Today's Balance of Forces in the Far East


By FREDERICK V. FIELD, Secretary, the American Council, Institute of Pacific Relations

Delivered before the Institute of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, June 24, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 39-42.

ONE of the important justifications for the Institutes of Public Affairs which have been held in these delightful surroundings for a number of years has been the role such gatherings play in making democracy work. For the public to exercise its democratic function successfully it must understand the complicated public issues which face them and it must learn how to act upon that understanding.

The understanding of public issues has always been important in this country: today it is more than important, it is mandatory. Otherwise the rapid course of events will impell us into unwelcome situations simply because we have not known how to control or direct the intermediate problems daily confronting our country.

You may recall a philosophic dispute which has engaged a good deal of attention in China's history. At a time when it had been in the interest of the ruling groups in China to freeze a social-political set-up which operated to their advantage, Confucius had preached that understanding was easy, action difficult. This implied that attention should be concentrated on problems of conduct in a social and political setting which itself should go unquestioned. The problem as he defined it was how to live within a given political framework that presented no problems.

Centuries later, under wholly different circumstances, Sun Yat-Sen reversed the Confucian logic by teaching that understanding was difficult, action easy. He believed that in the modern revolutionary era any one would know what to do if they could only be made to understand the problems of government and economy which were impeding their modern development.

A third distinguished Chinese intellectual posed the problem as it actually confronts us today. Dr. Hu Shih, the present Chinese Ambassador to this country, argued that both understanding and action were difficult. None of us who has participated in the efforts of this and other institutes to clarify the problems and policies of democracy can fail to appreciate the force of Dr. Hu's teaching. In our sessions today, for instance, we can rest neither on an analysis of the Sino-Japanese War as it affects American interests without carrying our conclusions to political actions, nor can we advocate policies of appeasement to Japan or of aid for China without having the most thorough possible understanding of the conditions from which and upon which policies operate.

The Forgotten War

I shall attempt to give a brief survey of where the Sino-Japanese War stands at present and what appear to be the principal trends in the influences on the war arising from the policies of the foreign powers.

First of all let us remind ourselves that we are dealing with the forgotten war. It is the war which our newspapers have forgotten; it is the war which the Red Cross has not only forgotten but has never bothered to recognize; I suspect it is the war the great consequences of which our government is also in the process of forgetting.

The number of military and civilian casualties of this three-year, large-scale war approximate the total casualties of the first World War. The number of troops actively engaged is only now being paralleled in Europe. The gigantic civilian evacuations and migrations from Belgium and northeast France certainly have not equalled the population movements that have taken place in China under similarly tragic consequences. Nor, unless we deliberately choose to make it so, does the European war offer greater dangers of American involvement than does Japanese aggression. Indications, however, are that our government is deliberately making that choice.

The material and political consequences of the European war do affect us more directly and forcefully if we choose to ignore the connection between Japan's unchecked aggression since 1931 and the German-Italian aggressions which prepared the way for the present stage of total war in Europe. But if with greater accuracy we see the connection between, on the one hand, aggression throughout the world and, on the other hand, the weakness of the democracies throughout the decade, we may appreciate thatthe European war is in large measure the consequence of what was permitted to occur in the Far East from 1931 to 1939.

The Stalemate Between China and Japan The war between China and Japan is at a virtual stalemate and it has been in that stage for more than a year and a half. Stalemated first on the military front, in the sense that no way could be found to destroy the Chinese armies as distinguished from simply pushing them around, the Japanese put great emphasis on winning by economic measures. In this field neither their efforts to ruin Chinese currency while establishing their own, nor to exploit the agricultural and mineral resources of the areas supposedly occupied, nor to develop an internal market in China for their own manufactures have been sufficiently successful to break Chinese resistance. The political front was then given major attention in order to split the unity of Chinese resistance. This took the form of trying, on the one hand, to scare elements away from Chungking by either wholly faked or greatly exaggerated stories about the Chinese Communists or about the activities and intentions of the Soviet Union, and trying, on the other hand, to attract the more conservative Chinese elements into the camp of the puppet regimes. On this front, too, the Japanese have not been sufficiently successful to lead observers to discover any serious weakening of China's political unity.

We thus have a situation of stalemate which is well described in the following formulation. The situation consists of the concurrence of three sets of factors which, as long as they prevail, leave the Far Eastern War at a stalemate. These factors are: First, with regard to Japan, strong armies in the field, an undefeated navy, an economy which, though hard pressed, has not reached the stage of bankruptcy, and a government committed to the avowed purpose of establishing the "New Order in Asia;" second, with regard to China, large reserves of regular troops able to take the field against the Japanese invader, organized guerrilla and partisan forces, access to at least some outside aid, and an unbroken will to independence united under Chiang-Kai-Shek; and, third, other powers which are not willing or not able to intervene actively. While these three sets of factors exist in their present equilibrium no progress in the Far Eastern situation can be expected.

Now it is the view of most observers of the Sino-Japanese War that the stalemate is not likely to be broken by the efforts of either China or Japan unless there occurs a change in the external situation which could weaken one and strengthen the other. Japan cannot by itself smash Chinese resistance, and China by itself cannot expel the invading forces. Our examination of the balance of forces must, consequently, be directed very largely to the trends in the policies of those foreign powers whose influence may still be brought to bear, either positively or negatively, on the outcome of the war.

In surveying briefly the current position of the major foreign powers, we must bear clearly in mind that the area of their maneuverability has been seriously narrowed by the predicament in which they find themselves. Policies can no longer be freely chosen, they are forced on nations. Good intentions no longer, necessarily, imply ability to carry them out. The Allies' ability to curb Hitlerism was one thing when the German army occupied the Rhineland; it was another thing at the time of Munich; today it may have passed beyond possibility. Similarly, the stopping of Japanese aggression or the encouragement of China's modern development was one kind of a problem in the fall of 1931; by the time Manchuria and large parts of North China had been added to the aggressor's war base, it was a differentproblem in the summer of 1937; and with the Allies and our own preoccupation in the European war, which have jointly permitted, if not encouraged, to develop, the Far Eastern problem presents entirely new difficulties.

Perhaps I am right in believing that we now generally concede that during the last ten and twenty years, we have mortgaged our own future—what is now the present—by refusing to pursue constructive world policies at the time when they could be pursued. If we do so agree, it is important to remember that what we decide to do or not to do today has the same relation to another future—except that if we have been inexorably involved in world affairs during the last two decades, we shall be doubly so in the next two.

Another consideration I wish to suggest is that we now have no safe alternative, that is to say, that there is no course we can pursue which avoids all the dangers. The new element in the situation—whether in relations to the Far East or to Europe—is that policies which would probably have been carried out successfully well "short of war," now in all likelihood lead to at least a measure of war. The risk of war as a result of any policy—whether it be a form of isolation or a form of intervention—has greatly increased. But, at the same time, the urgent need of taking risks for constructive ends has become more pressing.

With these considerations in mind—the narrowing down of one maneuverability and the necessity of choosing from among alternative risks—let us see in what way the Far Eastern stalemate may be broken.

Great Britain and France

Great Britain and France, which a few years ago commanded great power of initiative in the Far East—though it had for some time failed to exercise that power—have now been forced into a position where their Far Eastern policy is governed wholly by the war in Europe. The application of their European predicament to the Far East is to play for the continued friendship of China while regaining the friendship of Japan; its purpose is to be in a position to move in either direction the European war dictates. It is true that for the past year or so the evidence of Great Britain and France's appeasement of Japan has been more conspicuous than the evidence of the aid to China. Certain episodes have led some observers to think that a Munich arrangement with Japan was already well advanced. The first time the French railway from Indo-China into Yunan was bombed by Japanese, for instance, the French government issued a vigorous protest. The second time it was bombed, late last fall, M. Daladier practically apologized for having French railway tracks in the way of Japanese bombs. Similarly, Ambassador Craigie's speech in Tokyo, in which he joyfully pointed to the parallelism between British and Japanese methods and purposes, was such an extravagantly pro-Japanese, pro-aggression statement as to make one wonder whether the Far Eastern Munich was not an accomplished fact.

A sober view of the matter, however, leads me to believe that while the way has been prepared for appeasement of Japan, the Far Eastern Munich has not yet come off and may be altogether avoided. Whether or not it does come off depends largely on the policies of two other countries, the Soviet Union and the United States.

The U. S. S. R.

The central theme of the policy of the Soviet Union can, it seems to me, be variously described. It is to keep out of war; it is to prevent its own encirclement by powerful and unfriendly countries; it is to prevent the Far Easternand European wars from becoming physically linked. These are all ways of expressing the same policy of present and future military non-involvement in war.

In the Far East, a Japan which effectively dominated the whole of Eastern Asia with its extensive resources for making war would constitute a real danger to the Soviet Union. Conversely, the most certain long-term safeguard of the Soviet Union in the East would be an independent and democratic China. There apparently being a more direct relation between the Soviet understanding of a situation and their taking action in conformity with that understanding than in the case of the democratic countries, it is not surprising that Russian Far Eastern policy has been simply to aid China and to obstruct Japan. The aid to China has consisted in credits, materials of war, dispatch of a certain number of technical advisers, and constant diplomatic support. There is no evidence that this support has been diverted to aid Chinese communists against the Kuomintang. The obstruction of Japan has consisted of a sharp curtailment of all categories of trade, a legalistic position in the fisheries and Sakhalin questions, and a timing of vigorous military responses to repeated Japanese border violations in order to be of maximum aid to China.

Some months ago, you will recall that there was a lot of talk about a Soviet-Japanese rapprochement. Lately no such talk has been heard, but it is still pertinent to ask what possibility there is of a Japanese-Russian deal. If we accept as a promise of Soviet policy its desires to avoid encirclement, an answer can be made to that question. What would constitute the Far Eastern end of such encirclement? It would be a Japanese victory in China or over a broader area of eastern Asia. Our analysis has shown that such a victory is not likely to be won by Japan alone, but that it might be won by a Japan appeased by Great Britain, France, or the United States. Whether one of the objects of such appeasement were the encirclement of the Soviet Union, and it probably would be, would not matter for a powerful, militarist Japan would have been aided in establishing a great continental base bordering the Soviet Union. It is under such possible circumstances an imminent Far Eastern Munich, and in my view only under such circumstances, that the Soviet Union might offer a comprehensive deal to Japan. And in view of the Soviet Union's ability to outbid the other foreign powers in the nature of their offer, there would be every likelihood of Japan's accepting.

This situation is not, to my mind, likely to occur, and it is because its possibility has been recording that we have heard less and less of it. It is not likely to occur because Great Britain and France have far more need of appeasing the Soviet Union than they have of antagonizing it yet further by selling out the Far East. As I have pointed out before, they must be guided entirely by the dictates of the European War, and towards that war the Soviet Union is a far more important factor than Japan.

The United States

In any short view of the situation the Far Eastern policy of the United States is unexplainable. It is puzzling to ourselves; to most foreigners it is utterly confusing. During the current war, we have given positive aid to both sides. The only result which we can unquestionably claim for our policy is that of prolonging the war. Without our supplies Japan would not have prepared or maintained her large-scale aggression. Without our moral encouragement and our credits, it is doubtful whether China would have had the courage or the strength to continue resistance.

There are probably few precedents in foreign policy for the extent and vociferousness of the American public's demand for stronger and more effective measures against

Japan .

The growth of popular revulsion at our continued partnership with the Japanese militarists through the supply of the war materials they could not do without has been periodically recorded in the Gallup polls. Yet our government, while seeming to welcome expressions of public opinion on foreign affairs, has failed to respond with any measures remotely effective in the situation which was developing.

In the longer view our policy can be explained. Toward this war between China and Japan it has been remarkably similar to our policies at the time of two other Far Eastern crises, the period of 1895-1905, from the first Sino-Japanese War through the Russo-Japanese War, and the period of the Great War, during which Japan made her Twenty-One Demands on China, to the Washington Conference in 1921-22. In all three periods, if we include the present one, we have done little except take purely diplomatic steps with regard to American rights and interests, take such cautious steps to aid China and obstruct Japan as were wholly improvocative and, therefore, quite ineffective, and take measures entirely within our domestic competence such as increasing the navy. In each period, and today, we have waited until a favorable shift in the balance of power would permit effective diplomatic intervention to restore an approximation of the status quo ante.

Those who advocate today a different attitude towards the Far East remain, as always, grouped about two poles of political thought. Mr. Walter Lippmann, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, and a small handful of bankers and business men, publicly and flatly advocate immediately writing off our Far Eastern losses in order the more effectively to participate in European and Latin American matters. They argue for a complete Far Eastern Munich in the belief that Japan will be satisfied if permitted to consolidate her present condition. The Daily News claims that we can double our navy in a week by making a deal with Japan, for then our whole Pacific fleet can be withdrawn for operation around Latin America and in the Atlantic. Mr. Lippmann argues the same point, but in more involved sentences.

The opposite view, of course, has not believed that the Chamberlain policy of appeasement was successful. They wonder if all modern precedent does not indicate that appeasing an aggressor is the fastest and most certain way of arming an opponent and placing yourself more firmly than ever on the inevitable road to war against the country allegedly appeased. They consider the possibilities if the advice of the Far Eastern Munichers is followed. A German victory in Europe is by itself a clear danger to American security. If, simultaneously, you permit Germany's Far Eastern counterpart to gain domination of Eastern Asia and its rich colonial areas, does not the position of this hemisphere become twice as critical? Therefore, they say, why not, with such a future in mind, prevent its occurrence in the only region where we still have a chance, though a narrowing one, of using measures short of war effectively and without profound dislocations to our own society, even if we are impelled into naval action to force our views.


The conclusion to this brief survey is, in my view, that there is more likelihood that the Far Eastern stalemate will be broken by the weakness rather than by the strength of the foreign powers. The possibility of their intervention decisively on behalf of China seems to be very remote indeed. Short of going to war, there is nothing further the Soviet Union can do. Great Britain and France are cancelled out by the war in Europe. And the remaining great power, the United States, having shown no strength in theeight years after the modern phases of Japanese aggression began and before the European war broke out, is not likely to develop it now.

Consequently, I feel that the stalemate will be broken by the weakness of the foreign powers which will give Japan a free hand to expand the area of war. My colleague, Mr. Lattimore, has used one of his typically appropriate figures of speech when, in speaking of Japan's position, he has pointed out that one way of getting out of a hole is to

widen it; then at least you can move around inside it, and possibly you can find an edge on which to climb out. Japan may very well seize the opportunity of the preoccupation of other powers to widen the hole she has dug in China, she may spread the war area to include the colonies of southeastern Asia. But she will do so—and this is the thought I wish to leave with you—she will do so only in the face of weakness on the part of her potential opponents. She will never do so in the face of strength.