WESTERN NATIONS IN POSTWAR ASIA
AN ADDRESS BY SIR FREDERICK PUCKLE, K.C.I.E., C.S.I.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Tuesday, October 9. 1945
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen of the Empire Club of Canada, we welcome today as our guest of honour, a member of the British Embassy staff in Washington, in, the person of Sir Frederick Puckle, K.C.I.E., C.S.I.
Sir Frederick, who served the Empire for some thirty years in India, as a government official, is today, as the result of his extensive knowledge, the chief adviser on Indian affairs to the British Ambassador in the United States of America.
In recognition of his outstanding services to India, he was, in 1938, made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India and in 1942, a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire.
Our interest in India and the Eastern World, was never greater than it is today and, we are highly favoured indeed in having such an authority as Sir Frederick address us on these countries.
It is with extreme pleasure that I present to you Sir Fredcrick Puckle, whose subject is "The Western Nations in Post War Asia".
SIR FREDERICK PUCKLE: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen
Western Nations in Postwar Asia is really too wide a title for what I am going to talk about. For instance, Russia and China, the greatest Asiatic powers, lie outside my field. I am concerned only with the problems which lie in wait for Western powers in those countries of Asia, which they at present hold as dependencies. The general problem has been well summed up by Mr. Walter Lippmann in his stimulating book "United States Foreign Policy". He writes: "The tutelage of the Western Empires in Asia is coming to its predestined end . . . But as, the Western Empires recede and before the newly idependent states are well established, the peoples of Asia will certainly pass through a long interregnum. It will be a miracle if effective civil government is established without civil and international strife". That is a gloomy text. I am not going to attempt this afternoon to prove Mr. Lippmann right or to prove him wrong. I am only going to offer you such reflections on this text as occur to one who for the best part of his life has had to look at Asia from close quarters. I am far from assuming that closer view means clearer vision--often it does not.
Twenty years ago, there was hardly a country in Asia, except Japan, from the Levant to Vladyvostok, which could have been truthfully said to be altogether free from Western tutelage, to use Mr. Lippmann's phrase. But we have been changing that either voluntarily or under the pressure of events. Still it is not, if one may judge from what one reads and hears, anything like generally realised how certainly Western imperialism is on the retreat. Let us look at the score. India is to be independent after the war, either within or without the British Commonwealth, as she pleases. It only awaits a reasonable degree of agreement among Indians about how they wish to take their freedom. Burma, after an inevitable period of reconstruction, is slated for self-government. Ceylon is moving steadily in the same direction. The East Indies are to be an equal partner in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Indo-China is, if I understand recent pronouncements correctly, to be several new and self-governing departments of metropolitan France. The Philippines are to be independent next year, though they will remain within the Pacific security system of the United States. Syria and Lebanon have been recognised as independent states. The fact that Malaya is bound to lag behind does not really qualify the remarkable unanimity with which all the Western Empires seem to have accepted the fact that the old order is coming to an end.
The danger is not that the Western Empires will refuse independence to subject countries. The danger lies in the other direction that we of the West having salved our consciences and proclaimed Free India, Free Burma, Free Java, Free Philippines, will sink back and imagine that our job is done. Nothing could be a greater illusion; political independence by itself solves nothing. It leaves all the problems of peace and prosperity for Asia still to be settled. As that great political philosopher Mr. Dooley once remarked: "You can't make freedom into a stew, and you can't cut a pair of pants out of it". And stew and pants, or their Oriental equivalents, happen to be just what Asia is most in need of.
But though we are right to remind ourselves that political independence will not of itself solve all the problems of peace and prosperity in Asia, for the clanger spots will still be there--we ought to realise clearly that a new relationship between the West and the East is an essential contribution towards solving them. We cannot solve them if the old relations are to subsist. As a -matter of fact, the people of the East have altered the relationship on their own. However completely the physical results of the Japanese attempt to dominate Asia may be obliterated, one psychological development, the growth of nationalism in Asia-, has been greatly accelerated by the course of the war. During the nineteenth century, the Western Powers cultivated the doctrine of white supremacy with considerable success. This doctrine was severely shaken by Japan's victory over Russia forty years ago and the general course of events in China and India between 1900 and 1941 did nothing to strengthen it. It received its final blow from the series of shattering defeats which one Western nation after another suffered in 1942 at the hands of Japan. The exposure of what Mr. Sumner Welles calls "the fetish of white supremacy" and the growth of Asiatic nationalism, together have emphasised the issue of "Asia for the Asiatics", a slogan which has played a great part in Japan's war propaganda and has been the psychological basis for the conception of Japan's New Order, the Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Now fortunately for us, Asia for the Asiatics has not had much success as a rallying cry, partly because of doubts among Asiatic peoples about the disinterestedness of the Japanese and partly because there is, as yet, little awareness of such a thing as Asiatic solidarity. An inhabitant of China or Burma does not, naturally, think of himself as an Asiatic; he thinks of himself as a Chinese or a Burmese. It is only when faced by Western arrogance or aggression that the Asiatic thinks of Asia as something opposed to the West. Asia for the Asiatics is therefore today a negative, and not a positive, concept; it is defensive, not aggressive. If it ever becomes aggressive, we shall only have ourselves to blame. But in order to prevent its becoming aggressive, we have to alter our ideas about the relationship between the West and the East, and I believe this change is taking place.
Mr. Sumner Welles in his book "The Time For Decision" has quoted a statement of American policy in the East: "a policy which contained, as its fundamental premise, the maintenance of peace in the Pacific, the renunciation by all of the Powers interested in the Pacific of force and of conquest as their national policy; the recognition of the rights of independent and autonomous peoples of the Pacific to independence and integrity; and equal opportunity and fair treatment for all, and exclusive preference or privilege for none." That is a statement of policy which I suppose all the Western Powers would endorse. I have only one comment to make. It assumes that the Western Powers have rights and consequently responsibilities. We shall not impress the peoples we have governed either by foregoing our just rights or by shirking our responsibilities.
It would seem therefore that there are two principles of practice which should govern our dealings with the East. They are these
(1) The greatest danger to peace is that there may grow up an antagonism of the East to the West. Practices and policies which tend to foster this feeling of "Asia for the Asiatics" must go. This means that we must do without the fetish of white supremacy and disentangle ourselves from political commitments which perpetuate Western domination, as soon as, we honourably can.
(2) Mutual respect must be the basis of any lasting good relationship between East and West. We shall win no respect if we lack the will and the means either to maintain our rights when they are based on justice or to discharge responsibilities which we cannot honourably repudiate.
Let us first consider what western interests in Asia will be when we have relieved ourselves of our direct interest in and responsibility for internal good government. They will fall into three categories: trade, communications and strategic security.
The U. S. and Great Britain look at foreign trade from somewhat different angles. For them it is a means of maintaining full employment and so preserving a standard of living which is the highest in the world. For us, these considerations, though important, are secondary. The dominant consideration for us is that we must import in order to live at all, and we cannot import unless we can pay for our imports by exports. Trade, therefore, is for us a matter of life and death. At present we are both paying lip-service to the expansionist theory of trade, and on the assumption that our practice will correspond with our professions our major interest in Asia is that it should be an expanding market open to all comers. As long as we practise expansionism as well as preach it, there seems no reason why Britain and America should prove that Mr. Lippmann's fear of international strife in Asia is well founded. If, however, we are going to go back to the old days of protected markets, prohibitive tariffs, restrictive quotas and all the rest of the armoury of trade war, then the outlook is not so hopeful. But, be that as it may, it is beyond doubt in the interest of us both--and in this we can confidently include the other Western Empires, Holland and France--that Asia should be economically prosperous, and that presupposes effective civil government.
Safe, quick and free communications, by land, sea and air, are linked on the one side with trade, and on the other with strategic security. Further, they alone can give nations that knowledge of each other which is itself the best insurance against war. The U. S. and the British Commonwealth are the world's greatest carriers of goods, passengers and news, and our interests in Asia are obvious. What we shall want to find there is cooperative partnership and here again effective civil government is our first interest.
When we come to strategic security, peace in fact, we come to a sphere where it is a world-interest that Asia should play her part. What that part will be will depend firstly, once again, on how effective the new civil governments are and, secondly, on what associations they elect to form with the great powers of the West. It is here that the withdrawal of the West will be least complete. It is known that the U. S. will wish to retain bases in the Philippines. As Indo-China and the Dutch East Indies are to be integral parts of the French Republic and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we can assume that in both cases local security will be integrated with the defence arrangements of the metropolitan country. A condition of India's independence seems to be the negotiation of a treaty with Great Britain, "covering (to quote the Cripps Declaration of 1942) all necessary matters arising out of the complete transfer of responsibility from British to Indian hands". That phrase must, I think, be taken to include the coordination of India's arrangements for defence with the general defence scheme of the British Commonwealth. Burma and Ceylon, we can be pretty certain, will wish to secure the advantage of partnership in the Commonwealth's mutual defence system. Self-government for Malaya, for a number of reasons, is a distant goal and Singapore is likely to remain a British base for as long as one can foresee. The upshot is that the United States, the British Commonwealth, France and the Netherlands will retain not only an interest in the security of Asia but actual defence establishments in many countries for which they, whether individually or as partners in some regional security scheme or as members of an organization for world security, will be jointly or severally responsible, in co-operation with the governments of the countries in which these establishments are situated. Once again we get back to our interest in effective civil government. No power responsible for the safety of a base, whether that responsibility is to its own people or to a world security council, could look on with equanimity at unstable government and anarchic internal conditions in the hinterland of that base.
Let me gather up the threads. Trade, communications and security are the essential Western interests in Asia; intrinsically these do not run counter to the interests of the peoples of Asia themselves; if we can substitute for the old fetish of white supremacy a new relationship of partnership, based .on mutual respect, forbearance and patience, we shall have removed the most serious obstacle to cooperation between the East and the West; the greatest danger is that effective civil government may fail to establish itself when imperial control is withdrawn; we cannot escape some responsibility for seeing that the danger is avoided.
If we accept this view of the position and its implications and order our policy and actions accordingly, then it should not need any miracle to avoid international strife, either between ourselves or between us and Eastern nations. If still a miracle is needed, then it must be because of something inherent in the internal situation which is likely to prevent peaceful solutions of internal problems. There are undoubtedly situations in various parts of Asia, sometimes inherent in local conditions, sometimes arising out of the impact of the West on the East, which might be described as untidy and which are potentially at any rate explosive. It is not generally at all obvious how these situations will work themselves out. We can do little more than put up danger signs, as a warning that careful driving is needed.
Between the shores of the Mediterranean, where Asia begins, and the East Indies, there are, I suppose, about 200 million Muslims. Islam takes no account of political boundaries. A stone flung into the pool at Beyrout sends a wave washing up against the quays in Surabaya; an explosion in Palestine shakes the mosques in Delhi. With this in mind we must put a large danger sign on any situation in Moslem lands which may result in a clash between West and East, which can be represented as Christian versus Moslem. There are more than enough of these situations at this moment. First there is Syria and Lebanon, where young nationalism is coming up against a France, more than usually sensitive over questions of prestige and her position as a great power. Secondly, there is Palestine. The Muslim world is watching Palestine as a cat watches a mouse. It is not a matter of being pro-Arab but a plain statement of fact, that Palestine is a Holy Land for Moslems, almost as much as it is for Jews or Christians. The coercion of Arabs by any Christian power for the benefit of Jews will have repercussions in Asia which may be very unpleasant. The prospect is little brighter if Western powers were to decide to wash their hands of Jew and Arab alike and leave them to settle the matter themselves: The resultant commotion would convulse the Middle East and India. Thirdly, there is the question of the future control of the Suez Canal, one of the great international highways. This is not yet emergent, but with it is wrapped up the delicate problems of Britain's position in Egypt. Lastly there is oil, about which there is little one can say except that it is a highly combustible substance, and with Britain, the U. S., Russia wanting to use it and Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia owning it, a Christian-Moslem colour is assured for any trouble which may arise. The formation of an Arab League or confederacy deserved to attract more notice than it did. It is not only a sign--a welcome sign--of increasing political maturity; it is also a plain warning to trespassers.
The next danger spot is India. Here the danger is not; as you might suppose, of a rising of Indians to throw out the British; that risk has been removed by Britain's recognition of India's right to independence, steps to give effect to which are being taken now that the war is over. Indian nationalism is not an international danger as yet; it is, on the other hand, the hope of those who look for the orderly emergence of a united India from a state of dependency to a position of equality with the other nations of Asia and of the world. The danger lies in the opposite direction, that the forces of separatism in India may be too strong for the young plant of nationalism. If, when the unifying factor of British domination is withdrawn, India is going to fly apart into a number of relatively weak and mutually antagonistic states, then a valuable force for peace in Asia is broken. India, as the Balkans of the East, would be, in my opinion, a perpetual threat to stability and a perpetual temptation to those who might conceive it to be in their interests to fish in troubled waters.
We move on to South-East Asia, Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, Indo-China, the Dutch East Indies. One might suppose there was not much danger here provided we meet the aspirations for self-government of the peoples of these dependencies in a reasonable spirit. There is a peculiar source of danger here, however. In several of these countries there are considerable immigrant foreign minorities. These minorities are usually Chinese or Indian and their characteristic is that they have a stronger loyalty to the country of their origin than they have to the country in which they live. Take Malaya for example. Here the immigrant Chinese and Indians outnumber the native Malayans. In a Malaya, self-governing on democratic lines, the foreigners would outvote the natives, and self-government for Malaya would not be self-government for the Malayans. We should exchange control by the British for control by Chinese and Indians. Quite naturally the governments of China and India are tempted to support the cause of their own nationals while the British government is bound to support the Malayans for whose welfare it considers responsible. The very proximity of the countries of South East Asia to China and India makes them a breeding-place for international tension. It is therefore with relief and admiration that the world has applauded the way in which similar problems on the other side of China have been solved by the recent Russo-Chinese treaty and agreements. The outstanding merit of these agreements is that they are based on reality and mutual interests instead of on abstract theory. It is this fact that makes them the outstanding contribution to peace which they undoubtedly are and the happiest augury for the future.
Will you excuse one who has spent the best part of his life in India for finishing with a few words about it? India's present position of dependence and the dust raised by the political wrangles between Indians and British and Indians and Indians tend to obscure the importance of India in the future of Asia. India is on the threshold of complete self-government, she already functions as a Dominion for practical purposes. I am assuming that she will remain integrated to act as a unity in international affairs.
By reason of her military and industrial potentialities, and of the quality of her administrators, scientists and businessmen, India can play an important role in Asia. If she can match her great opportunity with greatness of purpose and devise political institutions which will allow her natural endowments full scope, she may even aspire to a leading role, for as far as the material equipment of modern state goes, a hundred years of internal peace have put her far ahead of other Asiatic countries. What is not so often realized is her importance in the future relations between the West and the East. Though -geographically India is in the heart of Asia, it is not fantastic to describe her as the most eastern outpost of the West. India faces west and the landapproaches from the East are practically blocked. For thousands of years, all the influences which have combined to produce the civilization of India have come from the West. India has influenced the Far East, but the Far East has never influenced her. Modern Indian culture is a synthesis of Hindu, Islamic and purely Western influences and the tendency is for the strength of Western influence to increase. She stands geographically and culturally between the Moslem civilization of the Middle and Near East and the civilization of the Chinese in the Far East. Neither of these systems are particularly sympathetic towards Western ways of thought--and life; Islam tends to fear the West, China to despise it. India seems marked out to be the interpreter of the West to Asia and of Asia to the West.
Strategically, India is of the greatest importance to the West. First, she blocks the door (as she has done since December, 1941) to the Western advance of an aggressor from the Far East. Secondly, she dominates the Indian Ocean, which is the annexe to the Pacific and through which pass the sea routes to the Far East from Europe, Africa, Western Asia and Australia; and she lies across the main air routes to the Far East, Indonesia and Australia.
Both culturally and strategically, therefore, India is the natural link between the West and Asia. As a dependency of the British Empire, which is both a Western and an Eastern power, she has been for many years playing this role. She would, as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth, be in a position to play the role more effectively. Whether India remains within the Commonwealth will be for Indians to choose. I can think of no one thing more likely to promote both cooperation in our joint dealing with the East and also an understanding attitude towards the East than that India should be a full partner in the work, as she would be as a free and equal member of the British Commonwealth. As such she would, I believe, wield more influence both in the East and in the West than if she stood alone, for she would be the final proof that East and West can meet.
I have stated some of the problems of the process of readjustment between the East and the West in Asia. I do not pretend to know the solutions. If we are to find the right ones, very great patience will be called. To end up with I offer you a platitude and a fact. The platitude is this, in the modern world peace and prosperity are indivisible. You cannot be prosperous with a slum at your back door or safe with a riot going on round the corner. The fact is this, quite half the human race live in Asia. Those two things taken together give the measure of the importance of Asia to the rest of us.