A Proposal Aimed at Averting Civil War in China

1. Stake of the United States

Although there are a good many people who feel that a civil war in China is “inevitable”, this country certainly has every interest in averting it. It is clear that armed strife in China would be a serious threat to world peace and a setback to world hopes of stability. As for America specifically, our relations with Russia might be seriously damaged by internal Chinese conflict. Since August 1943 the Russian press has been increasingly critical of the Central Government. Now that Russia has signed a pact of friendship, settling her main problems with China, this press criticism has ceased; but it is clear that Russia’s present friendship with the Central Government is primarily a response to the important economic and strategic concessions which the Russians have received. Russia, it is safe to say, would be deeply concerned over the prospect of the destruction of the Chinese Communists, since such a development would mean a victory of the rightist elements in China and thus a policy of suspicion and unfriendliness toward Russia. In the event of civil war in China I think we may take it for granted that the moral support of the Russian people would be behind the Communists. If the majority of American public opinion were to incline to the Central Government against the Communists, as happened during the Spanish civil war, a growing breach might easily develop in our relations with the Russians.

Moreover, civil war in China would be an economic calamity for all the world. Inevitably, China would suffer immense destruction. Her hopes of early development would be dashed. China needs stability if she is to develop. A stable, developing China would be a very large and growing market for the products of the world’s industrial countries. Prolonged civil disturbances in China would greatly reduce that market at a time when the world most needs international trade. Regardless of which faction won, China and the world would lose.

The United States certainly has no desire to interfere in the internal problems of China. On the other hand, any help that we can give to China in resolving these issues peacefully would be well worth giving. The only practical alternative to civil war is some far-reaching adjustment and compromise between the two factions resulting in a genuine democratic government. The Chinese nation is unquestionably tending away from her previous extreme rightist position. It is very much to her interest to make this swing through evolution rather than through revolution. In the long run she will certainly progress much faster through democratic adjustments than through the extreme swing or swings which would probably follow civil war, no matter what its outcome.

2. Nature of Problem.

The conflict between the Central Government and the Communists, I am convinced, is too fundamental to be settled peacefully through negotiation between the two parties solely under their own auspices. Even though the Communists do not urge collectivism for China at this stage of her development, the differences between them and the Central Government are very far-reaching. The situation has points of similarity to that of Spain just before the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

There is a great deal to be said on both sides and, personally, I do not favor either side. On the other hand, there are some essential facts which sometimes have been lost sight of in our natural sympathy for the hard pressed wartime Chinese Government of Chiang. The big property owners of China, who are powerful in the Central Government, will fight before they allow the kind of reforms that the Communists have put into effect in the part of China they control. These reforms include redistribution of land to eliminate absentee owner-ship; drastic lowering of farm rents; abolition of usury; abolition of tax extortion and official corruption; better wages, treatment, living conditions, and education for workers and peasants and their families.

As a result of these reforms, authenticated by objective American reporters, the Communists have broad popular support all over China. The small farmers of China, who comprise 70% of the total population, and the coolies of the cities, who comprise approximately 20%, are generally eager for the protection, security and improved working conditions offered by the Communist program. Many of the intellectuals, even in Chungking, are also sympathetic to the Communists. The Kuomintang, which dominates politics under the Central Government, is now widely regarded by the Chinese masses as the party of the big bankers, merchants, landlords and owners of industry. Its prestige rests largely on the personal reputation of Chiang Kai-shek. That reputation alone can hardly offset his people’s war weariness and economic discontent. For the most part, they would fight the Communists only reluctantly.

If civil war comes to China I think it will be long and costly. I feel pretty sure that the Central Government cannot win a quick victory and, in fact, I have strong doubts that they can win at all. Under circumstances much more favorable to them than those existing today they tried consistently throughout the ten-year period preceding the Japanese war to destroy the Communists, and failed. The Communists, although at the present time probably even less well equipped than the Central Government’s troops, are highly disciplined, well entrenched in a relatively impregnable area, skilled in guerrilla warfare, and ably led. Their war record is said by many of our own Army men to be far superior to that of the Central Government. If they can get hold of considerable quantities of Japanese arms–as seems likely–they will be even more formidable opponents.

The Central Government, influenced by Ambassador Hurley, has shown a certain statesmanship in that, although it has branded the Communists in the past as “Red-bandits” and rebels, it has lately made public overtures to them. However, it has not been willing to put into effect significant reforms of a kind that might make a genuine coalition with the Communists possible and thus bring internal peace to China. As for the Communists, I am told that they have consistently raised their demands each time that the Central Government has made concessions, and thus have aggravated the difficulties in the way of a settlement. My feeling is that Chiang would rather fight than make major concessions to the Communists. He understands the use of force, and his record shows that in the past he has inclined toward military methods of settling issues. Unless powerful influences are brought to bear on him from outside China, I think it very likely that he will fight the Communists at the first favorable opportunity.

Similarly I feel sure that the Communists will not hesitate to take up Chiang’s challenge. They will not enter a government that does not make broad and intensive economic reform a sincere national policy, to be actively carried out; and above all they will not put their army under the Central Government, as Chiang insists, unless they are given an extensive share in military command. Without an army, or equivalent protection, they well know that they would be at the mercy of Chiang and his generals. Evidence suggests that no offer of cabinet posts in the Central Government can alter their determination to retain the protection of armed forces, until the military leadership of the Central Government is no longer a threat to them.

3. Broad Outlines of the Proposal.

The only hope for internal peace in China, as I see it, is the concerted use of influence by the great powers. I find my thought well expressed in an editorial in the Washington Post of August 17:

“If this is actually so (that the Soviet Government has no intention of taking the side of the Chinese Communists) and if, as a sequel to this treaty, Russia joins hands with the United States and Great Britain in putting pressure on the Chinese factions to settle their differences, a very dangerous state of affairs will have been averted.”

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek must realize the seriousness of his position. Lend-Lease deliveries to his government in effect. cease with V-J Day. He surely knows that large scale financial and technical aid from the American Government, were civil war to rage in China, would be highly improbable. Chiang’s rightist policies do not have the sympathy of many influential men in the present British Government. Russia’s recent pact of friendship with China does not prevent her preference for the aims of the Chinese Communists. Chiang is not likely to receive much support from abroad in. a war against the Communists. Whether by civil war or by inaction, he runs the risk of losing ground in the eyes of the foreign nations to which China must look for the aid so important to her rapid economic development. If some method can be found by which Chiang could invite foreign assistance in finding a peaceful solution of China’s present crisis, without infringing her sovereignty, I believe he could be induced to try it. In my judgment, the Communists also would look with favor on any really constructive approach to peace opened to them by the three great powers, particularly Russia.

My proposal comes to this: I think real results could be obtained through a suggestion from you to the Generalissimo that he request the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union to name representatives to an Advisory Commission that he would appoint to make recommendations to him for the settlement of the existing disputes between the Central Government and the Communists. I conceive this Commission as consisting of two members of the Chinese Government, two Chinese Communist leaders, and one qualified representative each of America, Great Britain and Russia. Chiang need not necessarily be bound by the findings of the Commission, but if arrangements were made that its proceedings and report be published by him, the moral effect would undoubtedly be exceedingly powerful.

I believe that Chiang can be made to see that his world prestige could be greatly enhanced, and not diminished, if he were to make a creative and statesmanlike move to preserve peace in China by inviting other nations to participate with him to that end.