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