Xi’s Costly Obsession With Security
How a Quest for Control Threatens China’s Economic Growth
THERE are some platitudes that are so much platitudes that they serve to deaden thought when it ought to be provoked. No one, for example, refers to the unity of civilized mankind -- or of mankind civilized and uncivilized for that matter -- except as a truism too obvious to be discussed. And, of course, it is a truism. Mankind is one. But even a truism may mean something to those who trouble to think it out. It means much more than merely that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth." It means that mankind is one in its emotions and desires, in its aspirations, in its self-revelations, in its forms of expression, despite all its differences of language and idea and national tradition. The great figure in literature and art, in science and philosophy, the great religious teacher, is the common possession of the world, not the monopolized mouthpiece of any single nation.
That unity may from time to time be temporarily and partially shattered by some great cataclysm. We have only very lately bridged again the gulfs the war opened between men of like purpose and like endeavor in different lands. Not all indeed are bridged yet, for Russia is still almost wholly cut off from contact with the thought and the scientific progress of Europe and America. But it is broadly true none the less that in the things of the mind, the things that together constitute what we call culture, the world is one. As I write these lines, the man who till two days ago was the greatest living novelist of the English-speaking world is awaiting his burial in Westminster Abbey. Thomas Hardy belonged essentially to his native Dorset, but Dorset could not keep him for herself. Nor could England. Nor could the Anglo-Saxon races. He was part of the culture of the world (though less so than some men not intrinsically greater, because in some ways he deliberately localized the expression of his genius) just as Pasteur was, or Wagner or Lincoln or William James.
It is not indeed the personalities of men like these, but rather the ideas they inspire and bequeath, that knit the world into oneness. And the unity they create, or perhaps demonstrate and emphasize rather than create, brings penalties as well as advantage. If all mankind benefits by a common possession, all mankind can be made to suffer from a common ill. That is part, and no small part, of the tragedy of the war. If the bankruptcy of statesmanship or of goodwill and honest intention reveals itself in the desperate acquiescence in resort to force as the last arbiter, the price to be ultimately paid for that disastrous failure will fall on men and women of many nations far removed in distance and in thought from those plunged actually into war. Of the economic interdependence of nations there is little need to speak. But that perhaps is the field where war in reality spreads its ravages least noxiously, though they stand out conspicuous while elsewhere they may lurk beneath the surface.
Perhaps the worst of all the evils that follow in the wake of war is a general lowering of spiritual values. Precisely how and why this should be so need be discussed only if there were any general disposition to deny the fact. But there is not. Certain virtues shine out conspicuous in war, notably of course personal sacrifice and courage, and to a lesser degree resource and pertinacity and endurance. But the men who fight, even in such an Armageddon as we have just passed through, are few by comparison with the mass of mankind far removed from the war arena. And in any case the actual conflict endures for a period far briefer than its progeny of consequences and reactions. Belief in the potentialities of man wavers in the face of evidence so crushing of the impotence of man. The spectacle of the apparent triumph of the worse way over the better breeds discouragement and scepticism, consciously in the few, subconsciously in the many. In a recent biography of a well-known figure in the movement for world-unity and peace it is recorded that when the decision of August 1914 was taken, he could only exclaim in dejection and momentary despair, "They've beaten us." "They" meant no definite persons and no definite countries. It was all the composite forces making continuously for war that had triumphed at last, and the men who stood for something better found it hard for a while to convince themselves that their struggle was worth pursuing.
We have not struck the balance-sheet of the Great War yet. The world was thrown suddenly out of joint, and many of the dislocations are still not remedied. I am no pessimist and I do not look to the future with alarm, but it would be idle to pretend that there are not many features in the present that provoke grave disquiet. I speak, it is true, primarily of my own country when I deplore a demoralization which undeniably exists in literature, in the drama and in the habits and practices of individual life. These things cannot be measured. A convincing comparison between pre-war and post-war standards could only be drawn by some authority with wide experience and unfaltering judgment. But no one reasonably conversant with the contemporary novel (this is even more true of France than of England) or with the type of play to be found at three London theatres out of five, can doubt that, quite apart from the growth of a certain freedom which may be wholly healthy, there has developed a laxity of moral standards such as we had not to reckon with in anything like the same degree before the war. Post hoc may not be necessarily propter hoc, but in this case it is difficult to divorce the effect from what would appear the obvious cause.
Fundamentally what the world is suffering from is loss of faith in the things it once believed in. A characteristic symptom is the decay of parliamentary government in many countries. Men no longer trust themselves to order their own affairs. Democracy for the moment is in eclipse. In Italy there has developed a personal dictatorship; in Russia a dictatorship in commission. Spain has based itself largely on the model of Italy. In Poland parliamentary forms are more carefully preserved, but power is recognized to rest with a single personality. The same has happened, on a relatively trifling scale it is true, in the adjoining state of Lithuania. Contrasted as they seem to be in some respects, the régime in Italy and the régime in Russia resemble each other curiously. Each marks a revolt against an earlier régime, though it is a revolt in the one case towards the Right, in the other towards the Left. In either case, the nation is disciplined and drilled. Intimidation figures more largely in one country than in the other, but in different forms it is present in both. Originality and initiative in either case are relentlessly quelled. An effective censorship darkens knowledge by denying currency to facts incompatible with the theories it is desired to inculcate, and in both countries the population is relatively acquiescent. The many have abandoned their rights and abdicated in favor of the few. Tsarist Russia furnished no very exalted standards against which to set the standards of Russia today, but even so it is hard to resist the conclusion that progress has been mainly downwards. And only an ardent Fascist would claim that in the qualities which make a nation great the Italy of 1928 is on the whole richer than the Italy of the years before the war.
Turn to Germany. There politically we are comparing Republic with Monarchy, and to that extent the war, it will seem to many, has brought an obvious gain. It may be so. But who can foresee the destiny of Germany today, looking less to her political evolution than her spiritual? Before the war she was at least a unity, with the half-apotheosized figure of the Kaiser as rallying-point. Today that rallying point is gone. But it is by no means certain that any stable substitute has been found. Parliamentary institutions have been accepted rather because no other form of government was possible than because they were in themselves approved. That they should take firm root in Germany all will hope, but few will be confident.
Where Germany emerged defeated from the war France came through victorious, but her victory was snatched from the very jaws of defeat. The enemy's guns had echoed through the streets of her capital. Her courage had not faltered and her valor helped to save her, but France knows today, as she only feared before, that, left to face alone an onslaught by her immediate neighbor, she could have nothing in prospect but defeat. Alliances cannot be counted on to repeat themselves, and France, apart from the all-important engagements of Locarno, is not in fact relying on them today. She relies instead on material armaments, piled up to counteract the potential strength of an unarmed Germany. And she cannot be certain that they will counteract it. But since France cannot stand alone, and knows it, there must be the piled-up armaments or else some binding guarantee which will make her certain again of the Allies who saved her in the crisis of fourteen years ago. To point that out is not to disparage France. In a world still disintegrated and demoralized she is taking the natural course. But it is not the highest course; perhaps it could not be. France herself is in no sense a danger to peace; on the contrary, she clings to peace; but it is doing her no injustice to say that she clings to peace primarily because she dreads war so greatly and with so much reason.
I have no desire to speak less favorably of other countries than of my own. I would indeed be the last to claim that Britain came morally unscathed through the ordeal of the war. On the contrary, she was shaken in all her fabric. Memories are short, but we have not forgotten yet the tragedy of the struggle with Ireland in the years immediately after peace was signed, with the shameful warfare waged by the Black-and-Tans in the name of the British Government. Industrially the temporary unity the war precipitated was dissipated as soon as the war was over, and though it took years for smouldering discontents to blaze out at last in the folly of the General Strike of 1925, that episode remains as bitter testimony of the failure of Great Britain to hold fast her moral gains.
The tide I believe has turned so far as Britain is concerned. I hope it is not political bias which leads me to suggest that the first symptom of revival was the advent of Mr. Baldwin's Government to power. It was a sign that the country desired stability, and some of the Prime Minister's earlier speeches, notably on the theme of peace in industry, at once reflected and stimulated all that was best in the national aspirations, though, by the unhappy irony of events, the sequel to them in point of time was the prolonged dispute in the mining industry and the General Strike in which it culminated.
But as I read the signs today I take courage to hope. I have spoken of post-war demoralization as reflected in post-war literature. A reaction is beginning to set in. The average novel of 1928 is cleaner, less superficial, richer in idea and sometimes in purpose, than the novel of 1921. The ideals of public service are making a new appeal, or perhaps presenting an old appeal with more effect. Peace in industry, to borrow too casual a current phrase, is not the result of mere exhaustion after the disastrous May of 1925, but the outcome of a dawning and broadening conviction that neither the community nor any class can realize itself except on the basis of conscious coöperation. And on a higher level there is manifest a new sense of the realities of religion. That is something more easy to feel than to demonstrate, but one evidence at least has created a profound impression wherever in the country the debates in the House of Parliament are read. By general consent, Parliament has never since the war risen to any level comparable with that attained in the discussions on the revision of the Prayer Book. No single speech was delivered that violated the sentiments of religious men. Speech after speech, on the contrary, was delivered on either side charged with an earnestness and a depth of conviction such as, by the nature of things, can rarely find expression in the ordinary secular debates of Parliament. And it was not because Members cared so little about religion that they were reluctant to endorse the changes in the revised liturgy, but because they cared so much.
How stands it -- to put a question I claim no title to answer -- with the United States? If the unity of mankind is what I believe, it would be strange that America should remain untouched by the disintegration of ideas and the depreciation, temporary or permanent, of moral values. Conditions differ, of course, in many notable respects on the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean. America, in particular, is wealthy, while Europe is impoverished. But by readers of this journal at least wealth will not be mistaken for moral health. The two may subsist together -- that is quite possibly the case in America today -- but at least the alternative is possible too. There can be increasing wealth with decreasing moral health. Spiritual values need not rise commensurately with bank balances. But that is America's affair, on which Americans can frame their own conclusions on the basis of knowledge I cannot claim to possess. But while a foreigner may hesitate to express himself with assurance on questions domestic to the United States, he may perhaps be permitted to make certain comments, from the standpoint not of critic but of dispassionate observer, on certain tendencies which seem to be manifest in the United States' external policy.
Let us take, for example, one fundamental canon of American policy. The avoidance of entangling alliances is consecrated by a tradition going back to the first days of the Republic, and the circumstances that dictated the formulation of the doctrine are as completely intelligible as the considerations which have maintained it from that day onwards in the forefront of the political philosophy of the United States. There has often been enough that is distasteful in the play and interplay of European diplomacy to justify abundantly the resolve of the United States to avoid implicating itself in controversies and intrigues from which it was happily in a position to hold aloof. But that, of course, is not the only possible explanation of the reverence paid to the doctrine of non-entanglement. Without serious inappropriateness, it might be said of the two passers-by in the Biblical parable that they left the man who had fallen among thieves lying wounded where he was because they had been educated to avoid entangling alliances. A doctrine wise in its inception and frequently beneficial in its application may need to be differently characterized if it is ever taken as mere shelter from the sacrifices attendant on full coöperation in the heavy task of straightening out the difficulties of the world and building up again the ruined fabric. The doctrine of non-entanglement so interpreted and put to such use might be thought to be more akin to national sefishness than to national prudence.
Why is it that the United States is unpopular in Europe? To pretend that it is not unpopular would be mere affectation, though doubtless the degree of its unpopularity is often grossly exaggerated. Still, it is at the moment not popular, just as I am told there is no excess of enthusiasm for Great Britain today in the United States. If I try and indicate briefly what is frequently said about the United States in different European countries today, it must not be thought that I am making this picture and these ideas my own. I am not. I agree broadly with some of them and disagree profoundly with others. But if the present misunderstandings between Europe and the United States are to be lessened or removed -- and in the interest of mankind nothing is more necessary -- it may perhaps help if I state with frankness what is commonly felt on the subject. Put crudely it amounts to this -- that the United States is binding on men's backs burdens grievous to be borne and lifting not one of its fingers to lighten the load. America, it is said, remained out of the war for nearer three years than two, while the nations with which she later was associated were almost worn down by the stress of the conflict. Later, when the folly of the Germans forced her into war against her will, her weight was only felt in the field in the closing months of the war, and between then and the Armistice she suffered comparatively little, if sufferings are computed in the terms of what the other Allies had borne. The intervention of America was of vital importance; it may indeed be claimed with some show of reason that it was actually decisive; but to the end the great bulk of the fighting was of necessity done by others.
Let me continue the argument, an argument, I repeat, which I am quoting, though by no means adopting. After the war came the work of reconstruction. By far the greatest outcome of the peace settlement was the League of Nations. In international affairs it is the one hope of the world. In the first half of 1919 -- in April when the Covenant was adopted by the Allies, in June when it received the signature of the Allies and the Germans as the first chapter of the Treaty of Versailles -- it was before all things the League of President Wilson. Thought had been applied to it in other countries. The Covenant in its final form was as much British as American. But it was President Wilson who had given the League idea currency; and President Wilson, and through him his country, reaped the credit which no one endeavored or desired to deny him. But the United States, avoiding responsibility, withdrew from the League and left to the others the task of launching it and keeping it afloat.
The World Court, again, was as much an American conception as a European. One of the most distinguished of American jurists, Mr. Root, took a leading part in framing its Statute. But America stands aloof from the Court. She came near identifying herself with it in 1926, and the reasons that finally dictated her abstention are understood. But the fact remains that the United States has recoiled from this largely American expression of what is historically an American idea.
In other spheres American aloofness has made itself equally felt. There is the whole question of war-debts. I have no intention of discussing that here. America is fully within her legal rights in the line she has taken. So far as Great Britain is concerned there is only one policy -- to honor our engagements and to continue at whatever sacrifice to pay what we undertook to pay. But a policy that may be legally justified is not of necessity attractive. After all, creditors are seldom popular and the circumstances out of which this debt arose does not tend to decrease the unpopularity of its enforcement.
Further back, there was Armenia. That story is largely forgotten now, but at the Peace Conference no nation was more eloquent than America on the rights of the Armenians and the need of enabling them to reëstablish themselves on an independent, or at least an autonomous, basis in the region of their historic home. America was insistent on that till it came to the question of assuming responsibility towards the Armenians and offering them some kind of protection and support. From that America recoiled as decisively as she was recoiling from the idea of association with the League.
Later still we have had the Three-Power Naval Conference at Geneva. The assembling of the Conference was due to the initiative of President Coolidge and his action does him nothing but honor. But America, say her European critics, having brought the Conference into being, declined to make the concessions which could have rescued the Conference from failure. She wanted large guns in large cruisers, and on the question of large guns the final breakdown occurred. There were, of course, other difficulties regarding which criticism must be directed elsewhere, but without reopening recent controversies I must affirm my personal conviction that it was within America's power, not less than it was within Great Britain's power, to have carried away from Geneva an agreement entirely honorable and in no way disadvantageous to herself.
What, the critic asks, has become of the traditional idealism of Americans? Has wealth submerged it? Was it never more than words? Will America offer only counsel and not collaboration, and, if that be so, must we see in it one more result of the general devitalization of national purpose consequent on the war?
It will not, I believe, be made ground of offence if an English writer brings thus before American readers some of the more relevant criticisms of American policy emerging almost daily from the conversation of commentators in Europe not always ill-informed. I have no desire to attempt to estimate the justice of the comments. If they are wholly without basis, then it is matter for congratulation that one country at least is free from a general disease with which the whole world seemed afflicted. But no American, I am certain, would claim that his country has wholly escaped the contagion. To recognize this world-wide evil is not to despair of a remedy. No doubt the disease must run its course and time be an ingredient in its cure. But that does not mean leaving Nature to do her work unassisted. It is the business of statesmanship in all countries in Europe, in America, and in Asia, to take hold of the situation and shape the destiny of a world that otherwise would only drift.
The disease may be spiritual and moral, and so it largely is. To that extent a more real religion and a more consistent observance of moral standards will do much to set the wrong right. For the individual that perhaps is the best remedy of all, but in world affairs individuals must act as societies. The instruments of statesmanship are national policies, and it is one result of the inertia which is part of the moral disease of the world that the approach to such problems as disarmament and arbitration has hitherto been so nerveless. The will, it is true, is not completely lacking. Many nations are anxious to do something so long as there is no danger of their being asked to go beyond the modest limits they have set themselves. Britain will disarm, France will disarm, every country will disarm, so far as is consistent with security. And security perpetually vanishes because every nation arms to make itself secure and its rivals arm more to make themselves securer.
Only one policy has been framed which gives hope of any practical result. War between individual States must be banished from the world, as America is foremost in demanding, but it can be banished in one way only. To take the place of war there must be a system of arbitration, effective, comprehensive, inspiring confidence. That policy involves definite undertakings by individual States. They must be willing to accept an arbitral decision in all cases instead of a decision by war. Only if a nation knows that the State with which it is in controversy has already given a binding pledge to that effect will it relinquish the idea of gaining its ends by war. And only if the small State knows that it is sure of the execution of a judgment in its favor even against a great one, just as a poor man in a civilized State is sure of the execution of a judgment in his favor even against a millionaire, will those States or any others be willing to trust themselves to a system which banishes the possibility of war from the world, -- except indeed that form of war, if war it can properly be called, which consists of common action by the States of the world in an ultimate emergency to restrain any single State endeavoring to thwart the agreed processes of law by a sudden and treacherous appeal to force.
Realization of that policy would mean the substitution of law for war -- not in words, but in solid reality. To attain such an end would be a great moral achievement for the world. But like other great ends it is not to be attained without sacrifice. No nation unwilling to accept the responsibilities of cöoperation, whether that reluctance be described in formulas about entangling alliances or not, can contribute to the establishment of a moral order consonant with the highest ideals of the most trusted leaders in every country, in America at least as much as anywhere. America's decision in such a matter must, of course, be America's alone.
If her traditions, her geographical position, her mentality, compel her to confine herself to concerting declarations instead of coöperating in the establishment, and if need be the defence, of a world system in which war shall be quite absent, and armaments almost so, then the rest of the world must go that road as best it may without her. But while Europeans cast no shadow of doubt on the sincerity of America's ideals or the nobility of her professions, they frankly find it hard to comprehend her reluctance to back her beliefs. The nations of Europe today are striving, haltingly and uncertainly it may be, to build up a new world-order essentially moral in basis and in purpose, resting, as national order rests, on the substitution of pacific for violent settlements of disputes, with the writ of the Court guaranteed by the common will and in the last resort by the common action of the community of States. If Americans today care for the great principle of world-peace and disarmament as Lincoln cared for the principle of the Union, can they for ever resist the conclusion, forced remorselessly on Lincoln, that an order based on a common contract must be defended in emergencies by other means than affirmations of belief in it, however eloquent?