Xi Jinping in His Own Words
What China’s Leader Wants—and How to Stop Him From Getting It
A CRITIQUE OF U. S. POLICY
NOT long ago, at a social gathering, I overheard a high-ranking U.S. military officer berating the Korean people for their "mendicant mentality." He was deeply annoyed by the inability of the Koreans to find a way to live independently, without always looking to the United States for financial help. He did not see how the American taxpayers could be made to carry indefinitely the burden of helping a poor nation that seems unable or unwilling to help itself. He cited the billions of dollars of American aid that have been poured into Korea since 1945. If this has not made the Koreans self-supporting by now, could there ever be an end to American almsgiving? The Koreans must be made to realize, he said, that they had to get onto their own feet very soon; otherwise continued American aid would only create what one American news magazine several years ago termed a "handout mentality."
This line of argument is by now familiar. As one of the Koreans who is presumably afflicted with a "mendicant mentality," I feel constrained to present the Korean view of the question. First of all, if what we Koreans have been receiving in the form of American foreign aid has been nothing more than charitable handouts from the American people, we have for 20 years been chasing a rainbow. If the American military aid with which the Korean armed forces have been equipped and supplied has been a "handout to a mendicant nation," the Korean soldiers who have fought and died are not even worthy to be called "international soldiers of fortune"-they were armed beggars. Have we really shed our blood and tears, during and since the Korean War, for no reason at all except to maintain the flow of American largesse? If so, I must admit that various Americans are right in arguing that the billions of dollars spent for Korea have been wasted. Of course, those who make U.S. foreign policy do not necessarily think of aid to Korea as almsgiving on an international scale. If it turned out that they did, Prince Sihanouk and the Cambodian people would soon have the Koreans for company. I am not here advocating that the Koreans should join the Cambodians in their political gyrations. It is only because I am worried that such a state of affairs might arise in Korea, and with such serious consequences, that I am writing this criticism of much American thinking in connection with my country.
Is it possible that Americans are so naïve as to believe that they are indulging in almsgiving-that they are aiding Korea purely out of generosity? In the course of two decades of mutual effort in fighting Communism, we had been led to believe that American aid was a token of appreciation and a measure of support for the efforts of an ally in defending this part of the free world against the Communists. We even thought that American aid was a form of reimbursement to us for carrying a disproportionate share in the mutually beneficial effort to resist Communist imperialism. We believed that we were defending not only ourselves but Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and, above all, the interests of the United States in the western Pacific. To be sure, the primary beneficiary of our efforts to resist Communist aggression has been ourselves. But were we the only beneficiary?
We could not have withstood the onrushing forces of Communism solely for our own benefit. We needed the conviction that we were fighting for the entire free world. But now we are given the feeling that if South Korea should go over to Communism, no nation would be hurt, not even the United States-that after a few tears had been shed out of sympathy, the Americans would not miss us much.
There has been talk about "the domino theory" as applied to the countries of Southeast Asia. Do our American friends really think that the same theory would not apply in the western Pacific? Would United States interests there remain unaffected by the communization of South Korea? If Americans do not believe that South Korea is indispensable in the defense of the rest of Asia we had better reconsider our national destiny. In this age of international interdependence, no nation can live all by itself. If a nation with an annual per capita income of less than $80 maintains a standing army of 600,000 men and devotes 45 to 50 percent of its national budget to defending a truce-line against its own divided countrymen as well as against the vast masses of Red China, and does this solely for its own benefit, something is terribly wrong. We somehow had the idea that what we were doing was important not only for ourselves but for others. We considered that the truce-line that divided our country was the common frontier of all the free nations. And since by defending it we were doing something for all the free nations, we expected unqualified support in return.
In order to endure present hardships, Koreans must have hope in the future; if they do not have the expectation that the harder they work the better the future will be, they are dead-living corpses. It is our misfortune that Korea has not as yet had the political leadership that could give this hope and certainty to the people. For this, no one but ourselves is to blame. But on top of this feeling of helplessness, there has been piled the feeling of humiliation that our nation has now come to be treated as an international beggar.
Policy-makers in the United States who may be shocked by my words will of course reply that I have misunderstood terribly "the emphatic commitment" of the United States to stand by its ally, South Korea. As eloquent proof, they will point to various pronouncements of American officials and to the vast amounts of American aid that have been poured into Korea. Unfortunately, what looms largest in the minds of both Koreans and Americans is the dollar sum, not the "commitment." United States policymakers may think that they have made their commitment to stand by the South Korean people plain enough. But to most of the Korean people this regrettably is not so.
The American people may wonder why their foreign aid has not resulted in their acquiring any great number of genuine friends abroad. The fact is that when a nation, however poor, feels that it is assumed to be acting as a beggar, it can hardly be expected to remain a friend. The United States would have done better not to give any aid in the first place; and if it believes that a recipient is developing a "handout mentality," it should discontinue the aid then and there. Otherwise some people may be tempted to try their luck under Communist rule rather than continue receiving aid and humiliation together.
The worst part of it all is that the American people do not intend to humiliate their allies who are receiving aid (at least, so I believe). Nor is the United States unwilling to commit itself in the common defense of the free world. Why is it, then, that the United States fails to convey the awareness of its own interest in seeing that its allies remain within the free world? What they want is not just the dollars but the articulated appreciation of their efforts to preserve the community of common interests. The fact that the United States and its allies are partners in a common destiny is what binds them together. If this fact is not believed by all its members, no amount of dollars will keep the community whole. What is primary, therefore, is not dollars but this mutual appreciation of one another's efforts and the firm acknowledgment of common cause and destiny.
The basis of the partnership must be fully understood. If the U.S. taxpayer, with an average per capita income of $3,000 a year, feels too heavily burdened with defense spending, what is the Korean taxpayer with his $80 per capita income to feel? The U.S. Government thinks it necessary to economize. But what about the Korean Government? One would expect that it would be the Korean Government which was thinking of reducing defense spending and devoting more of its scarce natural resources to economic development. I am not saying that the United States should not economize. If I were an American taxpayer, I would regret the necessity of paying for the defense of the free world and contributing to the economic development of underdeveloped countries; I would no doubt be resentful that the United States is the country bearing the chief burden. What I wish to point out is that in terms of economic necessity the Koreans feel the strain with greater urgency.
Some years ago, former President Eisenhower reportedly justified United States military aid to Korea by explaining that to maintain one U.S. soldier in Korea would cost the United States $3,000 a year, but to maintain a Korean soldier cost only $600 a year. In other words, it was cheaper to have Korean soldiers defend the common defense line than to have American soldiers do it. We are willing and proud to render satisfactory service in defense of our common frontier cheaply. But how cheaply are we expected to do so? Is it a mendicant mentality to expect $600 from the United States? How hard a bargain will the Americans drive?
Since we devote such a large share of our very much smaller resources to the common defense we have come to expect reimbursement for our defense spending in the form of economic aid. Now it is reported that the United States must decrease its economic aid. Is it understood by Americans that in this event we shall have to reduce our military spending to avoid economic ruin? Moreover, have they forgotten what they intimated when they urged the Korean people to accept the cease-fire in 1953? At the time, the entire Korean population was against the proposed cease-fire, not because they loved the war but because the proposed redivision of the country in the name of a truce would neither solve their problems nor bring permanent peace in the Far East.
Following the death of General MacArthur, there was a revival of the debate as to whether he was or was not right in advocating a decisive victory in the Korean War at the cost of extending it to the southern part of Manchuria. To us, the redivision of the country was as shortsighted as the original division had been in 1945 on the ground of military expediency. For that expediency we paid a very dear price, and now we are paying an even costlier price for a second act of expediency.
The peculiar pattern in which Korea's natural resources are distributed is often forgotten. The northern part of the country, which is now under Communist rule, is blessed with almost all Korea's natural and energy resources. The southern part is agricultural, with little industrial potential except a vast supply of underemployed labor. The population there has been swollen by large numbers of people who fled the north; moreover, the rate of population increase is one of the highest in Asia. With all this in mind, the Koreans felt that it would be better to die in the war against the Chinese Reds than to find themselves condemned to a life of slow death. Nevertheless we did not insist on continuing the ugly war, nor did we wish to drag an unwilling world into it. Furthermore, the American Government's spokesmen who persuaded us to accept the unpopular truce promised (or so we thought) that the United States would see to it that South Korea became economically self-sufficient. We did not see at the time how this could be done. We did not think that we could be self-sufficient without the reunification of the country. However, the American officials seemed rather certain of success, and we reluctantly acquiesced in the cease-fire.
To make matters worse, we hear arguments that the two U.S. army divisions now stationed in Korea should be pulled out. The United States Government has emphatically denied any such intention. Yet it insists that it has to economize, and notes that in this age of "Big Lift" the withdrawal of forces to Okinawa or Hawaii would in any case make no difference militarily. The question cannot be viewed simply in terms of military tactics alone. Again it boils down to the U.S. commitment in Korea. An American political scientist once described countries like South Korea, Taiwan, South Viet Nam and others as "military-base countries." If the U.S. divisions are withdrawn, South Korea would be something less than even a military base. It would be a place where you fight, where you do the shooting and killing. It would be not a place fit to station troops but a kind of wilderness, reserved for bombing, strafing and shelling. In short, it would be a place in which to fight a war, but not a fit place in which to live.
In the light of these arguments, do Americans feel that they have made their "commitment" explicit and clear? Is there any wonder that as things stand many Koreans, especially young ones, feel insecure, indeed somewhat desperate?
As a part of its economy drive, the United States seems to be trying to shift a large part of the financial burden in Korea to Japan. The arguments in favor of the "normalization" of the Korea-Japan relationship sound plausible enough. Two such close neighbors cannot continue to be unfriendly indefinitely. Economic coöperation will benefit the South Korean economy a great deal. Furthermore, Japanese participation in that economic development will enable the United States gradually to lessen its over- heavy burden.
In spite of these rather self-evident arguments, the Koreans have remained apprehensive of what would follow "normalization." One reason is the fear that it might entail dilution of the U.S. commitment in South Korea, particularly at a time when Japan is still reluctant to commit itself to a community of interests with South Korea, and when its attitudes toward Red China and North Korea are still very ambivalent. The Japanese Government has been stressing only the commercial advantages to be derived from normalization, thus increasing the fear of the Koreans that the Japanese will take over their weak economy. Another factor militating against improved relations has been the impression given that the Japanese are seemingly to be brought in to do what the United States has so far been unable to achieve. We cannot believe that the Japanese have a magic formula for developing our economy that the United States does not possess. We fear that the inevitable outcome of economic coöperation with Japan is that our economy will become an appendage of the booming Japanese economy.
Especially irksome is the sermonizing attitude of Americans in accusing us of being narrow-minded and spiteful toward the Japanese. They tell us that everyone else has forgiven and forgotten their enmity toward the Japanese, and ask why we cannot do the same. And they remind us that they have forgotten Pearl Harbor and that even the Taiwanese, who had been under Japanese colonial rule longer than the Koreans, have forgotten and forgiven. They also cite as an example the new Franco-German friendship. Assuming for the moment that our reluctance to open up our economy to the Japanese is really due to our animosity toward them for the wrongs they have done us in the past, the fact remains that our experience with the Japanese is something no other people can understand. Furthermore, we hear members of the Japanese cabinet remark publicly that Japanese colonial rule was a boon to us in terms of modernization and that we ought to be thankful for what they did. We are reminded of Mussolini's justification of his conquest of Ethiopia as "a sacred mission of civilization." Perhaps we should have welcomed the Japanese as "champions of freedom, justice, civilization and order," as Il Duce claimed the Ethiopians welcomed his conquest.
I do not wish to deny absolutely the necessity for normalizing the Korea- Japan relationship. But this seems the wrong time for it. Our economy is in such a chaotic state that what is called normalization may turn into something very abnormal for all the countries concerned. We feel that Japanese capitalism is still at the stage where American capitalism was before the turn of the century. We are concerned not so much with technology as with a way of thinking. We simply do not believe that Japanese capitalism has reached the degree of sophistication where the self- interest of the business community is truly enlightened. We have not yet been able to find any evidence tending to dispel our doubts concerning the motive of Japanese businesses coming to Korea. Are they coming to help our economy? Are they so altruistic? Or are they coming to exploit a ready consumer market?
We are capable of understanding that an economic exchange which is enormously profitable to one side may be very profitable to the other also. So long as the economic relationship between the two countries remains purely commercial this may be true. But when the talk is of "economic coöperation," premised on the idea that the Japanese are going to "aid" the Koreans in their economic development, the principle "let the buyer beware" is not enough. Furthermore, our economy is too weak and unstable at present to give us a reasonable bargaining position, even if the whole relationship were to be strictly commercial. We are, of course, aware that American businessmen are not always altruistic in their relations with us. But there is one important difference (so, at least, we should like to believe) in the fact that most Americans do have an enlightened self-interest, reinforced by a conviction that we are partners in a common cause.
Aside from the present disparity in bargaining powers of Japan and South Korea, two things at least must precede any normalization of their relationship. First, the Japanese must acknowledge their indebtedness to the costly sacrifices made by the Korean people in defending the Far East from Communist aggression for the past 20 years. Second, they must state publicly that they are committed to becoming a partner in a common destiny with South Korea, the United States and other free nations in Asia. So long as they do not acknowledge that they belong to this community of interest with the South Korean people, their motive for so-called "economic coöperation" will always be suspect. So far, the Japanese Government has done nothing to alleviate the Koreans' fear of a new form of the old Japanese imperialism. One era of Japanese exploitation of Korea in a century is more than enough.
But the final responsibility must rest with us, the Korean people. American foreign policy is not responsible for all the ills presently afflicting us. If our economy is too weak and chaotic to resist the challenges of the expanding Japanese economy, it is at least in part our fault. If it has not been able to become self-sustaining, we are in no position to claim that this goal is unattainable. And if our politics is permeated with corruption and suffers from instability, that especially is our own fault. As Confucius said, no nation is destroyed by an external foe until and unless it first destroys itself. When the Japanese colonized us in the early part of the present century, it was we, the Korean people, who let them take over our country.
Yet when we remember the destruction, both material and spiritual, wrought by the Korean War and the fact that our cultural heritage is authoritarian and absolutist, and thus stacked against democratic processes, our shortcomings may not loom so large. Tragically, the modernization of Korea started with Japanese colonization and militarism. We moved from an Oriental despotism to another form of absolutism under a foreign power. In August 1945, when the country was liberated from Japanese rule, our life was still largely medieval in its outlook and mentality. Suddenly faced with the task of building a nation that could join the world community of the mid-twentieth century, we were literally overwhelmed by the problem of closing the gap of several centuries in a decade or two.
Also, it was our misfortune that our liberation from Japanese militarism was made possible by the superior military might of the United States. Our first post-liberation contact with Western democracy commenced with a military government and the division of the country. And the ideological war, stemming from the division of the country, finally turned into a fratricidal holocaust. South Korea is the only nation that has had the experience of living under Communist rule even for a few months and then coming out of it to tell what it meant and to take an anti-Communist stand. Our young people learned by experience the superiority of democracy. But their admiration for American democracy has been directed more toward its advanced technology of warfare than to its ideological merits. Our anti- Communist posture has been too military in nature. Our learning about the military manifestations of American democracy has been very rapid; but it has not been so rapid in other ways.
In our political life, we have not yet been able to develop the kind of statesmanship that gives the people inspiration and hope for the future. Great political leadership could give the people a feeling of national identity, a vision of the place the nation would occupy in the world community 10 or 30 years from now. This lack of confidence in the nation's future has stifled its economic development. The people have been unwilling and unable to invest in a future so clouded and uncertain. They have been able to think only of short-term gains. They are without a sense of direction and purpose. The corruption and dishonesty are symptoms of this fundamental sickness.
There is no single, final and encompassing answer, of course, to Korea's problems. What might come close to being an answer may not be an answer at all. But I venture to use two words to describe two intangible commodities that seem to me essential for my nation's future. One is patience; the other is confidence. I am fully aware that these two "resources" are among the scarcest in underdeveloped countries. But I am thinking more in terms of the patience of our allies and their confidence in our ability to achieve finally a viable democracy in our corner of the world. This is even more important to us than to control our own impatience with the slowly rising material standard of living and our temptation to weaken our faith in the democratic way of life. Unlike Communism, democracy does not promise easy and quick over-all solutions for our ills. Democracy can be realized in Korea only gradually; it may take more than a generation or two. In the meantime, we need to be assured by those who have already achieved democracy that it is a possible goal for us also and that it is indeed superior to any other way of life. As beginners and learners, we are naturally very sensitive to the impatience of our allies. There will be more failures and setbacks ahead of us. But we should like to believe that we are making headway, perhaps too slowly but none the less unceasingly. My belief is that this patience and this confidence are the "foreign aid" we need most.