Xi’s Costly Obsession With Security
How a Quest for Control Threatens China’s Economic Growth
ON JULY sixth Mexico passed through the trying ordeal of another presidential election. The issues at stake in this election and the difficult task which awaits the coming president, whoever he may be, can best be understood by a brief review of the principal developments across the border during the past three years.
Alvaro Obregón, the retiring president, came into office on December I, 1920, as the result of a successful revolution and a thoroughly controlled election. Obregón's chief supporters in this revolution, and for nearly three years thereafter, were General Plutarco Elias Calles and Adolfo De la Huerta. Under Obregón's control, Mexico enjoyed a stability and peace she had been a stranger to for nearly a decade. Thanks very largely to the flush production of petroleum, moreover, the national treasury, presided over by De la Huerta, was able for two years to keep itself in funds--another novel experience for a Mexican government--and in the field of international relations the period witnessed three accomplishments of unusual significance.
The first of these accomplishments was the negotiation of the Lamont-De la Huerta agreement in June, 1922, under which Mexico found it possible to satisfy the long neglected demands of her foreign bondholders and to take the first step in the difficult process of restoring her national credit. The second was the adjustment of those outstanding difficulties between Mexico and the United States which had prevented Obregón from drawing upon the moral and financial aid of this country and which constituted a source of grave danger to the peace of the two nations. These matters, including the most important features of the agrarian and petroleum laws in so far as they related to American citizens, were dealt with in a statesmanlike manner by the General and Special Claims Conventions negotiated in Mexico City during the summer of 1923. Finally, as a result of Obregón's willingness to enter into the above agreements, the American Government extended him the recognition which, for perfectly valid reasons, the Wilson and Harding administrations had both withheld.
Despite these constructive developments during the Obregón administration, however, many serious evils remained for which no remedy was found. By the fall of 1923 the treasury was nearly bankrupt, and no foreign loan was possible to replenish it. Business conditions entered upon a prolonged period of acute depression, unrelieved by the stream of outside capital which the recognition of Obregón by the United States had been expected to start across the border. The agrarian laws, and particularly the method of their enforcement, led to manifold abuses, discouraged the investment of capital in agriculture, did not greatly benefit the common people, and increased the spirit of restlessness and discontent which has so characterized the Mexico of recent years. Labor questions, also, were becoming increasingly complex; and there was neither wisdom nor ability in the Government to deal with the conflicts between employers and employees, or even to hold in check the bitter feuds which frequently broke out between the rival groups of labor.
It was just at this time, when Mexico's relations with outside powers, particularly with the United States, were on a firmer basis than they had been for many years, but when financial clouds had begun to gather and a deep current of social restlessness was running through the country, that De la Huerta launched his destructive revolution. It is unnecessary here to go into the origin of this revolution or to discuss the motives which lay behind it. It was a movement in which a few ill-advised good men and a great many self-seeking politicians and rascals took part; and thanks very largely to the material aid and moral support furnished Obregón by the United States it met the fate it no doubt merited.
The evils from which Mexico suffered before De la Huerta's defection, were of course greatly intensified by his revolution. This was particularly true of the Government's financial difficulties, of the business depression which gripped the country, and of the lawlessness and banditry which made their appearance in many sections. It was under such circumstances, when the nation was still suffering acutely from the effects of the insurrection, that the presidential election took place.
The two candidates in this election were General Calles of Sonora and General Angel Flores of Sinaloa. In many respects the two men had followed parallel courses in public life. Both had come from humble origins. Both were the product of the Madero-Carranza revolutionary period. Both had been made generals of division for unusual military ability. Both had risen to be governors of important states. And both had been loyal to Obregón in his revolution against Carranza and in his later struggle with De la Huerta.
Of the two, Calles stood much closer personally to Obregón than did Flores. He had not only been a member of the famous Sonora triumvirate which overthrew Carranza, but he had also occupied a high place in the president's cabinet from the very beginning of Obregón's term of office. Moreover, he was known to be Obregón's choice for the presidency, and in all probability had been promised the 1924 election when Obregón launched his revolution against Carranza. Calles' career as governor of Sonora, as a federal official and as a military leader, had marked him, too, as a man of determined purpose, ruthless and unscrupulous in his methods, and very much of an opportunist. Though given to the use of liquor himself, he advocated and actually enforced prohibition in the State of Sonora while he was governor; and though a large landholder, in the election just past he presented himself before the people as the champion of the so-called agrarian reform.
The record of Flores marks him as at least the equal of Calles in ability and purpose, and in character and ideals a somewhat better man. He is regarded by many (among whom Obregón himself might possibly be included) as one of the most skilful military leaders produced in Mexico during a decade of revolutions. Under his rule the State of Sinaloa has enjoyed a prosperity and tranquillity which almost no other state in Mexico has known since 1910. As a champion of the Madero revolution, Flores of course professes to be inspired by very advanced social and economic ideals. But he restrained radical labor legislation in Sinaloa, and also refused to permit the representatives of the agrarian movement to put their program into effect within his jurisdiction. In this connection it is said that when these agrarian officials, or "agraristas," made their appearance in Sinaloa Flores invited them to a conference and there pointedly offered them the choice between a free train ride beyond the state's boundaries or a permanent resting place in a nearby cemetery.
The campaign carried on by Flores and Calles, like many political contests north of the Rio Grande, was pretty largely a campaign of generalities and evasions. Calles announced that he was a radical--but not too radical. And Flores assured the voters that while he believed in protecting the legitimate rights of capital, he was also a champion of the revolutionary doctrines and would support the just demands of the common people.
The chief support of Calles came from the radical labor groups and from the poorer agricultural classes who regarded him as the exponent of an extreme agrarian or land division policy. A large number of government officials and employees also supported him on account of his relations with Obregón and because of their desire to be on the winning side. Flores, for his part, found his chief backing among the larger land holders, in certain conservative labor quarters, and among the property owning classes generally. Calles' campaign was chiefly carried on by the "Committee Pro-Calles" with its headquarters in Mexico City, while that of Flores was in the hands of the National Political League.
Neither candidate, however, had behind him an organized political party, as that term is understood in the United States or England, for no such party has ever been known to Mexican politics. Of so-called parties, however, most of which were mushroom affairs of high sounding names and no significance, there were almost no end. In Mexico City alone there were nearly twenty of these "parties," or political clubs, which supported Calles, and at least half that number which bore the Flores label. Nor does this take into account the numerous other groups of similar character which were organized solely to back the candidacy of some individual for the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies.
Among the many Calles organizations, the following names may be selected as typical examples: The Party of the Mexican Proletariat, The Revolutionary Association of the Middle Classes, The Labor Party of Mexico, The National Progressive Association, The Radical Mexican Party, The Party of Civic Progress, and the Party of Popular Reform. Some of the groups supporting Flores were: The National Party of Mexico, The National Union Party of the Revolution, The National Progressive Party, the Evolutionary Labor Party, and the National Political League, already mentioned.
The campaign, once actively under way, was carried on with considerable vigor by both candidates, though a lack of funds (more keenly felt in the Flores' camp than in that of his rival, whose connection with the government doubtless helped him somewhat in this regard) served as a check upon the activities of the opposing factions. As the date of the election approached, it became evident that the political enemies of General Flores had marked him for assassination. Two or three times his party was attacked by armed bands; on as many other occasions he escaped death by discovering carefully planned schemes against his life, and once a bomb demolished part of a hotel bedroom in which he slept. At last the danger became so great that Flores abandoned his campaign tour entirely and returned to Sinaloa by an out-of-the-way route, much of which he had to travel on horseback, in order to find a place of safety.
This action on the part of Flores, coupled with his brief disappearance from public sight while he was en route to Sinaloa, led to many widely circulated rumors that he and his supporters were about to proclaim another revolution. Official announcements on the subject, while not accusing Flores in person of such a plot, definitely charged some of his followers with having set out to overthrow the Government. And to this charge a sudden flare-up in the State of Oaxaca seemed to give some color. With Flores in person thus driven from the field and his followers placed on the defensive by the charges of revolution made against them, the conclusion that Calles would win the election, long before reached by those familiar with Mexican politics, was fully confirmed.
A slight digression is here worth while. In all past Mexican history, from the beginning of independence down through the accession of Obregón himself to power, there has never been a single election which was determined by popular vote or which did more than merely register the will of the faction in power or furnish the faction out of power the opportunity to revolt.
Now, to have expected the election of 1924 to differ from all the elections which had gone before it, to expect it to express the real will of the Mexican people (particularly when such a will does not in fact actually exist), was of course to expect the impossible. It may be frankly stated that the election of July 6 was "controlled," as all its predecessors had been controlled. But at least it furnished two grounds of encouragement to the friends of self-government in Mexico. It was comparatively free from violence; and it probably brought out more votes than have ever been cast at any other election in Mexican history. Certainly in this last respect, at least, it differed from the great majority of elections prior to 1910. "During my seven years' residence in Mexico," said John W. Foster, American Minister to that country from 1872 to 1879, "I often visited the polling places on election days, but I never saw a citizen deposit a ballot, and rarely did I find any persons at the polls beside the election officers." In the election of Diaz over Lerdo in 1876, it may be added, Diaz was declared elected without one opposing vote, and not a single opposition member was returned to Congress. In comparison with such elections, the 1924 affair was certainly an improvement.
The official returns of the recent election are not available as this article is written. On July 12, however, the Calles faction claimed the election by some 516,000 votes for Calles against less than 56,000 for Flores. The Flores supporters, however, refused to surrender in this ignominious fashion and issued a counter statement showing that a majority of the votes had been cast in favor of their candidate. Then both groups showered telegrams of congratulation upon their respective leaders. Flores and his supporters have also challenged the claims of Calles on the ground that their opponents were guilty of wholesale violence, fraud and intimidation in the election.
As a result of these charges and disputed claims, the election will now, in all likelihood, be thrown into the Chamber of Deputies which meets early in September. But here a new complication presents itself. The members of this body were also chosen at the last election, and because of the large number of contested seats the attempt to organize the Chamber promises to be a very stormy and tumultuous affair, unless the Calles deputies, with the tacit consent of Obregón, completely intimidate their rivals. Already there are many seats for which two men have presented "official" credentials; some for which three claimants have appeared, and a few for which there are four contestants. Indeed, Mexican newspapers have recently gone so far as to express the fear that the attempt may be made to set up two Chambers of Deputies, each of which would claim the lawful power.
Only a rash prophet would venture a prediction as to the outcome of such a situation as now prevails in Mexican politics. But certain possibilities present themselves which are worthy of a moment's consideration.
First, the Calles-Flores imbroglio may come to such a pass before December that Obregón will decide to retain the presidency to save the Government from ruin. To do this it will be necessary for him to violate (or else amend) one of the most cherished provisions of the Constitution of 1917, to return to the old idea of the presidential succession for which Diaz was so condemned, and to repudiate his own solemn pledges against reëlection. Obregón might well do all these things, however, and many others, if in so doing he thought he could save his country from another destructive political upheaval.
Second, it is possible that Calles will come to the presidency and the country still escape a revolution. In this case what may Mexico and the outside world expect from the Calles administration? On this subject there are varying opinions. Some believe that Calles, if left to his own devices, will prove so extremely radical and corrupt that Mexico will soon be reduced to the evil plight of Soviet Russia. Others take the position that Calles is actually a conservative at heart who has only assumed the radical guise for political purposes, and that once in power he will attempt to walk the middle way in economic and social matters. Lastly, there are those who hold that Calles is purely an opportunist who will follow any course that promises to advance his own self-interest.
Third, there is reason to believe that even if Calles becomes president the real authority in Mexico will still remain in the hands of Obregón. Calles is unpopular with a large part of the Mexican people and with the army. He could not, therefore, remain very long in power if Obregón, who now, at least, dominates the army and who has already been offered the portfolio of war in the Calles cabinet, should withdraw his support from him. This Obregón would do if Calles strayed beyond the beaten path.
Fourth, there are rumors that Obregón, Calles and Flores have entered into a compact (similar to the Obregón-Calles-De la Huerta compact of 1920) under which Flores will support Calles during the next four years and then receive the presidency for himself at the hands of the other two. Unless the real attitude of Flores and Calles toward each other has been completely camouflaged, however, it is scarcely possible that these two could give each other the mutual support which this supposed agreement calls for. Still, the lion and the lamb have, on occasion, lain down together in Mexico--temporarily.
Lastly, there is some reason to believe that if Calles assumes power against the genuine opposition of the Flores party the country must prepare to face another revolution. Flores, as already stated, is a strong man--which no one could well say of De la Huerta--and a military leader of unusual ability. He is, moreover, thoroughly entrenched in one of the most important states of the republic and controls a section of the country which could not easily be invaded by an enemy. He has also the sympathy (and perhaps could rely on the financial support) of many of the "best" elements of Mexican society and could count on the unpopularity of Calles adding materially to his following. The country, too, is still more or less in a ferment as a result of the De la Huerta uprising. In several of the extreme southern states the Government's authority is as yet only a little more than nominal. In other sections of the country armed bands are still able to defy the federal forces and endanger railway communication or loot important towns. Thus, though suppressed, the De la Huerta movement has not been utterly extinguished, and if the opportunity arose many of its supporters would join any revolution against the Calles régime that gave promise of success. Finally, if Flores should organize a revolution and be able to finance it for even a few months, the Government would find it almost impossible to keep its soldiers in the field because of lack of funds.
Certain factors, on the other hand, may be mentioned as militating against the success of a Flores revolution should such a movement actually be set on foot. In the first place it is evident that many of the thinking people and the business interests of the country, as well as the mass of the common people, are utterly sick of revolution and have come to look upon this method of solving their political problems and other evils with despair. Again, the fate of the De la Huerta revolution and the wholesale executions which marked its tragic aftermath--for few presidents in Mexican history dealt with defeated enemies more drastically than Obregón--have done something at least to discourage movements of a similar character in the immediate future. Lastly, and most important of all, the fear that the United States Government would assist in putting down a revolution in favor of Flores, as it did in the case of the De la Huerta uprising, will make the opposition extremely cautious in its appeal to arms.
In this connection, if Flores sets a revolt in motion against the Calles administration, one wonders if the decision as to the attitude of our Government should take toward such a movement will not cause Mr. Hughes some sleepless nights. Certainly the position of Flores is very different from that occupied by De la Huerta. The United States might well assume the responsibility of supporting the recognized and legitimate government of the country against such a revolution as that sponsored by De la Huerta. But to aid Calles against Flores is another matter. To do so on the grounds that the "official" returns of the election were in his favor would leave common sense entirely out of the equation. In Mexico the "official" returns of an election are always in favor of the candidate whom the faction in control of the Government wishes to see in power. And the only method the opposition has ever known of securing a chance at office is by a resort to revolution. For all this, it may be both expedient and necessary for the United States to support Calles as it supported Obregón, if Flores or any of his faction "proclaim" against the Government, in order to prevent the complete economic and political collapse with which another long drawn out revolution in the near future would threaten Mexico.
This review of the present political situation in Mexico would be incomplete without a summary of the most pressing problems in other fields with which the next president,--whether he be Calles, Obregón, or Flores,--will have to deal.
The first and foremost of these problems is that of securing funds for a depleted and harassed treasury. The finances of Mexico today are in a chaotic state. For nearly a year the Government has not been able to meet its current obligations or pay the salaries of its employees except at widely extended and very irregular intervals. It is badly crippled in performing even its most essential functions and has no power at all to carry out its educational program, maintain its railroads, assist in the agricultural development of the country, reestablish its banking system, or keep its harbors open to navigation.
Mexico's financial plight is equally distressing in the international field. The treasury, despite heroic efforts, has not been able to secure a foreign loan. And though there is probably no truth in the rumor, it is currently reported in Mexico that Ambassador Warren's recent resignation was due to the fact that he was unable to obtain an advance of funds for Obregón from American bankers, and so felt that he could no longer be of any real benefit to the country.
Early in July the Government suspended the interest payments then due upon the nation[ILLEGIBLE WORDS] debt, as provided for under the Lamont-De la Huerta agreement, and employed the funds set aside for this purpose in other ways. Months ago it was evident that this would happen; but the act has certainly not increased Mexico's credit or enhanced her good name with the investing world. At this writing official announcement has just been made that representatives of the American oil companies operating in Mexico, upon whom Obregón publicly laid the blame for the defeat of his last loan, are soon to go to Mexico City to see the president in person on this and other matters. It is possible, and earnestly to be hoped, that this conference will iron out the difficulties between the administration and the petroleum interests, open up the way for the development of Mexico's great untouched oil resources, and enable the treasury to secure its foreign loan.
Another financial burden of great magnitude which the treasury must sometime expect to have laid upon it, is that of the awards of the two United States-Mexican Claims Commissions which are now about to begin to function. Whether these awards, however, will come in time to embarrass the next administration may well be questioned.
In addition to these financial problems, the next government in Mexico must expect to deal with unusually troublesome disorders in the nation's social and economic life. Chief of these are the widespread unrest in the ranks of labor and the difficulties arising from the agrarian laws, which, in addition to the other problems they produce, are now the excuse for much violence and pillaging by armed bands of agricultural laborers whom the Government cannot hold in check.
This is not the place to discuss whether the recent labor legislation in Mexico is good or bad. It is necessary to point out, however, that the great mass of Mexican laborers are still densely ignorant, that they are easily moved by irresponsible and radical agitators, and that they are frequently employed for political and selfish purposes by utterly unworthy leaders. The marine workers' strike at Vera Cruz, which closed that important port just before the De la Huerta revolution, and the long drawn out strike of the Aguila Oil Company's employees, which began some four months ago, are only illustrations of what the next government must be prepared to face.
The international relations of Mexico are also far from satisfactory. It is a question whether the Mexican Government, having once suspended the Lamont-De la Huerta agreement, will not now repudiate it entirely, thus opening up again the whole critical issue of the nation's foreign debt, and rendering futile much that has been done to restore Mexico's international position within the past three years.
In particular, Mexico's relations with England leave much to be desired. Taking the position that the Constitution of 1917 contained provisions contrary to the established principles of international law, and that Great Britain could not lend its sanction to a government which refused to change such provisions, the British Foreign Office has persistently refused to recognize the Obregón Administration. This refusal has naturally increased the anti-British feeling in Mexican official circles, which arose at the time of the Madero revolution and the counter-movement under Victoriano Huerta. Ill feeling has further been intensified by the real or supposed activities of British citizens in the recent De la Huerta uprising. And, whether justified by the facts or not, Obregón has publicly accused some of the highest officials of the most important British oil company in Mexico of having aided and financed the De la Huerta cause.
The spectacular case of Mr. H. A. Cunnard Cummins, in charge of the British interests in Mexico, has recently brought about another serious misunderstanding with England, and incidentally added a new and somewhat curious incident to Mexican diplomatic history. The attempted expulsion of Cummins and the rather ludicrous blockade of the British Legation by Mexican guards have been too widely commented upon in the daily press to require further discussion here. It is interesting, however, to note that Cummins' unpopularity came from his vigorous defense of the rights of a British citizen (a widow named Evans, since murdered, who before her marriage was a citizen of the United States) against the enforcement of the agrarian decrees, and that MacDonald, a Labor Premier, whole-heartedly approved the course pursued by Cummins. MacDonald's stand in the Cummins matter can be construed in only one of two ways--either he has become a reactionary and no longer represents the true labor point of view, or else the agrarian legislation of Mexico contains such serious defects that a genuine, intelligent progressive need not approve of it in its entirety. At any rate, no matter how one interprets MacDonald's position, it is certain that Mexico's action against Cummins destroyed any immediate hope Obregón may have had of securing British recognition or financial aid.
The above paragraphs set forth in a general way the principal difficulties which the coming government in Mexico must be prepared to face. How can the new president meet these problems? In theory the answer is extremely simple. He must see to it that life and property are protected and that his government abides by the principles of international law.
These are surely the natural and normal requirements to ask of any government, and if they can be met during the next four years Mexico's difficulties will almost disappear. She will be able to obtain the money necessary to restore her national finances and to develop her resources. She will find it possible to carry out a constructive and genuine program of education. She will advance the interests of labor and set the peon classes further along the way of economic and social progress than they have ever gone before. In short, she will actually accomplish some of those fine and splendid things which every Mexican orator loves to dwell upon, but which his government and people so seldom really undertake. That man, whether he is Calles or Flores or Obregón, should be Mexico's next president whose administration will best perform these primary functions of every government and meet these first great needs of every people.