The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
Seen from a certain distance, China-we speak of the China Mainland, the People's Republic of China-looks to some like the sleeping beauty now waking up to the modern world; to others she may look like a monster preparing to swallow Asia or half of the world. Many see in Mao the symbol of all that is new and fresh, the man who dared to destroy his own establishment and let loose the red guards as rebels.
Seen from close at hand, China looks very different, neither a sleeping beauty nor a monster-and where are the red guards?
It is now fashionable to say that Peking is returning to normality in external relations. There are indeed some signs of greater pragmatism in dealings with other nations. The absolute worship of Mao as the head of world communism is no longer the condition sine qua non for friendly relations with China that it was, or seemed to be, during the cultural revolution. Yet even this principle was never applied in full rigor. Even during the cultural revolution, Rumania, with its relatively independent attitude toward Moscow, was always admitted to the favors of Peking without passing any examination in Mao worship. On close scrutiny, one could see that the fundamental condition was not positive acceptance of Mao as a world leader but something negative-nonacceptance of Moscow. Relations with the European communist countries other than Rumania and Albania were distant before, during and after the cultural revolution, and they are still distant. The only exception was made in favor of Dub?ek's régime in Czechoslovakia, and that not because the Dub?ek régime was taking a more liberal path but because it seemed to be weakening the authority of Moscow.
Geographical nearness puts relations with North Vietnam and North Korea into a different category. During the cultural revolution relations with Pyongyang were definitely bad, and Peking did not hide her disapproval of Hanoi's sitting down with the enemy at the negotiating table in Paris; Vietnam, however, was an arena in which Peking could compete with Soviet Russia.
The restoration of closer relations with North Korea was one of Chou En- lai's masterstrokes. A prominent emissary from Pyongyang arrived in Peking at the very last moment, half an hour before midnight on September 30 last year, the eve of the National Day. Chou En-lai, who was entertaining foreign delegations at dinner that evening, dashed to the airport to receive him. On the following day, the Korean stood next to Mao in the parade. In spring this year the North Koreans turned down a request from Soviet Russia for coöperation in a committee with the Japanese (who are coöperating closely with South Korea). A few days later Chou En-lai arrived at Pyongyang, and a communiqué was issued which, though carefully avoiding mention of the Russians, with whom Pyongyang does not want to break her ties, contained a common declaration against the United States, and especially against what was called Japanese militarism and Japanese imperialism.
The other masterstroke of Peking, due undoubtedly to Chou En-lai, was the "capturing" of Prince Sihanouk, whose honorific reception in China stirs up memories of similar honors paid many years ago to the Dalai and Panchen Lamas. With Sihanouk in the hands of Peking, China entered the geographic and political scene that Hanoi claims as its own.
For Peking, this was a pragmatic policy. It reflects her foresight and her worries about what may happen in Asia after an American disengagement. These moves, north and south, are also serious blows to Russia, and prevent the establishment in Indochina of a communist régime unfriendly to China.
In many other ways, however, Peking's foreign policy is far from pragmatic. Take its relations with the non-communist Asian countries. There is hardly any Asian country that would not welcome normal relations, or at least some kind of modus vivendi, with Peking. Yet Peking, instead of pursuing an elastic policy, is rigidly abusive whenever it speaks of the heads of states, whether of India, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Indonesia or Japan. The only countries in Asia (besides the two communist countries) with which Peking maintains any semblance of friendly relations are Pakistan and Afghanistan. The main interest of Peking in Asian countries lies in fomenting subversion and revolution. Not much of a secret is made of this: reports on the revolutionary activities of the pro-Peking groups in India, Burma and Thailand are regular features in the People's Daily.
The slowness with which the normalization of foreign policy is proceeding is exemplified in the history of Peking's diplomatic representatives. In 1966 all ambassadors but one were recalled to Peking, and no successors were sent to fill their posts until last year, after the party congress. Even then ambassadors were sent only to countries considered friendly, altogether 20 out of 47; the other embassies are still headed by chargés d'affaires. Peking seems to be aware that this is not normal and avoids revealing it to the public at home. The root of this is indecisiveness in Peking. China has no minister of foreign affairs, an embarrassing situation for foreign embassies in Peking when occasions arise demanding contact with the minister. During the cultural revolution, Premier Chou En-lai lost many of his friends, cabinet ministers whom he tried in vain to save. But his right-hand man, his foreign minister, Ch'en Yi, survived. In 1969 Ch'en Yi ceased to carry out the duties of foreign minister. For a time it seemed that Li Hsien-nien, another veteran of the revolution and a former minister of finance, would take the post; but the position of Li Hsien-nien remains uncertain. The curious vacillation of Peking's foreign policy between pragmatism and "people's war" and her inability to name ambassadors abroad or even to appoint an acting foreign minister mirror the unsettled situation at home.
The situation inside China is utterly different from that of a few years ago, and observers of the China scene have the feeling that the methods used before the cultural revolution are no longer valid. The reason is not the scarcity of information coming out of China; information was almost as scanty in some periods before 1966. The reason, not grasped by all, is that the country is no longer the unified country it once was. A few years ago it was enough to study the directives issued by Peking; it could be assumed with fair certainty that orders from the center would be carried out in the provinces. This is not true today, when Peking is ceaselessly complaining about lack of implementation, about "words not followed by deeds." It might be thought that now, with the military in charge of the administration of the country, discipline and strict unity would have returned; but this has not happened. Today it is necessary to follow the attitudes and the development of each of the 29 provinces and equivalent administrative areas. They react in different ways to orders from Peking.
To understand why this is so, some of the consequences of the cultural revolution must be examined more closely.
To begin with, the Republic has no president. Legally Liu Shao-ch'i could be replaced only by the National People's Congress. The last congress meeting was that held in 1964 and no new people's congress is in sight. Last year a cable was sent to Vietnam signed by the aged and decrepit Tung Pi-wu. Tung is one of the two vice-presidents of the Republic, but he signed the cable as "acting president." This, however, was not repeated. The next time he was designated as vice-president only. The other vice- president, Soong Ch'ing-ling, widow of Sun Yat-sen, is still alive and appears occasionally, but she performs no official acts.
On the National Day, October 1, 1969, a list of the names of those present was published. Many on the list were unknown persons. They were described as men in responsible positions in the State Council (the Cabinet) and the Party Central Committee itself, as "military representatives, responsible cadres, and representatives of mass organization" without distinction and with no indication of who is in charge of what.
Three important bodies-the police, the prosecution and the courts-took Liu Shao-ch'i's side in the cultural revolution. The president of the Supreme Court committed suicide; his colleagues disappeared from the political scene. Since 1966 no report has appeared on the functioning of the prosecution or of the courts, if they are still functioning at all. It is known that the leaders and most of the staff of the police were disbanded and that the police force was taken over by the military. There is no sign of any unified nationwide organization of public security. The new public security organs have different names in different provinces, though all are auxiliary military forces under the control of the regional military authorities. These differences seem to indicate that, even within the military, unity is imperfect. Further, a great number of formerly flourishing organizations have perished. The People's Yearbook used to carry a long list of national organizations-organizations of students, of youth, of women, and specialized organizations for science and culture. None of these exist today.
There is a curious political vacuum in Peking. Most of the orders that appear are concerned with a single subject, the pursuit of those opposed to the new order, i.e. the political purge, which since 1967 has been called "tou-p'i-kai" "fight, criticism, change." In April 1970, on the first anniversary of the Ninth Party Congress, it could still be said, in the leading article of Red Flag, the official organ of the Central Committee, that the petty bourgeois were deliberately confusing the distinction between the proletarian and the bourgeois class. It said that they wreck what is known as the revolutionary discipline, they want freedom, and, worst of all, these men, the class enemy, do their best "to split the revolutionary ranks and wreck the proletarian dictatorship."
The pursuit of the "class enemy" is being taken seriously; last winter news of public executions was broadcast in China. People in Hong Kong, though more interested in watching dollars and cents than in watching the mainland, could not fail to notice a public execution that was carried out in April just across the British border. It is nevertheless a constant theme in Peking that the local authorities are loath to continue the purge, that they even condone the misdeeds of the class enemy. The regional authorities are being encouraged not to relax what in classic communist terminology is called "class vigilance."
It is very odd to find that although the military took over the civilian administration in the beginning of 1967, even now, three years later, the fight against resistance is still the main theme of the régime. Resistance does not mean armed bands hiding in the obscure corners of the country, though there have been rumors of such bands in mountainous areas. The "enemy" who are the main objects of the great pursuit are to be found in the newly established administrative organs, the revolutionary committees themselves.
There are revolutionary committees at every level, from villages up to provinces. At first these revolutionary committees were described as temporary organs, but they have become permanent administrative bodies. The heads of revolutionary committees in most of the provinces and in all important counties, factories or other organizations, are normally soldiers; where the head is a civilian he has at his side a military representative or a military aid-group. A revolutionary committee consists of three elements: soldiers, former party cadres, and representatives of the revolutionary mass organizations that came into being during the cultural revolution. The three do not blend well.
The former local party leaders are usually awkwardly placed. Many of them have suffered at the hands of the red guards; a great number of the cadres are still in reform schools and their future is bleak and uncertain. Even those who have been reëmployed are now subordinate to ignorant soldiers. These men, formerly leading local cadres, are little inclined to take an active part in the new administration. The constant complaints raised against them are that they drag things out, refuse to take decisions and sabotage higher orders, that they are scared, afraid to act, afraid to take a stand. In the years before the cultural revolution they carried out faithfully all orders coming from above; later they suffered for this fidelity. Now they are afraid that if there is another change they will be blamed for having carried out the orders of the present régime. Recognition that a change may come is in the air; the ominous phrase, "pien t'ien" "change of heaven," crops up not infrequently. This ancient phrase was always symptomatic of imperial decline and of expectation of the change in the mandate of heaven that would lead to the fall of the reigning dynasty.
The representatives of mass organizations in the revolutionary committees are even more unstable elements. Many quarrelling, and now illegal, mass organizations have contrived to survive, though it is hard to guess how. When their leaders are taken into the revolutionary committees they consider themselves representatives of their groups and use such little power as they have to strike at rival organizations. These organizations were to have been suppressed in the second half of 1968. Millions of students, former red guards, were sent to the villages, to disappear in the endless loess of the gray countryside of China, and the unrest today is found chiefly among young industrial workers.
We are badly informed about the present alliances among these refractory youths; there have been many transformations since the formation of the rebel groups three years ago. According to some reports, when they are suppressed they reappear again in a different form. Their existence is known only from what is written against them. It is alleged that they are asserting their power and resisting the reconstitution of the communist party. A report of January 18, 1970, from Honan quoted them as saying that if they were not taken into the new party organization they would have recourse to passive resistance and "raise the red flag to oppose the red flag." A Shanghai broadcast on January 11 said: "In our ranks there are still comrades who say: We wrought the victory of the revolution; we took over power without the leadership of the party'."
The ruling body in the revolutionary committee is therefore the military, though in a communist country the party should be the paramount power. Ever since the second half of 1967 the official policy has been that the communist party, destroyed by the cultural revolution, must be reconstituted. The party organizations within the armed forces were never destroyed. On the contrary, it was they, the forces of Lin Piao, that destroyed the civilian party machinery, the basis of Liu Shao-ch'i's power. To a great extent this was the essence of the cultural revolution. The communist party, however, is now to be reconstituted.
In April 1969 a National Party Congress was convoked despite the fact that the party organizations no longer existed in the provinces. Not till the end of last year did the reorganization of the party begin effectively, starting from the lowest cells. The next step should be the reëstablishment of the party committees in the 2,000 counties. Hunan province, in this respect a pioneer province, has 11 (out of 86) counties that have established their county party committees. Heilungkiang held a great celebration when its first county established a party organization this year; but the other 62 counties in the province did not follow suit. Heilungkiang, on the Russian border, was the scene of the March 1969 Sino- Soviet border clashes.
The reconstitution of the communist party is then a slow process. Not a single province has yet a provincial party committee, although in several provinces the first nuclei of the communist party exist in the revolutionary committees. Since the provincial revolutionary committees are led by the military, it may be assumed that the military leaders of the revolutionary committees are in these party nuclei. Several reports have said openly that in the countryside the military are in charge of reorganizing the civilian party.
It is difficult to imagine how this situation will evolve. In principle, the communist party should be above the military. But will the military yield power to a nonmilitary party organization? It may be argued that once before, in 1949, the civilian communist party grew out of the military. However, the situation in 1970 is very different from that of 1949. During the cultural revolution the party organizations suffered an all but mortal blow. The new Marxist doctrine and even the selection of the Thoughts of Mao come from the military, and a great effort is now being made to put the whole nation on a military footing, something unheard of in the early fifties.
Village organizations, as well as schools and factories, are expected to copy the methods and habits of the army administration, and a number of organizations have been divided, military style, into battalions, companies, platoons and sections. If this spreads, then China, with or without the communist party, will become an ocean of military barracks. In fact, this militarization of the civilian population has not gotten very far in most places. Orders are still being issued in China but they are not being carried out. Neither the militarization of the country nor the reconstruction of the communist party is going ahead with the expected speed.
The provinces appear to respond in different ways to the orders-"combat calls" as they are now called-of Peking. The responses are so different that the Peking press prefers to say nothing about some major events in the provinces, so that the reader of the national press may not have any chance of detecting that Peking's orders are not being carried out.
Before and after the National Party Congress of April 1969 several provinces held provincial party congresses of a kind, gatherings of party members from the provincial revolutionary committee; but half of the provinces have held no provincial party meetings at all. Provincial congresses of other kinds have been held, congresses of activists, or, to use the official title, "provincial congresses of activists in the living study and living use of the Thoughts of Mao Tse-tung." Again only about half of the provinces and of equivalent areas have held such meetings, usually mass meetings of thousands of selected soldiers, workers and peasants; the middle class and the better-educated people are not considered politically reliable. These provincial activist congresses were modeled on similar congresses held in the army.
To the provincial congresses of party activists the army has added a new type of congress described in jargon as the congress of the "four-good and five-good." This phrase goes back to the early sixties when Lin Piao introduced emulation among army companies for preëminence in four qualities, and among soldiers for preëminence in five-the first of both the four and the five always being excellence in the practical application of the Thoughts of Mao. It has been decided that this method, long in use in the army, must now be applied to the civilian population, but so far, despite much talk about the four-good and the five-good, only two provinces, Kiangsi and Hunan, have held four-five-good congresses, and even these were held jointly with the activists' congresses.
The distinction between an activist and a five-good man is subtle, but it exists. To grasp it, recourse must be had to the esoteric magic of the China watchers (a tiresome nickname: most of the "watchers" can only read about China and listen to it; what they cannot do is to watch). This esoteric science reveals that the "living study and living use of the Thoughts" emphasizes the Thoughts of Mao, whereas the four-five-good is the invention of Lin Piao himself and is a direct tribute to him. The obvious inference is that slowness in introducing his formula is a symptom of passive resistance.
Lin Piao is the successor-designate and his name is written into the new party constitution. After living in profound obscurity for many years before his triumphant emergence in 1966, he now seems impatient to take over, without waiting for the mantle to fall upon him, or upon somebody else, upon the death of Mao. Expressions of loyalty to him, or their absence, are important indicators for the future.
The China student scrutinizes various manifestations of loyalty in the provinces. Some provinces, for example, exalt Mao and rarely mention Lin Piao. Other provinces praise Lin Piao ostentatiously. Others again divide their homage equally and always mention the two names together. This is interpreted as showing that there are different grades of loyalty in the various provinces, and that the regional leaders, mostly men from the military, may differ in their political alignment, some of them being outright supporters of Lin Piao, and others under the guise of wholehearted devotion to Mao resisting Lin Piao's ascent to full power. All this may seem over-subtle, but the regional leaders cannot be expected to take an open stand pro or contra. The contrasting actions of the provinces, the variety of speeds in implementing directives from above, the slowness of the whole process of consolidating the new régime, are facts that cannot be denied and should not be ignored.
To his scrutiny of these hard realities the scrutinizer may add an examination of eloquent symbols. Who, for instance, is now being described as exercising command of the People's Liberation Army? The formula in use for a time was that the PLA had been founded by Mao and was under direct command of Lin Piao. In connection with the celebration of the National Day last year, a significant change was made. The new formula was: Under the direct command of Chairman Mao and Vice-Chairman Lin. There has been no official explanation of why or under whose influence the change was made. It is revealing, however, to find that the new formula has been introduced in some provinces and not in others, and that there are provinces which use the two formulas indifferently. These formulas are mere words, but they are words of extreme importance since they refer to the army, which is the ruling political body in the nation.
Another revealing symbol is "The Bandits' Stronghold," the most vigorously pushed play in the present repertoire. This play was heavily rewritten in preparation for the 1969 National Day. The hero, an already idealized soldier, was idealized much more thoroughly, and press comment left no doubt that this hero, the embodiment of all currently recognized virtues, symbolizes Lin Piao himself.
Symbolic language of this kind, using words, pen or brush, has always been common in China. It was used before the cultural revolution, when Liu and some of his now ousted colleagues were the objects of praise in the language of art. A criticism of an historical play was the bugle call for the battle that ended the career of P'eng Chen, mayor of Peking, and rudely ushered in the cultural revolution.
The present situation in China makes the indecisiveness of her foreign policy intelligible. The impression given is that of a moment of suspended silence. What the outcome will be no one knows; but the silence is painfully evident. A deep silence has long been reigning over publishing houses, which now publish neither books nor magazines; over former editors and writers, who are at work as farmers in the countryside; over the film industry, which has not turned out a single feature film for years; over all churches and temples of all religions, which are closed or are being used for other than religious purposes; over the universities, which have not yet resumed teaching; over the proposed reform of writing, which has fallen into complete oblivion; and even over Marxist philosophy, which is not being discussed now.
This feeling of suspense is intensified by sustained preparations for war. It is unlikely that Peking wants war; but ever since the invasion of Czechoslovakia she has felt that she must be ready for any eventuality. War preparation is also an excellent means for imposing military discipline and draconian economic measures at home, and it enhances the position of the regional military leaders. The official doctrine now is that all must be ready for invasion, for a deep penetration of the enemy into the body of China, and that therefore, in order to be able to resist, each province must build up a compact economic system of its own that will be able to function if the other regions fall.
This internal situation in China must be borne in mind when any government is forming its China policy. While it is normal to want to have friendly relations, or at least some contact, with every country, it is especially desirable to have such relations with China, to draw her into the family of nations and end an abnormal and explosive situation. However, there is no easy solution at hand. The problem of the Republic of China in Taiwan cannot be bypassed. Normal dealings with Peking are extremely difficult, and, as the examples of Britain's and West Germany's trade with China show, not even profitable. To this must now be added the fragile political situation inside China, where the "red flag" is still opposed to the "red flag," where the ruling military are meeting wide and stubborn opposition among the ever-growing younger generation and where the regional leadership is hesitant in executing Peking's orders. The difficult questions faced by foreign offices are whether it is wise to make friendly gestures toward a group of leaders whose authority may prove ephemeral, whether the good image created in China in the past would not be lost by precipitate action today, and whether anything would be lost by waiting to see how the internal situation will evolve in the coming years.