Gareth Jones

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Far East Contents

By Gareth Jones, Java, Dutch East Indies. April 1935 

Even here in the luxuriant Dutch East Indies, overflowing with oil and rubber, sugar and spices, coffee and tea, and inhabited by over 60 millions of natives the name “JAPAN” arouses fear among the Dutch rulers. 

The sound, which woke me when I arrived in Java, was the whirr of aeroplanes, as the boat steamed into Soerabaya harbour.  I looked out of the portholes.  Two bombing aeroplanes!  A symbol of Holland’s fear of Japan, because the Dutch are buying more and more aeroplanes in order to defend their priceless colonial possessions. 

I landed amid a host of Malays in their turbans and their brilliantly coloured skirts (called ‘sarongs’), which all the men wear, went to see a leading American merchant.  The first word he mentioned was: “Japan!  The Dutch here are scared of Japan.  They se that we Americans are leaving the Philippines and they ask themselves: ‘What if the Japanese come to Manila?  Will they not want to descend on the oil wells of Borneo?’  The Japanese have no oil and no Empire can flourish until it has its source of oil, for oil rules the world.  Just as the British scoured the world for oil and tried to control the oil of Persia and of Iraq, so will Japan cast her eyes round the world in search for oil.  She will see rich Borneo just beyond the Philippines and the Dutch fear that she will covet it.”  So spoke the influential American merchant and I then understood why Holland is building up the fortifications of Balikpapan and Tarakan, the two oil ports in Borneo. 

Leaving the American I travelled in a streetcar towards a hotel. Next to me sat a Dutchman who suddenly addressed me.  In a few minutes there came the word “JAPAN”.  “The Japanese mean war.” he declared.  “We are afraid for our oil will lie at their mercy.”   

A real scare of Japan has caused a panic in the Dutch East Indies; a panic, which to the visitor like myself, seemed hysterical and perhaps unjustified.  I decided to ask the leading authorities in Java what they thought of the so-called “Japanese menace”, and a few days later in Batavia I entered the dignified library of one of the most distinguished Dutchmen in Java.  After one of his many swarthy turbaned Malay servants had bowed low and left the room I turned to the Dutch authority and said: “Why do I hear on all sides this panic-stricken fear of Japan?  It appears to me to be exaggerated.” 

He replied, “I have just returned from an important conference.  Do you know the question we discussed?  It was Japanese aggression.  We know that Japan has plans to attack us here as soon as war breaks out in Europe.  “I recalled that the Japanese had marched into Manchuria when Europe was in financial chaos in September 1931.  The Dutchman continued: 

“The Japanese can do anything if Europe is in disorder: they could conquer the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies, because they are the Mistress of the Pacific.  Theirs is the power in the Far East.” 

He paused and I put before him the pro-Japanese point of view.  “Surely the Japanese interest is peace in the Pacific.  Only if there is peace can the Japanese sell their goods. They are conquering Asia by trade only.  Would they risk their valuable markets by war?” 

The Dutchman stroked his beard, stood up went to his desk and, without saying a word showed me a map.  I noticed that vast areas of the world were painted pink, among which were the Dutch East Indies and Australia that in a table of colours pink was described as “colonies of Japan.” 

After I had studied the map, the Dutchman spoke: “That is from the book of the Japanese Nationalist shipping man and trader.  It is the future Japanese Empire.” 

“There are many reasonable men in Japan,” I argued, “who believe such plans are fantastic and who are vigorously opposed to mad schemes of expansion.   Would they not combat such a scheme?” 

The Dutch citizen dismissed my argument with scorn.  “I have lived along time in Japan,” he declared, “and I have many Japanese friends, but there is not one of them I would trust if any motive of patriotism came in.  There is not one who would not poison me if his country were at stake.  What is more, they would poison their family for sake of patriotism.  They have a proverb: “Duty knows no family.”  A wife whose husband is killed in a war is happy and is congratulated.  The Japanese would risk all for the Emperor.  That means they have the idea of Empire and that common sense disappears when ‘country ‘is mentioned.  That is why I think that when there is trouble in Europe the Japanese will try to seize Borneo and perhaps the other islands of the East Indies.” 

What did the Government officials think?  I went to one of the great departments where the Dutch and the Eurasians (who are mixed Dutch and native) rule over their vast Empire.  A keen Eurasian in a high position – it is difficult to distinguish the Malay blood in him, except for the dark eyes – took me to the window and bade me look down at the street below.  Hundreds of Malays in brilliant dress were streaming languidly past, for the Malay is no lover of speed.  “JAPAN”, said the official, “aims at playing an ever greater part in the lives of those natives whom you see below.   She wishes to set herself up – just as the Bolsheviks do – as the defender of the masses of the world.  Let me read to you from the War Office pamphlet published in Tokyo this year.”  He read aloud in his guttural Dutch accent: “The white powers are trying to make the colonial masses buy their own expensive goods, but in this connection the Japanese Empire is one interest with the masses of the world and it is not doubtful as to whom the final victory will come.” 

“Final victory!”  The Dutch ponder over this phrase and ask: “Does this ‘final victory’ mean the Japanese victory over the white powers? Can we throughout this century guard our rich colonies?”  

Some, it is true, do not fear Japan, but they are very few.  They believe that Japan wants trade only and that the distances and difficulties of conquest are too great.  They say that Japan has chosen land expansion rather than sea expansion and that she will be for decades preoccupied by China and Manchuria. 

The vast majority are in dread, however, and they ask themselves: “How can we keep our colonies?”  They have found one answer and that is a warm friendship with Great Britain, which a British merchant described as: “The Dutch are at last thanking God for the British Empire.” 

Moreover the British want the friendliest relations with the Dutch.  They have millions invested in the Royal Dutch (Shell) oilfields of Borneo.  They have vast interests in rubber plantations in Java.  The vital routes of the British Empire lie in Dutch waters, for the Dutch control the path from Asia to India and from Australia to India.  The Imperial Airways route from London to Australia will fly for nearly three thousand miles over or near Dutch territory.  (Did you know the length of the Dutch East Indies was almost as great as from New York to Los Angeles?)  Thus the British regard the East Indies, from the defense point of view, as a vital part of the British Empire. 

Just opposite the coast of Sumatra lies the fortress island of Singapore, where the British are building a great new naval and air base.  So close is the friendship between Holland and Britain in the Far East that the Dutch regard Singapore as the defense base for Batavia, the capitol of Java, and have placed their chief naval and air base in Soerabaya, on the other end of the island. 

To guard themselves against aggression the Dutch are thus placing themselves in the hands of the British.  There is another kind of aggression, however the British can do little to help the Dutch and that is trade aggression.  Japanese imports are increasing by leaps and bounds and now the Japanese control about 95%of the imports of textiles.  Japanese pottery is ousting out Dutch pottery everywhere.  The Japanese are selling bicycles at fantastically low prices.  Their bankers, importers and forwarders are growing rapidly in importance.  Everywhere one sees Japanese photographers.  (Why is it that almost every town on the coastlines of Asia has a Japanese photographer?) and barbers.  Japanese shipping is fighting a vigorous battle against Dutch shipping.  In the toy trade the Japanese share of imports jumped from40% to 75% in 1932.  In electrical goods Japanese sales are increasing in leaps and bounds.  Japanese stores are being opened in he most remote towns and the Chinese, who are the storekeepers of Java, are cursing the new invader. 

This trade conquest is indeed a problem for the Dutch, for Japanese goods are of great advantages to a colony.  Listen to what a planter told me;  “Thank God for Japanese goods.  I sell them on my plantation and because they are so cheap I can reduce the natives’ wages.  Without Japanese goods we could not sell our rubber in the world market for our cost of production would be too high.  The natives cannot afford to buy European goods and if they could not buy Japanese goods, many of them would go naked.” 

The Dutch are in a dilemma as the gird their loins for a trade and shipping war.  If they shut out Japanese goods they increase the poverty in their natives and raise their costs of production and perhaps cause riots.  If there is chaos in Europe they dread a Japanese naval attack.  It is no wonder that the word “JAPAN” arose fear and anxiety among the rulers of the Dutch East Indies.


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