Monday, Feb. 14, 1955

The Man Between

India's Jawaharlal Nehru was the busiest man in London last week. Britain's Anthony Eden wooed him, Burmese and Indonesian envoys sought him out. Communist China's chief representative conferred with him twice. So did U.S. Ambassador Winthrop Aldrich, who got the full treatment on the "Asian" view of Formosa, featuring Red China's indisputable right to Formosa and the U.S.'s "interference" in Asia's affairs.

Only when the assembled Commonwealth Prime Ministers met for social events did Nehru's heavy-lidded eyes droop tiredly. "This is the real hard work of conferences," he said to Australia's Robert Menzies at one banquet. "I'm not sure I'm enjoying myself."

The Weight of Concern. At other times, conferences of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers have been quiet family affairs. Australia's Menzies, a veteran of many of them, explained: "We earnest fellows come from the six corners of the world. Winston addresses us ... and after all, that is a wonderful experience. When Winston has finished, he turns round to Anthony and says, 'Would you care to say something?' ^Things go on . .. I make a few statesmanlike remarks . . . And when we have solved all the problems of the world . . . the communiqué will arrive. We will correct the grammar. Then Winston will say, 'I don't like the sense in which you have used that word.' . . . And then we all go home."

This time the secret conclaves around the dark oak table in 10 Downing Street were tense and weighted with concern. Sir Winston told them somberly that since their last meeting in June 1953, the hydrogen bomb had come to dominate the world scene. "Hitler was mad and bad—the Russians are only bad," cracked the old man. "They have far more sense than to start an atomic war which will lead to their own destruction." He predicted that in three years Russia would attain atomic equality with the West. Heretofore, he declared, only U.S. superiority in nuclear weapons has prevented the free world from being overrun.

Nehru dissented. Speaking softly, he urged the total abolition of all atomic weapons and experiments: "The hydrogen bomb has made war obsolete as an instrument of policy, and the continued development of the weapon threatens all civilization." Menzies "utterly disagreed."

Scruples & Swaps. Gingerly, the other ministers explored Nehru's views on Formosa. It was soon apparent that Nehru, with milder backing from Ceylon's Sir John Kotelawala, simply thought that the U.S. should abandon the Nationalists. The others, with some individual variants, favored Eden's plan, which would swap the offshore islands and U.N. recognition of Red China for a cease-fire and Communist acceptance of a neutralized Formosa.

Eden, though he has scrupulously avoided saying so publicly for fear of embarrassing President Eisenhower, is convinced that the U.S. is swinging to some kind of neutralization too. Last week he tried to clear the ground for his projected bargain. The status of Formosa and the Pescadores is "uncertain or undetermined," he said, but "the Nationalist-held islands in close proximity to the coast of China . . . undoubtedly form part of the territory of the People's Republic of China." But stoutly standing by the U.S., he warned Red China against any attempt "to assert its authority over these islands by force in the circumstances at present peculiar to the case."

No one of the Prime Ministers was eager, or even willing, to fight to save Formosa. Privately, they agreed that they were not "automatically committed" to help the U.S. in its defense. But Eden recognized that if the U.S. should get into a large-scale war with Red China, Britain would inevitably be drawn in.

Dumping Chiang. Outside the conference room, Eden faced a concerted and mischievous attack from the Laborite opposition. The fire was aimed at the U.S., and headed by 72-year-old Clement Attlee himself, whose trip to Peking has made him a certified China expert. Attlee, in an interview with the Socialist Daily Herald, demanded that Formosa should be neutralized for "a period of years . . . until a fair plebiscite can be held. Chiang Kai-shek could hardly stay in Formosa during such a period of neutralization. He and his principal supporters would have to go into exile—and a suitable asylum should be found for him." Echoed Nye Bevan: "The way to make peace is to disarm Chiang Kai-shek." Snapped Dr. Edith Summerskill: "The workers of this country [will] not support the claims of a discredited dictator against the workers of the recognized government of the People's Republic of China."

These Laborite leaders seemed to be saying that, were it not for Chiang's heavy restraining hand, the Chinese on Formosa would be delighted to be absorbed into Communist China. But given the choice, 14,000 out of 20,000 Chinese prisoners of war in Korea had chosen the "discredited dictator" and exile on Formosa rather than return to their homes in Red China. What would become of them if they returned to the mainland? The weekly Spectator wondered how Attlee could "look with equanimity on the prospect of the terrible slaughter which would certainly take place if America abandoned the Nationalists."

In speaking as he did, Clem Attlee made common cause with his party's left wing. But he was also unquestionably expressing more rudely a feeling Eden and many Tories share: the fervent wish that Chiang Kai-shek would simply disappear, vanish, evaporate, go away.

In this atmosphere, China's brusque rejection of the U.N. invitation was "extremely disappointing" to Eden; its rudeness shocked even some Laborites. But the Commonwealth ministers were briefly cheered when Molotov called in British Ambassador Sir William Hayter in Moscow, told him that the Russians were ready to work as a moderating influence on Peking, urged that the British do the same in Washington.

At week's end, code machines chattered as the diplomats took counsel. There was little enthusiasm for an Indonesian proposal that the Colombo powers mediate (too clumsy) or for another Geneva-type conference (the U.S. disapproved). By default, hopes centered on Jawaharlal Nehru. The question was whether his intervention would do more harm than good. He was insisting that Red China's ultimate right to Formosa must be recognized first, but had reportedly conceded, at the urging of Commonwealth colleagues, that Formosa might be granted 20 years of interim independence under a U.N. mandate. Vastly relishing his role, Nehru told 3.000 Indian students: "Whatever you say must be at the right moment, and then it does have some effect."