THE irrepressible conflict between ideologies is not confined to Europe. The present Sino-Japanese war is as much a part of this world-wide struggle as is the Spanish civil war. Under the guise of a mystic "anti-Communism" the totalitarian Powers are pursuing a policy of ruthless expansion to which only the energetic and concerted action of all of the democratically-inclined nations can put a stop. But before these Powers can make any such determined stand against aggression, certain of them -- particularly England and France -- must give up the obsolete and dangerous idea that all the nations of Europe are bound together by close ties of family solidarity and that they must therefore stand unitedly against the rest of the world. None of the great nations is any longer exclusively European, Asiatic or American. Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Russia, the United States -- and even Portugal -- are Far Eastern Powers by virtue of their territorial possessions in that part of the world. Each of these must, therefore, ponder the eventualities of the Sino-Japanese conflict, determine its own position towards the issues at stake and decide what it can contribute to the common task of pacification and reconstruction.


France has a number of specific interests in the Pacific: Indo-China (including the leased territory of Kwangchowan); large investments throughout China; and numerous island possessions in the South Pacific. Of these the most valuable is Indo-China, with its vast resources and its key strategic position -- commercial, political and military. Its population of twenty-four million, larger than that of any other French colony, comprises many diverse peoples. Some of them -- the Annamites, the Cambodians and the Laotians -- are of ancient civilization; others represent more primitive races, attracted into the peninsula in relatively recent times by its ready accessibility from both the Asiatic mainland and the Malaysian Archipelagoes.

French penetration into Indo-China began with the occupation of Cochinchina seventy-five years ago. During the ensuing two decades French control was progressively extended to Tonkin, to Annam, then to Laos and Cambodia. In 1898, following the example of the British at Weihaiwei and the Germans at Kiao-chow, France obtained a ninety-nine-year lease on Kwangchowan. But this territory (325 square miles in area) is not located at the mouth of one of China's great rivers -- until recently her only highways -- and therefore has small commercial or strategic importance. Kwangchowan is not to be compared with Hong Kong, or even Macao. If the French had pushed toward Yünnanfu or occupied a part of Hainan, they would have gained more. But at the time it was rather a question of "doing as the others do" than of pursuing a foresighted policy of expansion. Kwangchowan is today administratively attached to Indo-China.

French Indo-China is a colony and is administered by a governor-general. It is divided into five parts: Cochinchina, a protectorate, whose governor resides at Saigon; Tonkin, which is under the direct administration of France; and the three "protected" kingdoms of Annam, Cambodia and Laos, whose kings are assisted by French resident-generals. This ensemble of small states is today perfectly united under that régime of benevolent and well-organized firmness which characterizes French colonial policy.

We in France have for far too long entertained the idea that the personality of our colonies would in time inevitably fuse with our own; that their aspirations, their needs, and the conduct of their foreign affairs could not be separated from ours; that the risks which they had to face could not be other than those we ourselves confronted; in short, that their destiny depended exclusively upon our own. We have, for instance, tended to forget that Indo-China is an integral part of the Far East, separated from the metropolis by ten thousand miles, and that its fate will be determined in very large measure by those moral and material forces which it can generate within itself. Concretely, this means that if Indo-China were to be attacked during a general conflict, it could rely only upon such means of defense as were at its own immediate disposal. France's plain duty is, therefore, to put Indo-China in a state to resist any such attack.

France is anxious to preserve friendly relations with all her neighbors; yet at the same time she is firmly determined not to allow the slightest violation of her territories, or the slightest attack upon her acquired rights. In the Pacific she has, as a result of Indo-China's privileged position at the junction of the Oceanic and Asiatic worlds, special international obligations. For her to protect this privileged position and to discharge these obligations, she must see that Indo-China's economy is on a sound basis. Otherwise there is little hope that her Far Eastern empire can be made ready to defend itself.

Until recently, Indo-China was almost exclusively an agricultural country: its wealth was largely derived from the export of rice to Malaysia, China and Japan via Hong Kong and Canton. However, the simultaneous stabilization of the Indo-Chinese piastre and the collapse of the silver standard in China, added to the world-wide depression, caused such a rise of prices in Indo-China that foreign markets became closed to its products. It has been extremely difficult to counteract this tendency on account of the expansion of rice culture in such countries as Siam, the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies. The consumption of rice in France has meanwhile increased, but this has been merely a palliative. Indo-Chinese economy has had to discover new resources in the cultivation of secondary crops: maize, tea, coffee, and industrial products such as rubber. The first three are largely consumed on the spot. Rubber, on the other hand, must be exported in order to be processed. However, under present circumstances Indo-China's raw rubber cannot be sent to France, manufactured and then sold in the oriental market at a profit.

The question has therefore naturally arisen whether industries should not be set up in Indo-China in order that its resources can be turned into manufactured products on the spot, for both local and foreign consumption. Since there is serious over-population in certain regions of Indo-China, notably in the Tonkin delta, the idea of industrializing the country has the advantage of offering a promising remedy for more than one urgent problem. The country is rich in coal and certain other raw materials. Labor is plentiful. And southern China offers a nearby market for Indo-China's manufactures. This is particularly true as regards Yunnan and Kwangsi, which are in direct and easy contact with Tonkin, and which possess mineral deposits complementary to those of the French colony. It is precisely these provinces, far removed from the influence of the central government and long opposed to it, that have in

recent years effected an astonishingly successful program of recovery and reorganization. Here, under the direction of the two principal leaders of Kwangsi -- Marshal Li, now in command of the Shantung armies, and General Pei, Chief of Staff of the Chinese Army -- tens of thousands of men are at work building highways and railroads, modernizing cities and creating new cultural centers. Some of the latter, the one at Yünnanfu for example, have reached such a stage that several universities have been transferred there from northern Chinese cities now in Japanese hands. Furthermore, it is across these two southernmost Chinese provinces that access is had to Szechwan and Kweichow, where progress is going on at an equally rapid rate. For many years to come, the inhabitants of these four provinces, numbering more than one hundred million, will be dependent upon foreign sources for everything that modern industry produces. They are counting on France's more advanced technical civilization to help them modernize their own material culture. It would be folly for us to turn a deaf ear to their appeal.

Obviously this collaboration cannot be fruitful without serious effort on our part. Though some of the roads in Indo-China are excellent, those along the northern border were laid out primarily with strategic objectives in view. They are a reminder of the time, which now seems so far away, when Indo-China was felt to be threatened by a fierce and anarchic China, against which we then dogmatically opposed refined and civilized Japan, the avenger of human wrongs. We must therefore expand our highway system in order to tap the commerce of Yunnan, Kwangsi and the coastal zone of Kwangtung. Such a road network would supplement the existing railroads from Hanoï to Yünnanfu and to Nanning, which can be extended only with great difficulty and expense.

We must also improve our ports. The harbors of Hai Phong and Saigon might have been adequate fifty years ago, but they do not respond to the needs of today. The entrance to the port of Hai Phong can be navigated by large ships only at high tide, and the channel, which is constantly silting up, must be dredged at an expense quite disproportionate to the results obtained. Saïgon, a river port and the center of rice export, is well equipped but lies inland forty miles from Cap St. Jacques. Its strategic value is thus diminished by the fact that it could be bottled up with relative ease.

The harbor of Cam Ranh, on the other hand, offers a marvelous site for a first-class naval base, as has been universally recognized ever since Admiral Rodjestvensky's fleet of 145 ships sought shelter there on its famous cruise from the Baltic to Far Eastern waters during the Russo-Japanese War. This splendid harbor, completely sheltered from typhoons, lies between two high promontories with a vanguard of islands completing its natural defense. Its ever-calm waters offer hydroplanes and submarines as excellent a refuge as they could wish. Situated at the easternmost point of the Indo-Chinese coast, it is on a direct line from Singapore to the Formosa Strait and less than a thousand miles from Manila. The Trans-Indo-China Railroad runs along the bay and thus provides communications with Saigon to the south, Hué and Hanoï to the north, and -- towards the interior -- with Dalat, the climatic capital, and the higher regions of Annam. The French Government has decided to fortify Cam Ranh and make it its principal naval base in the Orient. Work on this project has already been started as part of the large defense program which the French Government is undertaking with a 400,000,000-franc loan recently raised, partly in Indo-China, for that purpose.

Farther north lies the Bay of Along, located in an industrial and coal-mining region near the center of various routes radiating from Tonkin into southern China. It thus has great commercial possibilities. A proposal to establish a free port at Along is being considered; if carried out, such a plan would greatly facilitate the movement of trade across Indo-China to southern China.


These, of course, are merely the preliminary steps in a program of development which would be of wide and general benefit. But before any such program can be undertaken peace must be reëstablished in the Orient. It is futile to make plans for the development of Indo-China until its security has been assured. And this security is something which can be assured only by France.

What are the threats which Indo-China must be prepared to parry? In the past, the principal danger to its safety was the instability of China. Today, the great peril is Japanese expansion. Nor is this danger limited to Indo-China: the immoderate ambitions of those who rule Japan extend to the Philippines, Malaysia and India. Japan's recent attempt to gain a dominating influence over Siam is evidence of these aspirations.

Siam's geographical position, surrounded by French and British territory, could not fail to attract the attention of Japanese imperialists of the Tanaka school. The strategy of the Japanese General Staff doubtless envisages penetrating Laos and Tonkin from Siam as a means of invading the southern provinces of China. Roads and railways, some already built and others being actively pushed to completion, radiate from Bangkok towards Indo-China like the extended fingers of a hand. They were originally conceived with purely economic objects in mind. But it was inevitable that the expansionists should seek to exploit their strategic possibilities.

South of Siam lie the Straits Settlements, with the formidable British fortifications at Singapore. These now command the passage between India and the Pacific; but their strategic domination of the great sea route between Europe and the Far East could be nullified by a canal through Siamese territory, across the Isthmus of Kra. This project is without any commercial value and would be difficult of realization from an engineering point of view. Yet, under German and Japanese inspiration the Siamese Government was for a time apparently giving it favorable consideration. Only after the energetic intervention of the British Government was the project dropped, for how long no one knows.

The last ten years have been a difficult period for Siam. After weathering a series of revolutionary movements King Pradjadhipok finally abdicated in 1935 and a mere child was placed on the throne. Since then two personalities have dominated Siamese politics: Luang Pradist, an extremist of the first water, twice banished to exile; and Luang Bipul, soldier and nationalist, and of the two more open to outside influences. These men wind and unwind the threads of intrigue, delaying the country's return to the stability necessary for its normal development. Berlin and Tokyo have naturally sought to turn this situation to their advantage. But their efforts, at first quite successful, seem to have led to little in the end. Anti-British and anti-French sentiment among Siamese political leaders is on the wane. Perhaps they feel that they have been the dupes of Japanese policy; if so, they show more shrewdness than have the Japanese leaders similarly duped by Hitler.

Nevertheless, certain agreements seem to have been entered into between Siam and Japan, though we can only surmise their exact nature. Anti-French propaganda in Siam has never been so intense as at present -- it even flows over into Laos, where venomous pamphlets, strongly smelling of Japanese origin, are being distributed. Agents who seek to persuade soldiers to desert from the French forces are allowed to operate from Siam. In recent treaties Siam has suppressed all references to the League of Nations: in doing this, she has been following the style set by the totalitarian governments.

France would like to renew cordial relations with Siam. But this desire must not retard the creation of a defensive system along the frontier between Siam and Indo-China. Indeed, mutual confidence will again characterize those relations only when the Siamese Government -- and behind it, Japan -- discover that Cambodia and Laos are prepared successfully to resist any attack made on them from the west.

We must not, however, exaggerate this danger from Siam. It is rather on its maritime frontiers that Indo-China may expect an attack. If our precautions in this direction had been more imposing, the demand recently made upon the Governor-General of Indo-China by the Japanese Consul at Hanoï -- that the French authorities should prohibit the transport of war material to China over the Yunnan Railroad -- might have been presented in a less peremptory form. Though this railroad is the property of a French company, that part of it lying in Chinese territory was threatened with destruction by Japanese aërial bombardment. We need not discuss here the impropriety of this demand, which in any case resulted only in our taking the necessary precautions. After all, is it not true that in the present war -- a war without belligerents and therefore without neutrals -- third Powers are completely free to trade with both sides? And is not Japan -- whose ships load cargoes of coal, ore, salt, sand and cement in Indo-Chinese harbors -- profiting greatly from this freedom?

Other occurrences have also aroused our suspicions. Japanese warships have cruised along the Indo-Chinese coasts and Japanese airplanes have flown over Hai Phong. An attempt was even made to occupy the Paracel Islands, which France regards as part of the Kingdom of Annam. These low, tiny islands -- without inhabitants or resources, continually worn by the sea, and inaccessible during the northeast monsoon -- have no real strategic or commercial value. For a number of years France has claimed them, though this claim has been contested by China. Early last July the French Government sent a small armed force to the islands as a warning that it would not tolerate any Japanese attempt at occupation.

A more important object of Japanese attention is the island of Hainan, whose coasts have recently been bombarded on several occasions. Hainan's position at the entrance of the Gulf of Tonkin is of great strategic value. The port at Hoihow, on the northern shore of the island opposite the Luichow Peninsula, is difficult of approach and cannot be used by ships of heavy tonnage. But at the island's southern tip is the harbor of Yulinkan, which could be made into a naval base of the first order. Furthermore, Hainan's mineral resources would be very useful in the development of war industries. The Chinese authorities, thoroughly aware of the island's value, have taken steps to improve its defenses. In view of Hainan's proximity to Indo-China, France, who considers the maintenance of free navigation in the Gulf of Tonkin of vital importance, would regard a Japanese occupation of the island as an attack against French interests. These circumstances explain the categorical warnings which the French Government, with the active support of Great Britain, gave Tokyo in the latter part of June when it was feared that a Japanese landing on Hainan was imminent.


As these lines are written there is no way of knowing what will be the outcome of the present conflict in the Far East. Let us, however, suppose for the moment that the struggle can be kept from widening into a general world war. A localized war could have but one of two possible outcomes: either Japan wins or she loses. Let us consider for a moment the first hypothesis. A Japanese victory could be expected to lead to the following developments: North China would become a second Manchukuo; Shanghai (and probably other ports), the coastal zones and the lower reaches of the great rivers would remain under Japan's authority; Japanese commercial and industrial control would be imposed on all other areas in China where there were important mineral resources; China's armies would be disbanded and her war material would be either confiscated or destroyed.

Yet despite her dismemberment, China would issue from the conflict still vigorous and ripened by experience. No matter how Draconian the conditions imposed upon her by the victor, she would still greatly exceed Japan in population, in territory, and therefore in total potential power. This new China, whether its government were located at Hankow, Chungking, Changsha or elsewhere, would derive its chief strength from the regions south of the Yangtze. There, in such active and modern provinces as Szechwan, Kwangtung and Kwangsi, the Chinese people would carry on the patient work of reconstruction and restoration at which they have always excelled. It is there that the spirit of revenge would ripen. Cut off from Shanghai, and most likely from Canton, this new Southern China would naturally turn towards Indo-China. Such a reorientation in China's communications and interests would inevitably stimulate the economic development of Indo-China.

As for Japan herself, she would be completely ruined by her military triumph. Her people, exalted by victory and blinded with racial pride, would lose all sense of proportion. More than ever would they unquestionably follow those among their leaders who regard the overthrow of China as merely one stage on the road towards the conquest of all of Asia. Consequently, after the necessary recuperative pause the war would begin again. This time it might well be Indo-China that would have to bear the brunt of the first assault, for two reasons: first, this would permit an attack on China in the rear; and second, the conquest of Indo-China would open the way to India, located at the center of the third circle in the famous "Tanaka plan."

So much for the first hypothesis. Let us now suppose that instead of winning the war, Japan loses it. Such a dénouement would, it seems certain, bring results not far different from those produced by victory. Japan's crowded and wretched population, disappointed in its hopes, humiliated in its pride, would be driven to seek salvation in new adventures. The desire for vengeance against China would dominate every other emotion. Having once set out to conquer China, Japan would not rest until that end had been accomplished. Another Japanese attack would therefore be only a question of time. When it came, the security of Indo-China would almost inevitably be in jeopardy. Supposing -- in accordance with our second hypothesis -- that the Japanese army had failed in the present war to subdue China on her northern and eastern plains, in that event would not the naval authorities be only too delighted to say: "Ah, if you had only taken our advice!" This would certainly satisfy their ancient grudge against the General Staff which has always opposed the navy's demand that China be attacked from the south. In another Sino-Japanese war the navy's advice might very well be taken; and if it were, Indo-China would be in danger, whether or not Japan were in the end successful in completing the subjugation of China.

We cannot conclude this survey of French interests in the Orient without considering the possibility of a general war in which the democracies would presumably be lined up against the totalitarian states. A union of forces between Germany, Italy and Japan would make the situation of France's empire in the Far East more precarious than ever. Japan might under these circumstances regard Indo-China as easy prey, to be snapped up at once and used as barter when the peace treaties were drawn up after the war. After occupying Indo-China, she might, for instance, turn it over to Germany, who would certainly not disdain so royal a gift in exchange for confirming Japanese sovereignty over the former German islands in the Pacific.

From the considerations that have been advanced above it is clear that France is thoroughly justified in organizing a strong defensive system in Indo-China. Indeed, much more than mere French interests are at stake. Indo-China is a link in a chain of defenses that extends from Singapore to Vladivostok. Our British friends are making methodical and powerful efforts to arm the Straits Settlements and Hong Kong; vigorous steps are also being taken in the Philippines and in the Netherlands East Indies. France must cooperate effectively in this task, not only to guarantee the integrity of her own colonial domain, but to assist in the work of common defense against the disturbers of world peace.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now