19 APRIL 1963, Page 7

Two Ends of Taiwan

By DONALD HORNE p doesn't take long in a foreign country to 'find the traveller's tale that sums everything UP- In Taiwan I found mine near the provincial city of Taichung. We had spent half the morn- mg in the reinforced concrete dazzle of an air base as large as Taiwan's capital city; the jeep had stopped so that we could talk to pilots standing by their American F104 interceptors on a five-minute ground-to-air alert that could transform Asia and the world, one way or the other. Half an hour tater, in a wooden building on the Taichung District Agricultural Improve- ment Station, I was drinking around the green leaves floating on top of a glass of tea; we were talking hybridisation, intercropping, fertilisers, the whole business of making four crops grow Where one or two grew before.

Taiwan lives at two ends. At one end it is still engaged in a civil war with the mainland Communists: 550,000 men are at arms, 10.6 Per cent of the GNP goes on defence, anti- Communism is as rigid an article of faith as anti-Nazism in wartime England. At the other end, apart from Japan (in economic terms Japan Is now much less Asian than Spain) Taiwan is the only Asian country that has run a success- ful land reform programme, pulled up the living standards of the poor (and depressed the living standards of top people) and seriously begun to industrialise. To use two vogue phrases: it liar produced a miracle in industrial growth and its economy is now taking off.

The Nationalist Chinese Government has not achieved this double without tension. The Taiwanese landlords were as full of tensions as an aspirin advert when they were compulsorily bought out. But the real tensions came from the contradictions implied in phrases like 'civil war' and 'rising standard of living.' For this state- ment I have no less an authority than Tang Na Chain, secretary-general of the Kuomintang. In one of those hilariously unexpected frank Interviews that make interviewing occasionally worth while Tang said that the Kuomintang consisted of those who were still given to the revolutionary spirit (return-to-the-mainland) and those who wanted to eat the newly baked cake. Fits job was to balance the two conflicting groups. 'It's hard to please everybody,' he said. The mystique of the 'return-to-the-mainland' can be understood only as part of the revolu- tionary ideology of the Kuomintang. It is not 4 Proposal for a Normandy-type invasion in Which gallant two-gun Chiang Kai-shek slogs his way across China; it is seen as an incident in a long civil war. Its whole basis seems to be that there would not be much fighting. Chiang's °lila victories in the late 1920s were not so much a: War as a triumphal parade. He led an army same a crumbling society that fell apart. In the 'ame way Mao Tse-tung did not fight his way to power; he placed art army in front of an anti-army and marched through the holes. As explained to me in faultlessly identical terms by Vice Foreign Minister Hsu Shao Chang, by g_enerals at Quemoy, by Chiang himself and by `I dozen others, the theory is that the force assembled in Taiwan is not in itself big enough for a frontal attack nor are the internal forces of rebellion within the mainland in themselves strong enough. The two must go together. As Chiang put it to me, discontent in the mainland needs 'a bit of a push.' Intelligence reports are said to suggest that the south coast of China, which is under a constant barrage from the Nationalist propaganda machine and its guer- rillas, is now in a state of potential defection. The local militia was disarmed last year; military units and Communist officials are being shuttled around to prevent local cohesion.

Almost every question I asked Chiang was answered in return-to-the-mainland terms. Hsu Shao Chang said that Taiwan was meaningless without the counter-offensive. At lesser levels everyone makes his opening pirouette in sup- port of the counter-offensive. When the conver- sation gets back to normal it is obvious that plenty of people can live without it (although there is no open discussion about this). 'The sooner the better'—given with a big smile—was Chiang's answer about the timing. Chiang said that matters should be left to the Chinese to settle. But unless there was a successful open rebellion on the south coast (according to the official line this is not possible) the Nationalists would need American ships and planes to make a landing work. This means that the counter- offensive is not a chapter-heading in the history of modern revolutionary China but a deferred item on the agenda of the cold war. Its feasi- bility is an American not a Chinese decision. The Chinese say that the Soviets would not fight in Southern China, But it is the Americans, not the Chinese, who have to decide whether that is true. The prospect of Chiang dragging the world into war is negligible.

The return-to-the-mainland is a useful myth for the rest of Asia. Even as a bit of real life it is not crazy. A force exists that can exploit weaknesses at a time of multiple crises, if any, in the Communist bloc. It ties down Communist troops on the south coast and screws up the kind of tension that could yet lead to change in China. And as long as the American guarantee of 1955 remains firm Taiwan will not be in- vaded. To the neat counter-equations that run 'Nave you noticed? Chop-Suey's been quietly dropped from the menu.'

in West European minds this may seem an in- conclusive answer. It means an indefinite period of muddle and tension. No tidy solutions. Just live with the mess. But it is quite easy to live in a small mess if the alternative is the kind of big mess—perhaps the general collapse of non-Communist Asia—that might follow the collapse of Taiwan, There are more than 12,000,000 people in Taiwan. They are increasing at the rate of more than 300,000 a year. And despite this shattering population increase and the demands of defence, things are being run more or less according to the dreams of European progressive opinion on Asia: the landlords have been ousted, people are getting more to eat and more to buy, and factories are increasing. My own rough sample of farmhouses and peasants along the west coast gave life to the glossy statistical reports and superbly mounted PR charts. A survey run by the University of Hong Kong shows that 52 per cent of the peasants tested said that things had improved, 12 per cent saw no change, 32 per cent did not comment, 4 per cent said things were worse. To anyone who knows farmers this must be one of the lowest rural grumble-rates in the world. International statistics show the second highest supply of food per person in Asia, the second highest yield of rice per acre, 96 per cent school attendance, life expectancy up from 43 to 63.5 years, telephones in 88 per cent of villages and so on.

In industrial production Taiwan, like Ger- many and Japan, has put on its miracle, although it is a much lesser and cruder miracle. It may only be possible to put on miracles when you start from next to nothing. But next to nothing is where most of South-East Asia still stands. All this has been done with a great deal of government shoving, with detailed direction from US experts and to a background of US aid. But it has been done. The Clay committee named Taiwan as one of the three countries (with Greece and Israel) that used aid effectively. Kuomintang speakers were attacking corruption when I visited the rump of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei. (Absolutely no one was listening. How can you go on listening about corruption for up to forty years?) But the corruption-rate in Taiwan would be one of the lowest in Asia.

Some of the neatness of the growth curves is now getting messed up. The period of 'easy' expansion is over. As far as I could make out most of the targets for what I can only describe as the second year of the third four-year plan have not been met. The trade deficit becomes more serious as the prospects of decreased US aid draw near and it is hard to build a really good investment climate when there is so much emphasis on defence and living standards. Employment, export and investment figures for last year were still good, however, if not quite on target; industrial production went up 12 per cent. But the bad figure-- and I checked it three times—was in agricultural production, which went up only 1.5 per cent when it was sup- posed to have gone up 5.3 per cent. Farm im- provement still needs some hard slogging. All that one can say is that the plans are ready. With more than 300,000 extra mouths to feed every year, the second highest population density in the world and hardly any more marginal land. the plans must not take too long beginning. Especially when the peasants I spoke to, although they believed in birth control, did not know how it worked. There is now a Family Planning Association, but it goes about its job in such an undercover way that only educated people use it. The climate on top is still set by the kind of old politician who announces that birth control is 'a tool of the colonialists.' And perhaps by Chiang, who told me that the prob- lem of over-population would be solved by re- turning to the mainland.