12 APRIL 1975, Page 3

Reappraisal in S-E Asia

The cost of the involvement of the United States in Indo-China has been appalling; but the cost of her involvement in the rest of South-East Asia has been minimal, and this is a fact Congressional critics of President Ford and Dr Kissinger and their predecessors w.uuld do well to recognise. It is almost certainly correct, further, to say that the cost of Vietnam was too great for any advantage which came of the war there; and that if the Americans had their time over again they would not contemplate even making a beginning. But, even if South Vietnam falls wholly under Communist suzerainty, something will still have been gained from the last decade; for the other South-East Asian states have been given that much time to prepare.

It Was never likely that either Laos or Cambodia could be made into substantial buffers against the spread of North Vietnamese power, and it was a grievous 1111, stake of both the State Department and e CIA to suppose that they could be. riuwever, it is also probably true to say that neither of these countries nor their Peeples will prove as tractable instruments Cif totalitarian communism as have the ountry and people of Vietnam. The 4-hYmer Rouge forces have always needed North Vietnamese stiffening; and the ranishackle compromise of Laos looks as though it has a fair chance of enduring. Purthermore, it is now realised — or Should be — that the interest of the United States and her allies in the whole SouthEast Asian land mass is not necessarily the creation and sustenance of states bound to the greatest Western power: all that is required is that as many as possible of these states, whatever the domestic camPiexion of their governments, remain independent, and uncommitted to any Monolithic rival influence. Save for servicing the sinews of North Vietnamese aggression the Chinese government has, Moreover, on the whole pursued a responsIble policy in its relations with independent South-East Asian states, and has not 1,°,1ight the establishment of an empire. "Is characteristic of Chinese foreign Pelicy may not survive the eventual EeParture of Mao Tse-tung and Chou t tt-lal, but then the subterranean hostility ‘171.at exists between China and North ietnam may continue to serve the l'orPoses of Western diplomacy. Were a ceinimunist monolith which might be einPared to that in Eastern Europe to "ime into existence in this corner of Asia, of the situation would be danger°us indeed.

tor the moment only two of the remaining gldeliendent South-East Asian states are 1,,inder threat — Thailand and Malaysia. u Erna, though under a disagreeable reghne, has found that the Chinese have esPected a recent border treaty; Singa!c're ls in no danger unless Malaysia falls; fd Indonesia is successfully pursuing a '11!"asure of domestic reconstruction. In 7t11 Thailand and Malaysia, however, jeent years have seen a recrudescence of w°Ihinunist guerrilla activity that had, it 0, thought, been decisively crushed; and inraYsia has had, further, to deal with Arbeirriecine racial strife. The success of the en'aYslan economy, however, has been CoUraging; and recent political reforms stlhand provide some hope that e0711ItYila may be preserved. In both haftries, nonetheless, the Chinese have vie, a malign influence; and the North Inamese have fuelled the efforts of Thai dissidents. The latest British decision to withdraw wholly from Malaysia, and the stupidity of the Australian government in likewise breaking up the alliance carefully and painstakingly negotiated by Mr Heath and Lord Home, are particularly to be regretted, for the governments in both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have made clear more than once their massive preference for a Commonwealth rather than an American involvement in their defence. Moreover, whatever the Communist professions of policy, and whatever length of time it takes them to consolidate the gains they have made and will shortly make, there are great attractions in pushing further on, especially because of the richness of the remaining independent states in raw materials and in oil.

It is therefore vital for the Western powers first to grasp the importance of the fact that all is not lost in South-East Asia because Vietnam is lost; and, second, to appreciate that their interest in sustaining the independence of the remaining states has not been expunged simply by the defeat in Vietnam: an interest remains an interest, even if one has been once or more than once defeated in defending it. Certainly, agonising reappraisal is now rightly the order of the day; but the vital task is to discover what can be done to shore up the remaining dominoes, without resorting to the mistakes of the past.

Taiwan future

It is sad that the truest epitaph likely to be pronounced on the late Chiang Kai-shek is that, had he displayed the same efficiency and resolution in his government of mainland China as he did in Taiwan, then Communism and the regime of Mao would not now be installed across the whole of the mainland. For the Taiwan experiment, save in that it was supposed to provide a base for the return to the mainland, has been almost uniformly a success. Taiwan was one of the first of the post-war Tributary states to be able to dispense with American economic aid; she has successfully absorbed a flow of mainland refugees; and she has steadily improved all her state services. The record of the Generalissimo, therefore, though its main constituent element is a great failure, is neither barren, nor ignoble.

It is by no means clear what will happen under his successors. Because, unlike other ageing dictators Chiang was sensible enough to hand over most of his power to his son before his death, Taiwan is probably guaranteed internal stability. It is more difficult to predict the actions of the Chinese, American and Japanese govern ments in the future. America has already abandoned Taiwan in all the areas which Chiang regarded as crucial, but her fleet is still probably capable of providing against an invasion from the mainland, even if the Taiwanese were not judged capable of repulsing it themselves. The Peking government, moreover, must know that the cost of a coup would be enormous; and that there would be no guarantee of success. The best that can be hoped for is a gradual withering away of the Taiwanese ambition to return to the mainland, and a gradual easing of relations with Peking. The bright future for Taiwan is as an independent nation, recognising special cultural ties with China. It is to be hoped that the new rulers will see the wisdom of such a policy, and not lack resolution in pursuing it.

Unchanging Ulster

The events of the weekend in Ulster exposed the fragility of the truce there; and the Secretary of State for Ulster — whose performance has shown a marked firmness recently, in contrast to the appalling vacillation which he demonstrated in the early period after he had assumed office —is to be congratulated for refusing to make any further compromises with the IRA, despite that organisation's muttering to the effect that they were being severely tempted to end the truce. The melancholy fact is that nothing has changed in Ulster, and that the forthcoming Assembly elections do not portend much in the way of change either. Such stability as there is in that unhappy province, and such peace, depends almost entirely on the work, the bravery and the resolution of the Army, without the presence of which the squalling factions of the province would fall to rending each other. Now, therefore, as has been the case since 1969, the first concern of any British government must be for the morale and the equipment of the troops.

Civil Service

The social contract — so-called — would be laughable if the Government's continued reiteration of its virtues did not portend such tragedy for the country. Of all the ludicrous pay settlements which Mr Foot has had spuriously to justify as being within the terms of the contract, however, none will appear more ludicrous to a suffering public than the 30 per cent agreement which the Civil Service has apparently won from its masters. There was a time when British state bureaucracy was the envy of the civilised world; but that time has long gone. Those at the head of our Civil Service are now generally a below average lot; while constant expansion and lowered standards of recruitment have reduced both the efficiency and the morale of the Service in its lower ranks. In the good old days of far-off 1970 Mr Heath was committed to reducing and streamlining the Civil Service, and indeed took early steps to that end. But later developments, and ever more complicated legislation, required yet more expansion; and Labour's laws will require a yet more " bloated bureaucracy. Far better it would be to reduce numbers than to raise pay.