefits of capitalist aid, while Soviet barter agreements are not similarly affected. It is not America’s fault that the value of the primary products which the West buys from underdeveloped areas fell by 7 per cent between 1956 and 1958, while the value of the industrial products sold to these areas increased by 5 per cent. It is easy for the Communist to argue that the West takes away all that it gives.

THE Communists have been denouncing colonialism and imperialism ever since World War I; Asians have long been conditioned to assume that Russia stands for anticolonialism, while aid from the West can be given only for imperialist reasons. The new Asian nations exist because the Japanese ignominiously threw out the British, Dutch, and French from Malay, Burma, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The British were quick enough to realize that the nationalist movements in Britain’s former colonies would not tolerate a return to their former status. America started with an antiimperialist reputation in Asia and fulfilled its democratic promises by giving the Philippines its freedom. Abraham Lincoln and Roosevelt were heroic names, symbols of liberation and democracy. America, in the eyes of the new Asia, threw away this advantage by continuing to back the Kuomintang after it had lost popular support and was notoriously little more than a family affair making vast fortunes out of American aid. General Marshall understood this; if he had been able to bring the civil war to an end, the new China would perhaps not have been rigidly hostile to the West. In any case, it is clear that wherever in Asia the new forces of nationalism were supported by the West, the result was to create independent and anti-Communist governments, whereas in China and North Vietnam, nationalism was submerged in Communism.

The new nationalism demanded not only freedom from foreign occupation and domination but also plans to increase living standards, which would in time be comparable to those of the West. It took the West a long time to discover that the new regimes would welcome foreign investment only insofar as it would increase their own prosperity and independence, and that they would not be satisfied with gifts which might feed some hungry bellies but would not help the planning of a socialist economy. It is very difficult for Americans to realize that aid in Asia involves support for a measure of state planning and control which in the United States would be called socialism.

Colonialism is inseparably associated with racial discrimination — indeed, with subjugation and slavery. This is Communism’s strongest card everywhere. Every news item about Little Rock, racial riots in Notting Hill, or Bantu repression in South Africa is worth more to the Communists than a fleet of bombers. Every European in Asia who shows that he regards Asians as wogs or natural inferiors is a Communist agent. Thousands of Asians now go to the U.S.S.R. annually; many of them come away disillusioned about freedom in Moscow, but they are never humiliated or made to feel inferior. In Soviet Central Asia the Asian visitor finds himself at home; in Tashkent or Turkistan he learns that Soviet peoples are encouraged to develop their national traditions, even if they have lost their political independence. Asians are necessarily impressed by the discovery of people very like themselves who only a few years ago lived in primitive conditions but who are now the center of a great industrial civilization.

Similarly, the Russians who are sent to bring aid to backward areas are accustomed to a standard of living not much better than that which they find in Asia. They see themselves not as outsiders engaged in charitable works but as fellow victims of capitalism, sharing in a common task and offering their help to create a new and independent society. It would not occur to them to complain of the food or accommodation, and they are expected to learn to speak fluently the languages of the countries to which they have been sent. It will be recalled that in The Ugly American one of the requirements suggested as necessary for any American about to serve in Asia is that he should master the language of the country where he is to work. Here, indeed, we enter upon a field of the utmost difficulty for Americans. Even the most devoted and unselfish of them take it for granted that their exile is to be brief and that while it lasts they will live largely on specially imported food and in a house with hot water, a bath and lavatory, and other basic Western amenities.

Americans carry their way of life with them. They talk as if it were the ideal for which all mankind yearns. Insofar as it means more food and a better house, they are perfectly right. But much of the life they regard as good seems to many Buddhists and Hindus actively evil. A Burmese who returned after a year in the United States remarked that he felt sorry for the Americans; they spent a lot of money on people like himself, but the more he saw of the American way of life, the less he liked it. The bookstalls in Singapore, Rangoon, and Djarkarta are stacked high with propagandist literature, some subsidized by the Americans, most of the rest by the Communists. The Communist literature describes the West as decadent and immoral; a world in which the rich batten on the poor, where colored people are treated as dirt, and where governments are preparing for war against the Communists and the colonial races. How much of this is read and believed, I do not know. But, side by side with the Communist pamphlets, brightly jacketed and attractive, American magazines precisely confirm Communist propaganda. Here are wonderful pictures of the Hollywood world, advertisements for hotels and clothes, which obviously only the rich can afford, side by side with photographs of strikers being clubbed and Africans being jailed or flogged. Good Western propaganda would show slums being pulled down and black and white children going to school together in the Southern states.

NOTHING has done the West more harm than the late Secretary Dulles’ assumption, supported, it must be admitted, by countless speeches in Congress, that the reason for giving aid was military. I recall a conversation with a Middle East dictator who complained that he was starved for arms from the West. What, I asked, did he want them for? To fight against the Jews and, of course, their Western imperialist allies. Both had to be driven from the Arab world. It never remotely entered his head that his country could be involved in war against the Russians, much as he disliked Communism. The evil he knew was Western imperialism. What small country would voluntarily enter an alliance which could only lead to its own destruction? The Indonesians promptly threw out a foreign minister who made a bargain to accept American military aid, and the Burmese, who had been fighting Communism for twelve years, refused all American aid when “economic aid” became “military assistance.” Nehru has been widely criticized in America for his policy of nonalignment, but no Indian government could have entered into any military arrangement which might again involve India in a world war such as Britain had twice drawn India into without as much as a by-yourleave.

We may say that the Communist appeal to Asian countries has sounded like this: “We were a nation of poor exploited peasants like you only a generation ago; we hired the machinery and technical instruction we needed from America. We rid ourselves of this aid as soon as we could, and we are now the technical equals of the Americans. We do not offer you injections of money and food, which would be quickly used up, leaving you as poor as you were before. We offer you aid to make your nation independent and self-confident. No obligations are attached. We offer our aid cheaply, so that by your own efforts you can become as strong, and in the long run as rich, as we shall be when we do not have to waste any more money defending ourselves against the imperialists.”

If the underdeveloped countries had taken this appeal at its face value and had received no alternative offer from America except aid as the price of military and economic dependence, there would be nothing more to say. The Communists would have won the battle. But the choice is not as simple as that. In the first place, the Communist bloc has not always lived up to its economic promises. The goods it has delivered have often been of poor quality, and more than one backward country has felt that it has been pressured into making a bad bargain with the Communists. It is true, too, that the Communist bloc has not been able to export as much economic aid as it has promised, that China today is itself the largest recipient of Soviet aid, and that Russia must improve its own people’s standard of living. There are, therefore, sharp limits to the available Soviet surplus. But those who have studied this problem most closely point out that economic progress in the Communist bloc is now rapid and that Soviet technique in dealing with backward countries is clearly improving.

A far more important factor is that in technically backward countries Communist propaganda is by no means taken at its face value. Ever since the Russians started to bully the Yugoslavs, more thoughtful and informed Asians have wondered whether Russian aid did not in fact carry hidden strings. Such fears were redoubled in 1956 when the Russians suppressed the national revolt in Hungary, and in the last four years Asians have been increasingly anxious to balance Russian aid with Western aid. It is symptomatic that when delegations come to the West from Burma and other Asian countries, the capitals they most wish to visit are Belgrade and Tel Aviv, because in Yugoslavia and Israel they see the possibility of socialism combined with freedom.

The tendency to fear that Communism may be a threat and not a symbol of liberation has been sharply increased since the Chinese violations of India’s northern frontier. All the Communist advantages that I have listed will be wiped out at a blow if Asian opinion becomes convinced that Communism means aggression, not peace; servitude, not liberation; arrogance, not friendship. There are, after all, eighteen million Overseas Chinese in Southern Asia, and Indonesia is not the only country that fears their disloyalty. Thus, there is a new readiness to cooperate economically with the West if its aid is disinterestedly offered. In India, the key country, anti-Chinese feeling has made it possible for a new conservative party to talk of an alliance with America. But this, I must emphasize, represents only a small section of Indian opinion, and any attempt by America to coax India from the policy of nonalignment would lead to immediate reaction and the rapid growth of anti-American feeling.

All Asia was shocked by the U-2 flight, and American responsibility for the Paris breakdown was generally accepted. Peiping, which had never hidden its dislike of Khrushchev’s “coexistence” policy, saw in the Summit collapse a triumphant confirmation of its belief that the imperialists will never disarm or make peace and that if a third world war happened, socialism would be the victor. To this Khrushchev replied in sharp terms, and Pravda and other Soviet papers echoed his arguments. Leninism, in the Soviet view, can be properly interpreted in support of the theory that capitalism will be defeated without the lunatic destruction of a world war. Thus, for the first time Moscow and Peiping are involved in ideological debate. But only the ignorant will assume that this is the equivalent of, or even the prelude to, a political split. It is mere wishful thinking to imagine that Russia and China are divided in their determination to undermine and defeat the West.

The effect of the U-2 flight on the one hand and of China’s threatening pose on the other is to strengthen neutralism greatly throughout nonCommunist Asia. It was John Foster Dulles’ most dangerous error to regard neutralism as a leaning toward Communism and to assume that economic, military, political, and propagandist aid should be given to politicians like Kishi, who was a war criminal, or Syngman Rhee and Menderes, who represent the corrupt and decadent autocracies of the past. Such tools must always break in America’s hands, since they do not represent the interests or the aspirations of the people. The revolt in Japan is not a victory for Communism, although the Chinese, of course, interpret it as such, and so do some of the less informed in the West.

The demand in Japan is not for a Communist government but for an independent and peaceful one. The same may be said for the whole of nonCommunist Asia. Therefore, American policy should be to support the forces in each Asian country that offer the best chance of popular support and to help them to create the balanced economy that every technically backward country needs for strength and stability. India is the key country; its vast peasantry will never willingly accept the regimentation of the Chinese communes. It also stubbornly resists necessary change. Breaking up great estates into even smaller fragments presents a problem that only cooperation will solve, and cooperation presents a difficult psychological and financial problem. The Ford Foundation’s investigators were mistaken in thinking that India could concentrate on keeping its food supply; if it did, India could not buy the peasants’ necessities or create a balanced economy.

Here, America can really come to India’s aid. It is in a position — as Russia is not — to provide wheat, sugar, cotton, and fats, without which Indian poverty will not be relieved. In this, as in most other cases where large sums of money are involved, the program is most wisely carried out under the aegis of an international agency, even if, in fact, it is chiefly financed by America. The one organization I have never heard criticized in Asia is the Colombo Plan, by which Asian technicians become really qualified to deal with their own problems.

India is by far the largest and most important of the countries in which dollars and rubles compete. The Economist, in an authoritative supplement on India last March, said that the Western nations had to decide whether they were ready to undertake commitments that would “ensure that so far as it lies in their power, India’s third plan will not fail for lack of adequate help from them.” This time there must not be that “sense of the provisional,” of readiness to “bail out,” of merely “helping to turn the next corner” that had been a feature even of the West’s decision to tide over India’s financial crisis two years ago. The comparison is with America’s decision in the Marshall Plan: “The decision to work co-operatively for a real solution, and to stay with the problem until it has been overcome.”

How far is such a Marshall Plan possible for Asia? The European countries that accepted Marshall aid were able first to repair the ravages of war and then to advance to a higher standard of life than they had had before. They even put themselves in a position to give, not to receive, aid, to join in a Marshall Plan for the undeveloped world.

The difference between European and Asian aid is quite simply that, even if the West should now decide to spend the prodigious sums of money which are regarded as necessary in Asia, the countries which receive the money will be quite unable to use it in productive enterprises. Marshall-aided countries had the skill and the knowhow; when the immediate mess was cleared up, they also had the organization and the stability to make themselves independent and prosperous. In the case of Asian countries, the first necessity is to see how each backward area can be developed to a point at which it is able to develop itself. It is useless to vote a lump sum of money and expect countries with no technical experience or social stability thereby to grow rich and happy. The result of such a conception is likely to be what has occurred in Laos, where little or nothing has been spent on the development of the country or the needs of the common people, and much in equipping an army and military establishment. The inevitable result is that nationalist feeling turns against the benefactor, and the army, equipped by America, becomes the champion of a nationalist struggle against American domination. The only people left to be pro-American then are those who, fairly or dishonestly, have made a good thing out of contracts or bribes paid for by America. This does not mean that the country necessarily goes Communist, but that it demands independence although it lacks the economic, technical, and administrative capacity to stand on its own feet.

Mr. B. K. Nehru, commissioner general for economic affairs in India, has written well on this point in the International Development Review. He remarks that “the limitations to economic growth differ from country to country and area to area, and it is by no means always shortage of capital which restricts economic growth.” The first need, therefore, is to create, in the varying circumstances of each country, conditions which make genuine advance possible. It is failure to recognize this, he says, that explains the “irrationality” in foreign aid programs. In order to get the priorities right, each country must be studied and treated as a separate project. The questions to be asked are how each economy is to be made selfsupporting and how its further growth is to be made “self-generating in the shortest possible time.”

As a result of such a reassessment of the needs of each undeveloped country, a plan must be worked out and a sum of money allocated. It must be a joint plan between the West and those in the undeveloped country who are sincerely working for independence and general, as opposed to private, prosperity. The promised money must not be tied by political strings. Mr. B. K. Nehru speaks as if the proposal of the British Labor Party that each Western country should spend one per cent of its national income for this purpose might be sufficient; but the essential is that such a sum should, either through private or governmental channels, flow steadily into the receiving countries.

I should add that one of the great assets, if the West is capable of devising and carrying through such an Asian Marshall scheme, is that there are already all over Asia disinterested experts from America and other countries who have learned what Asia needs, usually from experience of working in United Nations agencies. It is interesting to speculate whether, if the West were to unite on a plan of this scale and push it with the energy that was behind the European Marshall Plan, Russia, which has collaborated in some United Nations projects, could afford to stand wholly aloof or opposed.

The basic mistake of the West is to accept Khrushchev’s challenge on his own terms. We must cease to regard undeveloped countries as fields of battle, economic or military. The way to win in Asia is not to fight a war against Communism or to attempt to create a capitalist economy in countries where imperialism is no more popular than Communism. We should welcome every improvement in the living standards of excolonial countries. Independence and prosperity are good things in themselves. If the Russians have learned to follow the West’s lead in giving aid to technically backward areas, so much the better. The improvement is a matter of rejoicing wherever it comes from. The job is to understand Asian problems and help Asians to solve them. As they grow in strength, so these nations will become less dependent on any outside power. They will be free of Communism; the conclusion is that they must also be free of imperialism. It is their weakness and poverty that are dangerous. They will not accept capitalism; they fear the regimentation and arrogance of Communism. Independent friends are better than unreliable satellites.