HC Deb 12 April 1869 vol 195 cc577-9

said, he wished to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with reference to the following extract from the "China Mail," quoted by Mr. Horatio Nelson Lay, ex-Superintendent of Maritime Customs in China, in a letter to the London "Times," 2nd December 1868:— The result of our present policy in China is that on every side we hear of hostility against foreigners, at Wuchang-Kiu-Kiang, Formosa, Chefoo, Chin-Kiang, and Yangchowa. From every part of China we hear complaints of the Chinese authorities resisting the clearest and most unquestionable claims. Whether the Diplomatic and Consular Agents, who directed the solution of these cases, have reported officially or otherwise to the Foreign Office, and whether the Reports, if any, can be laid upon the Table. What redress was obtained for the attempted assassination of Mr. Hardie and Mr. Pickering at Taiwan-foo, and for the recent attack upon the boats' crews of Her Majesty's gunboat "Cockchafer,'' Lieutenant Kerr, at Swatow. by Chinese soldiers, in which eleven seamen were wounded; and, further, whether the acting Consul at Swatow reported the operations of Her Majesty's gunboat "Bustard," Lieutenant Johnston, in conjunction with and at the request of the Taotae of Swatow against the insurgent town of Choo-chi?


Sir, it is unquestionably true that in China, lately, some occurrences have taken place that are much to be regretted, which have resulted in the wounding of several men in Her Majesty's service and in a large loss of life to the Chinese. But these proceeding, so far from being the result of our policy in China, have been, in consequence of action, taken in opposition to that policy. Our policy in China is to establish and maintain friendly relations with its Government and people and to extend the commercial interests of this country with the Chinese Empire. We maintain at Pekin a Legation for that purpose, and it is the duty of Her Majesty's Minister there, in ease of damage done to British subjects, to represent that damage to the Chinese Central Government and to obtain from it redress. Sir Rutherford Alcock has, on all occasions on which such damage has been made known to him, made the necessary representations to the Central Government, and has obtained from it either redress or the immediate promise of it. But if Her Majesty's officers—consular or others—take upon themselves to use Her Majesty's forces to obtain that redress which they conceive to be due upon a question of commercial law or other matters in dispute, such conduct will not be approved of by the Government. Now, without referring to the various questions to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has drawn attention—for this is not the time, as we are about to lay all the Papers before the House, and it will then be in his power to make any comments he likes on the proceedings—without referring to these various matters in detail, I will say that although the proceedings to which he refers have been, as far as the naval and military operations were concerned, conducted with great skill and gallantry by the officers employed, they were not such as could possibly meet with, the approval of the Government, looking to the instructions given specially to the consular officers in China; and in one case the consular officer at Formosa so far departed from the spirit of the instructions he received, that it has been thought right by the Government to remove him from the post he occupied. It may be satisfactory to my hon. and gallant Friend to know—notwithstanding the very lugubrious opinion he has expressed in his Questions—that we have received a telegram from Sir Rutherford Alcock, conveying a very different impression. It runs thus— March 30, 1869. At Yangchowa, Formosa, Swatow, entire sincerity and improved position. At all the ports accounts received of the restoration of order and peace. Lord Clarendon's instructions of the 13th of December have been communicated to Prince Kung, and the consuls, and the admiral. The best understanding exists with everybody at Pekin. There is no more cause for anxiety on any point. Our relations have never been more satisfactory. With regard to the last Question, I can only say that my hon. and gallant Friend appears to receive earlier information from China than we do. The Government have received no information of any such occurrence as that to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers. All the Papers on the subject shall be laid on the table.