§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in accordance with the pledge I gave some days ago to move that the House at its rising at seven o'clock do adjourn for the Easter holidays, and to use the occasion furnished by this Motion to make a statement, to the House with regard to the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the Far East. It must be remembered that the date of this statement of policy is not selected in regard to the convenience of the date in point of view of the important negotiations which have been going on. It is selected because the House has asked—and in our judgment has a right to ask—for a statement of policy, so far as it can be given, before we separate for the Easter holidays. But the consequence of the fact to which I have referred—namely, that the date has not been selected by us in view of the negotiations, but has been selected in view of Parliamentary convenience, puts us and puts me under some slight difficulties. It puts the House under difficulties because it has been impossible to lay upon the Table of the House the Papers necessary to give hon. Members full information upon the events of the last few months. It is inconvenient to me because there are certain aspects of the question which it would not be possible, I think, for me to touch upon, with advantage, inasmuch as they refer to negotiations still pending. But I think that, in spite of these inevitable limitations, I shall be able to give to the House the views of Her Majesty's Government upon that part of the Far Eastern question in which this House and the country take the deepest interest. I do not disguise from myself that during some weeks, perhaps during some months, the public mind has been in a condition of considerable anxiety—I had almost said of irritable anxiety. I do not use that phrase with any suggestion of blame, but they have not, I think, shown that confidence in the Government which we had, indeed, 225 perhaps, no right to ask for from hon. Members opposite, but which, certainly, we had some right to expect from those who support us in this House and the country. I admit that the circumstances are so novel that some manifestion of public anxiety was only what we might have expected, for we are dealing, be it remembered, with an entirely new set of circumstances, with entirely new political phenomena, and we and the country have to move along a path where we are not guided, and cannot be guided, by previous traditions, where no settled lines of policy have been laid down by successive Parliaments and successive Governments. Out of what causes has this new state of things arisen? I do not attempt to probe those causes to their roots, but, broadly speaking, we know that it is the extraordinary—I had almost said the unaccountable—weakness of the vast Empire of China which has in one way or another provoked, I will not say attacks, but changes in the Far Eastern policy of more than one country. It is that fact which has brought upon us the new state of things with which we are face to face to-day and with which it is our duty to deal. I do not believe that in the history of the world such a spectacle has ever been presented as that which the Empire of China presents at this moment. History, indeed, is full of accounts of the weakness and decay of great empires, but I do not think that history shows a single case in which an empire, numbering its inhabitants by hundreds of millions, which has never received any blow directed against a vital part, whose inhabitants are full of the qualities, many of which go to make great nations—thrifty, industrious, enterprising, courageous—has been apparently wholly unable to act against the feeblest form of attack. It is a spectacle which up to this time the world has never yet seen. You may ransack and study the pathology of empires, and you will study it, I believe, in vain, before you find any example of so complete a paralysis. The difficulty that we, that the British nation, are placed in is this. The empire whose present condition I have just described is one in which we have great interests, great in their magnitude and important to us from the more bulk of commerce which they represent; important also 226 because we were the pioneers in the Far Fast, and we who still possess by far the greater share of Chinese commerce, were those who first opened that commerce, so far as it is as yet open, to the world, and that before France had any colonies in the Far East, before Germany had a colonial policy at all, and whilst Russia was still divided by interminable tracts of waste territory from the Chinese Empire. In those days we had already begun that course of opening up China to foreign trade and commerce which has given us the position which we now occupy there, and which has created for us those great interests which it is our duty to preserve. What, then, is the policy which we ought to pursue in the face of this new and unexampled situation? That policy was stated by me to the country as far back as 11th January, and, if I mention a speech of my own, it is not because I attach any special interest to my own utterances, but; because it so happens that that speech was the first one made by any Member of the Government immediately after the first Cabinet meeting which took place in the early part of January. The Cabinet met on the 9th of January, and the question of the Far East necessarily came up for discussion. It had been brought prominently before the public mind in connection with the German policy, in connection with the proposed Russian Loan to China, and possibly also—although I am not sure that the fact was known to the public—possibly also in connection with the application made to us by China for a Loan to pay off her war indemnity. I having to speak within a few hours of the Cabinet, meeting, the line to be taken was discussed by my colleagues, and it was by their direction that I laid down the heads of a policy which I will not quota from the speech, since quoting even from one's enemies' speeches is wearisome enough, but quoting from one's own speech is intolerable, But I will venture very briefly to summarise the lines of policy in that speech. In obedience with the directions of the Cabinet I laid down three propositions. The first was that territorial occupation by itself and for itself in the Far East was an unmixed evil, that it carried with it, and necessarily carried with it, responsibility for 227 populations not always very easy to deal with, and that, unless the acquisition of territory was required for the purposes of a military or naval base, such acquisition was, if possible, to be avoided. The second proposition I laid down was that the interests of this country, though not territorial, were commercial; and in the third place, I pointed out that there were two ways in which those commercial interests might suffer. The first was by foreign Powers obtaining stations, by lease or otherwise, along the coasts of China, and introducing into those ports or stations different fiscal regulations which might operate in favour of their own commerce and operate disadvantageously against our commerce. That is the first view I took as to how our commercial interests might suffer. The second of the two ways was by any Power acquiring the means of putting pressure upon the Chinese Government at Pekin, and thus indirectly causing injury to our trade and commercial interests whilst nominally leaving Treaty rights undisturbed. I think I have restated those propositions quite clearly. When they were originally laid before the country I think they met, on the whole, with a general meed of approval, and I have a very distinct recollection that Lord Kimberley, speaking either the next day or a very few days afterwards, gave to those propositions his hearty approval. Those general principles of policy thus laid down in the early part of last January have been the principles which have guided Her Majesty's Government through all the subsequent months, and which are still guiding the policy which I am about to expound to the House. Before going further, I would beg the House to remember that I have drawn a distinction between the two ways in which our commercial interests might be injured. I have pointed out that there are two things we have to look at. We have first to consider our direct and immediate commercial interests in China, and, secondly, we have to bear in mind the influence, be it for good or be it for evil, which can be exercised indirectly upon those commercial interests by the power which any Government has of putting pressure under existing circumstances upon the ruling power at Pekin. It is as regards the first of those principles, the direct 228 commercial interests, that I will first ask the House to consider the position in which we now stand and the progress which the policy I have ventured to lay before Parliament has already made. Sir, it is evident that this branch, of my subject naturally falls into two parts—namely, the commercial concessions which we have obtained directly from China over those portions of the Chinese Empire which are directly under the control of China, and the position in which we stand with regard to those other parts of the Chinese Empire, which by lease have passed, at all events, temporarily, under the control of Germany and Russia. Now, Sir, what are the concessions which, in pursuit of these commercial ends, we have obtained from the Chinese Government? I think most of them, not indeed all, but most of them, have already been, detailed to the House from time to time by my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but it is well that we should bring them again into focus, and that we should be able to see what progress has been made in the course of the last two months in carrying out that policy which has been so dear to successive Governments of this country—the policy of opening up China to the trade of the world. Now, Sir, the first undertaking which the Chinese Government has given us under this head ought, perhaps, hardly in strictness to be called a commercial concession at all. It is an undertaking on their part that the region of the Yang-tsze shall in no circumstances be parted with or leased to any foreign Power. I do not mean to discuss the question of spheres of influence. I should be reluctant to see the doctrine of spheres of influence pressed too far, but a precautionary measure which makes it impossible for any alienation, temporary or permanent, by China to a foreign Power of the region of the Yang-tsze cannot but be important in certain possible, though I hope not probable or near, contingencies. The second undertaking which we have obtained from the Chinese Government was that the successor of Sir Robert Hart should be an Englishman, so long as the commercial predominance of this country in China gave us an equitable title to have an Englishman in that position. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen are 229 acquainted with the remarkable history of Sir Robert Hart and the Chinese customs. [Mr. DAVITT; Is Sir Robert Hart an Englishman? Mr. W. JOHNSTON; He is an Ulster Protestant.] I need hardly say that I do not wish to intervene between my Irish friends sitting on both sides of the House; but there is no single word, I regret to say, which represents a citizen of the United Kingdom. But brevity, after all, is graceful on those occasions, and I hope I shall be permitted to use the word "Englishman" occasionally, as indicating what might be more accurately described by the more lengthy phrase I have given to the House. Sir Robert Hart has created what is still—and I hope always will be—a Chinese and not a British administrative department. He has worked that department for the great interest and great benefit of the Chinese Empire, and has worked it on no selfish national lines. I believe that at this moment one-third of Sir Robert Hart's European subordinates are Frenchmen, though the French trade, I need hardly say, is not a third of the total trade of China, and I do not believe that any country, or any individual member of any country, has ever found the least reason to complain of this great administrative department, or has for one moment contended that it has been worked on any selfish or narrow national lines. I think it will be felt that the traditions which we have thus established we have a right to continue, so long as our trade maintains its present supremacy in the Far East, and I do not believe that any nation will grudge us the concession which the Chinese Government have thus granted, sent. It has been well called, I think, must have immense effect upon the opening up of China to foreign trade, for that concession consists practically in permitting access by the steamers of all nations to the great waterways of China—waterways, the use of which have hitherto been confined to vessels under the Chinese flag. I do not know enough, and I am not quite sure whether anybody knows enough, to say with confidence what relative parts water communications and railway communications, are to play in the future industrial development of China; but this, at all events, we can say, that to construct adequate railways in China 230 must be a work of time. A concession may be easily enough obtained. Many concessions Slave been obtained, but after you have obtained a concession you have to get your capital for your railway, and when you get your capital you have after that to make surveys and carry out great engineering works, and to do all that is necessary, before such an elaborate instrument of transit can be brought into working order. But the waterways are there for you. No country, I suppose, in the world, unless it be Brazil, is better supplied, with waterways than China is, and this great concession, made indeed at our instance, but not made for our benefit alone, but for the benefit of the commerce of the world, is one which I hold to be of great value and importance. Then there is a fourth concession which I think has not yet been stated to the House; in fact, it is only a day or two ago that we received official intimation of it. It is the opening of three new Treaty ports. The first—I am not sure that my Chinese pronunciation is all that could be wished for—is Chin-wang Peitaiho, a place which even the geographical studies which have been forced recently on Members of this House in connection with the Far East may not enable them at once to identify; but I can tell them that Chin-wang Peitaiho is an ice-free port in the Gulf of Pechili, I believe close to the place where the great wall of China abuts on the sea. The second Treaty port is called Fu-ning, and again I imagine no hon. Members have heard of it, but, perhaps, they may have heard of the Sam-sa inlet where it is situated, and those who recognise the Sam-sa inlet will know that it is on the southeast portion of the Chinese coast. The third Treaty port is, I think, the most important concession of all. It is the port of Yo-chau. Yo-chau is on the Tung-ting Lake, which itself is far up the Yang-tsze Valley. The lake is one the outlet of which flows into the Yang-tsze, and this Treaty port is on the head of the lake close to the Yang-tsze. It is the first Treaty port that has ever been opened at Hunnan, and I believe that those who are better acquainted with the potentialities of Chinese development than I can pretend to be attach very great value to this concession of 231 three new Treaty ports. I think it will be admitted that for two months' negotiation this is a considerable harvest. Confining myself, as I am now doing, to that branch of the question which deals simply with opening up the ports of China under Chinese control to foreign trade, I think the Government may congratulate, not themselves, for that is a small matter, but may congratulate the commercial community of this country and other countries upon the great and rapid progress that has been made. I doubt whether in the whole history of China so much progress, or, indeed, anything like it, has been made in so short a time. I pass now, Sir, from that part of our policy which deals with opening that part of China under Chinese control to the next branch of my subject, which is the position in which we are placed by the German and the Russian acquisitions of ports and railway concessions in Shan-tung and the Leao-tong peninsulas respectively. I sometimes meet with criticisms with regard to foreign enterprise in China with which I cannot even pretend to feel sympathy. I believe that railways, by whomsoever constructed and under whatsoever conditions they may be constructed, cannot but be on the whole a benefit to British and to general trade. Indeed, if I had to choose—luckily, as I shall point out, no such painful choice is put before us—if I had to choose whether I would leave any region of China wholly undeveloped or whether I would have it developed by railways, hampered though those railways might be by differential duties, I should say, so far as our commerce was concerned, altogether apart from our rights, I would far rather have the railways and the duties than neither railways nor duties, and I do not believe that anybody who has studied the course of international trade with an impartial eye will deny that in holding that view I have, at all events, got a case which it would be easy to defend by statistical arguments. But, as I said, that choice is not one which has been presented to us. Neither Germany nor Russia has, I believe, the slightest intention of depriving us of any of the rights which we already enjoy by Treaty. The assurances of Germany have been in their general tone and spirit perfectly satis 232 factory.They have not, indeed, been very specific; they have not been very detailed; but their statements that the port they have taken is to be open to the commerce of the whole world and that they mean to regulate, so far as they can, the region over which they have got control on principles agreeable to us indicate what I believe to be the absolute truth, which is that within China—certainly in China—I do not limit the statement to that, but certainly in China—British interests; and German interests are absolutely identical. Jealousy, I suppose, there may be between individual traders, individual concessionaires, and individual producers. But fundamentally the interests of the two countries are the same and must be the same, and I certainly believe that we shall be able without difficulty to work hand in hand towards carrying out these general commercial objects, which I believe approve themselves to the sense of this House. As regards Russia, Russia has indeed from time to time given us specific assurances which will be found enumerated in a dispatch which will be published in the Blue Book to be placed as soon as possible before the House. But I have to admit that the exact form of these assurances has changed. It is certainly not my business to criticise the course pursued in this respect by the Russian Foreign Minister, nor is it my business to explain it. But this I will say—and it is, after all, the fundamental and essential part of the question—in every one of the assurances, whatever forms they have taken in regard to detail they agree in this—that no Treaty right at present enjoyed by this country is to be abrogated by the recent arrangement between China and Russia; and I need not say that, as they have repeatedly and in the most emphatic form laid down that principle of policy, we accept it in the spirit in which it has been given, and we fully believe that it will be carried out to the letter. As I shall in one moment have to express rather strong differences in respect of policy between the views of Her Majesty's Government and those of Russia, let me say before I come to that that Russia has not—as from the language of some people you would suppose—attacked any territory of ours; she has 233 attacked no rights of ours; she has not endeavoured to abrogate any Treaty which we enjoy, and her policy, in so far as it is a commercial policy, in so far as it is expressed by the words "railway extension and open ports," is a policy of which we have not only no reason to complain, but is a policy that, in my view, is highly beneficial to this and all other commercial communities. But, while I think it only due to the Russian Government to make that declaration, I must come, by the natural sequence of my argument, to points on which we think the Russian Government have pursued an unfortunate course. If the House has done me the honour to remember the division of my speech with which I started, they will remember that I said I would first deal with the direct commercial interests of the country and then deal with interests which were essentially and fundamentally commercial, but which, in the next place may be better described as political and military. I mean, in the first place, the consideration which arises out of the circumstances that we may have our interests in China threatened, not by protective duties, not by preferential treatment, but by the power which some Government may have at Pekin, the exercise of which may prove inimical, as we think, both to the stability of the Chinese Empire and the general interest of the commercial world. It would have been well in our judgment could Russia have confined her policy to the extension of her railway system from Siberia to an ice-free port. She might then have obtained all the commercial advantages which she seeks, and she would have given no shock to an already enfeebled empire. She would have done nothing to disturb the balance of power at Pekin. Unfortunately, as we think, her statesmen took a different view of their duties and their interest, and they insisted that in addition to the railways and in addition to the ice-free commercial port, with which a few months ago we had every reason to think their ambition would be satisfied, they have resolved to obtain the control, at all events for a period, of the harbour of Port Arthur. Now, Sir, Port Arthur is not a commercial port. Port Arthur is scarcely, I think, capable of being made 234 a commercial port. The character of its accommodation, its geographical position, its relation to Talienwan, all forbid the idea that either now or at any future time will Port Arthur become a commercial centre. Its significance, therefore, is a purely naval and military one, and the character of that significance, may perhaps be as accurately and as forcibly described in the words of Russia herself in 1895, when she objected to the occupation of Port Arthur by the Japanese, as it could by any words I could find to express my meaning. Russia then stated that the "occupation of Port Arthur was a constant menace to the capital of China." Now, we desire, I need hardly say, no monopoly of influence at Pekin. We do not look with, jealousy at the influence which, other Powers may legitimately possess, and we should be the last to desire to exclude Russia from her fair share of influence at Pekin. But, Sir, a great military nation about to have railway communication along the whole northern frontier of China—a great military nation whose territories run for 4,000 miles along the frontier nearest to the Chinese capital—cannot be deprived by either our action or any man's action of her legitimate share of influence in Pekin. That influence she has, that influence she maintains, and she must always keep, from the relation of her territory to the Chinese territory. But that makes it, I should have thought, all the more unnecessary to add to this great—I will not say this overwhelming—influence derived from her position in Asia, the additional influence which the possessor of Port Arthur, if and so long as Port Arthur be unbalanced, must necessarily have by sea in the councils at Pekin. We felt this very strongly. We felt also that, whereas the Russian Government informed us that they were in agreement with our view—that anything that menaces the Chinese Empire is a public misfortune—the Russian Government have, as we think, given a shock to that Empire by taking a port which is not merely a port of great natural strength, though of limited accommodation, but, what is far more important and relevant to the issue in this argument, taking a port, as I have said before, which is, by its situation, made to dominate the maritime approaches to Pekin. Accordingly, 235 as soon as we heard from Pekin, as soon as we had reason to believe from information that reached us from our representative at Pekin, that the negotiations with regard to Port Arthur were advancing, we laid our views very clearly before the Russian Government. We expressed our sense of the evils which, as we thought, they were bringing upon the Chinese Empire, the dangers they were incurring, and we offered, on our part, if they would abstain from taking Port Arthur, ourselves to give a corresponding pledge on our part that we would not take any pout, or occupy any port, in the Gulf of Pechili. I think that offer was a fair one. I think it would have been well if it had been accepted. It was not accepted, and we therefore wrote a dispatch, to which I have already referred, and which will in due course be laid on the Table. [Sir W. HARCOURT: Can you tell us what is the date of that dispatch?] The telegram of which I spoke, in which we expressed our dissatisfaction with the Russian policy, and the offer of a pledge from us, was, I think, on the 22nd March, and the date of the dispatch to which I am now referring, which surveyed the arguments, and which stilted that, as Russia had not consented to adopt the plan which we proposed, we should hold ourselves free to take what steps we thought necessary with regard to our interests, was dated, I think, the 29th March. Well, Sir, the dispatch concluded, as I have said, with the statement that, inasmuch as Russia did not consent to the arrangements proposed by us, we should take such steps as we thought necessary to safeguard our interests. The House fully well knows what stop we had in contemplation, and what step it is that we have taken. We have asked the Chinese Government, and we have obtained from the Chinese Government, a lease of Wei-hai-Wei, with the right of occupation after the Japanese shall leave it, on the same conditions, and for a like term of years, as those obtained in the case of Port Arthur. And I think in taking that step we have carried out to the very letter the principles which recalled to the House at the beginning of my speech—the principles which had already been laid down by the Government early in January. For Wei-hai-Wei, though geographically it is on the mainland, is really, from many points of view, 236 rather to be regarded as an island than as a mainland port. It has no population. It carries with it, therefore, no responsibility of government such as we might very well shrink from in some of the thickly-populated districts of China; and while it is incapable, as we believe, of being turned into a commercial port—while we have no intention, even if it were capable of feeing turned into a commercial port, of so turning it—it is by the confession of every competent judge the one port in the Gulf of Pechili which may be held to balance the possession of Port Arthur. Of the comparative merits of these two ports I will say nothing. Experts, I believe, can be found to advocate both, as you naturally expect from experts. But Port Arthur has by far the greatest natural strength. On the other hand, it is contracted in area and contracted in depth, and though Wei-hai-Wei is not very extensive, undoubtedly it, does, under certain circumstances, afford accommodation to larger ships and to a larger force than could find a place in its rival on the north side of the gulf. I do not suppose that I shall now be asked to argue as to the precise military advantages to be obtained from the possession of Wei-hai-Wei. They must depend on the progress and development of events, on whether it may be thought desirable to fortify it, on what character the fortifications will be put up, and on many other circumstances. But, however these details may be finally decided, this, I think, is absolutely beyond question—that by taking this port under our protection, by putting the British flag side by side with the Chinese flag in that harbour, we, at all events, preserve it from being reft from the feeble hands of the sovereign power at Pekin, and by so preserving it we prevent the Gulf of Pechili from falling under the undisputed maritime control of any one Power. Sir, I think the patience of the House must now be almost exhausted. And, in any case, I have very nearly come to the end of my theme. I have surveyed the policy of the Government in its two main aspects. I have adopted no apologetic tone in what I have said, for I confess I do not feel the need either of apology or excuse for the policy we have pursued. It is a policy which has been for weeks before the country; it is a policy from which we have never shrunk; it is 237 a policy which we have consistently pursued; it is a policy which has already borne, as I think, rich fruits in the interests of British commerce, both as regards our immediate commercial interests and as regards our immediate political interests at Pekin. I venture to claim from the House that that policy has not been unsuccessful. Now there are persons who say that this is all very well for the present that it is a very nice thing to have waterways open, to have new treaty ports, to have a naval base, or a harbour that may be used as a naval base, in the neighbourhood of the capital of China—but that, after all, however pleasant it may be for the moment, we have no security as regards the distant future; and there are persons who are very fond of sitting down, and, by facile exercise of their imaginations, redrawing the map of Eastern Asia, carving provinces out of the Chinese Empire and assigning them now to one Power and now to the other. Sir, I do not deny that such exercises of prophetic imagination may have their value. I do not deny that there are indications which would lead—which may naturally lead—people to suppose that the Chinese Empire, as we know it, will find it very difficult to maintain itself, and that, if it falls into further decay, it cannot but be that this fragment will be snapped up by one Power, and the other fragment snapped up by a different Power. I think we should be foolish indeed if we directed our policy at the present moment to these remote, eventualities. Railways are not built in a day; millions of Chinese are not absorbed in a day, even by a Power of the greatest capacity for assimilation. Our policy, I am convinced, should be a conservative policy as regards China. We desire to see, if it be possible, China maintain not only a nominal, but a real suzerainty over her vast dominions. We desire, indeed, to see these dominions open for universal trade, but we do not desire to see them cut up and divided among the expectant heirs of this great moribund Empire—of this great Empire which gentlemen of whom I am speaking assume to be moribund. For I would point out to them that while prophecies of the kind which I have indicated are easy to make, no one can tell whether they will be fulfilled or not. The future has many strange surprises in store for us 238 all, and the future we are talking of, remember, is not next year, or the year after, or the year after that, but a future which may find a very different world, and the balance of power and the distribution of commerce very different from that which prevails at the present time. I am going to throw out no rival prophecies to those of which I have spoken, but I am, for my own part, not ready to admit that China, either by inoculation from outside or by some spontaneous reform from within, is wholly incapable of changing her present unhappy condition for a better one; and while I certainly would not, venture to say that such a consummation was impossible, still less would I venture to say that the time may not come when the great Powers primarily interested in the commerce of the world may not feel that their interests draw them together, and require them to join in an alliance which no man can resist for the purpose of seeing that China shall not fall a prey to any single exclusive interest. I only throw out these suggestions in order to check the prophetic ardour of some of my friends and some of the critics of the Government. "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof," which does not mean that we are not to look forward, or that we ought to shut our eyes to coming events, but does mean that to embark on an ambitious, costly, difficult, and possibly unsuccessful enterprise, with the view of preventing some danger which only looms vaguely and uncertainly upon the distant political horizon, is the height of political folly. I shall be content if this Government and this House, and the Governments and Parliaments which are to succeed them, are content to further that commercial policy which we, at all events, have done our best to maintain. If they do that in no spirit of self-monopoly, with no desire to exclude others from China, but with the settled wish that what we ask for ourselves we are ready to give to others—if, I say, that policy is one which they will pursue, I am convinced that we shall build up in Europe, and, not least, in America, a body of public and international influence which will do more than any hasty action—if hasty action be indeed recommended—which we could take at the present moment. Sir, that is the policy which we have pursued, that is the policy which, if need be, we shall ask the 239 House and the country to endorse, and we shall do so with the more confidence, because we know that we are not interested in it alone, but that we have with us the good wishes, the goodwill, and it may be, in time, the assistance of every great commercial community in the world.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman began by complaining of a certain irritability in the public mind with regard to the policy of the Government. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the irritability did not exist at the time when he made the statement in his speech at the beginning of the year, to which he has referred. I think that the policy as stated in that speech was one which was generally approved, and it was supported not only by the friends of the Government, but also by their opponents. Whence, then, arose this irritability of which he has spoken in the public mind? It has arisen because the public have not thought that the Government were effectively carrying out that policy which they were understood to have propounded. What was that policy? It is known by the phrase of "the open door." It was that we were not to occupy any territory whatever in China, but that we were to insist that those who did occupy territory should open the door as freely as China had opened it before; that was the policy the country understood the Government were pledged to pursue. Well, Sir, everybody knows that that is not the policy which is enunciated to-day. Everybody knows that this is a new policy—that this determination to occupy a military port in China is one which was taken, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us, for the first time, on the 22nd March. Now, Sir, why has it been taken? The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was to the effect that the condition of China was a new phenomenon—that China is weak and cannot resist attack. Well, China is a weak country; but, at the same time, I venture to say that in the history of the world it is the most indestructible nation of which there is any record. China existed before, and has existed long after, 240 the kingdoms of Greece and the Empire of Rome; and it is one of the greatest phenomena that, with all its weakness, the western countries have been able to make no permanent impression on that remarkable people. It is not in the newness of the phenomenon that the right hon. Gentleman would be wise in endeavouring to show that any special new policy was required. The right hon. Gentleman has encouraged us in future hopes, into which I do not propose to enter. The right hon. Gentleman has a dream—I fear, a Utopian dream—that in some happy time a new Concert of Europe will defend the integrity of China. That that Concert of the future will be more successful than the Concert of the Near East has been in the past, I will not venture to predict. That is not the question we have to discuss to-night. The Government have come forward with a proposition, which they have always in the past deprecated. The right hon. Gentleman has deprecated it to-night. He has pointed out the necessary evils which arise from such an occupation as he has now announced in China at Wei-hai-Wei. What reason does he advance for it then? He puts it on the ground of the occupation of Port Arthur by Russia. But did Her Majesty's Government discover that fact for the first time on the 22nd March? That is the question we have to ask. Why, if this was a great danger to China—a great danger to European commerce—why were not these measures taken long ago? The question of Port Arthur is not a new question. It arose in the year 1895, when France, Russia, and Germany agreed to displace Japan under the Treaty of Peace which was made between China and Japan. When those Powers compelled Japan to evacuate Port Arthur and the Liao-tong Peninsula conjecture at once arose as to what were the objects of Russia, who was the principal agent in that transaction. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted his speech of 1898 as indicating the views and the policy of Her Majesty's Government. But, Sir, this question of Port Arthur did not arise for the first time in the year 1898. Her Majesty's present Government took office in 1895, almost immediately after the compulsory evacuation of Port Arthur by the Japanese Government, and 241 immediately upon that, speculation began about Russia intending to occupy Port Arthur. On October 24th, 1895, the rumour that Russia had concluded a Treaty with China permitting her to run a railway to Port Arthur, and giving her the right of anchorage in that port, appeared in the Times newspaper. Her Majesty's Government had been then well established in office. They had surveyed the whole situation; they had made themselves acquainted with what had occurred, and what was likely to occur in China. Lord Salisbury, speaking on foreign policy, in the Guildhall, on the 9th November, 1895, referred to this matter in language which it is necessary to remember. He said—We have had a year in which the Extreme East has occupied us very much. We followed with great interest the fortunes of the contest which has been waged there. But these matters have now passed away, and I hope that peace has returned to those regions. I will only venture to express the hope that we shall not view what has taken place there, whatever it is, with unnecessary disturbance or alarm. I was much struck with the extraordinary sensation which was produced by some false news that appeared in the papers a week or two ago"—that was the rumour that Russia contemplated occupying Port Arthur—not because I thought the news of particular importance, but because the opinion of my countrymen in regard to it is a very noticeable phenomenon.That is the comment made by the Prime Minister upon the rumour that Russia was about to occupy Port Arthur, making that a military port of anchorage. Then he adds: "I think that we foreshorten time and distance." That was the view of the Government, as stated by the Prime Minister three years ago. I have not the same scruples about quoting the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary, as he has himself modestly expressed, and especially when I agree with them entirely, as I do in that which I am going to refer to. Three months later, in February, 1896, the right hon. Gentleman at Bristol took quite a calm, and, as I think, a very just, view of the situation. He said—I for my part, frankly state that, so far from regarding with fear and jealousy a commercial outlet for Russia in the Pacific, I should 242 look upon such a result as a distinct advance in this far distant region; and I am convinced that not only Russia would gain by it, and the world generally, but that British commerce and enterprise would also be the gainers.I hope he is still of that opinion. That is not the language we hear outside. It is the fear of the establishment of a rival nation in the commerce of the East. ["No, no."] I am not speaking to Gentlemen who cry "No, no;" I am speaking to Gentlemen who say "Yes, yes." It is against those international jealousies that I wish to join the right hon. Gentleman in a protest. The language we heard this afternoon was of a very wholesome character; the right hon. Gentleman says that this fear or jealousy of the commercial rivalry of Russia is a thing that ought to be discouraged and denounced. So far, I am entirely in accordance with the right hon. Gentleman. But if Her Majesty's Government, in the year 1896, had not in their view the intentions and the aspirations of Russia to occupy Port Arthur, they were the only human beings in this country who had such an event in contemplation. In an instructive book, which hon. Gentlemen probably have read—the letter of Mr. Chirel addressed to the Times in 1896—you will find a distinct statement that in 1896 Russia was intending to occupy Port Arthur. There was a far more important thing than that. At the end of 1896 there was an agreement for the Manchurian Railway. It was to go to Kirin, and it was to serve an ice-free port. Everyone at once saw that the port indicated by the railway par excellence must be Port Arthur. If the Russians were to make a railway to the Leao-tong Peninsula, they must go to Port Arthur. I should like to know whether the correspondence that will be laid on the Table will show what were the measures of precaution that were taken by Her Majesty's Government in friendly intercourse with Russia when they were discussing this question in 1896, at the time the Manchurian Railway contract was made. Now, Sir, that the policy enunciated by Her Majesty's Government at the beginning of this year was not a policy of military occupation in China I think no man can deny. In point of fact, the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that 243 the question of military occupation was never discussed or negotiated upon until 22nd March. That date is very important. Was that the first time that they knew or contemplated the presence or the intention of Russia of being in Port Arthur? In the Debate on 1st March in this House the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary was still denouncing territorial acquisition. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said—Our belief is that the integrity of China is most likely to be secured by throwing open China to the intercourse of the whole world and not by closing her into separate watertight compartments.When he used that language it is impossible that the Government could have been contemplating the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei, or any other place in China. This policy of open ports, I would point out, is not, as people have sometimes supposed, a policy which involves or secures the integrity of China. The policy of open ports, as applied to Germany and to Russia, is this: you may go and take Kaiou-chau or Talienwan, or Port Arthur if you like; so long as you leave it open to us, and to all the rest of the world, we do not care whether you take it from China or not. That is the policy of open ports as enunciated by Her Majesty's Government. It has no connection whatever with the integrity of China. Of course, we all know that Germany, in fact, forcibly took Kaiou-chau from China, and we said: "So long as you open it to us we are quite satisfied, if we can go there as before, whether you take it from China or not is a matter of indifference to us." Now, Sir, the action of Russia was most probably accelerated, but only accelerated, by the proceedings of Germany at Kaiou-chau. Now, mark, the Government made no objection to the action of Germany. They accepted it at once. They said, "Yes, you have gone to China; you have taken a port and so much territory, and to that we make no objection so long as you leave it open to us on fair terms." When we are told that on the 22nd March the Government first found it necessary to adopt a new policy on account of Port Arthur, I must give my reasons for entirely dissenting from that statement. On the first night of the 244 Session, the 8th February, of this year, the Prime Minister made a statement to relieve the irritability of the public mind which the right hon. Gentleman said had arisen. He said that he—Had not been maintaining a desperate diplomatic battle in favour of the Treaty of Tien-tsin. Nobody has yet even suggested the slightest intention of infringing any of the rights we enjoy under that Treaty, and I venture to hope, knowing the soundness of the judgment of the statesmen by whom Europe is governed, that no such intention will ever be entertained.He was, therefore, quite satisfied then that the principle of the open ports, which is the principle of the Treaty of Tien-tsin, was sufficiently guaranteed. I do not wish now to dwell on the transactions of the Loan to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I have never been able to understand the policy pursued in regard to that Loan. The Government attached to the Loan two conditions which, in my opinion, were absolutely destructive to all chances of its acceptance. They were the first people, so far as I know, to introduce the name of Talienwan into the Chinese Question. They intimated a desire to have Talienwan dealt with, and, so far as I can understand the question, though the correspondence may throw more light on this subject, it was the proposal of this condition that set Russia upon determining to occupy Talienwan. Then, Sir, there was this curious condition to which the right hon. Gentleman referred with reference to the pledge demanded on the part of China not to part with the Yang-tsne Valley. Considering that the policy of Her Majesty's Government was that China was not to be dealt with in compartments, and that China was to be kept free and open, as a whole, to make this specific condition with reference to the Yang-tsze Valley was, in point of fact, saying to China, "Well, so long as you keep the Yang-tsze Valley free, you may do as you please with the rest"—certainly a suggestion entirely inconsistent with the general policy they were proclaiming. I will not now insist on the case of Talienwan, because, as the right hon. Gentleman says, the assurances received on the subject are satisfactory. 245 But this is what the Prime Minister said on the 8th February—I am bound to say that I do not feel much interest in the legend of Talienwan, and for this reason—that we have received spontaneously from the Russian Government a written assurance that any port which they may have to employ for the outlet for their commerce would be a free port—free to the commerce of this country. Now, a five, port is much better than a treaty port: so, having ascertained that Talienwan was to be a free port, it is of little importance if it is not a treaty port.Not merely did the Prime Minister express no dissatisfaction whatever with the fact of Russia, being in Port Arthur, and having her ships of war there, but he expressed entire satisfaction with the conduct of Russia, and did not indicate an idea of anything further being required. In regard to Germany, his statement was even more satisfactory. He said—Similar assurances have been made to us by the German Government with respect to the treaty port which they have recently occupied.Now, Sir, that is more than two months ago, and at this time the Government are not yet in a position to tell the House of Commons and the country what are the actual facts as to the assurances given by the German Government. Why are the particulars not ascertained? The Under Secretary said that they would do what is agreeable. But in commerce that is not business. The question is, What are to be the terms of the agreement? Are they to be terms consistent with the. Treaty of Tien-tsin? The remarkable thing is that the assurance given in this House by the right hon. Gentleman on the 8th February was this—We now have the explicit declaration both of the German and Russian Governments that they agree with the view we have taken; they think that the ports occupied in China by any Power should be open ports.Yes, but "open" on what terms? Everything turns on that. The Prime Minister said that the assurance, received from Germany was that they were going to follow our example. But what is our example? Our example is Hong-kong, and, therefore, when the assurance was given that Germany is about to follow our example, I presume the Government 246 are satisfied that Kaiou-chau is to be open as a free port. If not, we ought really to have some further statement on this subject. But a very explicit statement was made with reference to Port Arthur at that time, and ii was made by the Under Secretary. He said—Russia, has sent ships of war to Port Arthur, and if blame is to be attached to her for doing so. Her Majesty's Government must be included in the accusation, for a fortnight ago we did the same thing. That is a right which we enjoy under the Treaty of Tien-tsin, and in the exercise of that right our Admirals from time to time order ships to visit that port. They did that two or three weeks ago, and if occasion arises will do it again.Therefore they knew that Russia was in Port Arthur, though it seems that it had never occurred to them that she meant permanently to occupy it. It had, however, occurred to other people, which may have caused irritation in the public mind. The idea not having suggested itself would account, for the equanimity with which you viewed it. Well, Sir, that is a declaration upon which I think we ought to have some explanation. The Treaty of Tien-tsin guarantees the right of England to send her ships to every port in China. Is that going to be observed or not? Within a few days the Under Secretary of State made a further answer to the effect that Russia had given assurances with reference to Port Arthur that our Treaty rights would not be infringed, and he added that the right to have our ships of war in Port Arthur was part of the Treaty rights of this country. That is a very important point, upon which we require further information. The right hon. Gentleman said very emphatically that neither Germany nor Russia intend in any way to infringe our Treaty rights. Is that right under the Treaty of Tien-tsin preserved? Let us have a clear answer on that point. Well, Sir, we have asked very frequently since those declarations in Parliament whether we can have any particulars as to these assurances, and they have been given, but perhaps somewhat, incompletely, and it has not always been easy to reconcile one with the other. Now, as to Germany, as I have already observed, we have had no explanation beyond the vaguest statements of their being desirous of dealing in a manner which would be agreeable to us; but, Sir, there way a question put 247 to the Under Secretary on 10th March which, is important, because it refers particularly to Port Arthur. This is the answer that he gave—Her Majesty's Ambassador at St. Petersburg has been informed by the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs that Russia is negotiating with China for the lease of a certain number of years of Port Arthur and Talienwan, as well as for the construction of a railway to Talienwan or Port Arthur on the same conditions as the Manchuria railway; the Russian Government have made no demand for sovereign rights over these ports, nor have they threatened to send troops into Manchuria. The Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs further stated that Talienwan, if leased to Russia, would be open to foreign trade like Chinese ports.Well, everybody, I think, remarked on the circumstance that in that account—that was the first account, as far as I know, of the intention of Russia to take a lease—Talienwan alone is mentioned; there is no mention of Port Arthur. The noble Lord the Member for York called attention the other night to the discrepancy. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary had, on the 24th February, given an account of this assurance, and it is necessary very clearly to remember it. He said—The pledge given by the Russian Government was shown in writing to the Permanent Under Secretary of State, who took note of it. It was to the following effect: Count Muravieff expressed great surprise at the agitation which appeared to prevail in England, both in the Press and in official circles, on the subject of recent events in China, where English and Russian interests cannot be seriously antagonistic. Count Muravieff observed that various English statesmen of position had recognised as perfectly natural that Russia should wish to have an outlet for her commerce on the coasts of the North Pacific. Any such port would be open to the ships of all the great Powers, like other ports on the Chinese mainland.There is an assurance, we understand, given in writing; that is, the assurance to which the Prime Minister referred. It was given on the 27th January to the Prime Minister by Russia—It would be open to the commerce of all the world, and England, whose trade interests were so important in those regions, would share in the advantage.Now, that is a declaration that, whatever port Russia occupied, she would open on the same terms as it was open to China. That is an open port. These are the 248 conditions which are made in the Treaty of Tien-tsin, and, of course, what we should expect to find is that Her Majesty's Government have secured that which is laid down in these despatches. Well, Sir, the latest occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary stated the position which the Government occupied with reference to Russia was the 18th March. He said—Her Majesty's Government have the assurance which I have before quoted to this House, that any port acquired by Russia on the coasts of the North Pacific would be open to the ships and commerce of all the world like other ports on the Chinese littoral. On March 16th Count Muravieff authorised Sir Nicolas O'Conor to inform Her Majesty's Government that in the event of the Chinese Government consenting to lease to the Russian Government Talienwan and Port Arthur, both ports would be open to foreign trade, like other ports in China. The telegram conveying this assurance was submitted to Count Muravieff before being dispatched, and received his approval.Now, here both Port Arthur and Talienwan are mentioned, and the assurance was that both these ports would be open to foreign trade, like other ports in China. There, then, is the statement given by Russia on the 16th March, and then on the 18th April the right hon. Gentleman said—Port Arthur and Talienwan are to be occupied at once by Russian troops, and the Russian flag hoisted by the side of the Chinese flag.It is well there should be no doubt about the matter. As I understand, the Government consider they have got satisfactory assurances from Russia, and from Germany, that our rights in the ports in their occupation shall be exactly the rights preserved by the Treaty of Tientsin. If so, that is perfectly satisfactory. Now, Sir, that being so, and these assurances having been given, and the Government apparently being perfectly satisfied with them, what is the cause of this sudden change of policy in occupying Wei-hai-Wei? I do not propose to discuss the matter—we have no means of judging at present. How can we discuss whether that is a wise or prudent step to take? All I am asking is, what is the necessity, and when did it arise, for taking this step? The right hon. Gentleman puts it upon 249 the occupation by Russia of Port Arthur. Well, Sir, this is a policy which the Government would not have adopted if they could have helped it. That is apparent from everything they have said and done. It has been adopted presumably because their previous policy has failed. The present policy is not a policy of equality of advantage—that is the policy of the open port, that is the Treaty of Tien-tisn; but this is a policy of compensation for disadvantage by the acquisition and setting up of a rival port to counteract an adverse influence, and it is the acquisition of what is admitted to be an inferior port. It is confessedly, therefore, a relinquishing pro tauto of the policy which had been generally approved by the country, and supported on these Benches. You can only describe this policy as a policy of pis aller in consequence of the failure of the previous policy. Well now, Sir, this policy has been adopted, and before we can judge of its wisdom and its advantage, there are some things that we ought to know. We ought to know first of all what is the attitude of Russia with regard to it. How does it affect the assurances already given as to the opening of Russian ports? I do not know whether we shall be told that these assurances remain exactly as they did before the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei. But at all events, you cannot deny that the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei is an adverse occupation to Russia. It is so avowed and so intended. Then as regards Germany. The right hon. Gentleman, as I understand him, is perfectly satisfied as to our commercial situation in regard to Germany, and he is perfectly satisfied that Germany should have a naval port. Well, if Germany is to be there, and if Russia is to be there, they must have naval ports as we have a naval port at Hong-kong. Any country which develops a great commerce naturally desires and naturally claims to have a place for its navy, which is to defend and support its commerce. Further, as regards France. It is a remarkable circumstance that we have been told nothing with reference to France. And yet far more important to us than the northern trade in China is the southern trade. We understand that certain claims have been made by France for a 250 similar occupation, but I think we ought to be told what those claims are and how far they affect our position and trade in southern China. But there is a question, still more important than all the rest, of which, we hear nothing, and that is how we stand in this matter in relation to Japan. I take it for granted that Japan has been consulted upon the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei, of which she is the tenant in possession. We only have the reversion of it, and we should like to know what arrangement has been made with Japan, which is the most important element. Everybody will admit this; and, so far as is consistent with prudence, I hope we may be told what the situation is in regard to that matter. There is one other question upon which we have heard nothing. We have the term used by all these Powers of "occupation on lease." Now what is a lease, and what is its effect? We have heard it called a "usufruct," but that does not throw any other light upon it. We should like to know what is the situation in which this lease leaves the parties outside the lease. Of course, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, when a man takes a lease, he takes it, subject to the obligations of the lessor, and we should like to know whether in those leases they are held subject to those obligations. If so, of course Russia is bound by our treaty rights with China at Tien-tsin, and I should like to ask this because the Chinese flag, I observe, is to be hoisted by the side of the Russian flag, and, I suppose, by the side of the British flag. What does that mean? It is a, most important thing to ascertain. Does that signify and is it, emblematic of Chinese sovereignty, and does that sovereignty carry with it the obligation which China owes to third parties? What is the lease, and what, is the effect, of it? It cannot be disputed that what the right hon. Gentleman has announced is a change, and a remarkable change, of policy. It is not a policy which we have understood that England was pursuing, say, up to ten days ago, but it has to be discussed upon its merits, though we are not, in the absence of further information, in a position yet to discuss what are the real merits of the matter. There is always an objection I think against weakening 251 a situation; as Abraham Lincoln said, "You should not swop horses when crossing a stream." But, Sir, at all events, this is a, fact, whatever effect this change may have in the end, that it has landed the Government in a position which they have always deprecated, and they have come at, last to a military occupation in China, That may be necessary, but it certainly cannot be said to be expedient. It is a policy avowedly of rival occupation, and, Sir, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is likely to be confined to its present limits. Here we have three or four great Powers occupying in competitive occupation portions of the territory of China, in spite of the unanimous vote of the House of Commons on a Resolution some time ago. That Resolution has not prevented the occupation by ourselves of Wei-hai-Wei, though I think, if it had been in contemplation by the Government, it might have been better for the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary to have mentioned it that evening before accepting the Motion. This, at least, no man can doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman said that this occupation imposes upon us heavy burdens and great responsibility in the future. [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: That is not what I said at all.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer has left the House for the moment, otherwise I should have addressed the question to him, and I should have asked him whether it is not likely to impose heavy burdens on the country. In my opinion these rival occupations do portend, I do not say to the destruction of China, because I think it is indestructible, but a dismemberment of the Chinese Empire as it exists at present. It has been well called, I think, "a partition of Poland," and, I believe in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, we are about to introduce all that paraphernalia of spheres of influence, and of hinterland, of which we have of late years had such a very unsatisfactory experience. I have asked these questions, and I have pointed out that this policy is certainly not that which we understood the Government had adopted. It is said that the circumstance of Russia occupying Port Arthur made it necessary to take Wei-hai-Wei. If that is so, it is a necessity 252 which the Government themselves, I think, deplore. What is the necessity; how has it arisen? How far it is to go we can only judge when we have fuller information in our possession. Sir, until we have that fuller information I have no disposition whatever to embarrass the Government in this matter. I have had too much experience myself in Administrations in which I have myself been a Member of the injustice winch is often done to Governments, and always done to the country, by the ignorant and reckless attacks of those who are not acquainted with the dangers, which are very real, though not always apparent, which the Governments must confront, I have seen and experienced those attacks a great deal too much to desire to repeat them. I am old enough to remember how this country was hurried and hustled into the Crimean war, in my opinion one of the most disastrous errors, followed by a trail of mischiefs in the last half-century. It was forced on a Government that did not desire it, and did not approve of it; it was forced upon them by popular prejudice and Party passion. For my part, with those recollections, I shall never desire to force upon a Government the taking of a course which they have very good reason for not desiring to pursue. And, Sir, for my part also—and I think I may speak for the Gentlemen with whom I act—we have no desire to provoke the Government into rash and violent action against combinations and dangers, the gravity of which they are best able to estimate and deal with, and which it is their first duty to avert.
§ MR. LEONARD H. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
The announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon is approached by many persons in the House and in the country in different moods. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has had to discuss with the sense of responsibility—I am afraid I must add also—and in the temper of a leader of Opposition. [Cries of "No, no!"] Yes, Sir, it may not be—
§ MR. COURTNEY
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not, and I hope on this occasion to show, at any rate, that I am not. I have said that my right hon. Friend has spoken in that sense. He cannot be entirely unconscious of the effects of his remarks; he may think that he has been strengthening the hands of the Government in the course he has been pursuing, but to me I confess he was rather like the man described by Pope who was—Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike;Just hint a doubt, and hesitate dislike.Over and over again the right hon. Gentleman has raised a laughing sneer at the Members of the Government for pursuing a policy which he himself was ready to pursue. Sir, we are in a grave situation. We are in the face of what may be said certainly to be a decaying, perhaps a crumbling, Empire. In such circumstances it, surely is becoming in a patriot who has the welfare of his country at heart, to follow the action of the Government with some sympathy instead of meeting it with petty criticism, and to do and say something which shall assist and strengthen them against those popular prejudices to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and not to give a hint or suggestion that shall endanger their position, and weaken the course they are pursuing, when, they have not only the welfare of this country but of the whole world, at heart. It is a very difficult position in which we are placed, and it has been for seven years recognised as being a position pregnant with difficulties; and yet, probably, with some little effort, we may be able to keep ourselves masters of ourselves, even though China falls. My right hon. Friend has enunciated what has been and what is the policy of the Government. The policy of the Government is throughout these changes to maintain the commercial freedom of this country unimpaired, and not to interfere at all in what 254 may be the process of the transaction, so long as our commercial freedom, and the commercial freedom of the world in trade relations with China and other countries are uninjured, and as long as there should be no danger of political predominance at Pekin which might endanger the commercial freedom of other nations. It is only in the face of that political predominance affecting our commercial situation, and the commercial situation of the world, that we are called upon to take the action from which, otherwise, we might refrain. I make an observation here which may appear to be not perfectly relevant. My right hon. Friend has described our policy in China as one of "an open door to all the world." We ask for no special privileges; what we desire for ourselves we desire for others also in our treaties, agreements, and demands, and we make no political claim for this nation above other nations. The right hon. Gentleman also added at the close of his speech, in significant; language, that in circumstances which might hereafter happen, we should have the assistance of other nations in maintaining that freedom for which, we alone were now contending. How long have we been in favour of this completely open door in China? Not so very long ago the Chinese trade was a monopoly. But, now the policy of the Government is to keep open all trade relations with China, and not to interfere if that is secured, unless the political predominance of some Power should threaten the continuance of that commercial equality. Now, what has happened? It has been pointed out that Germany has taken a portion of China on lease, and that Russia has done the same thing, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who has just sat down wants to know what are the relations in such a situation of the rest of the world towards the lessor and the lessee. It did not occur to the right hon. Gentleman whilst he was so speaking that we are concerned in a parallel case. We are the lessees of Cyprus, and how have we treated the rest of the world in regard to this treaty convention with Turkey in relation to the Island of Cyprus? My right hon. Friend will probably remember how we treated other nations, and that is a precedent which may be adduced in the present situation. 255 Happily the lessees in China have declared that they have no intention of interfering with the commercial equality which has been established. My right hon. Friend opposite says that the declarations have not been clear and exact, and that there have been variations, and there is some ground for those observations. In the case of Germany, at all events, not only have there been declarations made to our Government, but there have been precise, definite, and categorical declarations in the German Diet affirming that Germany intends to pursue at Kaiou-chau the policy of equal opportunities for trade for all the world. Russia has said the same thing on the last occasion, as well as on the first, and even on some intermediate occasions, with variations with respect to Port Arthur and Talienwan. But I admit that these statements want to be put into a plain and definite shape to be clear and precise; and I confess I think that the Government, in pursuing that policy, in view of the situation in China, and in view of the possibility of similar demands being made elsewhere, might have found the best solution of the difficulty with which they are dealing in an European pact, by which the several nations assenting to it would bind themselves to a policy of equal opportunity to all the world in China. If we appeal to Germany, Germany has already given declarations in a specific form, which only want repetition; and the same thing applies to Russia. We are not asking for anything new, but we might ask again which, of the European Powers would join.
§ MR. COURTNEY
I am sorry to have misapprehended the fact. I thought I stated it accurately. Statements have been made to us that a certain policy has been pursued ineffectually. Then, of course, there is good reason for something to try and keep it in some other way. But whether the policy now 256 announced is the best way of securing any reduction of the predominance of Russia at Pekin in consequence of the possession of Port Arthur. I am equally, with my right hon. Friend, indisposed to give an opinion. But I do see immense difficulties in that solution. To take Wei-hai-Wei, a port intermediate between Kaiou-chau and Port Arthur, is not likely to recommend you to either Russia or Germany—perhaps less to Germany than to Russia. I do not myself see in the possession of Port Arthur, even if realised in its complete form, such an acquisition of predominance at Pekin as will threaten the commercial equality on which we are relying. But predominance or a greater acquisition of political power is not in itself necessarily a threat against commercial equality, and we have got pledges which are primâ facie an amply equivalent set-off to such predominance. We are now, no doubt, placed in a position, not of complete friendship, but of antagonism and rivalry, and if that position is to be used as a means of securing a more formal recognition of commercial equality, it may be useful in bringing that about. We are not told what use we may make of Wei-hai-Wei. My right hon. Friend protested against the great expense and the great risk. It is quite clear that if we make it a military station we shall be involved in great risk and great expense, and shall have to lock up there a much larger force than it is desirable to sequester, having regard to the state of our present military resources. It is, perhaps, hoped that Wei-hai-Wei may be useful, just as it was hoped Cyprus would be useful. Cyprus was supposed to be a set-off against the encroachment of Russia in Asia Minor. It was to be fortified, it was to be a place d'armes, and it was to overawe the East. Happily, we have done nothing of the kind. Cyprus only drains us a little in point of money, and it is of no use, as far as I know; nor is there any intention of using it. Perhaps it may be that Wei-hai-Wei is to be the same. There is only one further observation I should like to make. There is one consolation—one little consolation—I draw from the steps which have just been taken by the Government. Many of us in recent weeks have been 257 weighted with anxiety not with respect to Russia, but with respect to another Power, lest we might be drawn into war with it. I will not say what circumstances have led us to be so anxious with respect to that contingency now, and I will not attempt, to apportion the criticism which would be passed on the parties who would bring about that result. But this I am clear about, that if war between England and France should occur over the settlements on the West Coast of Africa, the spectacle would be a scandal to the civilisation of Europe. Well, I derive this little consolation from what has been done, as it appears to me to prove that that danger is impossible. If there were any real grounds for the anxiety which some of us have been feeling, I do not think it likely we should have taken the step which has now been taken. We should rather have refrained from activity in other spheres if we had before us the practical danger of a conflict with the country to which I have referred. That is the consolation I derive—a consolation which I hope will not be disturbed. The pursuit of this policy in the Far East seems to me to be bringing about a practical risk in order to prevent a danger more imaginary than real. I trust for ourselves that it will not produce the very serious consequences which have been already apprehended. I trust we shall not embark on a course of military action in North China, where our interests are extremely small, and where there is no trade whatever to defend, in the pursuit only of political influence, which in itself is not dangerous, and does not threaten the prime object of Her Majesty's Government—namely, the maintenance of equal opportunities of commerce for all the world.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down began his speech by criticising the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and I thought that for once we might have heard him as a supporter of Her Majesty's Government, but by the tone of that part of his speech which constituted the strongest attack we have yet heard against the policy of the Government, the right hon. Gentleman has maintained 258 the traditions of his past eloquence in this House. The main suggestion of my right hon. Friend, however, was that the Government should have adopted the policy—the best of all policies, had it been of a practical character—of carrying all the Great Powers with them, and, no doubt, also the United States, in the desire to keep open by a sort of self-denying ordinance the trade of China. That was the original policy of the Government, and the Leader of the House, in his speech to-day, regretted the failure of that policy. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has asked the Leader of the House for a day for the general discussion of foreign affairs. [Sir W. HARCOURT: The day I suggested was the first Friday after the Holidays.] I gave notice of a Motion the other day, and I asked the Leader of the House whether he thought it would be to the public advantage to debate it and divide upon it. It would afford us an opportunity of discussing the whole of the foreign policy of the Government. I do not think that we could adequately discuss any part of that policy by itself. The whole of it must be considered, and each part of it in relation to the whole. Now, Sir, with regard to the particular question raised by the statement of the Government to-day, and the announcements of the last few days, there are two or three questions which I should like to ask the Government which arise out of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. The Leader of the Opposition asked the Government at the close of his speech a question, which is of so much moment in connection with the whole of these considerations, that it is to me amazing that not one word with regard to it should have fallen from the Leader of the House in the first instance. When we are asked to consider the new policy—for I cannot accept the suggestion that the policy of the Government has been uniform in this matter—the new policy as it has been developed within the last few days—since Wednesday last—how can we adequately consider that policy unless we know the attitude towards it of that great naval and military Power Japan. Japan is at present in possession of the fortress of Wei-hai-Wei. It is a fortress, and the suggestions regarding 259 it in the speech of the Leader of the House are unconsciously and unwittingly misleading. It is an island fortress, no doubt, in part, but it is not isolated, and it cannot be held without the possession of the mainland opposite. It is in reality a mainland fortress. When the Chinese endeavoured to shelter their fleet there, they were pounded by the mainland forts, and hunted out of the whole position. It is impossible to maintain it without land forces. It is a great land fortress which requires a great land garrison. The fortress is at present in the hands of the Japanese, and is still occupied by 18,000 regular Japanese troops, and I cannot understand how we are to consider the policy of its occupation as a naval base unless we are informed what is the attitude of Japan towards that policy, and what are the prospects of our occupation of the fortress in the future. Then another suggestion which is made is that the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei was intended to balance the occupation of Port Arthur. Are you going to balance the military and naval occupation of Port Arthur, which is a fortified port and a strong fortress, and a fortress provided with a dockyard and a great military dock—are you going to balance the occupation of a fortress of that kind, at a short distance from it, by the nominal occupation of a fortress which you are not going to garrison or keep up? If you are going really to balance the military occupation of Port Arthur by the military occupation of Wei-hai-Wei, you have got to make it as strong as, or a stronger fortress than, Port Arthur. But it is not a port so easily defensible as Port Arthur. It is a port which is situate on a straight line of coast, and you cannot hold the fortress of Wei-hai-Wei unless you provide it with an adequate garrison. What we want to know is whether this place is really occupied by arrangement with Japan, with the prospect that, if war should unfortunately arise, we should hold it with land forces, or whether it is occupied merely to throw dust in the eyes of the British public, in the manner in which my right hon. Friend has reminded the House Cyprus was occupied in 1878. Cyprus was to be a great place of arms. It was to be our open door for a 260 part of the Turkish Empire, and it was to keep Russia out. Eleven thousand men were sent there with great display, and a large military occupation made. And now we have in Cyprus a single company of the Line, that single company being kept there, out of shame, because you would not entirely renounce your military occupation, but with universal concurrence at the Royal United Service Institution as to what this means. When Cyprus is mentioned in connection with. Imperial defence, the statement always made is that the first thing you would do in time of war is to send a transport to bring away that single company of the Line which is there. Now, we want to know whether Wei-hai-Wei is occupied, as the Government tell us, with the intention of garrisoning with British or Japanese troops, of constructing docks there, and of using it as a great naval base, as a balance to Port Arthur, or whether it is to be occupied, as Cyprus was occupied, without the least intentions of making the smallest military use of it—a decision come to merely between Wednesday evening last and this, day, in anticipation of the Debate in this House, and on account of the criticisms of the Conservative Press? Now, Sir, the Leader of the House did not throw one iota, one jot, one scintilla of information before the House upon the subject of the future of Wei-hai-Wei. Everyone who knows anything about the military position is aware that the gravest of all our difficulties at the present time is connected with the supply of garrisons. We have the greatest difficulty in keeping up our garrisons at Malta and Gibraltar. As everybody knows, the difficulties of garrisoning Gibraltar and Malta, and some few other posts, which take a smaller number of men, have been discussed between the two Front Benches, and all sorts of suggestions have been made as to how to ease those difficulties. Are you going, without saying one word in explanation of your proposals, to add a great fortress, at infinitely greater distance to your garrisons? It may be a necessary policy through the breakdown of the other and the better policy, which was described by the Leader of the House—who frankly admitted it was a better policy—it may 261 be a necessary policy to do this thing; I do not say it is not. But is it conceivable that you enter into this policy without any explanation being given to this House? I certainly am not conscious of making a Party attack in what I am about to say, but I do really, honestly believe that it is not the intention of the Government to occupy Wei-hai-Wei by force. I believe they do not intend to set up a dockyard there, and supply it with adequate forces; but, at all events, it is a matter upon which the House should be fully informed. Now, Sir, this question is one which, of course, we can pursue at length, but I know there are Members anxious to address the House, and I will accordingly limit my observations on the subject. The noble Lord the Member for York will very likely be among those who will address the House, and he is far more competent than I am to correctly estimate the extent of the expenditure it would be necessary to incur at Wei-hai-Wei, if you are going to make it a really useful base. I see in one of the papers this morning, that certain Members are mentioned as being in favour of the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei. I certainly gave no shadow of foundation for that statement. But the noble Lord, whose name is mentioned in connection with the statement—and I believe his view is expressed in his own name—is reported to have said that he believed it was a wise policy that we should occupy this naval base, if—and there is a tremendous "if"—the British public would stand the expense involved, which he seemed to think was highly doubtful. If you are to have a great arsenal only 100 miles from Port Arthur, you must provide against torpedo attacks, as you are doing at Portland, Gibraltar, Dover, and elsewhere, and those Members who have read the Naval Works Bills of the last few years know something of the expenditure likely to be involved. This matter of garrisons, and of the necessary expenditure to hold Wei-hai-Wei as a balance to Port, Arthur, is one as to which the House ought frankly to be taken info the confidence of the Government, if it is the case, let us be told frankly that it is necessary to adopt this fortress as a naval base, what is the expenditure which will be involved, and what are the military measures by which it will be possible to secure an adequate 262 garrison. Well, now, Sir, I confess that when the right hon. Gentleman went on to describe to the House the policy which the Government are pursuing, with regard to the Yang-tsze Valley, I found myself in an equal difficulty; because, in the last resort, how are you going to maintain those interests which you are developing for yourselves in China? Are you prepared to face the consequences of your polity? I confess that I think the Motion which was moved by the hon. Member opposite [Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett] with regard to the independence of China has been a little misunderstood. It was not he, but the Government, who suggested the word "integrity" in the course of the Debate, and the hon. Gentleman cannot be responsible for it. A policy of independence is, no doubt, the wiser and the better policy. But what does the alternative policy of the Yang-tsze Valley mean when you strip it of the words in which it is wrapped up? The Government says that China has pledged herself not to cede the Yang-tsze Valley to any other Power. Of course she has Why does she want to code the Yang-tsze Valley to any other Power? But what China fears is that some day a Great Power may force her to do so, and how are you going to prevent it? Are you willing to light for it? It is not a country like India, with a great natural frontier, and cannot, be held unless the Government are prepared to take over the control of China and make levies of the Chinese. Manchuria, which is now passing into Russian hands, is the great recruiting ground of China, and therefore you start handicapped. Unless you control the government and administration of China in a higher degree than I can conceive possible, I confess I do not give much for your chance of maintaining this great paper sphere of influence which you have created for yourselves in the Yang-tsze Valley. Now, Sir, the Leader of the House used a phrase as to which I would make one concluding observation. He spoke of a policy "consistently pursued." I, for my part, fail altogether to see in the action of the Government with regard to China any policy of "consistency." It certainly seems to me, from many of their utterances, portions of which have been strung together with considerable omissions, that the policy of 263 the Government has been one of groping their way from the first in connection with this question. [Sir E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT: Drift.] Yes, I am quite prepared to adopt that phrase. The Leader of the Opposition has shown that the Government knew a long time ago the Russian policy with regard to Port Arthur. But, Sir, I go further. The Leader of the House appears to me to have himself invited Russia to go to Port Arthur in February, 1896. He invited Russia to go to an ice-free port. [Mr. CURZON: That is not so.] Where was it then? [Mr. CURZON: I will say in my reply.] Well, I confess, looking at the policy you have adopted at Korea, it could not have been Korea. [An HON. MEMBER: Talienwan.] No; it could not have been Talienwan, because we have asked for Talienwan for ourselves. I cannot, therefore, see what port it could have been except Port Arthur. Well, at all events, the invitation came. Then, immediately afterwards, there occurred that singular state of things in Korea in which Russia interfered, and afterwards withdrew her interference. I do not know what is the position of Mr. McLeavy Brown in Korea. I do not know whether the Russians are going to allow him to remain; but one material reason for raising this question to-day has been that it has been asserted, with some show of knowledge, with some show of plausibility, that Korea has been made use of by Russia, by way of bribe to Japan, in order to bring away Japan from any possible alliance with ourselves. If that is the case, then I confess the policy of Wei-hai-Wei stands even more nakedly revealed. Well, Sir, the invitation of the Leader of the House to Russia to go to Port Arthur was accepted, and when Russia came to Port Arthur the House was kept in a state of want of information, of which it has a right to complain. The Under Secretary told us that there were no forts at Port Arthur, but a day or two afterwards I had an opportunity of discussing the condition of Port Arthur with a gentleman who had just come from there, and I also have secured photographs of Port Arthur in its present position. Later on, the right hon. Gentleman admits to the House that Port Arthur is a fortified place, that the military dock there is in good order, 264 and the dockyard practically in working order. These facts make it more necessary than ever that we should be informed what are the corresponding steps the Government intend to take on the other side of the channel, so as to balance the occupation of Port Arthur. Well, there subsequently came another change of policy. The Government protested, and made their demand with regard to Talienwan; then came the acceptance of the Resolution with regard to the independence of China; then the Yang-tsze sphere of influence; and, lastly, the acquisition of this naval base, which is absolutely inconsistent with all previous steps. Now, has that been more carefully thought out than some of the others? Do the Government really know now exactly what is the policy which they are going to pursue? They may say that circumstances will from time to time affect their policy, but I confess that, as regards this new point of a military occupation of a naval base at Wei-hai-Wei, it seems to me impossible that the House of Commons should consent to be kept in the dark to the extent to which the Government are seeking to keep it in the dark. The concluding words of the Leader of the House were that it would be the height of political folly to embark on an ambitious and costly enterprise. I confess that the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei may be a necessary enterprise under the conditions which the Government have created; but if it is a necessary enterprise, it is also a costly and ambitious enterprise. I believe that the majority of this House will feel that, apart from Party ties, we cannot leave this question where it is, with a military occupation and a naval base thrown out to us. It may be a reality, or it may be only a second edition of what occurred in the case of Cyprus; but the Government must be pressed for a fuller explanation on this subject.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. G. N. CURZON,) Lancashire, S.W., Southport
, who rose amidst cries of "Beresford!" said: I am very sorry to stand, even for a short time, between the House and my noble Friend behind me, and I have only risen now because it appears to me that the 265 speech of the right hon. Baronet who has just sat down, taken in conjunction with the speeches we have heard from the same side of the House before, is a speech which demands an immediate answer. Sir, I listened with the respect which it deserved to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and gathered from that speech that there was in his mind a general impression of vague dissatisfaction with what the Government were doing, but that he was not quite certain where to attack us. Accordingly, his speech commenced with a protest, and presently died away in a series of mild and harmless interrogatories. The right hon. Baronet who has just sat down has adopted an inverse process. He commenced with a series of questions, which I will do my best to answer, and he then proceeded to a course of what I have no doubt was a quite unintentional, but at the same time decided, misrepresentation of the conduct of the Government; and the final and general impression produced by his speech upon everyone who heard it must have been one of unmitigated censure upon the policy which the Government had thought fit to adopt. [Cheers.] Well. Sir, I am glad to find from those cheers from hon. Members opposite that it is so recognised, because it is in that spirit that I propose to deal with it. But, Sir, in so doing, may I call attention to a phenomenon with which a seat for three years on this Bench and the pleasant experience of listening to the speeches of the right hon. Baronet have made me familiar? His Speeches are always critical; they are rarely, if ever, constructive. If the right hon. Baronet is dissatisfied with our policy he has a right to say so, and to demand explanations where the policy is obscure. But I would ask whether there was in any single sentence of his speech the slightest vestige or suggestion of an alternative policy. I have, as I say, had the pleasant duty during the last three years of hearing the right hon. Baronet make many speeches about Africa, and many speeches about Asia. I believe him to be a convinced Imperialist. I know him to be a man of profound knowledge. But if 266 I were called upon at the present moment to pass an examination as to what the policy of the rigid hon. Gentleman is, either in Africa or East Asia, I can only say there would await me nothing but disgraceful and humiliating; failure. That might, of course, be due to my stupidity, but, I submit that it might be also due to a want of clearness on the part of the right hon. Baronet. Now, Sir, I turn to the questions which have been put to me by the right hon. Gentleman and other speakers this afternoon. There was a very important question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, who sits behind me. He aaked whether it was not possible that this occupation of Wei-hai-Wei might produce consequences which everyone in this House would deplore with the great Power of Germany. Sir, I cannot at the present moment, go at all deeply into that question, but this I may say, that we do not feel that there is any ground for this apprehension. I have been asked more than once a question equally important and equally relevant—namely, as to the attitude which is likely to be taken up towards this step by the Government of Japan. There, again, the inevitable reticence which is imposed, until Papers have been laid, upon the members of this Bench prevents me from giving as complete a reply as otherwise it might be in my power to give; but, again, let me assure the House that they need be under no uneasiness in that matter. Then, Sir, a third question, equally important and equally relevant to the two others with which I have already dealt, has been asked—namely, as to the attitude and the claims put forward by France in the southern parts of China, Sir, the reason why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did not mention that in his statement to-night was indicated fry him. Those matters are still under discussion, and in that state of affairs no one would press the Government to make a statement which could only be premature. But allow me to say this: the Government recognise as clearly and frankly as any individual Member of this House recognises that our interests in China, commercial or otherwise, are not merely limited to the centre or north 267 of China, but extend equally and freely over the whole of the Empire, and that, just as we have been ready and anxious to safeguard our interests in the more northern parts, so we are not likely to allow them to be frittered away in the south. Then, Sir, I come to the question upon which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition laid great stress, and that was a question as to the nature of the assurances given by the Russian Government with respect to Port Arthur and Talienwan. Now, Sir, the exact text of these assurances I have on more than one occasion read out to the House. It is undoubtedly true that these assurances, in the form in which they originally came to us, stated explicitly that the Russian Government were prepared to open as Treaty ports to the ships and commerce of the world both Tort Arthur and Talienwan. Sir, that engagement as regards Talienwan has never been departed from. Talienwan will be the commercial terminus and base of the Manchurian Railway, and as a Treaty port I, at any rate, am one of those who believe that the bulk of the commerce landed on its quays will for many years be British commerce. Then there is the question of Port Arthur. Upon this point the Russian Government have altered their position and opinion in a manner which, I think, need not cause apprehension, and which will be perfectly intelligible to everyone in this House. Nobody will contend that two Treaty ports, side by side, within 15 or 20 miles of each other, can be required, the more so as one of these ports is a port like Talienwan, the physical conditions of which render it easily adapted for the purposes of commerce, while the other, Port Arthur, could not, under any circumstances, be of use for the purposes of trade. And then comes the important point raised by the Leader of the Opposition—are you going to retain at Port Arthur, even though it may not be made a Treaty port, the right of access which under Treaties your ships of war enjoy to enter that harbour? Yes, Sir, the assurances of the Russian Government are explicit upon that point—that all the advantages, rights, and privileges which we, in common with other foreign Powers, possess in China, under the 268 Treaty of Tien-tsin and any other Treaty, will continue to remain in force at Port Arthur. Therefore to that pertinent question of the right hon. Gentleman the Government have no hesitation in replying in the affirmative. Then the Leader of the Opposition asked a further question about the German assurances, and his inquiry took this form: What is the particular tariff under which your goods are to enter Kaiou-chau and the hinterland behind it? Surely that question is answered in the statement, made, I think, on more than one occasion in both Houses, that Kaiou-chau is to be a free port. A free port, as has been often explained, is a port in which no duties are imposed. That is how we understand it, and I am convinced that when the German Government, through their Ambassador, express to us approval of our own fiscal policy in connection with the adoption of this policy at Kaiou-chau it can have no other interpretation than that the policy which we adopt at Hong-kong, and a thousand other ports throughout the world, is the policy they propose to adopt at Kaiou-chau. Well, then, I pass to the question of the assurances about the Yang-tsze Valley; and I confess that I was absolutely astonished at the insinuation on the part of the Leader of the Opposition that the assurances which we have there received from the Chinese Government are inconsistent with our general policy. What are the terms of the assurances which the Chinese Government have given us? That the territories of the provinces adjoining the Yang-tsze Valley shall not be mortgaged, leased, or ceded to any other Power; that is to say, that they are to remain in the hands of China. Do not let us put any gloss upon those words. I decline respectfully to accept the gloss put upon them by the Leader of the Opposition, and still less am I prepared to accept the gloss put upon them by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. Let us take the words in their natural, elementary, and obvious meaning. Surely if the Chinese Government pledge themselves not to mortgage, lease, or cede these territories to any other Power, that is distinctly carrying out the policy which we accepted in this House on 1st March of maintaining the 269 independence and integrity of China. What more obvious method can there be of carrying out that policy? The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, projecting his gaze into the remote future, and contemplating dangers which I do not think are Likely to arise, says: "How will you at some future date prevent the cession of parts of this basin of the Yang-tsze, or its occupation by some Great Power hostile to ourselves?" Why, what will prevent such a consummation but the common sense of British Governments and the spirit and patriotism of the British people? The answer to the right hon. Baronet is clear, and if he were seated on this side of the House instead upon that I am certain there would be no more vigilant guardian of those British interests, which he fears in the future are likely to be endangered, than himself. I will pass, if the House will allow me, to the consideration for a moment of the policy expounded by the Leader of the House this evening with reference to Port Arthur and Wei-hai-Wei. Sir, what is the position of the Russians in Manchuria? Having, as the House is aware, obtained a short time ago permission to make a short cut with their Siberian Railway from the Chinese frontier to Vladivostok, they have now obtained permission to carry an extension of that railway to a port on the coast. That is Talienwan, which, as has been more than once explained, is to be a Treaty port in so far as the tariff conditions that obtain there will be the same as those which obtain in other Treaty ports in China. And, finally, they have obtained a lease of Port Arthur. Now, Sir, what is the policy of the Government with reference to these steps? As the Leader of the House stated very clearly, we have no cause to object to the railway. Our opinion is that the opening of China to foreign trade is largely dependent on the construction of railways, and that railways in Siberia are as likely to be beneficial to British trade as railways in the centre or south of China. Neither do we object to the opening of Talienwan. It answers that description of an ice-free commercial harbour which my right hon. Friend two years ago indicated his sympathy with Russia in her desire to acquire. And, Sir, I may say, in passing, 270 that after Talienwan is open to trade, and with Niuchwang already a Treaty port, and with the new port mentioned to-night also opened in the Gulf of Pechili, it will be a remarkable thing if, in the exploitation of the spoils of that part of China, Great Britain is not, for many years at least, able to obtain her share. We come to the remaining point—Port Arthur. What is the reason—and here the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean seems to have quite failed to appreciate what was said by the Leader of the House—what is the reason of our objection to the acquisition by Russia of Port Arthur? Sir, it is because, when placed in the hands of Russia, it may do exactly what Russia said it would do in the hands of Japan—namely, cause a disturbance of the balance of power in that part of the world; because it must add a very considerable force to the naval strength of Russia, and because it must aggravate her already sufficiently powerful influence at Pekin. Sir, it was on these grounds that the Government felt and stated their objection to this step, and it is on these grounds that they have felt called upon to adopt the policy which has been expounded this evening. Well, Sir, will the House consider for a moment the methods which were open to us in this contingency? There are, I believe, some hon. Gentlemen in this House who would gladly have seen us adopt methods of a most violent and even dangerous description. Had we adopted those methods, and I need not further describe them, I venture to say that we should have been running great risks for very inadequate ends, and that such a policy, even if it had been followed—as it might well have been followed—by temporary success, would have been a policy which, in the long run, would have shown itself to be regardless of the inevitable future. Then, Sir, there was another policy which we might have adopted, although I am not aware that it has been very widely recommended either in this House or in the Press. We might have retired altogether from the north of China, confessed that we were beaten in that part of the world, and shrunk back to the central and the more southern belt. Well, Sir, in the opinion of the Government that would have been a policy of unworthy abnegation and 271 surrender. And therefore the Government adopted the third, and, as I think, the only alternative policy, which was to take such steps as should restore in the north of China the equilibrium of power which had been thus disturbed, and give to our Fleet, no less than the Fleets of other Powers, a naval base in that part of the world which should enable us to vindicate that respect for our Treaty rights and privileges which we have claimed and received. Therefore, Sir, that being the ground for the steps taken by the Government, I altogether demur to what the right hon. Baronet has said in his speech. He gave the House to understand that in adopting this policy of going to Wei-hai-Wei we were throwing dust in the eyes of the House and the country. The right hon. Baronet said this decision was arrived at in a hurry. I do not know what means he has of knowing what has been passing in the Cabinet, or on the part of anyone who has had anything to do with the matter; and, perhaps, if the right hon. Baronet will wait until the Papers come out he will see how little foundation there is, at any rate, for that portion of his remarks. And, further, the right hon. Baronet pressed the Government a little too strongly in this matter. He wanted us to come down to this House—he having previously told us that we only last week decided upon this policy—with a programme already drawn up of forts, fortifications, and the exact number of ships and men; and, in fact, he asks for the whole of our naval and military programme with reference to this new acquisition.
§ SIR C. DILKE
I asked for nothing of the kind. The place is fortified already, and I want to know whether you are going to garrison the forts.
§ MR. CURZON
I am afraid that, as I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman in his remarks about Port Arthur, so also I am unable to agree with him in his remarks about Wei-hai-Wei. The place is not fortified at the present moment; and, at any rate, it is a little unreasonable for the right hon. Baronet, almost in the same breath that he is accusing us of coming to a premature decision, and of throwing dust in the eyes of the House and the country, to ask us for full details 272 of a great naval and military programme. One word more about this policy of Wei-hai-Wei. Of course, the Government admit that it is not a policy which, on à priori grounds, they would have preferred. It is a policy which has been forced upon the Government by the steps taken by others, and it is a policy which has, therefore, become inevitable. And when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition tells us it is a new policy, and an entire departure from the policy which has hitherto been carried out by the Government, I really must dispute with him on that point. Sir, the Government—the present Government, at any rate—have always been resolutely averse to the acquisition by Russia, in the northern part of the Pacific, of that which might become a great fortified strategical base. That expression of opinion has been made over and over again. I feel a little reluctant, after what the Leader of the House has said this afternoon, to quote anything that has fallen from my own lips; but the right hon. Baronet himself alluded to a statement which he challenged me to make last year about Korea. Perhaps the House will allow me to read the briefest possible extract from that statement. The right hon. Baronet had asked, "What is the policy of the Government with regard to Korea?" It was anticipated at that time that the desire of Russia to reach the sea was to be realised through Korea, and this is what I said—Our interests in Korea are that Korean territory and harbours should not be made a base of a scheme for territorial or political aggrandisement so as to disturb the balance of power in the Far East and give to any Power any kind of supremacy in the Eastern seas: Commercial expansion is a thing we must expect, and which we must endeavour with the means at our disposal to meet, but any such attempts as I have been describing by any Power would find us ready to protect our interests there.Is not that a most clear adumbration of the policy forced upon us in the present year? The right hon. Gentleman the Loader of the Opposition went on to say that this policy of going to Wei-hai-Wei was a policy in flagrant contradiction to the policy of "the open door," and he would have the House believe that the policy of "the open door" had been abandoned. That is not the case. It is 273 because the Government adhere to the policy of "the open door" that they have been so particular about the assurances that they have, on many occasions, recited to the House; and it is in order to keep the door open, and in order to have a post of observation to see that the door is kept open, that we are at Wei-hai-Wei. The right hon. Baronet has stated that we were there in order that we might balance what Russia had done.
§ MR. CURZON
Yes; but he used it in a very different sense. As I understand, he used it in the sense of maintaining the balance of power in the Far East and in the north of China.
§ MR. CURZON
Yes, exactly—as a military and naval base to maintain the balance of power in the north of China. The right hon. Baronet speaks of it as if it had only been in order to balance Port Arthur.
§ SIR C. DILKE
One phrase was "to balance Port Arthur" and the other was "so long as Port Arthur is unbalanced."
§ MR. CURZON
I recognise the words, but I have given what I believe to be the meaning of the phrase "balance of power," of which my right hon. Friend was speaking. It only remains for me to ask the House this question: after this period of agitation and of anxiety through which we have been passing what is the upshot? Will, I hope that the House will view the question in the spirit indicated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—namely, as a whole. No individual part of these transactions ought to be taken and regarded in independence of the rest. Viewed as a whole, the Government have come to the House with the four concessions which were stated by my right hon. Friend. They point also to the opening of these three additional Treaty ports by China, and they point to the acquisition, under 274 the circumstances which I have described, of Wei-hai-Wei. May I venture to suggest to my hon. Friends on this side of the House, as well as to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that that is a list, of substantial achievements and concessions? It does not seem to me to justify the somewhat premature Jeremiads from some of our friends which we heard a short time ago; and if there be anywhere in this House a future Gibbon—if he lurk, perhaps, behind the martial presence of the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield—he may, I think, for the present lay aside his pen and postpone the compilation of his great work on "The Decline and Fall of the British Empire." Of course, the concessions which have at the same time been obtained by other Powers are subject to the assurances which have been mentioned in this House. I am unable, therefore, to see, and I yet await to be told, where it is that British rights have suffered, where British interest have been sacrificed, or where British honour has been assailed. Of course, I am well aware, and it has been pointed out to us, that the validity of the assurances which have been given, and the security of the rights which we enjoy, depend, not upon the terms in which the former are written, but upon our ability to defend the latter. Our ability to defend the latter must rest in the main upon our retaining the preponderance of naval power in the Eastern seas, and our retention of that preponderance must depend upon the vigilance exercised by the Government of this country, and by the Members of this House, and by the constituents to whom they are responsible. We all remember the famous phrase in which Lord Beaconsfield said that the keys of India were not at Herat, but in London. May we not apply the same phrase to the present situation and say, "The keys of China and of our position in China are not at Port Arthur, or Wei-hai-Wei, or Hong-kong, or in any individual post, but they rest in the custody of the Members of the House of Commons and the electors of this country.
§ SIR E. GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
The right hon. Gentleman, at the end of his speech, hinted if he did not actually state what, after all, is the 275 matter which is most in our minds, and that is that the test of the policy of the Government must in the long run be its success. At the beginning of his speech he reproached the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean with having criticised the policy of the Government without producing an alternative policy. This is not a case in which the Opposition can produce an alternative policy because they have not yet been given that full information on which the alternative policy could be based. In questions of foreign policy like this, the question between the two sides of the House is not one, and I hope it may not come to be one, of alternative policies. It is a question of the foresight, of the judgment, of the skill and the success with which a particular policy is carried out by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that that policy had already met with a large measure of success. That success is not yet, I think, so secure as might have appeared from the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It is true we have had some concessions from the Chinese Government, but it is more than ever true to-day that for the value of those concessions we must depend in the future partly upon our own efforts and partly on an understanding with other Powers, and as to the value of some of them, as the right hon. Baronet has pointed out, there might be exceeding difficulty in maintaining in the future the full value of some of the concessions given to us by the Chinese Government. Now, as to the assurances with regard to trade. The Government suggests that this matter must be one of confidence in them. I think that the First Lord of the Treasury suggested at the beginning of his speech that he had not received that confidence in some quarters from which he might have expected it. As regards the Opposition, I think he has received already, on some occasions, an even larger measure of confidence and support than he might have expected. A policy was announced before Parliament met by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. The same policy, as I understood, was announced more briefly, but in startling terms, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer 276 No exception was taken to that by two right hon. Gentlemen sitting on this Bench, who spoke soon afterwards. They did not criticise them, but spoke of them from the point of view of men who received them impartially, and who admitted that they might be justified. A good deal has happened since which has somewhat impaired our confidence in the consistency of purpose and the strength with which the Government were carrying out the policy which we thought they were following. The first Debate on this question of the Far East took place under a misapprehension—a misapprehension both as to the matter and the manner in which the assurance with regard to the opening of ports had been given by the Russian Government. That there should have been so complete a misunderstanding, both as to the matter and the manner of a subject so important, at the very beginning of the Session, is calculated to make us wonder whether the ground under the feet of the Government was as secure as we had supposed at the opening of the Session. As to the assurances which have now been received, we cannot but recognise a change. It may be an inevitable change, but still it is not a change for the better in the fact that these assurances in regard to some of these ports indicate that they will be held in the future by us on very different conditions from what they have been in the past—that they will be dependent upon the will of an entirely different Power, and upon a Power which is now in a far stronger position than before to make its will and purpose felt. That, I think, may have been an inevitable change, but it is not, at any rate, to be considered amongst the changes we should have desired to see, and cannot be counted in the successes of the policy of the Government. Then, as to the further point, the occupation of the naval base of Wei-hai-Wei, the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs said he was not in a position to give details as to the fortifications and as to the garrisoning of the place with troops. But it is just on those details that the value of the step depends. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean was most forcible in 277 pointing that out to the noble Lord opposite, whom I hope the House will hear before the Debate closes, and it is just on the question of these details that we are most anxious, because we fear that as regards the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei it is a step which, to be effective, must be exceedingly expensive, and it is doubtful whether, when the money has been expended, what we have gained will prove to be as effective for the compensation of the balance of power as we should like to see. On that point we must reserve our opinion. But while all these are changes we do not desire to see, and while the Russian occupation of the peninsula and of Talienwan and of Port Arthur are changes which it may be contended were inevitable, if not in themselves desirable, I think something may be said as to the manner in which these changes have taken place. The Government have told us to-night they regret the step Russia has taken in declaring the intention of occupying Port Arthur as a fortified naval base, they declare their regret now, and we hope to see, when the Papers are published that they made clear to the Russian Government what the state of their feeling was. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that the question of the occupation of Port Arthur is an old story of some years' standing. The present Prime Minister commented not unfavourably at the time on that occupation, and the First Lord of the Treasury gave a polite invitation in public to the Russian Government not long after to go to some ice-free port in that part of the world. [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: A commercial port.] That is the point I am coming to. When these assurances the Government gave to us to understand were implied were given, was the Government of Russia made clearly to understand that this reservation existed? When were they first given to understand that if they had a fortified naval base it would be necessary for the British Government to take some steps to counteract this change in the balance of power? After the German occupation of Kiaouchau as a naval base surely the Government must have known that the question 278 of a naval base for themselves would become an urgent one for the Russian Government? Now, the Under Secretary has told us that the Government were not prepared to taka the extreme steps advocated when Russia took the port as a naval base. Then surely it would have been better that these matters should come about as far as possible as the result of understanding rather than as having the appearance of a reverse to British diplomacy? If this was inevitable, as the Under Secretary seems to think it was, then surely it would have been better to have avoided even the possibility of its having the appearance of a reverse to British diplomacy, as if this were done in spite of British wishes? There was apparently no understanding, because the only step we know of as being taken by the Government was to formulate the demand that Talienwan should be made an open port, which was the very thing to awaken Russian suspicions and precipitate Russian action. But we were subsequently told that Talienwan was not considered of great importance, and the demand was put forward, but not with the intention of pressing it if it were objected to. To put forward a demand for a port which was a matter of indifference to us, but of considerable importance to another Power, was certain to awaken suspicion. Surely this was certain to lead to misunderstanding and disappointment.
§ MR. CURZON
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Baronet, but I hope I may be allowed to state clearly that although the opening of Talienwan as a Treaty port was mentioned by our Minister at Pekin as one of the conditions that would be welcome in return for making the Loan to China, it was never put forward as a demand by the British Government.
§ SIR E. GREY
But why put it forward if you were not, going to press it, when you knew, or ought to have known, it would arouse the suspicions of another Power? As a matter of fact it did arouse those suspicions, and the Chinese Government asked that it should not be pressed, and it was not because of objection taken 279 in another quarter. That is the whole point, and the less the Government attempted to press it the more unfortunate was it that it was put forward. The course of events since that request was put forward and withdrawn has been construed all over the world as a reverse to British diplomacy. I do not consider the reverse is so serious as perhaps some people, who are not well disposed towards us, would want to make it appear, but it would be well to avoid even the appearance of a reverse. In one of the most serious difficulties into which we have got that, all over the world, as regards matters in the Far East, we have lost prestige. I know very well that this word is often used in a shallow and emotional sense, which is mischievous in its effect so far as it has any effect at all, but, at the same time, there are considerations in regard to this question of prestige which this country cannot afford to ignore. Our attitude, our position in the Far East, does not merely concern this country alone, it is an Imperial question, and it concerns some of our colonies very nearly. It is important, because the action of the British Government is watched and weighed, and taken as the test of the strength and reasonableness of our purpose, and if once it does get abroad that the Government have lost prestige, it will be a most dangerous condition of things—dangerous in two ways; first, because it will arouse here at once a corresponding anxiety for asserting the influence of this country, perhaps on a wrong occasion, and at a wrong time, and the other danger is that the pressure put upon us by other countries will increase. It is one of the great difficulties of the present situation that the pressure on the Government is so great and in so many parts of the world at once. That, no doubt, is a reason for exercising great caution in regard to our policy, and it is also a reason for avoiding that appearance of loss of prestige, which may in the course of events become the cause of increasing pressure. When we come to what our anxiety in this matter has been, I can only say our anxiety has been exceedingly great, and a very different anxiety to that felt on the result of a Division on a Bill, on any business of the House, or 280 the attitude of parties towards each other. The anxiety under which we have been this Session is one that has hung like a cloud over the spirits of every reflecting Member of this House, not, I believe, because we thought danger of war was imminent in the Far East, but because we have seen for ourselves vast and far-reaching changes beginning in the Far East and progressing at a time when our influence, which ought to be an important factor in determining the course of them, is apparently dormant. It is because we are not sure that the Government have had foresight and grasp in the earliest stages of matters absolutely necessary for British influence because we have not been sure that decisions were taken as promptly as occasion demanded, because the essence of success in these matters is to prevent things drifting in the Far East, by prompt declaration, in clear, plain, unquestionable terms. There has been doubt felt, not merely on the Opposition side of the House, and expressed even more strongly in other quarters, that, knowing how great our power and interests were in the Far East, our influence had not been exercised at critical moments in proportion to the magnitude of those interests or the greatness of our power. It was doubted whether the Government had the energy, mind, and grasp, necessary to wield that great power and influence. I say that, not because I wished to see that power asserted violently, but because, in the policy of the open door, the main chance of success is that this country should be the loader in promoting it The policy of the open door is one I still regard with hope, for it seems the only police in the Far East by which it is possible to reconcile the interests of this country with the interests of the other Great Powers concerned. Let us lock at the situation. There is a group of six Powers more likely to be interested in the Far East than any other—Russia, France, Germany, United States, Japan, and ourselves; but surely it is for the interests of several of these Powers, as much as our own, that there should be an open door to China and a neutral market? We have heard much in recent years of the successful commercial competition of Germany, the 281 United States as successful all over the world, and Japan is competing in that part of the world; and it becomes more and more to the interests of these nations that the policy of the open door should be maintained. It may be a paradox to say that out of successful commercial rivalry may come political agreement; but I do not see why in future years the interests of these powers should not, through successful commercial rivalry, more and more make themselves felt, to help to attain this. It is a plain and attractive policy to put before the country, and I would not be one to say that the policy has become hopeless, but what has caused grave apprehension is that the policy as announced by the Government with general acceptance a few months ago has already driven them to resold to measures which were not contemplated a few months ago, and which look to us as if their policy were in danger. If I might suggest anything in regard to that very dangerous matter of alternatives which the right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to, what seems to me the outcome of the situation is that we must not in the future use such language as the First Lord of the Admiralty used some time ago about "splendid isolation." Isolation is sometimes apt to be mistaken for indifference, find in future years, when it is required, is likely to become unsuccessful. We must not look to isolation. We must find a common ground of interest with other Powers. Though we criticise much the Government have done, and though we have felt it necessary to explain why we have suffered anxiety in the course of events, and why our confidence has been so shaken, still we have no desire to embarrass the Government in future steps they may have to take in the exceptionally responsible position they now occupy. A Government always leas great responsibility, but the responsibility of the present Government is exceptional, and critical issues may be affected, not only by mistakes, but by 282 omissions. Our confidence can only be given to the Government if they prove—as I think we have a right to expect, and to call upon them to prove—that they are clear in their own minds, that in the future they will make clear what they mean, and never say anything they do not mean; if they can make it clear to us that they are concentrating their attention upon things that are essential, on things that can be made effective, and if they can convince us, as I hope the course of events may convince us before this Session closes, that they have a policy which is prompt in decision, and not merely the result of a common unanimity among themselves, but a unanimity which has something positive and energetic about it, and which is the outcome of a serious and reasonable purpose, directed by a Government as strongly as though it were directed by a single mind.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (York)
The Leader of the Opposition found fault with the Government because they changed their policy, but I think that the circumstances of the case have entirely changed in the Far East, and that in the altered conditions the Government were quite right in changing their policy. As far as the possession of Wei-hai-Wei goes, in my opinion it is the very best place that the Government could have taken under the circumstances. The Government have declared by the First Lord of the Treasury that it is to be a proper naval base, and I should like to point out to the Government that if it is to be a proper naval base they must fit it out as a proper naval base. It is no use your having a base unless it is properly garrisoned, unless it is properly defended, properly stored for a fleet, and with docks, and its capabilities of repairing properly attended to; and I think the Government should let the country know distinctly whether it is to be a naval base or whether it is not to be a naval base. I must say, for my own part, I think 283 it is a very excellent place to have gone to, because there is no doubt it will remove the preponderance of the power of Russia in Pekin. There was another point that I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman mention. I think the country and the House would be glad to know that our taking over of Wei-hai-Wei caused no irritation either in Japan or Germany, and, as far as I understood the right hon. Gentleman, he inferred that that was so at the present moment. Now, with regard to the Yang-tsze. The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other Members of the Government, have very often spoken about defending our trade and interests in the Yang-tsze Valley, but I think they ought to give us a definite and clear and distinct intimation as to how they are going to defend those interests if anything occurs, as might occur, in China. What I would like to point out to the House is this, that for the very first time in its history this country is brought face to face with circumstances that have never happened before. I must confess that that wants a little explanation. Ever since we have been an Empire we have been entirely dependent on the command of the sea, and successive Governments have over and over again objected to any policy that would bring the military forces of this country alongside or in face of the great military nations of the world. Now, in my humble opinion, we are face to face, or shall be in a very few years, with a totally different state of things, and this is why I want to ask the Government for information about the Yang-tsze-kiang. To Port Arthur in Russian possession Wei-hai-Wei is a very good balance—a counterpoise, may I call it?—but what is the Government's counterpoise to Manchuria? The Russians are there now. I have no objection, because the more the country is opened up the better it will be for our trade, and the only time when we are called upon to show any 284 disposition in the way of objecting will be when they do anything to interfere with our trade. When we talk of protecting our trade and interests, we are bound in this House to ask how we are going to do it. What I am afraid of in the near future, say some 10 or 15 years hence, is this. Russia is absolutely certain to drill these Manchurians; absolutely certain of having the capability of putting 60,000 or 70,000, or more, men into Manchuria and the northern part of China. Why not, then, do as the Chinese themselves did before, march right down to the Yang-tsze Valley and take this trade and these interests we are boasting about now, unless we have them properly defended? I heard the First Lord remark about prophets of ill-omen, and his protest as to anything being done hastily, but I think we ought to look ahead for such a very serious case as we may be in with regard to our trade and commerce in China. The British Government have taken Wei-hai-Wei, because the Russians have taken Port Arthur, and I have argued in the Press and the country that our business, in the interests of our trade and commerce, is that whenever another country takes possession of an advantageous position we should balance it by taking another position. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but, if you do not do that, how are you to protect the interests of your trade and commerce if, unfortunately, war should break out? It is very well to say naval bases will do it. I was astonished to hear the Under Secretary say the whole question rested on the command by the Fleet of the China Seas and the majority of ships in China. He is entirely wrong. This is bound to become a military question as soon as Russia has established herself in Manchuria, and has drilled this large army and is able to move them. And I think that anybody who speaks on this question—that all who take interest in it should regard the possibilities of the 285 future when Russia shall have drilled her great armies in Manchuria. Then I say that if we are going to hold and protect our trade and commerce, we are bound to do the same in the Yang-tsze Valley as Russia herself, has done elsewhere. I may be wrong, but, from my point of view, if you are going to hold on to your trade and commerce that is the only way to do it if you have a disturbance with Russia. I do not for one moment say that the Government will take this suggestion, but I am more frightened about another point. I am afraid the democracy would not face it; I am afraid the democracy would not take the necessary steps to protect this trade and commerce that they talk so much about in the country. If they did not we should lose this enormous market, with all possibilities of enormous riches, which came to us along with the rest of the world; and I may say that if we do hold the Yang-tsze, I do not very much care whether the other countries do close their ports, because the Yang-tsze is the great waterway, the great means of transport in China, and I believe trade would drift down to the Yang-tsze from the north and drift up to the Yang-tsze from the south, if we had it under our control. We are losing our trade with the world. Our imports every year get greater than our exports; well, that is one way of looking at it. There is no doubt about this, we are losing our trade in many places. We are losing West Africa by our policy there, and if we do not take steps to protect this trade in Central China. I believe it will go the way of our other commerce in a very short time. What we want is a bold, big line, and a clear line, that will be understood by other nations. I believe the time for our "splendid isolation" is gone. It was very useful for Noah, but it is not very suitable for the present time, and I believe it the Government of this country would try to make an alliance with Germany that really would make for peace for a 286 very long period. Well, let me give my reasons. I do not suppose it will be very popular at first, but I believe the enemy we shall have in the future is Russia. [An HON. MEMBER: And France.] Well, France too. France will never hurt our trade very much, but Russia, if she gets this big army in China, will be in a position to hurt our trade in China. If we have an alliance with Germany there must be 50,000 or 60,000 Russian troops kept on the frontier of Germany. At present there is not any army of Russia, at all on the frontier of Germany, but there is a good number of troops in Manchuria, a large number in the Caucasus; and my opinion is that we should have an alliance with Germany and Japan which would make for peace. Now, Sir, there is another thing, and that is the question of the extraordinary Resolution that was brought forward by the hon. Member for Sheffield. I cannot understand for one moment what induced him to do it, and I cannot understand for another moment what induced the House to accept it. Some people on this side are called Jingoes. Well, of all the blatant Jingoism that was ever put before this country, in my humble opinion that was the worst, because we not only proposed to take steps about things we knew would not occur, and we knew we were not going to take these steps if they did occur, but they had actually occurred at the moment. That, again, requires explanation. The Resolution spoke about the preservation of the independence of China, but at that very moment Germany had Sovereign rights over a part of China, so, to be consistent, we ought to have gone to war the very next morning with Germany. However, what was the answer to that Resolution? The answer was that immediately £9,000,000 were asked for by the Russian Government to increase their fleet, and the taking over of Port Arthur as a naval base followed almost directly afterwards. That was the answer to that Resolution, and I do 287 hope that the House, so that the country will not be deluded into anything so absurd in the near future, will, as too:; as it meets after this Easter Recess, expunge that Resolution from its journals. One word more—I see the clock is going on—There is the question of the policy of the open door. Now it is all very well to talk about an open door policy, bur, that door, as far as Russia is concerned, will be open until Russia likes to close it. Why are we to put any belief in these assurances? I would not believe in any assurances Russia might give to this country if they were 20 fathoms long, and why should we believe in them? Such assurances will not be worth the paper they are written upon when Russia has once established herself in China, and as far as the open door goes, it is very nearly a huge brick wall now. I think we should put away all that sort of argument as to aggression and grab. What we have got to look after is our own selfish interests. We keep on talking about our trade and interests in China, but I want to know how we are going to defend them. I honestly believe that we must adopt such a policy as I have suggested—that if Russia takes ports and build forts we should do the same, not in any spirit of aggression, but in the interests of peace, and to prevent war.
§ MR. ROBERT A. YERBURGH (Chester)
What I desire to say is this: that having had the honour of acting with certain supporters of the Government who have been referred to, I wish to say on their behalf, if I may venture to do so, that we are not altogether satisfied with the explanations that have been given, but that we reserve, until the Papers have been placed in our hands, any serious criticisms. I will only add this: that, for my part, I did not find in the speech that fell from the lips of the right hon. Baronet who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench one single word from which I was able to dissent, and I venture to 288 say that he represented the feeling of a majority of Members sitting on this side of the House.
§ Motion agreed to.