How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
THE declaration on Korea made at Cairo by the heads of the United States, British and Chinese Governments reminded the world of a problem which it had almost forgotten. Freedom for Korea is not an issue invented by the Allies to weaken Japan. During the 34 years that have passed since the Japanese annexed their country the Koreans have waged an unceasing struggle for independence. The Japanese "Annual Report on Administration of Chosen" for the years 1937-38, the latest available, spoke of "wholesale arrests" at that time of members of secret organizations aiming at liberation, of a force of at least 16,000 Korean soldiers fighting the Japanese along the Manchurian-Korean border, and of the formation of a provisional Korean government in free China.
But although the people of the western nations are once more aware that the majority of the people of Korea have refused to accept Japanese rule, they know little else about the situation there. The wording of the Cairo declaration is itself somewhat obscure, for it merely promises that Korean independence will be restored "in due course." This would seem to mean that, following the defeat of Japan, Korea must pass through a period of tutelage to prepare her for self-government, during which time one or several Powers will exercise a mandate of some sort. Various questions arise when we try to decide whether it is true that Korea is not ready for independence. Has she the economic resources to stand alone? What are her internal problems? Does she have the necessary experienced leaders? Then there is the final question, granted that a mandate over Korea is desirable, as to the country or countries which could assume it.
The Korean people form a distinct nationality in the Korean peninsula. In language, traditions and culture they differ sharply from their neighbors, the Japanese and Chinese. The Korean language, like the Japanese, has assimilated a great number of Chinese words, but it is a separate language. Moreover, though there are certain local deviations from the speech of Seoul, the capital city, the language spoken throughout the whole Korean territory of 85,228 square miles is remarkably uniform. Korean art, dress, food and customs, like the Korean language, have much in common with those of their neighbors; yet they remain distinct. The stubbornness with which Koreans resisted Japanese rule, while all the rest of the world looked away, suggests the tenacity of Korean nationalism. It is correct to speak of Korea as a separate nation. After the war Korea may expect a gradual return of perhaps a million of her sons, chiefly those now in Japan, who are unassimilated workers in factories, mines and fields. Her population will exceed 26,000,000. It will be about the same as that of Spain.
Japan's original program in Korea was designed to make the peninsula a base for expansion on the Asiatic mainland and a source of raw materials and foodstuffs. Gradually Korea was supplied with a good system of roads and railways (there were 3,427 miles of railways by 1939), not because Koreans needed it -- there are now less than one horse and cow cart per hundred of population, and practically no motorcars -- but because this system of communications was extremely important for moving troops into Manchuria and to the Russian border. The Japanese closed Korea as an import or export market for foreigners; practically all the Korean raw materials which were exported were to Japan. In 1939, exports from Korea were valued at 1,006,794,000 yen; 73.2 percent (by value) of them went to Japan, 20.4 percent to Japanese-dominated Manchuria, 3.3 percent to the part of China occupied by Japan, and only .5 percent to European and American countries. In the same year Japan supplied Korea with 88.6 percent of her imports; of the remainder, 5.8 percent came from Manchuria and only 3 percent from Europe and America.
When Japan annexed Korea she found a typical oriental rural setup with rich landlords and numerous poor tenants the outstanding features. She wanted landlords who had a marketable surplus of rice and so did everything possible to strengthen the system. Three decades later the percentage of tenants and owner-tenants (those who have some land of their own, but are compelled to rent additional land) amounted to almost 80 percent of the total number of farmers. Following the rice riots which took place in Japan at the end of the First World War, the Japanese undertook an intensive development of Korea as a granary of the Empire. Through various devices, moreover, they appropriated at least one-quarter of the cultivated area of the country, including especially the rice fields. Almost half of the annual yield of rice has been exported to Japan, as well as a large proportion of other agricultural products. Even when crops are normal Korea is herself short of food. Governor-General Ugaki remarked in 1934 that the Korean farmers "would dig out and eat roots of trees on the mountains and fields or would beg from every door to keep themselves alive." Evidently the agricultural measures undertaken by the Japanese Government in Korea were designed to meet its own needs, not the needs of the local population.
Japan did not encourage the industrial development of Korea for a long while, but in 1929-30 there was a change of policy. Those were the years when the Japanese militarists began to plan their conquests and to prepare for the great war which they openly advocated. A rapid development of industry followed. The gross value of manufactured goods rose from 327,000,000 yen in 1929 to 1,873,000,000 in 1941 (partly, however, due to inflation). Greater and greater investments have been poured into Korean industry ever since, and by the end of the war Korea will probably have made substantial progress in developing a heavy industry, including machine-tool plants. Even as late as 1938, however, 76 percent of the Koreans were occupied in agriculture.
What are Korea's chief natural resources? Her cultivated area is about 11,000,000 acres, or less than half an acre per head of the population. As the country is mountainous a great increase in the arable acreage cannot be expected; perhaps 3,000,000 acres could be added if large investments were made for the purpose. But climatic conditions in some parts of the south permit gathering of two and in certain cases three crops yearly from the same land, so that the yield for the country as a whole is the same as if the cultivated area were 35 percent larger. At present the yields are very low, in most cases only half those prevailing in Japan. Moreover, the possibilities of irrigation are far from exhausted. With improvements, then, the population of Korea could be better supplied with foodstuffs than either the Japanese or Chinese.
Korea is now producing as much cotton per capita as India. She has a considerable production of beans and oil seeds, and certain possibilities in production of hemp, flax and sugar beets. She is an exporter of silk and has enough raw materials to produce rayon and staple fibre. Thus she may easily reach self-sufficiency in the chief textile materials except wool. Forest area occupies 74 percent of the total area, but much of it is practically worthless; good stands of forest remain only in the north. Many areas could, however, be reforested. The sea near the Korean shores abounds in fish and the annual catch since 1937 is about 1,800,000 tons -- more than that of the United States.
Korea is not rich in coal and has no oil, but is relatively rich in water power. Estimates of her reserves of coal, previously put at about two billion tons, chiefly anthracite, have been considerably increased by recent discoveries. Production in 1936 reached 2,300,000 tons and by now has been at least doubled under the pressure of war. The capacity of electric stations in Korea in 1938 was 668,000 kilowatts and by now has probably reached 2,000,000 kilowatts; these are chiefly hydroelectric stations. A recent report of Japanese engineers estimates that the possible total production of hydroelectric power in Korea is 5,000,000 kilowatts. In 1937 only five countries in the world had a greater actual production than Korea's potential production. Sea-water power might add largely to this total. The difference between high and low tide on the western shore of the peninsula reaches 40 feet and, according to Japanese surveys, this power might be utilized.
As to iron, Korea has a reserve of more than one billion tons, chiefly of low grade iron ores, and recent Japanese dispatches speak of discoveries of new reserves of high grade ores. Production of pig iron in 1936 was 156,000 tons. After 1936 no further data on the subject was released, but it may be assumed that production is now at least 500,000 tons. The production of steel is possibly as great. The country is also rich in gold, zinc, lead, magnesium, zirconium, chromium, aluminum and other ores, in graphite and mica, and has a fairly good production of cement (1,560,000 tons in 1939). There is a well-developed chemical industry with one plant capable of producing 500,000 tons of sulphate of ammonia annually, and others either in operation or under construction. In short, the resources of the peninsula make possible a considerable degree of industrialization.
It must be emphasized that any real industrialization of Korea is merely a future possibility. The fundamental fact of the Korean economy today is the poverty of the population. Recent Japanese development of industry has not changed the character of the economy as a whole. In 1941 the gross production (i.e. in industry, agriculture, fishing, mining and forestry) per capita was about 150 yen (less than $50). Net production would be considerably lower. About half of the national income is taken by the Japanese as taxes or as profits. And again, as in the case of all Oriental countries, most of the income which remains in Korea is concentrated in the hands of relatively few people.
Rapid industrialization is the primary task that will face a reborn Korea. It is not impossibly difficult and will not demand heavy foreign borrowings. In the last few years the Japanese invested several hundred million yen annually in Korean industry. These millions were collected in Korea; a free Korean government could invest them for the welfare of the Korean people. And Korea's gold production, estimated at 200,000,000 yen for 1941, could be made to help greatly in paying for imported machinery.
As soon as the Japanese are driven out, a decision will have to be made which will enormously affect the country's future. The future of Japanese-owned enterprises must be decided. With few exceptions, all large concerns are now in the hands of the Japanese. Unless terms are made exceedingly favorable, there are no Koreans rich enough to buy them (only about 10 percent of corporate capital is in Korean hands). And those who might buy them would inevitably be the same individuals that had coöperated with the Japanese in the past. The alternative, of course, is for the nation to take over these enterprises as public property and, directing all available resources into the channels of reconstruction, to build a new Korea. Here we are at the core of Korea's problem.
As in all countries under a foreign conqueror, the Korean political situation cannot be appraised accurately, but many details come through the censorship. There is some antagonism between those who led the revolt of 1919 and the younger generation. The former consider themselves the natural leaders still and cling to the fiction that the government-in-exile formed in Shanghai at that time still exists and is the government of Korea. The younger Koreans, though respecting the old revolutionaries, believe that they must be superseded. There is an influential group of Koreans in China which is nearer in spirit to Communist Yennan than to Kuomintang Chungking. There are many Christians in Korea, trained by American missionaries, who look to America for guidance. There are some Socialists and some Communists. The Communist Party has been broken by police many times, but each time it has been reformed. Since 1937 there has been a noticeable tendency of all political groups, except the extreme conservatives who have been dependent upon Japanese favors, to work together. The need of economic reform and rapid industrialization is felt acutely by the young leaders in all groups.
A large part of the population is of course politically inert. This does not mean that there are no experienced and capable leaders. There are thousands of persons with university education (4,000 Korean students were studying in Japan in 1943); there are Korean graduates of American universities in the United States; there are Koreans in Russia who hold important official positions. Hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of Koreans took part in the demonstrations of 1919. They were superbly organized. The Korean representatives were secretly elected, flags were prepared, slogans and leaflets were distributed throughout the entire country. When the demonstrations began, the Japanese, who had packed Korea with spies and police, were taken completely by surprise.
The question of whether or not to entrust Korea's future to some one of the Powers under a mandate can be answered very briefly -- and, it seems to me, dismissed -- by merely asking one further question: What Power? Some writers have recommended Japan. I cannot think that such cynicism needs to be taken seriously. The United States? Russia would welcome the appearance of the United States as a mandatory Power on its frontier with exactly the same degree of enthusiasm with which the United States Government would welcome the arrival of the U.S.S.R. as a mandatory Power in, say, Mexico. Why in the world should the United States thus antagonize Russia? Should it be China? China has too many matters to attend to at home. Should it be Soviet Russia? The Chinese Government (and not it alone) would not welcome the idea. There is no Great Power which could be entrusted with the task without arousing at least suspicion and probably energetic opposition on the part of others.
Will the new international organization now under discussion be functioning in time to undertake the job? It does not seem probable to the writer. There is also the possibility that a trusteeship for Korea will be assumed not by a particular country, but by a group of Powers, say, the United States, Great Britain, China and Russia. This form of mandate might be more acceptable to Korea's neighbors and to the Koreans themselves than a mandate entrusted to a single Power, especially if it were fixed for a short duration, say, five years. The possibility of making such an arrangement will of course depend in large part on the relations existing between the principal Powers at the end of the war. If the relations are cordial this sort of mandate might be practicable. In any event, the Koreans themselves will most certainly demand independence and not the status of a mandate. The system of mandates was devised after World War I. Its purpose, at least for mandates in Class A, was to render "administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone." Whatever may be said in favor of this plan as a whole, the fact remains that of all the mandated countries and territories, only one, 'Iraq, achieved formal independence; and it may be that even 'Iraq's independence is more formal than actual.
The Allied officers in charge of the army of occupation must arrange general elections in Korea after a certain interval -- say, six months -- which will give Korean exiles a chance to come home and to take a part in the campaign. Absolute freedom of speech, press and assembly during the preëlection period should be guaranteed. The Constituent Assembly must then prepare a constitution and form Korea's government. There is no doubt that this government will be willing to use expert advice and assistance; but there is no reason to suppose that Korea will not be able to assume responsibility for her own affairs.
The best guarantee of Korea's security and peaceful development lies in friendly relations with all countries, and especially with her neighbors. If the Great Powers -- in their own interests -- guarantee her independence and territorial integrity, Korea can dispense with a large army and navy, and her full strength can be given to the task of economic development. Christianity will make new strides in Korea, unhampered by Japanese restrictions and suspicions, and this will create a strong bond of friendship with the United States, a country from which much technical advice and some financial assistance may come. There is no doubt that most friendly relations will continue to be maintained with China, from whose cultural treasures Korea has borrowed freely in the past. Russia, Korea's neighbor, will inevitably be a source of influence in the reorganization of Korea's economic life. And economic relations with Japan cannot but continue to be close.
Geography has given China, Russia, Japan and the Pacific Ocean as the frame within which Korean political and economic institutions must develop. It is best for Korea, and for world peace, that she take the responsibility for her own development, not in "due course," but at once.