Behind the U.S. - China Thaw Power Struggle in the Pacific
Gene H Hogberg
Mainland China — one fourth of all humanity — has decided to politically rejoin the world. What is the significance behind this move? Where are events in Asia headed now?
IN LATE January, 1969, a little reported two-day conference between leading political figures in Japan and the United States was held in Santa Barbara, California. Viewed now in retrospect, this meeting helped set the stage for the surprising turn of events between America and Communist China.
Japanese Air Their Views
The conference was held at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. It was requested by several members of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party. They had formed a dissenting body within the party, calling themselves the "New Policy Discussion Group." They advocated a change in official Japanese policy toward the People's Republic of China, then as now, not recognized by their own government. The Japanese representatives had asked to meet with like-minded representatives from the United States Congress along with other influential Americans knowledgeable in the area of U.S. China policy. The reason? The Japanese lawmakers had come to realize that no significant shift in official Japanese policy toward Communist China could be possible without a comparable change in Washington's position on the same issue!
According to Japan's former Foreign Minister Aiichiro Fujiyama, "peace and stability in Asia" was impossible as long as mainland China, with her vast millions, was treated as a world outcast. Peking, he maintained, should be given a seat in the United Nations, where it could meet other countries and talk on a face-to-face basis. Delegate Yasuyoshi Kurogane, former director of the Cabinet Secretariat, stressed the historically close relations between China and Japan. From the viewpoint of world politics, it was "extremely unnatural" that the two Asian powers had no diplomatic relations. This unnatural separation, he continued, was "a factor disturbing peace and security in the Asian area." The Japanese, he said, should make it their "mission" to ensure Red China's return to international society.
Key to Japan's Future Prosperity
Tokuma Utsunomiya, Vice President of the Association for the Promotion of International Trade, stressed perhaps the most critical issue of all — future trade relations between China and Japan. Mr. Utsunomiya told the delegates in no uncertain terms that the economic prosperity of Japan in the future was not possible as long as Japan continued to ignore the "economic and geographic realities" that existed between the two nations. This is even more critical now in middle 1971 than in early 1969. Japan needs a 10-14% annual surge in exports in order to reach her goal — the world's mightiest economic power by the end of the century. Yet, Japanese industrialists clearly envision a time of no growth in exports to the U.S., their largest market. Even a decline in U.S. trade is very likely. Since the Santa Barbara conference, trade relations between Tokyo and Washington have worsened considerably. Threats of protectionist U. S. trade measures against the steady inroads made by Japanese imports have mounted. "Could the hundreds of millions of mainland Chinese provide the percentage of growth needed?" ask Japanese businessmen. Practically no other market — outside of Western Europe — could provide the market Japan needs. And Western European nations have erected so many barriers to Japanese exports that heavy penetration there seems unlikely. China may indeed be a solution to Japan's uncertain economic future. But U. S. policy — to which Japan is tied by a mutual defense treaty and other links, such as joint recognition of the Nationalist government on Taiwan — has to budge. The purpose of the Japanese lawmakers' visit in 1969 was therefore to move the U S. off dead-center on its China policy. As Mr. Utsunomiya diplomatically warned: "If Japan and the United States want to maintain close and friendly relations, they must undertake a serious joint reappraisal of their China policies."
The words and warnings of the Japanese representatives found receptive ears among the American delegates. Arthur Goldberg, former U S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Supreme Court Justice, called for U S. support for China's admission to the U.N. as part of a "two-China" proposal. Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield warned that official U S. policy toward Communist China was becoming obsolete. Instead of "isolating" Peking and persuading allies to deny it official recognition and UN membership, it was the U S. that was becoming isolated. Since his remarks, additional nations — including Canada and Italy — have recognized Peking and broken ties with Taipei. In 1970, for the first time, a majority of UN members voted to seat Communist China. But the vote fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Senator Edward M. Kennedy did not personally attend but sent a summary statement. He called for the relaxations of travel barriers between the two nations and for agreements to exchange persons in the field of science, education, the arts, and significantly enough, athletics. Mr. Kennedy also urged the American government to examine whether more sales of non-strategic goods could be made.
Government Was Obviously Listening
It cannot be stated whether or not the new Nixon Administration in Washington — only 4 days old at the time — took its cue for a new China policy directly from the proceedings at Santa Barbara. But it IS significant that beginning that year, the U S. Administration began sending secret friendly messages to Communist China's rulers. For about a year and a half the probing continued, often through European third parties. Then in February of this year, President Nixon, in his "state of the world" message, openly called for warmer U S.-Chinese relations and expressed a desire to see mainland China take a place in the United Nations. He relaxed travel restrictions on Americans wishing to visit China. Washington's new China policy finally bore fruit in the now famous "ping pong episode" of April. Experienced China watchers admit the Chinese invitation to the American athletes and newsmen was a carefully planned response to U S. initiatives — not a spur-of-the-moment invitation just because the world table tennis championship happened to be held in nearby Nagoya, Japan.
Fear of Isolation
Why did China finally respond to U. S. overtures? For one reason, the mainland has fully recovered from the rampaging chaos of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the middle and late 1960's. China is perhaps more unified now than she has been for centuries. China's leaders feel the time is ripe for the nation to assume its rightful great-power status in the world. For this, United Nations membership is essential — but only on Peking's terms, of course. Furthermore, China's economic house has been put back in shape. Necessary food imports are at a minimal level. The nation can now afford to emphasize controlled industrial development. This necessitates the purchase of machine tools, basic transport and heavy equipment from the outside world. But the biggest factor behind Peking's move is very probably China's age old fear of "encirclement" by rival big power neighbors. To China, the Soviet Union is now the leading "devil-figure." So strained are relations between Peking and Moscow that Soviet affairs authority Harrison Salisbury said we should not ask if war is possible between China and the Soviet Union, but WHEN will it occur. In sharp contrast to President Nixon's kindly words was the bellicose anti-Chinese polemic expressed by Soviet Party boss Leonid Brezhnev in his address to the recent Communist Party Congress in Moscow. Conditions between the Kremlin and Peking have, in fact, steadily worsened since the late 1950's. Sino-Soviet trade is virtually non-existent. From a peak of $2.05 billion in both directions in 1959, trade between the two Red giants plummeted to a mere $55 million in 1970. The Chinese, moreover, fear the continued build-up of Soviet military might along their northern frontiers. They also are deeply concerned about the remarkable growth of the Soviet navy. Ships bearing the hammer-and-sickle are pushing in greater numbers into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. China's leaders are fully aware that there exists a powerful faction within the Soviet government that favors a "preventive" nuclear blitz against China's budding nuclear installations, located not far from the Siberian border.
Historical and geographical factors make friction or war much more possible between Russia and China than they do between Russia and the United States. The rapprochement between China and the Soviet Union during the 1950's was but a brief interlude in centuries of suspicion, fear and hostility. The Russians view the hundreds of millions of Chinese as "new Mongols" — an ever-present threat to ravage the lands of Mother Russia just as the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan did 700 years ago. The present-day Chinese are not descendents of the rampaging Mongols of the thirteenth Century. But the ever wary Russians make no distinction between the peoples of the East. The Chinese, in turn, view Soviet Russia as the last European power still squatting on China's original territory. The Chinese lay claim to hundreds of thousands of square miles of what is now Siberia and the Soviet Pacific Maritime region. The Chinese are also bothered by Russia's continued domination of the People's Republic of Mongolia. This vast Mongolian state — giant buffer between the U.S.S.R. and China — is Russia's military "keystone" in any future hostility between the two Red powers. "China's case against Russia [and vice versa] is so embedded in national consciousness that no resolution through mediation, negotiation, arbitration, or diplomacy can readily be imagined. It has reached the classic point where statesmen turn to 'other means.' '' (War Between Russia and China, Harrison Salisbury, p. 52.)
Mao the "Greatest Prophet"
The struggle over the true interpretation of Marxist-Leninist philosophy has further intensified the Sino-Soviet dispute. The adoption of Communism has not fundamentally altered the traditional Chinese view of the world, which sees China as the center, the sole upholder of true civilization. The Chinese claim to be the only practitioners of "pure Marxism." Russia is denounced as "revisionist," fainthearted, too willing to compromise idealism for political advantage. Karl Marx was the modern replacement for Confucius with his imperfect and incomplete teachings for today. But it is Mao Who has added "new truths" to Marxism, and made Marxism Conform to Chinese thinking. According to noted Chinese scholar C. P. Fitzgerald: "It was inevitable that Chinese Marxism should be found to be purer than that of Russia, that Mao should be hailed as the greater prophet, and that 'Some people' [the Russians] should be shown to be in error. There cannot be two suns in the sky." The Russians, of course, feel exactly the same toward China's brand of "Mongol" Communism. A patching up of Chinese and Russian relations is definitely not in the offing — at least as long as Mao lives and the "Thought of Mao" survives.
Cautious of Tokyo
The Soviet Union is not Peking's only concern. Hardly a day passes in the Communist controlled Chinese press without vehement attacks against the revival of dreaded "Japanese militarism." The abuse in print is undoubtedly exaggerated, but the Chinese genuinely fear the steady build-up of Japan's "Self-Defense Forces." Memories of Japan's exploitation of Manchuria and ruthless occupation of China in World War II still run deep among China's ruling class. The average age of the members of China's Central Committee is 64. Most are veterans of Mao's famous 1930's "Long March" to escape Chiang Kai-shek's forces, as well as seasoned warriors against the Japanese. It is only logical that Peking should look with suspicion upon Tokyo's drive to become the world's number one economic and industrial power by the end of the century. Japan's gross national product must multiply about six times in order for this lofty goal to be reached. With such an explosive growth in economic power anticipated, Japan's military power to defend her hard-won prosperity must of necessity increase a great deal. Further complicating Sino-Japanese relations is this fact: The Chinese realize that their efforts to gain control of Taiwan, to encourage Korean unification under Communist domination, and in general to establish a dominant position in Asia come in conflict with present Japanese foreign policy. These are very trying times for China's leadership today.
No Real Peace With U. S.
Feeling "encircled" by great powers, China has therefore decided to reopen limited contact with the United States, the other power maintaining a formidable military presence in China's Asian "sphere of influence" — Korea and Indo-China. This does not mean that a full-blown friendship is about to develop between Peking and Washington — even if diplomatic relations should be negotiated. Regardless of immediate U S. Chinese developments, "China will... maintain her unceasing struggle against capitalism and the United States. She will encourage the development of what she regards as genuine Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and [revolutionary] movements everywhere" (Orbis, Fall, 1970, p. 609.) Yet, despite the political polemic, the biggest single barrier to improve Sino-America relations is the Taiwan issue. To the Chinese, the "unfortunate" United States position in Taiwan only came about in 1950 — after the onset of the Korean war, which Russia, not China, started. There is therefore room for accommodation with the U S. — but not with the US.S.R. True to her historical tradition, China in her own self-interest, is "playing off one barbarian against another." With this consideration, what does the U S. stand to gain by expanding political and economic contacts with Red China?
Fords? ... or Datsuns?
After the visit of the American table tennis players, highly optimistic reports filled American newspapers, predicting booming trade relations between the U. S. and the "vast China market." The glowing hopes were nurtured by official White House announcements stating that export of certain "nonstrategic" items would be allowed. But which nation stands to gain the most from China's new "Slightly Open Door Policy?" To answer this, all one has to do is examine China's present foreign trade picture. Japan's trade with mainland China presently totals approximately $825,000,000 annually. This represents one-fifth of Peking's foreign trade. Hong Kong is China's second largest trade partner — approximately $400,000,000 — mostly purchases from China. West Germany ranks third with $256,000,000 in total trade. United States' trade with China for 1970 amounted to $3,500,000. It would probably not exceed $300,000,000 before a decade, since some U. S. export items would still be restricted as "strategic items." As one international financial expert admits, with a note of wry sarcasm: "Guatemala is now a far more enticing sales territory than Red China can possibly be for almost any American company in quite a few years." After all, would the Chinese purchase Fords or Chevrolets over Datsuns or Toyotas?
Taiwan... and Reality
Japan's recognition of the Nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan, pressured by the United States in 1952, is still an obstacle to greater Sino-Japanese trade, along with Tokyo's support of the Republic of Korea. Communist China refuses to trade with Japanese firms that trade with or invest in Formosa and South Korea. But "dummy" firms and mythical trading companies largely circumvent this proscription. Many Japanese still hold a genuine respect for the elderly Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang graciously refused to exact war reparations from Japan at the end of the second World War. But economic reality must ultimately win out. Japan's trade with Taiwan — $950 million a year — is nearing its saturation point. A market of 14,000,000 in a semi-developed nation simply can't compare with a potential market of perhaps one billion humans, even though it might be a lesser-developed, nearly self-sufficient economy. Japanese industry is very willing to extend long-term loans at low interest. It is willing to make nearly anything that China should ever desire. The 1,500 Japanese salesmen who flocked to the semi-annual Chinese trade fair in Canton in April displayed their nation's aggressive desire to sell anything and everything. But can China afford a large increase in foreign trade? Aren't its foreign exchange holdings and gold reserves too small, as many economists believe? Not necessarily. Some economists who have taken the time to study Peking's trade picture since 1949 contend that China's convertible reserves are much greater than generally believed — or even admitted by the Chinese themselves. "Peking's reserves," notes international business expert S. J. Rundt, "are probably larger than the $4.85 billion of Canada; they surely exceed the overall international monetary assets of Belgium, Holland or Switzerland; and they could be close to Japan's $6 billion." This figure is admittedly small for a nation China's size. West Germany, for example, has reserves of about $20,000,000,000. But West Germany is a much greater trading nation, whereas China has historically followed the policy of "autarchy" or national self-sufficiency. Making Peking's potential foreign trade picture even rosier is the fact that China has no foreign debts except for current trade obligations. "Plainly: If Peking is dead-set on buying something abroad," writes Mr. Rundt, "it can definitely do so because it has the means." The potential for Japanese-Chinese trade therefore is quite significant. Within a few years, the China market could be worth $7,000,000,000 or more annually to Japan.
The Shifting Quadrangle
China, Japan, the Soviet Union and the United States are all deeply involved in a curiously shifting quadrangular situation. Much depends on how much the historically independent Chinese deem it necessary in their own interest to open up increased markets to Japanese industry — without becoming economically and politically dependent on Tokyo. At the same time, Communist China's leaders may decide to extend trade bait to Tokyo in return for Japan's commitment to overall peace and stability in Asia — and to prevent any possible economic liaison between Japan and archenemy Russia. The Soviets have dangled before the Japanese the possibility of exploiting the enormous mineral wealth buried beneath the permafrost vastness of Siberia. Another big key is the future of Japanese exports to the United States. Given a stagnation — or worse yet, a cutback in sales because of U.S. protectionist measures — the "vast China market" is going to loom still larger in the eyes of the Japanese. To Japan it would either be a massive sales drive in China — or forever forget the goal of becoming the world's foremost economic superpower by the end of the century.
Wars... and Rumors of Wars
The scene is thus being set for a potentially grave situation in the Asia-Pacific area. Four of the biggest powers on earth are jockeying for political and economic advantage. The complex equation is intensified by historical and near-neurotic fears and deep-seated suspicions. The Chinese fear "encirclement" by big powers. Most specifically they deeply suspect Soviet intentions. The Russians are anxious over the possibility of closer Chinese-American relations. Will Washington "side" with China and tip the balance of power against Moscow? The Soviets also distrust Japanese motives In striving for increased China trade. The Russians still deeply resent the loss of Manchuria to the Japanese in the war of 1905. Russian political writers continue to harp on the "Tanaka Memorial" to the Japanese emperor in 1927. Even though of doubtful authenticity, the Tanaka Memorial nevertheless states: "In order to conquer China we must just conquer Manchuria and Mongolia. In order to conquer the world we must begin by conquering China." Present-day Japanese, of course, denounce the words of the memorial, a left-over from the days of Japanese geopolitical militarism. What do the Japanese fear? First, cutback in trade with the United States and inability to penetrate the China market. Secondly they wonder what will happen between their two neighboring rivals each brandishing nuclear weapons. Even a war between the two Red giants with Japan on the sidelines would not leave the Japanese isles unaffected. Radioactive fallout would likely rain more heavily on Japan than on other noninvolved nations. Then there is the United States at the other side of the Pacific Basin. Future U.S. policy is perhaps the most crucial element in Asia's international politics. Will America still use its formidable political leverage to solve smoldering disputes in Asia by peaceful means? Or does Washington's present "low profile" image and slow retrenchment from a world role signify abdication of influence in Asia affairs? Former American Ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer frankly told Japanese delegates to the Santa Barbara conference: "My great fear is the possible Japanese reaction to America's suddenly moving out of the Far East. Today most Japanese are overwhelmingly against rearmament. But if the Seventh Fleet were withdrawn, and with it all American interest in that part of the world, I can foresee a sudden change in Japanese popular attitudes and an immediate demand for Japan's remilitarization." Only time will tell. The coming years will reveal whether the power struggle in the Pacific will degenerate into an Asian nuclear holocaust.