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The Far East and the Future

ISSUE:  Winter 1943

The Far Eastern War has been in progress since September 18, 1931, for seven of these years intensively. Japan has occupied, more or leas effectively, one-fourth of the old Chinese empire and one-third of China Proper. Although she has not advanced her occupation appreciably since October, 1938, China’s major ports of entry, both on land and sea, have been bottled up; only the difficult and very long land routes into Central Asia and the air route to India are now open. An especially disturbing feature is that China’s military position has depreciated rather than improved since Pearl Harbor. On the other hand, China’s resistance would have been reduced to guerrilla activities long ago but for the aid she has received from abroad. While it is too early to foretell the post-war position of China, some tendencies may be discerned within the country, and we may consider these in relation to the program of Japan and to the contemporary attitudes of Soviet Russia and the United States, the two states which will largely determine whether or not China’s struggle for life is to end victoriously.

The Chinese are fighting for independence and equality among the nations. In this all elements are in harmony. China has not enjoyed a fully independent status for a hundred years. Foreign states have had the right to maintain courts there; to conduct their own city governments in many places; and to keep garrisons and warships in her ports. Since the Washington Conference of 1921-22, however, the trend of Western policy has been reversed. Patently, if slowly, the Nine Power Treaty, which promised to aid China in making the Republic something more than a name, has been implemented. Treaty controls over tariff rates and customs administration have been surrendered; the United States and Great Britain have initiated negotiations for relinquishment of extra-territoriality. A new hope and a new spirit have entered China with this trend. Provincial militarism is passing away; new methods are being applied in business and agriculture; roads, railroads, and air lines are knitting the country together; China is becoming a united nation.

Are the Chinese entitled to independence? This is a presumptuous question; China is the oldest living stale; the Chinese people are highly cultured, sophisticated, physically enduring, and dexterous. Their government is still in the throes of reorganization resulting from the Republican Revolution ; what it will ultimately become is not yet clear; but the trend since 1924 has been toward unity. Their economic order also is in flux; essentially it is a landed aristocracy supported by a huge peasant mass living precariously on microscopic farms or on wages that barely sustain life. Industry has begun to move out of the handicraft stage, but the lot of town laborers is as insecure as that of the peasants.

China has passed through many peasant revolts; the government has taken little responsibility for the livelihood of its people; we are observing such a revolt today though the struggle against Japan obscures the domestic struggle. It is notable that the leaders of the radical movement have been as conscious as Chiang K’ai-shek of China’s danger from Japan and as valiant and resourceful as he in opposing it.

What are we to think of Chiang K’ai-shek and the Kuomintang (National Party) ? He has amply proved his quality as a leader both in peace and war. He is the type of leader that the crisis calls for in China: undaunted, a good strategist, steadying the people’s morale, with a remarkable grasp of world affairs. It remains, however, to be seen what his program will be when he is free to deal with the domestic problem. The Kuomintang is a conservative party, secure in its monopoly of such power as the leading politicians, military and civilian, allow the party as a whole to exercise. It controls appointments to the People’s Political Council, g which is not a parliament but an advisory assembly of a quasi-popular type. The Kuomintang is inhospitable to criticism and hostile to the proletarian movement. A health* ful sign would be the appearance of other parties, free election to the P.P.C., and liberty of expression for political views of a non-subversive character.

Recent American visitors to Chungking have brought back enthusiastic reports upon the morale of the Chinese people. Only a few politicians have deserted to the puppet Wang Ch’ing-wei at Nanking. There is no sign of weakening at Chungking, nor of bargaining for peace on Japan’s terms. There is, however, anxiety lest military aid of adequate amount may come too late, now that the Burma road is closed. If this fear is realized, the resulting loss of Chinese bases will be as serious for us as for the Chinese. We must have land bases close to Japan, and if we lose them the cost of regaining them will be enormous.

We may take for granted that our government understands the Chinese attitude, and is doing all possible, in the presence of other necessities, to satisfy them. Apart from strategic aspects, there is the great importance of keeping the confidence of China. The Caucasian peoples cannot wait until after the war to treat the Asiatic peoples among the United Nations as we treat each other. There is, e.g., much resentment at Chungking over the Indian situation and the failure to take early advantage of the offer of Chinese troops in the defense of Malaya and Burma. The recent utterance of Australia’s premier, Mr. Curtin, that: “We [the Australians] cannot be placed in a special sanctuary while those associated with us are having their territories actually ravished,” sounds the note of common cause and common sacrifice which is badly needed.

The Kaiser’s nightmare, the Yellow Peril, envisaged war between the yellow race and the white. That is not happening. Four-fifths of the yellow race is on our side. If that alliance can be maintained, post-war relations with China should be amicable and mutally advantageous. Whether or not China will deal confidently with Western nations after the war depends upon the terms offered by the West. China will not return to the day of spheres of influence carrying monopolistic privileges for foreign traders and lenders. But she will be in great need of funds and will be ready to borrow in a free market. The Chinese are traders, but they will ask that the Open Door swing out as well as in.

Is the future foreign policy of China likely to increase the difficulty of post-war reorganization? China was at one time suzerain over Burma and Indo-China. Will she demand that these states be brought within her empire? Voices to that effect have been heard in Chungking. China should not cherish such visions, not only because they contradict her own doctrine of self-determination but because she has a huge task ahead in reconstructing what now belongs to her.

What of China’s part in a New World Order? Here it is difficult not to indulge in wishful thinking; one who greatly admires the qualities of the Chinese people cannot but wish to see China assume the role of chief spokesman for the Asiatic peoples; in that role, if we may judge from history, she would be considerate and moderate, provided that the East enjoyed equality with the West. Undoubtedly, on the assumption that the United Nations win the war, China will rank higher internationally than she has in the past; and she will have a correspondingly greater influence. But China will have a very large task to put her own domestic house in order. She will need international assistance in this task. If we contemplate a federated world, in a limited sense, in which regional collaboration will be attempted on a somewhat closer basis than world collaboration can now be carried on, China’s position in an Asiatic bloc of countries will, for some time, need to be an important concern of Western nations.

China never has been averse to co-operative relations with Japan; Chiang K’ai-shek went to the border-line of national disaster to prove that; but she insists on true, not fictitious, co-operation. Peaceful relations between neighbor states depend upon mutual confidence engendered by mutual tolerance and founded on mutual interest and a concern for each other’s prosperity. Sino-Japanese collaboration upon term of political equality could not, under international law, be opposed by Western states. But in law, politics, and morals the latter are upon firm ground in opposing the smothering of a weaker by a stronger neighbor.

In their propaganda for a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” the Japanese make great play of the term “co-operation.” What they mean by this term was impressed upon me, several years before the term was invented, in a conversation with one of the younger bureaucrats who has subsequently vied with Matsuoka as an exponent of his country’s claims to other peoples’ territories in Asia. In October, 1931, a few days after the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, I landed in Japan and called on Mr. Toshio Shiratori, Vice-Chief of the Information Bureau in the Foreign Office. I had met him a year before and had liked him. He had seemed very frank and very loyal to the conciliatory China policy of his chief, Baron Shidehara.

He asked me what I thought of the situation. I replied that it seemed to me to be very unfortunate.

“Yes,” he said, “I thought you’d say that. But we are only doing what other powers have done in other parts of the world. We’re in good company.”

“But,” I countered, “I thought you were a Shidehara man.”

“I am,” said he. “We are following his policy. We’ve only changed our methods. His were not succeeding.”

This brazen misinterpretation floored me for a moment. But I recovered and asked, “What about trying the League of Nations. Japan is a member of the League, is she not?” “Yes,” he said, “she is.”

“Did Japan make any reservation regarding China when she signed the Covenant,” I asked.

“No” said Shiratori, “but we should have.”

Since 1901 the Japanese have given abundant evidence of their miscomprehension of the meaning of co-operation. We find the evidence in Manchuria, in the occupied regions of China, in Indo-China, and elsewhere. Clearly “co-operation” means that the other peoples of Asia are to serve the interests of Japan; that they may participate politically and economically in the sphere of mutual prosperity only if they accept Japanese direction.

The Japanese hitherto have shown no genius as colonizers. They have oppressed the people of Korea. After forty years of Japanese rule the Koreans have no share in their own government, they are economically depressed, and their hatred of Japan is inexpressible in words. “Manchoukuo” is advertised as an independent state. It has a Manchu in the seat of an emperor, but neither Pu Yi nor his ministers and provincial governors have other than ceremonial prerogatives. Behind every Chinese official in Manchuria is a Japanese, pulling the strings that make him dance.

In occupied China, Japan has set up a national and sundry regional and local puppet governments. Her Nanking representative, Wang Ch’ing-wei, is a man of great ambition and long record as a revolutionary of whom it has been well said that he moves continually in one direction but never in a straight line. No power has been accorded to him and but few men of influence have followed him in what the Chinese call an act of treason. The real government of occupied China is the Japanese army command. In the economic realm the Japanese have created two great holding companies, the North China Development Company and the Central China Promotion Company. There are no Chinese directors in either company. These companies furnish capital for and supervise a large number of lesser concerns which have taken over all Chinese mines, railways, bus companies, gas and electrical works, telegraph and telephone companies, cotton and woolen mills, silk filatures, banks, and dockyards. The Chinese owners may participate in the businesses if they are willing to contribute existing plants and accept Japanese management. If they are not willing, the plants are confiscated and they are excluded from the new companies. Education in occupied China is in process of reorganization. Teachers and textbooks now combine to establish Japanese as the second language, to undermine the National Govern-ment, to destroy respect for Western social and political ideals, and to inculcate the doctrine of Asia for the Asiatics under Japanese leadership. There is no freedom of press or radio.

This program is not reconcilable with internationalism nor with democracy. Japanese official doctrine calls for a regionalized world; each region is to be self-sufficing and to refrain from interfering with the others; relations between the regions are slight; within each region a powerful state is to be free to dominate its lesser neighbors. Obviously this is a forecast, not of freedom but of subordination, for the great majority of peoples. It looks toward inter-regional friction and war, besides limiting to a minimum the economic and social relations that by nature are worldwide.

This doctrine is not endorsed by all the able and influential statesmen, scholars, and business men of Japan. The decade of the 1920’s was a comparatively liberal era. The cabinets were headed and largely staffed by members of the two great parties. Parliament passed a manhood suffrage law. Enfranchisement of women was seriously discussed. Labor was free to organize unions and parties. The people showed great interest in elections and young people crowded the parliamentary galleries. Baron Shidehara was the symbol of this liberal period as it was exhibited in foreign relations. As foreign minister he was noted for a conciliatory attitude toward China’s new nationalism, co-operating with the Western powers in honoring the Nine Power Treaty. The era reached a climax in the London Naval Treaty and ended with the invasion of Manchuria.

There is no doubt that Japanese liberalism still exists, though it has been driven underground, and that it is op-posed to war with the United States and to the conquest of China. However, it has never been a formidable rival of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy and it will not be strong enough to make the peace, no matter how the war turns out. By Western standards Japan’s political system is still mediaeval and it will be many years in reaching maturity under the most favorable conditions. We will be sadly disillusioned if we suppose that to defeat the clique now in power in Tokyo is equivalent to inaugurating a liberal regime in Japan. Whatever peace is made and whatever place Japan occupies in international relations after the peace, her government will be highly conservative. The Japanese people, like other peoples, have their own traditions, and their political evolution can be worked out only by themselves.

It is quite probable, however, that in defeat the reactionary oligarchy will seek to make it appear that a more liberal element is taking over and that peace with it can be made confidently. It is worthy of remark that both of Japan’s wars with China began when liberal premiers were in office. Jiujitsu diplomacy, the appearance of helplessness to cover the reality of power: in this type of maneuver the Japanese are past masters. It is not improbable that Japan would enter a new society of nations, if invited to do so. Whether or not to admit her depends not upon the nature of her government but upon her attitude toward the other members of that society. That will depend in part upon their attitude toward her, as embodied in new principles that take account of the necessity for national and international planning and of psychological and racial factors hitherto neglected.

It would seem that inclusion of Japan would be more conducive to peace than exclusion. It may be possible, during the cooling-off period suggested by various students and now supported by eminent statesmen, to contrive an economic and social program in which the most recalcitrant states will acquiesce. Liberal governments of totalitarian states, if mere puppets when the peace is made, would gain strength at home and protection abroad from inclusion. Sanctions can more easily be applied to a member than to a non-member of an organization. While recognizing the repugnance that will be felt to treating enemies and friends alike, if we keep in mind the irresponsibility of peoples in totalitarian states, we should find it possible to deal with the question intelligently.

The peasants and town laborers of Japan are only slightly higher in the economic scale than those of China. They have had no part in determining Japan’s war policy and will have no part in the peace. They have no means of contact with their fellow sufferers in China. Like them they are a patient, enduring mass, to whom a policeman is the vicegerent of the Emperor. So long as they believe that in dying on the battlefield or in working endless hours for a marginal existence they are doing the Emperor’s will, they will not revolt against the war. No one has yet suggested a means of convincing them that in receiving with bowed heads hundreds of thousands of boxes containing the ashes of their youth from the battlefields of China they are not doing the Emperor’s will. While the Russian Revolution bids one be chary of prediction, I am unable to believe that the Japanese people will follow the Russian example.

Perhaps no reader of these pages will need to be reminded that the Emperor of Japan is a political figurehead. Although legally he is an absolute monarch, in fact he is powerless. He is no more responsible for the war than his humblest subject. To bracket Hirohito with Hitler and Mussolini, as our cartoonists and radio often do, is bad political science and bad psychology. Tojo is closer to the position of the dictators and will do for purposes of derision, though Japan’s dietatorship is actually oligarchical rather than individual. It is probable, from what little we know of the Emperor’s views, that he is comparatively liberal. It should be our aim to point out to the people of Japan that the military extremists and their allies in the bureaucracy are prostituting the Emperor and betraying the people. Probably this can have no effect until the Japanese forces have suffered severe defeats. But it will pave the way, whereas condemnation of the Emperor will arouse a more bitter antagonism.

The liberal elements in Japan must be looked to for the type of collaboration with China and ourselves that is embodied in the Nine Power Treaty and the Atlantic Charter. Placed in power by the defeat of the militarist-imperialists, they will be able to maintain themselves only if they win their own people’s confidence by instituting a regime of honest pursuit of social betterment. They will need assurance of international support and particularly of American concern that such support be tangible and considerate. Undue patronage of China by Western financial interests, private or public, will destroy them and with them the slender cord of international co-operation which we may hope to throw across the Pacific at the end of the war. The best prospect of adding new strands to that cord lies in a new order of co-operative relations in which all Pacific states participate as autonomous units.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Soviet Russia was, from 1917 to 1927, a highly disturbing influence in China, both to the Chinese government and to foreign interests. The Soviets at first hoped to win China for communism by giving up Tzarist properties and privileges. Their ambassador openly urged the Chinese to throw off all foreign influence by forceful means. Michael Borodin persuaded the Kuomintang to admit Communists into the party, and once in they tried hard to take it over. Although the peasant revolt at first was countenanced by Chiang K’ai-shek and the Kuomintang, its leaders were trained in Moscow and their armed opposition to the Central Government after it broke with Russia in 1927 engaged the national armies for several years after Japan’s invasion began. Since the settlement that followed the kidnapping of Chiang K’ai-shek in 1936, however, Russia’s aid to China against Japan has been as great as, or greater than, ours; her interest, like ours, is in quarantining Japan, since Japan not only seeks to destroy China as an independent nation but also to seize eastern Siberia.

On the other hand, she has maintained her protectorate over Outer Mongolia and her economic and political influence in the great neighboring province of Sinkiang. There is a basis for future conflict between China and the Soviets over these domains, which have an area of a million square miles.

I doubt that the controversies of which we hear today, between the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist leaders in Northwest China, are being prompted or encouraged by Russia. They are rather domestic controversies. It is true that the Chinese Communists follow the “line” of the Third International. But I doubt that the relatively small peasant population in the areas which they control cares two coppers for that “line.” What the peasants want is land, and if Mao Tse-tung and Chu Teh attempt to nationalize their land there will be trouble. On the other hand, if the reactionaries among the Kuomintang get the upper hand and attempt to return to the age-old program of landlordism, the peasants will fight and will welcome any aid. This situation would open another door to friction between China and the Soviets. But the door need never be opened if the Chinese government follows the program of land and labor reform which the Kuomintang adopted in 1924.

Will the Soviet Union co-operate with the democracies and will the democracies co-operate with it in an international regime? Let it be remembered that Russia was prepared, when the other Powers were unwilling, to apply forceful sanctions against Japan. It seems unlikely that after an exhausting war she will feel strong enough to refuse collaboration. It may be hoped that partnership in a war to survive will promote a mutual tolerance and a spirit of co-operation. The Soviet-British treaty of mutual assistance and our executive agreement with the Soviets for mutual aid both declare that they were made “to the end of laying the bases of a just and enduring peace.” These pledges apply to peace in the Far East as well as in other parts of the world.

In relations with Japan the Soviets have been conciliatory, on several occasions offering to conclude a treaty of non-aggression. The Soviet government gave up a profitable sphere of interest in Manchuria when it sold the Chinese Eastern Railway to “Manchoukuo” in 1935. The existing Russian treaty of neutrality with Japan is in line with Russia’s desire to be free to devote her whole strength to the fight with Germany. This treaty appears to many Americans to be inconsistent with Russia’s acceptance of aid from the United States, as in fact it is. But Russia feels incompetent to fight Germany and Japan at once, and she is fighting our battles in Europe. In holding a large Japanese army immobile on the borders of Siberia she is also fighting our battle in Asia. It is to be hoped that we will be prepared to take advantage of Siberian bases when the long-expected Japanese attack materializes, as it inevitably will when Japan considers it opportune to follow Hitler in repudiating treaty obligations to Russia.

The record of the United States in the Far East will stand inspection. Our interests and our sentiments of humani-tarianism have been parallel motives for our support of the independence of China and the integrity of her territory. This country was the first to recognize the Republic of China after the Revolution of 1911; it also was the first to recognize the new National Government in 1928, after it had overthrown the militarists who had done their best to destroy that Republic. At the Washington Conference this country took the lead in formulating the Nine Power Treaty, which laid down the doctrine of non-interference with Chinese efforts at political and economic reconstruction. This treaty was a charter of freedom for China. Since that time the Western powers have followed the line of policy therein agreed upon.

At the same time we have tried to maintain our friendly and highly profitable relations with Japan. Could this country have gone further to demonstrate its desire for Japanese friendship than it did in shipping oil and metals to her while she was attacking our interests in China and our century-old doctrine of the Open Door? There was, however, as we now know, but one way to keep the peace. That was by surrendering China to Japanese aggression. China might properly resent, and did resent, the restraints upon her sovereignty imposed by treaties to which the United States and other states were signatories. But Japan might not do so. In the first place, Japan also enjoyed the privileges granted by these treaties. In the second place, the interests covered by the treaties afforded a sort of multilateral insurance policy protecting China against aggression by individual powers. It was this protection that Japan actually resented.

The American people have been only slightly aware of the long tradition of our interest in the Far East. The Open Door doctrine is nearly as old as the Monroe Doctrine. It has the same positive ring as the latter in its insistence not only upon commercial freedom, but also upon the integrity of China. Few of us knew that in 1940 the trade of the United States with Asia totalled $1,600,000,000. That amount was nearly twice as great as our trade with South America, only $160,000,000 less than that with our neighbors in North America, and only $435,000,000 less than that with Europe, including the British Isles. Although Japan, British Malaya, and the Netherlands Indies outranked China in 1940, the potentialities of trade and investment in China are greatest of all. Moreover, the United States is becoming more and more interested in the markets of non-industrialized areas. In the period 1936-1938 over 75 per cent of our exports were manufactured articles, less than 25 per cent, agricultural products.

We have been more conscious of cultural activities, American missionaries in China far exceeded in number those of any other nationality. They, rather than the merchants, have acquainted us with the qualities of the Chinese people, and they have aroused our moral sentiments against Japanese vandalism. Our missionaries in Japan have had the courage to urge that we distinguish between Japan’s people and her rulers, a position that cannot be stressed too often as the toll of war increases.

When to political, cultural, and economic interests we add our concern to give aid to Britain and to maintain our access to the rubber, tin, tungsten, and other materials of Eastern Asia, it is not surprising that this country took the lead in diplomatic and economic measures to restrain Japan and to organize a united front of Pacific nations. These measures failed because neither our people nor those of other powerful democracies saw the necessity of sanctions against Japan in 1931, when a united international effort might well have succeeded before Hitler came to power. Thereafter, the United States could count on little support from Europe; but our own people also preferred to hope for a peaceable way out.

Now that war is joined, this country has assumed the role of leadership against the Axis. We are not yet well acquainted with our lines, but we are learning them on the stage. That we will play our part with all our abilities until the final curtain let no one doubt.

Eight published documents of recent date foreshadow our post-war policy. These are the Atlantic Charter, the “Basis of Agreement” which Secretary Hull handed to Admiral Nomura on November 26, 1941, the economic pacts with Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China, and the addresses of Vice-President Wallace, Secretary Hull, and Under-Secretary Welles.

Through all these statements runs the determination that, to quote the Atlantic Charter, there shall be “established a peace which will afford to all nations the right to choose the form of government under which they will live, the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and the as surance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.” I do not believe that these are empty words, and I do believe that the American people will demand that they be not buried under partisanship and isolationism when the time comes for a peace settlement.

We find encouragement to hope for a free China and a liberal international order in the rise of self-consciousness in the Chinese people and in their resolution to survive, in the failure of Japan to discover a Quisling capable of deflecting loyalty to their own culture, in the common interest of the Chinese and the Japanese masses in peace and a decent livelihood, in the continuance of liberalism—now silent—in Ja-pan, in Russia’s common interest with ourselves in control-ling Japanese expansionism, in the likelihood of a more con-fident relationship between the Soviets and the democracies after the war, in the good will prevailing between China and the United States, and in the broad platform of internationalism which the United Nations have adopted. Against these good omens must be placed Japan’s determination to revive the old order of imperialism, the danger of internal dissension in China, the difficulty of adequately supplying | China with arms and other materials, and the possibilities of schism that are latent in resentments over the distribution of American aid and in the reluctance of the great democracies to implement the Atlantic Charter by the abolition of Western imperialism. Let us insist upon this crucial act of self-denial in order that all Asiatic peoples may have the same incentive as the Chinese to believe that beyond the victory of the United Nations lies a new and greater epoch in which East and West will know and respect one another and will reach, in mutual fair dealing, a higher plane of civilization.


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