THE balance of forces in the Far East has been shifting for a year, and now the shift has become decisive. It has been a shift in the direction of what can be called the larger political good -- meaning, in this case, the development of an international equilibrium on which peace can be based without injustice to any nation. In this sense the Far East seems to be nearer a régime of lasting peace than it was a year ago or five years ago. The weakening of Japan in the course of her abortive attempt to subjugate China; the further attenuation of Japanese power in the course of Japan's extension into the South China Sea; the rapprochement between Japan and Russia (even if temporary); the deflection of Russian power from the Far East to Europe, and its depletion in the struggle with Germany; the strengthening, meanwhile, of the military position of British, Dutch and American possessions in Southeastern Asia -- these are some of the factors which have operated to shift the balance of power in the Far East and to facilitate the establishment of a political order in which international conflict may cease to be endemic.

What are the elementary sources of conflict in the Far East? First, and mainly, there is the rivalry for domination over a weak China. Second, and only latterly, there is the dispute for possession of the more valuable colonies in Southeastern Asia. With respect to the first, it is plain that either there must be a strong China capable of safeguarding its independence by its own efforts or that some other empire will appropriate China permanently and beyond possibility of challenge. With respect to the second, either the Netherlands East Indies, French Indo-China, British Malaya and the Philippines must be independent (which is hardly practicable in the near future, except in the case of the Philippines), or one or more empires must control them definitely, with or without the kind of outside supervision adumbrated in the mandates system. With respect to both, it can be said that the conditions of lasting peace have become more feasible by reason of the events of the last few years.

Let us consider China first, for it presents incomparably the more important problem. Toward the close of the nineteenth century China had become one of the larger stakes in the imperialistic struggle. In that struggle all the major Powers were contenders. But with the turn of the century Great Britain, Germany and France began receding to secondary rôles. More and more they were preoccupied with purely European concerns, for already the lines were being drawn for 1914. Henceforth they were to content themselves with just maintaining their positions. From 1900 on, the most serious threats to the integrity of China, and therefore to political stability in the Far East, were to come not from Japan only, as we have been prone to believe in recent years, but from both Russia and Japan. Japan has made the most nearly successful attempt to subvert Chinese independence. But it has not been the only attempt. In point of fact, the two nations have alternated in making threats -- Russia from, say, 1898 to 1904 (to the Russo-Japanese War); Japan and Russia together, through their secret agreements regarding spheres of interest, between 1907 and 1914; Japan from 1914 to 1922 (or to the Washington Conference); Soviet Russia from 1923 to 1927 (the years of the Russo-Chinese alliance); Japan from 1928 to date.

From whatever direction the threat came, there was unrest in the Far East and disquietude in the West. Every attempt to disturb the precarious Asiatic balance galvanized the Western Powers into taking protective measures. Each of the European nations sought to preserve its own foothold in China and, even more, to prevent any other nation from laying the basis for an omnipotent empire by acquiring China's resources, trade potentialities and manpower. The United States after 1899 sought to obviate any political change which would give another state an economic monopoly over China and consequently exclude American traders from the Chinese market. Thus it moved in 1899 to obtain international pledges of the Open Door, and later to arrange international guarantees of Chinese integrity as the only assurance of equality of opportunity for trade in China. And it must be emphasized that Secretary of State John Hay's attempts to restrain Russia in the Far East between 1900 and 1904 were of the same order as Secretary Stimson's attempts to restrain Japan in 1931 and Secretary Hull's in 1937 and after. In short, it has become one of the major assumptions in world politics that no Great Power is to be permitted to establish hegemony over China, and therefore, by a kind of political gravitation, over all Eastern Asia, without resistance by the other Great Powers -- that is, unless the others are immobilized by struggles in another area or otherwise rendered impotent. And it follows that the Great Powers are as likely to go to war to stop Russia from getting control over China as to stop Japan. In other words, from the point of view of maintaining peace in the Far East, and therefore in the rest of the world, there is very little good in frustrating Japan if Russia is left to take her place, precisely as there was very little good in helping Japan to frustrate Russia in 1905 only to have Japan take Russia's place.

Both contingencies are now more remote than they were. This is the fortunate result of the operation of the various forces released by the conflicts in Europe and Asia. Both Japan and Russia are further from mastery over China than at any time since the nineteenth century. By the same token, China is nearer independence than at any time since she began to suffer from Western incursions. It may seem paradoxical to say that Japan is furthest from success when she is in military occupation of the larger part of China, when her puppet government is installed in the capital at Nanking and when what was the government of China has been driven a thousand miles inland. And it might be paradoxical in fact, had not Japan dispersed her strength over some three thousand miles, manœuvred herself into a position where she has to deploy her waning strength on three fronts, and linked her fate with the unenviable fate of Germany. But this she has done; and in consequence she has forfeited such chance as she had to consummate the plan she inaugurated with the invasion of North China in July 1937.

At the best, the chance was none too good. It had already begun to fade when the Chinese, contrary to all Japanese expectations, failed to submit after they lost Nanking at the end of 1937. China sacrificed territory but conserved manpower. And she sacrificed no territory without exacting a price from the Japanese in both men and materials. Unceasing guerrilla resistance thus has deprived the Japanese of a large proportion of the advantages of her successes. China is not pacified. The Japanese cannot withdraw their troops. Their expenditures are offset very little, if at all, by any fruits of territorial conquest. If we take victory to mean the establishment of orderly government over a country which has submitted, and the extraction therefrom of economic benefits, Japan is no nearer victory now than she was in 1937.

What Japan has been unable to do in four years, starting at the height of her military and economic power, she is not likely to do in the next couple of years. On the record, she would not be able to succeed even if she had concentrated on China as the single object. Instead, however, she has diverted ships, men, arms and munitions to the southward advance. She has done this partly in expectation of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the presumed collapse of Great Britain and partly out of fidelity to her obligations as a member of the Axis. But Germany herself long ago staked out a claim in China. She would be little inclined to waive that claim in a moment of triumph. German officers were helping the Chinese armies for more than a year after the war with Japan began. German supplies were pouring into China even longer. Germany is still keeping her economic footing in China, even though diplomatic relations between the two countries have been severed. And without active German support Japan will be no better off in China tomorrow than she is now.

The prospect of active German support for Japan, entailing the exclusion of German trade from China's markets and resources, is remote indeed. On the contrary, Germany is more likely to contest priority in China with Japan, and to revert to her earlier policy of advancing credits and supplies to China. Even if Germany, triumphant in European Russia, stops at the Urals and permits the formation of some Russian Siberian state in affiliation with the Axis, Japan still will have a powerful and jealous neighbor as a potential check on her action on the mainland. On the principle of maintaining the balance of power in the Far East and of keeping Japan from getting too strong, the Siberian affiliate will be inclined to adopt a cautious policy towards her and will be able to count on as much German support as is necessary to keep her in bounds. Japan thus will still have to carry on her fruitless attempt to beat China into submission at the same time that she maintains strong defenses further north. If, on the other hand, Germany makes an end of Russian resistance altogether, and extends her direct sway through to the Chinese border and Vladivostok, then Japan will be worse off than ever. She will adjoin directly a rival empire incomparably stronger and more efficient than Russia ever was, whether Tsarist or Communist. In that event the likelihood that Germany will help, or even permit, Japan to absorb China can be dismissed. Nothing is said here about the position of the United States in the event of a German victory, since that cannot be calculated now; presumably, however, the United States would be immobilized in the Atlantic.

Japan has linked her fate with that of Germany, and it follows therefore that if Germany can be defeated the Far Eastern problem can be solved almost automatically, at least so far as Japan is concerned. If Great Britain comes through the struggle with her navy unimpaired and her air force at the top of its form; if America is fully armed, with a navy and air force of unprecedented dimensions; and if the Chinese army remains intact, then Japan can be dealt with at a single stroke. Either she would have to withdraw from southern waters entirely or her navy could be cut off three thousand miles from home by the British and American fleets. Japan then could be shut off from the rest of the world by boycott and blockade. If Japanese troops did not in consequence evacuate China, planes, tanks and artillery could be poured into that country out of the surplus stocks left at the end of the war. The lack of heavy armament which has hampered China from the beginning would be quickly remedied. And with Japan now on the defensive and isolated from the world, the threat of the convergence of British and American fleets in the Pacific and the massing of long-range bombers at Singapore, Hong Kong, Vladivostok, Manila and Chungking would be decisive. Japan would submit to the dictates of fate; if she did not, her resistance against the combined British, American, Russian and Chinese forces would be short-lived. China would be freed of invaders and Chinese rule restored. And even if it cannot be taken for granted that the militarist cliques in Japan would at once be unhorsed, it certainly is not too optimistic to assume that there would be no more support for them once the magnitude of the disaster had come home to the Japanese people.

In any event, Japan is going to be left impoverished and with the reckoning still to pay. Whatever the state of Japanese public opinion may be when the present war is over, Japan cannot for years command the means to indulge in more conquistador episodes. From our point of view, then, her adherence to the Axis clearly has not been an unmixed evil. Seen in perspective, it was on the whole fortunate. For if the democratic countries can bring about the defeat of Germany, they can eliminate the Japanese menace by corollary, as a mere incident to Germany's defeat.

There remains to consider Russia, the other contender for supremacy in China. As has already been said, it will not serve our purpose to eliminate Japan from that country, only to have Russia set out to achieve the same ends there. Those ends have never been renounced by Russia, whether Tsarist or Communist. In this connection, the significance of events between 1923 and 1927 must not be discounted. Russia came nearer acquiring an ascendancy over China at that time than ever she had come in the days of the most aggressive Tsarist imperialism, nearer, indeed, than any country has come except Japan in the last four years. Nominally, Borodin of the Communist International, deputed to the Kuomintang as adviser by agreement with Sun Yat-sen, was only a visiting expert. Actually, under his inspiration and guidance a Chinese Communist Party was formed which by "boring from within" all but acquired full powers of national decision. What had begun as a conventional nineteenth century nationalist revolution for the recovery of independence was becoming a social revolution, something never intended by the original Chinese revolutionaries. In the summer of 1937 the Chinese Communist Party, on authenticated orders from Moscow, made an outright bid for a majority in the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang, which carried with it control of the directive organ for the large part of the country already occupied by Kuomintang forces. Had this bid succeeded, Moscow would, for all practical political purposes, have been the capital of China. Moscow had overreached itself, however. There was a counter-revolt within the Kuomintang in both senses of the word. The wealthy classes and the bourgeoisie no doubt were motivated by fear of expropriation, a foretaste of which had been given in peasant riots and seizures of land. The intellectuals, constituting the original leadership of the nationalist movement, were unwilling to sacrifice their major purpose of emancipating the country from foreign infringements on its sovereignty. To evict the British, French, Japanese, Italians and Americans, only to deliver the country over to the Russians, would have left things as bad as ever. In fact worse, for China would have lost her old recourse of playing one Power off against another and thus establishing something like a balance between their mutual jealousies and rival ambitions. In the result, the majority of the Kuomintang stiffened. Borodin was ordered to leave the country. Relations with Soviet Russia were severed. A purge of Communists began -- a "white terror," in fact.

The Western Powers, meanwhile, had not remained detached spectators. Great Britain, France and the United States had sent troops to protect their interests and incidentally to provide a base against the further advance of the Nationalists, whether under Communist influence or not. Not only did they obstruct the Kuomintang-Communist advance but they gave encouragement to Chiang Kai-shek to break with the Communists. When he did so, they gave him overt support. They were drawing the traditional lines to prevent the absorption of China by any one Power.

The motive of Russia's policies in 1923-1927 is open to dispute. It may have been part of the old, unrelenting, glacial movement across Asia to warm water, in the line of historic Russian policy whether Russia be White or Red. Or it may have originated in a desire to use China as the spearhead of world revolution when Moscow became disillusioned in its expectations of revolution in Europe following the First World War. The latter would have been in accord with Lenin's celebrated "theses" expounded at the Second Congress of the Third International. The Occidental capitalist countries were not yet "ripe" for revolution. They were vulnerable only in their outer extremities -- the colonies. Colonies were the outposts of imperialism and capitalism alike. There was native discontent there, however, and resentment against both foreign rulers and native oppressors. Strike at the colonies, and the empire would be hit. Hit the empires, and imperialism, the prop of capitalism, would be undermined. Hence the colonies were the best field for Communist agitation and organization, and in China, of all the "colonies," was the soil most fertile. But whatever Russia's motive, the result would have been the same, so far as world politics was concerned. Russia -- Communist Russia -- would have been supreme from Poland to the Pacific, and the other Powers would have acted after the traditional manner in world politics.

The attempt failed. China recoiled. Soviet Russia acknowledged defeat. The Lenin theses were abandoned, and the policy of socialism for one country was adopted -- thus formulating one of the issues in the subsequent Lenin-Trotsky polemics. But a Communist enclave remained in China, composed of the Chinese Communist Party, now driven under cover. There was another in Outer Mongolia.

For the next ten years the government of Chiang Kai-shek at Nanking devoted itself -- and, unfortunately, much of the country's material wealth -- to the extirpation of the Communist enclave. The effort was abandoned only with the beginning of the Japanese invasion. The Chinese Communists had carried on intensive propaganda in favor of formal resistance to Japan even before the invasion. They had made considerable capital out of the failure to fight back in Manchuria. They had, indeed, made of Manchuria a Chinese irredenta, with consequences that were to assume peculiar importance in 1941. They of course wanted a war between China and Japan. So did Soviet Russia. To the Chinese Communists it would mean an opportunity to come into the open, to swell their ranks, to establish themselves politically wherever they took over a front against Japan. To Moscow it offered an opportunity to draw off Japanese strength and thus relieve the pressure on the Russian Far East. The war came. If Japan thereby played into Russian hands, it was a coincidence: the Japanese had purposes of their own.

For the first three years of the war it was as the Chinese Communists and Moscow had expected. To each was accorded an opportunity such as it had not had since 1927. Both made the most of it, and the recurrent friction between the Chungking Government and the Communists is the evidence. The relationship between Chungking and the Communists runs as a kind of sub-plot in the Far Eastern drama. The two are genuinely united in their determination to resist Japan; both have mental reservations as to what will follow when Japan is repelled. The underlying conflict of ideas and aims between them has been subordinated, not composed. Under the guise of spreading mass resistance by guerrilla warfare the Communists actually have extended the area under their influence, if not their formal administration. Chungking is gratified at the results of the guerrilla warfare, which really has been effective, but is given pause by the increment to Communist power. The fact is that the Communists have formed nuclei which could be expanded into a full-fledged organ of government over a considerable part of China in case Chungking collapsed, or which would remain as a broader enclave if the Japanese should be driven out. They would then be in a better position to dispute control over the whole country than at any time since 1927. It is to prevent this that Chungking has kept the Communist armies on short commons, giving them just enough to keep them fighting but not enough to use for their own purposes. There is this much foundation for the charge of the Communists that Chungking has been sabotaging their efforts. Morally, the position of the Communists is stronger than it has been since 1927. They have proved to the country that they are fighting magnificently, and where they are in control they govern with regard for the interests of the masses. Their integrity, too, compares favorably with the cynicism and orthodox official corruption in Chungking. Moreover, there is the factor of the help being given by Russia herself.

That Russia has made it easier for China to withstand Japan is undeniable. She alone among the Great Powers gave support officially and at once. Great Britain and the United States were at least ungenerous; and the United States was selling Japan supplies which she turned into weapons against the Chinese. Meanwhile Russia was giving liberal credits, materials for munitions and a certain number of planes and pilots. In Russia appeared to lie China's only hope of escaping enslavement to Japan. The Communists made the most of this. They did not require any great propagandizing skill. The fact made its own propaganda. The masses were being rallied again to sympathy for Communism. And a large part of the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, hitherto opposed to Communism either because they dreaded its economic philosophy or because they feared alien intrusion again, was drifting into sympathy for Russia. Whatever Russia might be, whatever Communism might stand for, both were preferable to subjection to Japan. If the choice had to be made, Russia was the lesser of two evils.

For the first three years of the war the choice seemed to be forced. Politically, psychologically, Russia was becoming as deeply entrenched in China again as she had been before 1927. One of the alternative prospects before the Chinese was that Japan might indeed be repelled, but that they would be left under such obligations to Russia, and the Chinese Communists would themselves be so strong, that Russia would hold the whip hand. The new hegemony would be not only alien but Communist. China would not only be a dependency but a potential field for ideological battles.

This was how matters stood until 1941. Since then there has been a complete change. Two events have brought it about: the signing of the non-aggression pact between Russia and Japan, which included Russian recognition of Manchukuo, and the outbreak of war between Russia and Germany. By the treaty with Japan, Russia abandoned the rôle of defender of oppressed peoples which she had sought to assume again in Chinese eyes, not without success. She appeased the aggressor at the scene of his first aggression. By recognizing Manchukuo she formalized her betrayal of Chinese national integrity. Even Chamberlain, arch-appeaser in Russian eyes, had not come to that, not even when the Japanese were trying to starve out the British Concession in Tientsin. With her back to the wall in mid-summer of 1940, Great Britain did, it is true, close the Burma Road to gain a short respite. But she was adamant on everything else, and she reopened the Road in three months. The climax of appeasement in the Far East -- the bartering of Manchuria for a diplomatic advantage -- was left to Russia. The Chinese Communists, moreover, notwithstanding that they had conducted a virulent campaign against the Nanking Government for letting Manchuria go by default, and had thereby won considerable popular support, came out publicly in support of the Russian action. They reversed themselves overnight and, after the fashion of Communists in every country, conformed to the Party line.

Thus Soviet Russia forfeited the moral position which she had won in China and her claim to China's gratitude. Chinese of the middle classes who were becoming resigned to accepting a greater Russian influence because it seemed the lesser of two evils will now turn back to their former skepticism and hostility. Only the diehard Communists will be unaffected, and by themselves they are not strong enough to gain power. The doctrinal appeal, unless reinforced by the argument that they alone can save China from Japan, is not enough to give them the upper hand. That argument they can no longer make convincingly. The majority of the Chinese will be disillusioned and wary, on guard against Russia and Japan alike. Russia's defection, moreover, comes just when Great Britain and the United States have changed their course and have begun to offer positive support to China. And this in turn comes just when Russia is least able to continue support. Even if Japan and Russia should now go to war, and Russia by implication became an ally of China, Moscow would be in no different position from London and Washington. If China emerges beholden to any, she will be beholden to Russia no more than to the democratic Powers -- less, probably, in light of the Russian pact with Japan.

Also important in judging Russia's future influence in China is the fact that Russia is at war with Germany. Whatever the outcome of that war, Russia will be shorn of offensive power for a long time. If she is defeated by Germany, she obviously will be unable to undertake any major military enterprise. A separate Russian Far Eastern state might be strong enough to act as a check on Japan, but not to carry off conquests on its own account. If Russia is not defeated, she will still require years to repair the ravages on her own territory and recover her prewar strength. Moreover, in that event Great Britain and the United States also will be undefeated, and for years to come they will dispose of vastly more power than Russia, even in the Far East.

Most important of all, if Great Britain, the United States and Russia are undefeated, China, too, will almost surely be undefeated. She then will have an army in being, organized, experienced in modern warfare and tried by fire. Her territory will no longer be subject to easy incursions from without, no matter by what Power. Against Russia, as Russia was in 1940, China might not be able to stand; but against Russia, as Russia for years will be however the European war ends, China, if she escapes Japanese conquest at all, will be secure. For the same reason internal unity will be easier to achieve and maintain. Once Japan is repelled, the spectre of civil war between the adherents of Chungking and the adherents of the Communists will be laid. The Communists can win adherents now only on the basis of their economic principles. A victorious Chungking will have a stronger claim to popular loyalty. If there is dissension or divergence on economic grounds, as no doubt there will be in China as everywhere else, it will be of the same order as similar dissension elsewhere, not the old Chinese chronic internecine warfare. It will be settled as the economic conflict is settled elsewhere.

Unified, with a strong army and possessing the apparatus of government in working order, China will be able to defend herself against aggression from any quarter. The menace of a contiguous Japan will be relieved, at least for a period. The menace of a contiguous Russia will be relieved, at least for a period. Even if the governments of the democratic countries will not have had the sense to renounce imperialistic ambitions in the Far East, they at any rate will not possess the means to gratify them; overseas adventures will hardly win the support they received in the nineteenth century. In any case, China will have time to consolidate herself and to acquire the strength to defend her territory. This, to repeat, is the main assurance for peace in the Far East and, therefore, a vital factor in the hope for peace in the rest of the world. For there will be no cause of conflict in the Far East if the highest reward of victory is no longer attainable.

Of the dispute for possession of colonies in southeastern Asia, the other source of conflict in the Far East, much less need be said. Their future has come into question only since Germany appeared to be about to overwhelm Europe and thus to create a vacuum in southeastern Asia which Japan aspired to fill. But this problem is incident to the European war rather than inherent in Far Eastern politics. If an equilibrium can be restored in Europe -- that is, if Germany is defeated -- the colonies in southeastern Asia will revert to their situation in the years before 1939. The relation between sovereign and dependency will have to be adjusted in accordance with the degree and temper of native nationalism in the colonies. But that is a problem of a different order from the struggle between empires for tempting colonial morsels. And the building up of defenses in the whole area as a result of the Japanese threat in the last year is itself an added assurance of stability.

On balance, then, whatever may be said of other parts of the world, the omens in the Far East are propitious. In withstanding the German onslaught, and gaining the final victory in Europe, the Western democracies will at the same time emancipate themselves from the danger of recurrent war on the western shores of the Pacific.

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  • NATHANIEL PEFFER, Associate Professor of International Relations, Columbia University; author of "China: the Collapse of a Civilization" and "Must We Fight in Asia?
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