IN THE course of less than ten years, 550,000,000 people in six countries of South and Southeast Asia have passed through the crisis of Japanese aggression, and later the complete eradication of Western political control, and have assumed the full responsibility for their own political future. Of the other countries of Asia which possessed national sovereignty before 1941, China has since undergone Communist revolution and Japan has yet to be readmitted to the community of nations. Only Thailand has emerged from the past ten years with her political and social system virtually unaltered, although she must necessarily be affected by the profound changes that have taken place around her.

In all, more than one billion people have been caught up in political and social transformation in Asia. The processes of change have no doubt reached a more advanced stage in some Asian countries than in others. But everywhere the dynamic growth of new political and economic policies, and new institutions, will continue under the impulse of the nationalist idea and the demand for economic and social reform. Moreover, all Asian countries will continue to be sensitive to the progress of events in Korea, Japan, China and Indo-China where the process of governmental stabilization is incomplete and important political decisions have yet to be taken. To a growing extent the new national governments of Asia, through the United Nations, through regional meetings, through the British Commonwealth, and through the channels of diplomacy, are influencing the course of events throughout the region. Through these channels also the non-Asian world is learning to understand Asia, and the outlook of Asian countries upon the rest of the world.

There is no more important task of international relations than the development of mutual trust and confidence between Asia and the countries of the Pacific, particularly the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and between Asia and Western Europe. The non-Asian Powers are united in their determination to protect their own security against imperialist Communism. In Korea the United Nations has taken swift and decisive military action against aggression from North Korea in defiance of international law. In Malaya the United Kingdom authorities have been obliged to use force against the banditry of Communist guerrillas. These policies are consistent with relations of mutual confidence and good neighborliness between Asian and non-Asian countries. But it would be complacency to suppose that all Asian people necessarily accept the point of view of the non-Asian countries in these matters. The use of armed force to restrain aggression in Asia combines with the constant pressure of Communist propaganda to create strains in relations between Asia and the non-Asian world. If we believe, as we must, that there may be further occasions for the democracies to stand out against Communist intervention and obstruction in the peaceful adjustment of situations in Asia, and even the possibility of United Nations forces again taking up arms against aggression in the area, it is of paramount importance that we eliminate the fictitious or superficial issues which confuse relations. To do so will call for special efforts of tolerance and patience on both sides, in order to eradicate misunderstandings which arise directly out of the history of Asian-Western relations and out of the different processes by which Asian countries achieved their national independence.

The objective of the non-Communist world goes beyond passive adaptation to the changes that are taking place in Asia. International Communism is not passive: its agents move among the Asian people preaching doctrines of national independence, of reform, of social equality, of economic development, and the elimination of the evils of landlord-tenant relations and the other material burdens that weigh upon the people. These are objectives that the Asian people want. They are objectives which only the non-Communist world can help the Asian people to gain. Yet exposure of the falsity of Communist propaganda, the sterility of its promises and the ruthless acquisitiveness of Soviet international policies will not of itself divert Asian people from Communism. The non-Communist world must take unto itself the constructive reformist ideals of Asia. It must associate itself with the dynamics of Asia. It will not be enough for Western countries to approach Asia merely with the liberalism of Western democracy, emphasizing democratic institutions, individual liberty and private initiative as the mainspring of economic life. It would be imprudent to underestimate either the difficulties for the West or the advantages that aggressive Communism possesses in Asia. Communism is an instrument of internal intervention. It works with and among the people. It exerts its influence on the minds and political life of the community by methods which the non-Communist world must avoid at peril of arousing the resistance of governments and people determined to reject all forms of "Western imperialism."


Most of the handicaps under which the Western democracies labor spring directly from the nature and history of the nationalist revolution in Asia. Some examination of the main ingredients in Asian nationalism will suggest how readily a Communist minority can win support and eventual power when it is organized internally and is prepared to use force in pursuit of its aims, and is also subtle in its appeal to the desires and fears of the masses. The same examination will show how difficult it is for the democratic governments to offer to Asia the practical support which their preponderant resources, and their experience in technology and in government, would otherwise permit.

Nationalism in Asia was not solely a revolution against the West, and, indeed, discrimination and restrictions are still applied as between many Asian countries. But it was predominantly a movement against colonial imperial power, and against the status of colonialism. The strength of political groupings and the popular support they received from the people tended to be in direct proportion to the fervor of their demands for independence. Nationalism was at the same time a revolt against what was alleged to be foreign economic privilege or domination. As a result, the legacy of resistance to new forms of "imperialism" has not been directed solely to the Powers which are identified with political colonialism.

A no less significant feature of the nationalist movements has been the objective of social reform. In this may perhaps be found one reason why Communism has gained ground so swiftly in Asia, but has failed to gain control in other countries which have developed economically in the era of liberal democracy over the past 150 years. In Europe and North America social reform has progressed more or less steadily against a background of political liberty and economic individualism nourished by the immense spurt of productive power released by the industrial revolution and, in the new world of America and the British Dominions, by access to abundant land. In these countries Communism is rejected not merely for its enslavement of the individual but because as an economic system it has proved so grossly inefficient.

In Asia, on the other hand, social reform has involved a much more explosive change in the social structure than Europe experienced over a comparable period of time. In Asia the speed with which change is sought, and the political environment in which it is taking place, greatly strengthen the false appeal of Communism. Change means to its people protection from the recurring disasters of flood and famine and alleviation of the poverty which afflicts the peasant, the landless and in some areas the urban workers. It means curtailment of the power of the landlord, better distribution of land and reduction of the disparities of wealth. Change was sought not merely because the existing social order perpetuated what was called "foreign domination" but because, in many cases, it appeared to offer inadequate remedies for the problem of poverty and inequality of wealth. Among those members of the community who have limited education, are without adequate standards by which to judge the successes and failures of the administering powers in introducing economic improvement, and are unable to appreciate the basic limitations in their own technological backwardness, any change might appear to be for the better. At the same time Communism pretends to make political and economic independence and economic reform the main objects of its platform in Asia.

There is no widespread acceptance in Asia of the superiority of free enterprise over alternative economic systems. Socialist organization of the means of production is not a matter of controversy as it is in many non-Asian countries. Under colonial administration, government direction and management of economic resources were widely practised throughout the area. It cannot be expected therefore that Asians will necessarily consider Communist doctrines of economic organization repugnant, particularly where those doctrines are cunningly adjusted to avoid any admission of intended attack upon the private ownership of land by the peasants themselves.

The immense vigor of democracy as we know it lies in a passionate devotion to individual liberty, expressed in political and economic freedoms. It must be admitted that these liberal conceptions find limited acceptance among Asian peoples, used to a social system centering in most cases upon the family unit within the larger organism of a paternalistic government which, historically, has taken a variety of forms of absolutism. Communism thus has certain direct affinities with traditional Asian belief in the authoritarian state as the embodiment of absolute law.

Whether, in the realm of abstract values, the great religions of the East must necessarily oppose Communism is a more complex question. It might be argued that the Asian mind will tolerate Communism so long as it accepts specious promises of relief of human suffering; and that the inconsistency of its atheistic materialism with Asian religions will be of no political significance so long as Communism successfully disavows any intended attack upon religious beliefs.

Examination of the recent history of the nationalist movement leads to the further conclusion that Japanese aggression, and the ruthlessness of the occupation, did little to divert the intensity of Asian opposition to Western influence. Indeed at times the Japanese military successes were exploited as a vindication of Asian denunciation of non-Asian rulers. Moreover, during the period of occupation the Japanese, not without success, used their own propaganda techniques to assuage local discontent with the emotional appeal of pan-Asianism. The Japanese cunningly fostered and at the same time controlled the anti-Western movements, and deliberately set out to persuade Asians that any concept of non-Asian superiority in political, military or economic fields was false.

Stimulated by the rapidity of changes in Asia, the decline in the authority and confidence reposed in the West by Asian people, and the menace of imperialist Communism, Western thinking has in recent years made a tremendous effort to analyze the Asian revolutionary movements. Much has already been written about the purpose which inspires them and the extent to which Communism is likely to succeed in capturing the political allegiance of the people. The friendship of Asia is of supreme importance to the non-Communist Western world. Nevertheless, the West has failed in the main to find the key which will open the confidence of Asia and hasten the assimilation by Asia of the best in Western democracy--liberal institutions, efficient government, principles of economic equality and techniques of social welfare and the technology of production. However much her leaders may deny it, these ideas are foreign to the present Asia. It is also true that the Western countries have so far had limited success in directing to the area, with the willing acceptance of independent Asia, a stream of ideas and material aid, which will compete with the highly organized appeal of international Communism. The success of Communism, but its point of greatest weakness, lies in its ability to disguise its imperialist qualities which, when exposed, will come into direct clash with the idea of national independence. The practical task of the West in exposing the Communist imperialist motive is to avoid all suspicion that the West is competing with the Soviet Union to restore imperialist fetters upon Asia.


Western policy everywhere has been influenced by the ominous character of Soviet expansionism. So long as aggressive Communism, fortified by the existence of the armed might of the Soviet Union, and supported by acts of sabotage as part of an integrated pattern, threatens national independence everywhere, Western countries will be deeply preoccupied with measures for their own security. Out of sheer necessity strategic considerations are of major importance for the West. But the Western world has demonstrated in its association between Western European and North American Powers how military strategy can be blended in a comprehensive structure of political unity, economic progress and military security. This organism, still in evolution, draws its strength collectively from the Atlantic Treaty, the political solidarity of the Council of Europe, and from the Organization for European Economic Coöperation, which is the instrument of United States assistance and of mutual economic aid within Europe itself.

Western thinking toward Asia has undoubtedly been colored by the victories of Communism and by a legitimate anxiety as to the ability of new régimes, deliberately turning away from all forms of "dependence" upon the West, to maintain orderly government and to resist aggression. Western appraisal of the likely course of events tends to waver between extreme attitudes, and it is not surprising that there is some uncertainty in policy. Some Asian leaders hold to the view that the removal of all vestiges of colonialism, and the unequivocal establishment of complete national independence, will of themselves destroy the attractions of the Communist ideology. Communism, they contend, will then have nothing to offer. In what might perhaps be called a middle view it is agreed that indigenous reformist Communism may gain political power; but it will be essentially Asian Communism, devoted to raising the welfare of Asian people and strong in its resistance to domination by Soviet foreign policy.

On the other hand there is a belief that the new nations of Asia stand exposed to the continuous pressure of Soviet Communist intervention, and that their prospects of withstanding it are not encouraging so long as they resist coöperation with the non-Communist world, particularly since an agency of Communist penetration lies ready at hand in the Chinese minorities throughout Southeast Asia. According to this view, political neutrality in the global conflict, which many Asians see as the only condition under which they can apply themselves to the immense task of improving economic welfare, is a dangerous deception. Communist imperialism will not accept a power vacuum in Asia.

Differences certainly exist between some Asians and some non-Asians in their attitude toward these matters and in their respective judgment of the likely course of events in Asia. They may differ also in their judgment of the relative importance to be attached to the various consequences of international action in the area. For example, in Asian eyes the United Nations action in Korea can be judged primarily by whether it achieves a unified Korea, independent and capable of restoring and developing her economic life. All members of the United Nations--Asians and non-Asians--are pledged to that. But not all Asian leaders feel that an important aspect of the events of recent months is the manifestation of a wider principle--that the nations of the free world will oppose Communist aggression by force of arms.

There will be differences of view, as there have been in Korea, over the methods to be employed to deal with aggression and to preserve the independence and right of peaceful self-determination of peoples. There will be differences of view as to the possibilities of conciliation as distinct from the final exercise of restraining force.

These differences are important and sometimes disturbing. But they can be narrowed if the Asian countries and the Western countries together seek consciously to do so, standing on common ground in the form of basic international principles. Within basic principles it should be possible to reconcile conflicts of judgment and less important principles that are bound to develop from time to time. Herein lies one of the great potentialities of the United Nations. The United Nations and its Charter together provide the principles and the instrument with which to begin in the building of the partnership with Asia. The Western countries should constantly reaffirm their intention that, in accordance with United Nations principles, they will unwaveringly support national independence in the countries that have it. The West should constantly reaffirm its encouragement and support for both the people and the administering governments in the territories which are seeking to attain independence. The West will not, however, defer to armed banditry and foreign Communist revolution or any method contrary to the Charter as legitimate means of conferring full nationhood on these territories. Nor does support for national independence necessarily involve support for all policies that are conducted in the name of "nationalism." But the United Nations, and great associations like the British Commonwealth of Nations, are powerful instruments for promoting political understanding on matters where there is real controversy, and for finding an identity of political purpose.

No less important, however, is the necessity for the West to convince Asia that coöperation between them does not threaten Asia's economic independence. This should be a major objective for the West, for economic assistance is an essential element in the relationship yet to be built. It is difficult to state the objective of economic aid, and to implement it, without entanglement in false controversies arising from the emotions associated with newly-won independence and the deceptions of Communist propaganda.

Economic assistance to underdeveloped countries can be so organized as to be mutually beneficial to contributors and recipients alike, in a world that needs greater production to raise the living standards of all countries. It is false to say that economic aid is inevitably accompanied by the surrender of special privileges to the public or private interests of the country affording it.

The Western countries can, moreover, show concrete evidence of the great humanitarianism that prevails in their outlook upon malnutrition, disease and poverty throughout the world. This humanitarianism has been already reflected in the sums contributed by the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and many others to the work of the International Children's Fund, in the support given to the International Refugee Organization by all the non-Communist countries, and in the work of many other international organizations. Deep-rooted humanitarianism is reflected in the vast overseas activities of private charitable organizations in the United States and other countries. It can be demonstrated afresh in the great work of rehabilitation which the United Nations is about to commence in Korea. This spirit of human solidarity should continue to underlie our attitudes toward the people of Asia, and its presence should be demonstrated to them by all practicable techniques of communication and publicity.

Let it be plainly stated, however, that the West is also entering the struggle for the purpose of winning the mind of Asia. The democratic countries should deliberately aim to change the negative attitudes of many Asians toward the non-Communist world, to persuade Asian countries to see the enormous potentialities for the welfare of their peoples that lie in coöperation with the great democratic community of the British Commonwealth, the United States and Western Europe. Wisdom in the use of methods, and an effort of mutual understanding, will eventually bring both Asia and the West to recognize that Asian economic and social development is a common objective for East and West.


The most constructive approach to the problem is for the West to participate, with the consent and encouragement of the governments of Asia, in the process of economic and social development which is part of the nationalist movement. Attitudes on the part of the West which stand in the way of economic reform will be unlikely, in the long run, to lead to any useful purpose in Asia. Sooner or later discontent will burst forth. Constructive policy will offer ready assistance to governments to carry out economic and social programs in ways of their own choice. President Truman made this a feature of his speech of October 17 at San Francisco. After describing the similarity of social objectives that exists between American and Asian people he went on to say: "We are not trying to push blueprints upon them as ready-made answers for all their complicated problems. Every people must develop according to its own particular genius, and must express its own moral and cultural values in its own way."

In deciding the mechanics of economic coöperation this simple statement of objectives needs to be held continually in mind. What is required is a flow of capital to Asia to supplement the deficiencies in internal savings and to provide its governments with the means of financing new projects of development. Private capital can play its part. The foreign capital will be spent on imports of all kinds both to sustain consumption and to provide the equipment needed for a rapid growth in productive output. Asia is rich in manpower, but poor in the capacity of its manpower to produce what it needs for a better life. Asia also needs technology from the Western world, and techniques of economic organization and government administration. But the flow of aid of this kind must be adapted to the tempo of social change which is wanted by the countries themselves and which can be absorbed in their own cultural and political systems. The yardsticks of success will not be the extent to which production of the few major export industries is raised, but the extent to which economic resources are used and bring a general sharing of increased wealth and widened opportunities for employment. Merely to pour into Asia quantities of advisers, for example on the techniques of social welfare as developed in the advanced capitalist countries, will not necessarily lead to successful results. The problem of social reform requires a real pooling of ideas. The pooling can fruitfully take place in Asia itself, the more advanced assisting the less advanced within social systems that are generally similar to each other. In addition the partnership between Asian countries and the more developed countries of the West needs a two-way traffic of ideas which will dissipate our mutual ignorance of each others' philosophies, religions, social ideals and political objectives. In current planning of "assistance" programs perhaps overmuch attention is being given to the one-way traffic in technical and financial assistance, while the advantages of an intake of ideas from Asia are being neglected. This is an area of coöperation where governments have a part to play by stimulation and exhortation. But the channels will be non-governmental--through universities, employer and trade union associations, international machinery like the International Labor Organization, conferences of newspaper editors, scientists and intellectuals in all walks of life. In this way the non-Communist world can present to Asian people the best in its liberal democratic traditions and its sciences.

As between governments, functional coöperation has developed to some extent in the past two years. Technical assistance is being organized and should soon begin to flow at an impressive rate. The United States in particular has provided financial aid to many countries in Asia to help restore the damage done by the war and to begin the long task of raising standards of living. It is evident, however, that financial assistance to Asia has to be multiplied many times before there will be a perceptible improvement in the living standards of an ever-increasing population. The problem is an international one because the rest of the free world needs to be in partnership with Asia, although the material capacity to help in its solution will necessarily be limited to relatively few countries.

From the Asian point of view financial aid must be "without strings." From the point of view of the West this condition must be respected; yet the purpose of aid is to bring lasting benefits to the Asian people, and there will undoubtedly be occasions when disinterested advice to some governments concerning the use of aid would be justified. The problem is to reconcile these two objectives.

Under bilateral arrangements between contributors and recipient governments, aid can often be provided more quickly than under other international arrangements where the administrative processes involve a number of governments and are therefore slower. Yet in many cases bilateralism is not the best procedure in Asia. It is notoriously susceptible to current political excitements in the countries providing the aid. It is the medium under which the contributing government has liberty to lay down whatever conditions it thinks fit. It is therefore subject to a greater or less degree of suspicion. Bilateral arrangements have been made successfully in the past and there will be scope for them in the future. Except in unusual circumstances the bilateral method in Asia is not likely to make it easy, however, for governments to offer guidance, where guidance is needed, as to its most effective use. There is always a risk of incurring misunderstanding and sensitivity against external interference.

For this reason there are substantial advantages in using international organizations--the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and special organizations such as the International Children's Emergency Fund and the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency--for providing some kind of assistance. Within the framework of international machinery, recipients meet with contributors as full equals. They share full responsibility for the laying down of principles and conditions, which are not directed against any particular country because they are drawn up for universal application. Principles are no longer the creation of a single power. Moreover, their implementation is supervised by international rather than by national representatives.

At the same time it is doubtful whether international organizations can be used exclusively as the channel for economic aid of all kinds. The mobilization of large-scale aid for economic development raises, in international organizations, the problem of agreeing upon priorities when probably more than 40 countries would claim the need, in greater or less degree, for external financial assistance. In the present fields of activity of international organization, such as care of the welfare of children, relief and rehabilitation in defined areas such as Korea, and the provision of technical assistance, there are criteria which facilitate the sharing of the aid available. Moreover, the financial burden upon contributing countries has not so far been a particularly heavy one. In large-scale economic development programs, on the other hand, there is an understandable reluctance on the part of taxpayers in the contributing countries to accept a system in which the vote of their government on the disposition of assistance as between recipients carries no more weight than that of any one of 50 or 60 other governments. Furthermore, until the Soviet Union demonstrates an interest in helping organize aid programs for the benefit of the countries involved, it must be assumed that dispassionate discussion of the needs of recipient governments will be subjected to obstruction, manœuvre and misrepresentation of motives similar to those which have become so damaging in the political work of the United Nations.

So far as Asia is concerned, an experiment has been undertaken which seeks to combine the most beneficial features of the bilateral and international method of organizing assistance. The initiative was taken by Australia at the Colombo Conference on Foreign Affairs of the British Commonwealth in January 1950. A Commonwealth Consultative Committee, consisting of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, has since established a Technical Assistance Bureau in Colombo and has prepared a comprehensive report on the development of India, Pakistan, Ceylon and the British Territories in and around the Malayan Peninsula. Careful and detailed surveys and programs for each country were prepared by the respective governments. A program of economic development for each country over six years beginning in 1951 was presented to the Commonwealth Committee for discussion. The programs were realistically directed to bringing about the minimum rate of development which each government considered to be essential if an increasing population was to be offered real hope of an improvement in its living conditions.

In this coöperative work, designed to bring help to more than 400,000,000 people in Asia, will be found an effective partnership between Asian and non-Asian governments. In full equality the Ministers of three Asian sovereign countries and the Asian representatives of the Federation of Malaya and Singapore discussed with Ministers of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand practical ways of organizing programs for economic and social improvement in these Asian countries. All these countries of the Commonwealth have a profound concern in the future of Asia, whether as members of the Asian community itself or as close and friendly neighbors. For the Commonwealth, orientation toward the affairs of Asia is a further link in the chain of events which included the historic transfer of sovereignty by the United Kingdom to India, Pakistan and Ceylon. The tolerance which is an attribute of relations among members of the Commonwealth, their traditional allegiance to common principles of government, and the vital spirit of pragmatism in the British tradition of government and inter-governmental relations, together provide the ingredients of a successful Asian partnership of much wider scope. Already the Commonwealth governments have suggested to other governments in the area that they join in the coöperative enterprise, and preliminary discussions have been held. It is evident that no program of regional assistance in Asia as a whole could succeed without coöperation and material support from the United States and other countries outside the area. These governments are already providing assistance. Thus a successful attack upon the problem would involve a regional inter-governmental arrangement, including governments outside the area which have special interests in it. It would necessarily follow that if governments which have not so far been associated with the planning for the needs of Commonwealth countries decided to participate in a wider venture embracing other countries, the organization would be transformed and would no longer be identified as a Commonwealth enterprise as such.


The struggle for an independent Asia in which the reformist movements are expected to bring about relief from poverty and to advance stable government and democracy will make demands upon the economic resources of the non-Asian countries. Nevertheless, the amount of external assistance required would be considerably less than that which was made available for European economic recovery. Moreover, the rest of the world would receive substantial economic benefits. Europe's commerce with Asia has always been a fundamental link in the pattern of world trade. Growth of a more abundant trade built upon the use of the wasted resources of Asia would contribute a great deal to solving the dollar problem of the world. There is real hope that decisions will be made to throw a share of the resources of the more developed and economically prosperous countries into the struggle. The democracies have the advantages of vast resources, a genuine humanitarianism, and the desire to work for the full sovereign independence of Asian people. International Communism has none of these objectives. The attraction which it exerts for many Asian people can be explained by its successful exploitation of the nationalist idea, coupled with the limited success of Western democracies in reaching the minds of Asians. Through the United Nations the democracies of the world have been able to act against aggression in Asia. The value of this demonstration will be dissipated unless we recognize that, in the long view, the victory to be sought lies in the realms both of material welfare and abstract ideas. In many parts of Asia living standards, already appallingly low, are falling even lower. New governments committed to preserve independence and maintain internal order and security find that per capita standards of their people are lower in some cases than before the war. Because capital resources are limited and productive power is low, the rate of improvement that it will be possible to achieve even with the aid of the resources of the West will be slow. For all these reasons, the development of a full partnership for the economic development of Asia should be a first concern of the governments of Asia and of the world.

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  • P. C. SPENDER, Minister for External Affairs of Australia; Minister for the Army, 1940-41; Opposition Member of the Advisory War Council, 1940-45
  • More By P. C. Spender