Europe’s colonial expansion was a 500-year wonder, but today the major nations of Asia, modernizing late upon the ruins of ancient empires, are reasserting their claims to be of central importance. Europe’s most dynamic product, the US, has to live with the older and bigger cultures of China and India as well as Japan and Indonesia. Meanwhile, Europe’s other dynamic offshoot, the USSR, approaching by land, is becoming an Asian-Pacific power in a way that America’s approach by sea can never equal. Will not the ancient empires, once they mature as modern nations, industrialized and militarized, retain a more collectivist and bureaucratic style suited to their traditions as well as their denser and poorer populations? As we grow also and adjust to them, can we retain our openness? Our bicentennial finds us painfully aware that our frontier politics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are not the only model for mankind, that indeed every other major people has had a more recent revolution, and our official ideology is ill suited to much of the world. To rejuvenate it we must be less culture-bound, more informed and realistic.

Robert Scalapino has been a leader in the Asian revolution in American thinking. Beginning with Japan (he was a language officer in World War II), he has brought East Asia into the jealously guarded precincts of American political science, that universal discipline which originally abhorred all cultural idiosyncrasies or special terms except its own. (The concept of “political culture,” to be sure, now bravely tries to take account of the “non-West” ‘s peculiarities, but it still suffers from being now-minded and nonhistorical for the most part.) Professor Scalapino has made twenty-six trips to Asia, written eight books and sixty articles, to say nothing of hundreds of radio and TV shows, and scores of conferences. His scholarly accomplishments at Berkeley and his public service have stimulated a generation of Asian experts, many of whose works are among the 500 recent books selected as a bibliography for this latest volume.

Asia and the Road Ahead is a disciplined, professional study of national interests and power relations in a world where balances of power now tend to supplant the old Europocentric “international order” of accepted principles and procedures. Colorful personalities and dramatic incidents have little place in this careful structure of generalizations. The result is not only well informed about a vast range of subjects but also strenuously objective.

Amid the unprecedented global problems and the general lack of leadership, with development faltering and democracy in trouble, Mr. Scalapino grants that world-wide international agreements and arrangements will probably fail, “in part if not in whole, temporarily if not permanently.” His book therefore appraises the prospects of regionalism among the older, Asian half of mankind. What supranational structures may be expected in the Pacific Ocean, Northeast Asia, the Asian continental center, Southeast Asia, and South Asia? In particular, what foreign relations may we foresee for Japan, China India, and Indonesia plus the USSR and US as Asian-Pacific powers?

Mr. Scalapino’s tour of Asia and the road ahead begins with the Pacific Ocean region. In his view it is still our strategic preserve, but the Japanese economy and Soviet and also Chinese military power will increasingly impinge upon it. Should we not try to set up the framework of a Pacific Basin Community, which would include Australia and the other peripheral states, and also provide self-government or perhaps commonwealth status for the Pacific islanders?

In Japan he expects no great shift in foreign policy, even though the conservative vote has shrunk to about 44 percent of the electorate. A left coalition if it came to power and abrogated the Mutual Security Treaty would still find the Japanese economy intertwined with the American. More likely is a revival of the Liberal Democratic Party, perhaps in a coalition with some of its opposition. Modern Japan would still suffer the frustration of being so economically powerful and yet vulnerable militarily. But it has found that “ties out of Asia supported policies in Asia”—first the alliance with Britian between 1902 and 1922, then with the Axis in World War II, and recently with the United States.

Since Northeast Asia is no longer the power vacuum it used to be, Japan has little but trouble to gain from an aggressive “high-posture” (even nuclear) approach to the continent. A Sino-Japanese alliance has little to offer Japan, though China will supply it with some oil. The Japanese trend is rather to seek what Scalapino calls “equidistance”—a new term for non-alignment—between China and the USSR, while “tilting” toward Peking for reasons of traditional sentiment and Russian heavy-handedness. Meanwhile trade and investment will be increasingly diversified overseas and the Japanese may transfer certain of their heavy and chemical industries abroad. The prospect is for the continuation of both a quiet foreign policy and the American alliance, with the Japanese providing some leadership in exporting technology and fostering an Asian-Pacific economic regionalism.


China approaches its post-Mao transition with “weak institutions and strong personalities.” Rifts among the leaders are counterbalanced by the build-up of central control over the military, who sit in the Chinese Politburo in a way that the Soviet military do not. Instead of a world divided into two camps, socialist and capitalist-imperialist, Peking now sees a division into three: the two superpowers, the second intermediate zone (Western Europe and Japan, the bourgeois states), and the Third World. China’s cold-war rhetoric attacks the USSR for its military intimidation along the Sino-Soviet border as well as the US for its policy of détente with Moscow. But the real fear in Peking, Mr. Scalapino believes, is not a Soviet attack so much as the re-emergence of a pro-Soviet effort in China’s domestic politics.

Chou En-lai’s American rapprochement thus represents balance-of-power politics though clothed in the united front terminology: compared with the major Soviet “contradiction,” America is a minor contradiction and so may be a temporary ally. To Scalapino, revival of the Sino-Soviet alliance seems impossible, yet many differences will continue to separate Peking and Washington—not only over Taiwan but also over Korea and Indochina. In the Peking-Moscow-Washington triangle the prospect is for China’s “greater equidistance, propelled by a diminished fear of war with Russia and growing doubts about American capacities or will.”

In India Mrs. Gandhi’s alliance between her Congress Party and the Communist Party of India has had several advantages. It has isolated the Congress right wing and split the communist left, let the Congress Party “approach the urban centers as a ‘progressive’ political force without disturbing its conservative rural underpinnings,” and facilitated the turn to the Soviets for both economic and military help. Problems like population, poverty, and corruption are growing faster than any solutions, yet the Congress Party seems likely to continue in power even if repressively.

From Nehru’s broad moral position of nonalignment and pan-Asianism in foreign policy, India since the Bangladesh war of 1971 has about-faced to become simply the dominant military power in the South Asian region. Pakistan is no longer of concern. Indian influence expands in the Himalayan border states and runs up against Chinese power in Tibet. Having demonstrated some nuclear capacity, India may soon develop more naval power in the Indian Ocean, on the strategic oil route to Japan. All this has flowed from the India-Soviet friendship treaty of 1971. Yet the alignment with the USSR has met with disappointments, and India seems now intent on “equidistance” among the major powers, with a continued tilt toward Moscow.

We can see how the primacy of balance-of-power calculations—and the avoidance of nineteenth-century alliances and cold-war blocs—is evident in the new terminology which Scalapino applies to Asian power relations: “equidistance” can menace no one, while a “tilt” can be changed overnight. Entangling commitments are avoided, options remain open. Domestic problems dominate foreign policy.

The picture is similar among Indonesia’s 120 millions. A decade ago the leftist trend of Sukarno’s oligarchic “guided democracy” led into an economic collapse. His diversionary and aggressive foreign policy of “confrontation” with Malaysia and alignment with Peking, and Indonesia’s leaving the United Nations to lead the Newly Emerging States, all came to disaster in the abortive communist coup of 1965. The Indonesian communists were bloodily slaughtered.

Under Suharto the military and technical leaders of the New Era have concentrated on economic growth with help from the Western nations and Japan. But the imbalance of this development—foreign investment supported city growth, while the villages were neglected—has been added to other and older problems such as the corruption of the government, Java’s domination of the outer islands, and the gap between central elites and unreconstructed village masses.

Indonesian foreign policy has shown an interest in building up regional relationships, beginning with ASEAN, the noncommunist Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Indonesia and Malaysia have cooperated in proposing that they should jointly control the Strait of Malacca, with no takers among the other powers. But there is no prospect of Indonesia dominating the Southeast Asian region. The scene is too fragmented, between communist Indochina and the other states, and within each state among its ethnic and religious minorities, which include hill peoples, Muslims, Christians, Chinese, Indians, and others in great variety. Djakarta sees a trend toward multipolarism with an ultimate equilibrium emerging among the US, USSR, China, and Japan. From such a stand-off it hopes to achieve the neutralization of Southeast Asia.

As Scalapino sees it, Soviet Russia has been undertaking a great eastward movement to become an Asian-Pacific power in close proximity to Japan as well as China. Within Russia, he finds, procedures in domestic administration have become so regularized as almost to create a sort of “constitutionalism.” Compared with the past the USSR is “a relatively porous society, receiving external stimuli at an accelerating rate.” Living standards are rising. Consumer pressures contribute to a new force, public opinion.


In foreign affairs the policy of “détente” tries to close the gap between the superpower state and the backward society. It has begun with the acceptance of two things—the European status quo created by World War II and military parity with the United States. This has given Russia security behind a screen of buffer states on her western flank, where the Germans attacked so savagely in two world wars. On her eastern flank, however, except for Outer Mongolia, no buffer-state system exists. The border with China runs 4,800 miles, and relations along it are volatile and uncertain. The European Russians moreover, still half-foreign to Asia, rule a multi-ethnic domain with many minority interests.

Scalapino finds the Soviet approach to Asia to be conservative. It deals with states both communist and anti-communist, not with revolutionary movements or parties. (The one exception, the Communist Party of India, is now part of the Indian establishment.) The Soviet formula for Asia is to create a collective security system that will extend throughout the area and will above all be concerned with China. This also parallels the approach to Europe, as does the build-up of Soviet arms in Siberia and in Pacific coastal installations and naval power.

Toward the central problem of China the Soviet complaint to Americans is that their split with Mao came in the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1958 when he urged a nuclear confrontation with the United States while the Russians opted for détente. Mao, the romantic peasant nationalist, in their view led the Chinese revolution astray and created the split. But even after he goes, it cannot be fully repaired beyond, say, a Soviet-Yugoslav type of relationship. Moscow’s China policy will therefore continue with the stick and the carrot—the big military build-up on the Chinese frontier and the offer to negotiate an understanding on all issues. Meanwhile, the Soviets try to get other states and communist parties to ostracize, contain, and isolate the People’s Republic, much as the United States tried to do with its allies and its own economic and military power in the days of containment and John Foster Dulles. The deep-lying issue of ideological heresy will inhibit any Sino-Soviet rapprochement. But Mr. Scalapino reminds us that authoritarian elites can make unexpected tactical shifts when they feel it necessary.

Soviet policy toward Japan could be so much more attractive if only it were not conducted in the harsh Russian way. The Russians could give up the four small islands off Hokkaido and let the Japanese fishermen they hold there out of prison. All sorts of economic and cultural arrangements could be fostered, if only the Russians did not assume that Japan needed them more than they need Japan. Even so, tourism, trade, investment, and other ties are growing.

Similarly, the Russians see North Korea as too inclined toward China and therefore would not welcome a Korea unified under Kim Il-sung. Acceptance of two Koreas seems to them preferable, just as the USSR, despite its formal pronouncements, seems inclined to accept the American-Japanese Security Treaty, the present status of Taiwan, and the American presence generally in the Western Pacific. In Southeast Asia and South Asia also the Soviet tendency is to accept the status quo, stress state-to-state relations rather than revolution, and above all build up Soviet military influence, especially in the form of increased naval power.

In relating the United States to these Asian configurations, Mr. Scalapino’s chief aim is to show that an isolationist withdrawal of American power and commitment from Asia could cause serious instability. Such a withdrawal would encourage nationalist policies and efforts at regional hegemony through independent action, pressures, and “local wars.” In the past America’s motives in the Asian-Pacific area were less purely economic than political-strategic. The US was concerned both to oppose European colonialisms (the early form of closed society) and the subsequent nationalisms that would close the door to American trade and contact. The means usually employed by the US—including self-righteous efforts at moral suasion—unfortunately were “the opposite side of the isolationist coin.” After trying to stay “all out” of both world wars, we went “all in.” It seems incredible that the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s were posited on the idea that we became involved in wars abroad because of (a) munition-makers’ profits and (b) the presence of Americans in belligerent zones.

In the aftermath of Vietnam we face a comparably simplistic tendency to justify our withdrawal from foreign commitments. Withdrawal would end our support of petty dictators and our supply of arms and even men to strange places. But it would soon face us with economic warfare, the end of democratic possibilities (what Scalapino calls “political openness”) in many countries, and a tendency toward international conflict instead of negotiation.

Instead of withdrawal Mr. Scalapino argues for wide-ranging multilateral programs. These include an American-Japanese initiative for “a multilateral guarantee of the territorial integrity of the various nations of Northeast Asia”; the acceptance of both Koreas in the United Nations with Japan, China, the USSR, and the US jointly sponsoring a “zone of peace” there; and support for the neutralization of Southeast Asia. In South Asia and the Indian Ocean he advocates a low degree of American involvement. Over-all, instead of withdrawal or an “enclave policy” of support for Japan, Western Europe, and possibly Israel, he urges a “selective internationalism” committed to maintaining a “political-strategic equilibrium” in critical areas.

This is a persuasive and realistic survey steeped in the facts that shape policies and aware of the factors that balance out in the status quo. One wishes most that the author had been able to talk at length with Chou En-lai. The Middle Kingdom is the centerpiece of Asia but least knowable through the political scientist’s techniques of seeing the people, reading the press, talking to all sorts of observers, and canvassing the schools of thought. The People’s Republic, about as big in numbers as all the surrounding states put together, is the most closed to outsiders.

It is also the most revolutionary, being still in the midst of processes of mobilization, education, and the build-up of technical skills and patriotic sentiments that began earlier in the smaller countries of Meiji Japan, Czarist Russia, and British India. While the status quo holds sway around the periphery, China is still seeking her new order and will no doubt surprise us again with the next phase of her great revolution. (Since this was written, a new acting premier has emerged, while the old is attacked.)

This consideration raises a question about Mr. Scalapino’s espousal of the independence of Taiwan on the basis of self-determination. “There can be no doubt,” he says, “that the great bulk of the population on Taiwan would prefer independence.” As an abstract proposition this may be true—who knows?—but so far as power is concerned it can only mean independence under foreign protection, presumably American. “The independence of Taiwan” is a phrase and may be a dream, but it is not a workable or discussable idea, either in political science or in common sense.

“Taiwan’s independence under American protection” is an idea whose implications can be analyzed. It means America’s renewed intervention against the long-term claims of the Chinese revolution. This would destroy the Nixon-Chou communiqué from Shanghai of February 1972, on which the entire Peking-Washington rapprochement still hinges. That brilliant agreement to disagree took a “one-China” position—that Taiwan is “part of China,” no matter how various parties may interpret the phrase. To drop it now in favor of our favorite term, “self-determination,” would be positively MacArthurian in its culture-bound insensitivity to China’s political ideals. Worse, it would amount to a declaration of armed hostility to the Chinese people, whose revolution, which has by no means run its course, has always found use for a foreign enemy. If the Taiwan independence formula now finds favor among us as a proper American way to deal with China’s strange hang-ups, we can be sure that our devotion to American principles for foreign peoples is again at work. The road ahead may then lead us down a dangerous path.

If the Soviets turn out to be less conservative than expansionist, the United States and China will be drawn together. At a time when such a possibility must be taken seriously, our altercation over Taiwan should be left in innocuous desuetude rather than abruptly precipitated by a slogan of Taiwan independence.

This Issue

March 18, 1976