Washington’s Missing China Strategy
To Counter Beijing, the Biden Administration Needs to Decide What It Wants
DURING the period of India's struggle for independence, Nationalist opinion looked upon America as a friend and there was widespread sympathy for the Indian cause in America. In the period immediately following India's independence in 1947, these relations continued to be friendly, and by and large Indian leaders looked to America for help and advice in solving the difficult problems which lay ahead of them. But today, no one will deny that the two countries have drifted apart, that large and influential groups in the United States suspect Indian motives and declare her to be pro-Communist. Equally, in India most people are inclined to consider that the United States is deliberately opposing India at every stage and is following an anti-Asian policy with the object of reducing the new countries of Asia to a condition of political dependence.
The United States naturally finds it difficult to understand why, when the great nations of Europe willingly accept American leadership and follow her policy, India, Burma and Indonesia, who achieved their independence so recently and who are weak from a military and economic point of view, should not only hesitate to follow her, but actually oppose her on major issues. It is all the more difficult for America to understand this attitude when she is genuinely anxious to help these countries with money and with technical assistance to overcome their economic weaknesses and if necessary even to strengthen their military resources. No one in these countries has accused America of imperialist designs or of selfish motives. Why, then, ask the Americans, should we, when our approach is so friendly and so unselfish, when all that we desire is only the betterment of the material conditions of these areas and their friendship and support to meet the common menace of Communism, be treated with suspicion and obstructed in our policies designed for the benefit of the entire free world?
It is India that is most blamed for this development, for it is undoubtedly true that it is Indian leaders who have given expression to South Asian thinking and it is in India that one finds these views most widely held. But in Burma and Indonesia, and perhaps to a lesser degree in Ceylon and in Pakistan, the approach is not very different. Therefore the fact has to be recognized that there is a growing difference between South Asian opinion and the United States in matters affecting world policy. If this tendency is not to widen and influence developments to the detriment of both parties, it is of the utmost importance that the problem should be frankly analyzed and an effort should be made by both parties to understand the other's point of view.
One preliminary point may, however, be emphasized. Though the differences between the United States and India are undoubtedly important and have been debated a great deal in public, there is perhaps a greater community of political thought and spiritual feeling between them than between any two countries outside the British Commonwealth. Both have firm faith in democratic institutions and methods, in civil liberties, in freedom of thought, expression and every legitimate human activity. Both believe in the principles of moral suasion and govern themselves on that basis. Both are pledged to work for the material betterment of their peoples without encroaching upon human rights and liberties. More than all, both have deep spiritual feelings which move them in their political action. This is generally understood. In fact, quite recently there was a pamphlet issued by the State Department testifying generally to this point of view. Equally, in India there is no one who denies the moral greatness, the economic achievement and the amazing desire to serve the world which America symbolizes. And yet the differences are there and seem to be growing. It behooves us, therefore, to examine the problem dispassionately.
There are three aspects of policy where the United States and India do not see eye to eye with each other. They are 1, the attitude towards the menace of expansionist Communism; 2, colonialism of European nations; and 3, China. All these three are basic factors in the complex international problem of today, and while a difference on any one of them is sufficient to create misunderstanding, a difference on all three amounts to a major conflict of opinion.
Taking the first issue of Communism, which is undoubtedly the most important, it is perhaps unnecessary to say that there is no difference of opinion between the United States and India on the internal problem created by the Communist Party. The Indian Government has fought Communism tooth and nail in India and has shown no weakness in dealing with its many ramifications. India's notable success in this fight has also been widely recognized. Why, then, this difference of approach to the external menace of Communism? Primarily, it is because India is not satisfied that there is such an external menace. Both China and the Soviet Union are India's neighbors, and yet India has not, in spite of very considerable American effort to persuade her, seen any menace to her existence by the presence on her frontiers of these two giant Communist states. We may be stupid or completely blind, but where we do not see the menace, we cannot pretend to do so, merely because we are so advised by no doubt wiser people.
Further, India cannot forget that not so very long ago both America and Britain claimed to be friends of the Soviet Union. It is not that the Soviet Union was something different in 1942. There is nothing known today about Communist policies or Communist ambitions that was not known in 1942! And yet not only did America and Britain ally themselves with the Soviet Union, but at least in India the British went to the extent of helping the Communists against the Nationalists. Then, as now, the Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, opposed the Communists; it was the British Government that helped them to gain control of labor unions and treated them as the representatives of genuine Indian opinion. Whatever strength the Communist Party gained in India was the outcome of this unholy alliance.
It is generally argued in justification of this policy that Fascism was a greater menace then, and therefore expediency required that all anti-Fascists, whatever their political complexion or moral position, should unite to fight that menace. If alliance with Communism in the period between 1942-1946 was on the basis of expediency, what guarantee have we that opposition to Communism and alliance with Fascism in Spain and with the rearmed Imperial Government in Japan, which the United States and other Western Powers proclaim, are also not based on expediency and on a calculation of their own interests? Further, is it so very definite that if Russia continued a policy of appeasement and met the Western Powers on some of their demands, the European nations and with them the United States would not change their policy of considering Communism as the concentration of evil and accept gradually a policy of coexistence? Foreign Affairs, in its issue of October 1953, published a very illuminating article entitled "The Grand Alliance Hesitates." It establishes clearly that even some of the partners in the Grand Alliance feel that it may be expedient to go slow in their implacable opposition to Communism and may be prepared to accept the doctrine of coexistence. Why then, ask political thinkers in India, Burma and Indonesia, should we, against our own better judgment, be asked to line up in support of an anti-Communist policy?
It may sound strange to American ears, but nonetheless it is a fact that the leaders of India and Burma, and perhaps of other South Asian countries (excluding Siam), do not feel themselves threatened by Communism. They feel satisfied that their people are not attracted to Communism, that except in alliance with nationalism it has no strength or vitality in Asian societies. The experiences of the last five years in Burma, Ceylon, India and Indonesia have proved to their satisfaction that where national governments exist and follow an independent policy--that is, assert their nationalism--Communism fails to win any support. The clearest case is that of Burma. It will be remembered that in 1949 and 1950, at the time when the Communists occupied the mainland of China to the very borders of Burma, that country was seriously menaced by an internal Communist problem. It was easy for the Chinese Communists to give unofficial help by way of leadership and arms to the so-called Burmese Liberation Army which was then at the height of its power; and yet no such thing happened. Not only was no help given to the Burmese Communists, but the Communist régime across the border scrupulously refrained from interfering with the Kuomintang guerrilla force under Li Mi which had entrenched itself inside the Burmese border. The National Government of Burma has, without any external military help, slowly but effectively destroyed the Communist forces within the state.
It has been stated by some distinguished American observers that what saved Burma from Chinese intervention was the fact that China was heavily engaged in Korea, and that but for her commitments there she would most probably have helped the Burmese Communists. This view overlooks two major facts. In the first place the Communists in Burma required nothing more than trained leadership and some arms to tilt the scale effectively at that time. No large-scale intervention would have been needed. The Chinese were not committed so heavily in Korea that they could not afford to spare a few commissars and some arms for their friends elsewhere. In fact the Chinese army in Yunnan, on the borders of Burma, has at all times been a major force.
The second fact is that many months before the Korean trouble started the Chinese solemnly assured the Burmese Government that they would make no attempt to attack even the illegally-established Kuomintang forces within Burmese territory and would respect the established boundaries, a promise which they have scrupulously observed in spite of grave provocation by General Li Mi and his men.
It is often stated, mainly in the American press, that the enforcement of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet is an act of aggression which India, because of her pro-Chinese attitude, has overlooked; that it constitutes evidence of Chinese expansionism. Undoubtedly the absorption of Tibet into the Chinese political system brings Communism to the outer ranges of the Himalayas. But it is strange that America should consider this an act of aggression, for it was only in 1948 that the State Department frankly told a Tibetan delegation which visited the United States that it considered Tibet to be a part of China. Of course that was in relation to Kuomintang China. The mission, whose ostensible purpose was to find a market in America for Yak tails, returned disappointed. Thus the question of expansion did not arise when it was the Kuomintang which claimed authority over Tibet, though India is blamed for overlooking it now.
Another instance often mentioned as a clear demonstration of the Communist policy of expansionism is the seven-year-old war in Indo-China. India especially is charged with being blind to the implications of this southward move of Communism. To the political leaders of India, Burma and Indonesia the situation in Indo-China presents itself in another light. They emphasize the undisputed fact that the Communist-led Viet-Minh struggle against France started even during the period when the Soviets were still allied with the Western nations, that it consolidated itself before the Communists gained authority in China, and finally while the movement may be Communist, and is certainly Communist-led, neither Russians nor Chinese are fighting in Indo-China, while the forces opposed to the movement are still predominantly French. No doubt, under American pressure, the Bao Dai régime is being entrusted with greater powers, but the attitude of the French towards the idea of Viet-Nam independence can best be judged by the violent reaction by the authorities in Paris to the recent resolution of the Viet-Nam National Assembly (consisting of leaders hand-picked by Bao Dai) demanding the right to secede from the French Union. And yet, the right to secede is the genuine test of independence. Is it any wonder that the people of Asian countries, who have newly won their independence, should hesitate before they accept the French assurances that France is fighting in Indo-China to safeguard the independence of the Viet-Namese? In India this position seems specially ironical when France takes the position that her constitution prevents her from handing back to India her small colonial establishments in south India (Pondichery, etc.). Pondichery has thus become to India a symbol of French colonialism, and judging from the attitude of France towards the freedom movement there, the Indians cannot be blamed if they see in the French position in Indo-China only an obstinate desire to fight to the last ditch to maintain France's position in the Far East.
How does this affect India's attitude towards America? It affects it primarily because India feels that without the active support of America in money and material, and her acquiescence, reluctant though it be, in French policies, the French could not have maintained their position in the Far East and their colonial footholds in India. Secondly, in the eyes of Indians and other like-minded Asians it also weakens the claim that the alliance which America heads is a union of the free world. How can we be asked to associate ourselves with a free world, of which one leading member still holds colonial possessions in India and another (Portugal) has, with unconscious irony, declared an integral part of India (Goa) an inalienable part of Portugal? French and Portuguese policy is frankly based on colonialism. What the people of India are disappointed with is the American failure to realize that as long as an inch of India's territory remains under colonial occupation, she will never be allied even indirectly with those states.
If, therefore, the Asian people and their leaders have no fear of Communist expansion, then their refusal to join the Grand Alliance, which they suspect from their previous experience to be based on expediency and the national interests of Western nations, should be understood and accepted. They may be wrong, they may not even know their own interests, but it does no good to abuse them or suggest that they are concealed Communists.
The second question which deepens the gulf between America and India is the indecisive attitude that the United States has been taking of late on the colonial issue. America's traditional attitude towards colonialism, and her record in the Philippines, are fully appreciated in India. But what neither India nor any other Asian power understands is the facile view now finding favor that colonialism is a thing of the past, that we in India are attaching too much importance to its survivals, and that we are really fighting shadows when we make this a point of difference between ourselves and the West. A moment's consideration will show that while the old-fashioned colonialism of owning countries like absentee landlords is dead, a new and more dangerous colonialism is developing in Africa. The contours of this new phase of European exploitation are now fairly clear in Kenya, Central Africa and in the North African states. It is a clear attempt to develop small European communities, vest political and economic rights in them, deprive the indigenous population of the use of large areas of land and convert them into servile labor, thus establishing "white" colonial states of which the prototype is Malan's South Africa. In Kenya this policy is being enforced with a ruthlessness which has few parallels in colonial history. It is no doubt true that the reaction of the Kikuyu to this policy of keeping the tribes down has been one of primitive savagery, but no amount of Mau Mau atrocities can conceal the fact that Britain has attempted to vest political authority in a small community of settlers enjoying exceptional economic rights and reserving an area in the highlands for themselves. Nor can the recently established Central African Federation be viewed as anything but an attempt to integrate European authority in tropical Africa. Is the policy of France any different in Tunisia and Morocco? All the so-called reforms that France has introduced have had one overriding purpose--to keep for the French settlers the rights which belong to the sons of the soil.
This new colonialism, based on the twin doctrines of racial superiority and economic exploitation, is being developed with the passive acquiescence, if not the active support, of the United States. The debates on Tunisia and Morocco in the United Nations demonstrate that while America may not approve of the policy of her allies, expediency makes her a silent partner and an accessory in the grand design of the colonial Powers to "call forth" Africa (as Canning said on a historic occasion about South America) to redress the balance of the loss of Asian colonies.
It is often asked why India and other Asian countries are so loud in their protests against European colonialism, while they are silent about the colonialism of the Soviets. The answer is clear. The Soviets have never claimed that they represent the free world and have never asked India or any other country to join forces with them. Their ideology is different, and so long as they do not force their views on us, we do not force our views on them. But the case of the free world is different. It is claimed that by refusing to line up with the free world we are doing something morally reprehensible and politically bad. It therefore becomes important for us to know what the free world represents. Such a question does not arise with regard to the Soviet Union, as we know what Communism means and have been fighting it even while others were fraternizing with Moscow.
Finally, there is the important question of China--the major point of difference between the United States and India. The point of view of India is well known and has been stated many times. It is that the Peking Government, having established undisputed authority over the entire mainland, is entitled to the seat which the Charter gives to China, and further that any policy based on ignoring the fact that the Central People's Government is the effective government of China is utterly unrealistic and can only lead to further troubles in international relations. The American point of view, after a short period of uncertainty, is that there is a continuing civil war in China and that of the two parties Chiang Kai-shek and his group in Formosa represent the legitimate government and are therefore entitled to the rights belonging to China. It is further argued that even if it be conceded that the Peking régime, by virtue of its control of the entire mainland, is the real government of China, it has disqualified itself for membership in the United Nations by committing aggression and fighting the United Nations forces in Korea.
Not much need be said about the first point. Most Asian countries, excluding the Philippines, Siam and South Korea, recognize the government in Peking as the only legitimate government of China. Not only India, Burma and Indonesia, but Ceylon, Pakistan and Afghanistan recognize the Peking Government. Predominant Asian opinion therefore does not accept the view that there is a continuing civil war in China. But a more detailed analysis of the Indian position is necessary for a proper appreciation of the differences between the United States and India in regard to the question of Peking's aggression.
The Korean conflict started in the last week of June 1950. Almost immediately President Truman by a unilateral declaration extended the protection of the 7th Fleet to Formosa, that is, intervened in the civil war in China by taking under American protection an area where one party to the conflict has established its headquarters. The Peking Government denounced this action as aggression committed against itself and brought the matter up before the Security Council. There is no doubt that in the view of many Asian countries this was an act of intervention in the revolution, and Peking seemed justified in considering it as an aggression against itself, especially when the United Nations gave no support to this action. Even then the Chinese did not move, but only brought the matter up before the Security Council. The war in Korea continued without any Chinese intervention. Then came the landing in Inchon and the move north. When the U.N. forces were approaching the 38th parallel the Peking Government officially intimated that if non-Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel it would not stand by idly and would intervene effectively. The U.N. Command, after having repelled aggression, decided to carry the war into enemy territory. The Chinese looked upon this as a further act of aggression and, when the U.N. forces were approaching the Yalu River, intervened in force, as they had warned they would, and threw back the U.N. armies.
Two other facts have to be considered in this connection. The first was the visit of the Supreme Commander in the Far East and the head of the U.N. forces, General MacArthur, to Chiang Kaishek in Formosa and the announcement about their deliberations for the joint defense of that island. Even before the Chinese intervention in Korea the announcement thus emphasized the connection in the American mind between the Korean war and the allegedly continuing civil war in China. The second factor was the letter which General MacArthur addressed to the Veterans of Foreign Wars declaring that control of Formosa was essential for American strategy in the Pacific, thereby strengthening the Chinese conviction that Mr. Truman's original order to the 7th Fleet was a deliberate action of aggression against China. It is true that General MacArthur's letter was withdrawn, and that the State Department dissociated itself from his action; but Formosa continued to be under American protection.
The question of aggression by China seemed therefore to most Asians a very doubtful point. This became clear when the Resolution to brand China an aggressor was introduced at the end of January 1951. It is strange that though the Chinese intervention took place in October 1950 the United Nations waited till the end of January 1951 to discuss whether or not it was aggression on the part of China. It is also significant that when the matter was put to vote, the Resolution did not receive the support of India, Burma, Indonesia and other Asian countries. The Asian countries evidently did not consider that China had committed aggression. Though the Resolution was carried, it was obvious that no great importance was attached to the charge, for otherwise the United Nations could not have entered into negotiations with the Sino-Korean forces, for that would have been compounding with aggression and a betrayal of the principles of the United Nations. An aggressor, ex hypothesis, has to be punished, but instead of doing it, the United Nations, after deliberately branding China as an aggressor, has been equally deliberately engaged in negotiations with that government.
In the circumstances, the attitude of India that it is a major error of policy to keep the Peking Government out of the United Nations has only been confirmed and this remains a vital point of difference between the United States and India. The other minor difficulties, such as India's refusal to associate herself with the Japanese treaty sponsored by the United States, her refusal to follow the American lead regarding trade with China, and so on, stem from this fundamental difference.
It is now possible in the light of the above discussion to explain what India's so-called "neutralism" means. India's affiliations, sympathies and general contacts are all with the democratic states. Her relations with Great Britain and some of the Commonwealth countries are intimate. With the United States, in spite of the differences of policy, relations are cordial, and there is friendly coöperation between the two governments over a wide range of matters. With the Soviet Union and with China, India's relations stand on a different footing. They are no doubt friendly, but neither in the economic nor in the political field is there anything approaching active coöperation. In the wider sense, India, therefore, lives with and in the democratic world. But in what is known as the cold war she does not stand in with the United States and its friends for the simple reason that she does not, as we have seen, accept as valid the postulates on which their policy is based. Her predominant interest is peace, as no doubt it is of the United States; but India is firmly convinced that peace would not be served by the policies which have culminated in the cold war. She may be wrong, but she is not prepared to surrender her independent judgment on so important a matter for any price.
India is as definite as the United States in her view that Communism is a danger, but she feels that the danger will become serious only if the free nations in Asia are unable to organize their economic and political life on a sound and stable basis. The competition between democracy and Communism has to be fought and settled in the internal structure of each state. If India and the nations of South Asia can improve their standards of living, modernize their societies, utilize their resources to the best advantage, bring education and health to the people, then they will be able to defeat Communism. This is the struggle in which India is engaged and in which she is determined not to fail. The American Government, while regretting the differences of policy which separate us, has realized the importance of this struggle and has helped us generously in many important ways. India welcomes that help and hopes that the areas of constructive coöperation between the two countries will be widened with time.
When the political controversies, which are inevitable between two independent countries, are put in their proper perspective, it will thus be seen that the United States and India are coöperating actively in many fields of vital importance. To enable that coöperation to become more fruitful and comprehensive each must understand the point of view of the other and tolerate honest differences of opinion, even if they are inconvenient for the time.