Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a sum, not exceeding £50,971, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1899, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
§ SIR W. V. HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
The House and the country, for some months, with much self-restraint, but not without impatience, have desired that the time should arrive when they should receive some official account of the remarkable transactions which, since last November, have taken place in the Far East, and of the part which has been played in them by the British Government. In examining that official account, I think the fairest and most satisfactory manner would be to endeavour first of all to ascertain what were the principles of policy at which Her Majesty's Government aimed, and, secondly, to inquire what are the results which have been achieved. I think I should be accurately stating the principles of policy at which the Government aimed under the following heads—they were stated by several Ministers of authority, and notably by the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, in the early part of the year. I should say that those principles were to oppose, for ourselves and for others, territorial occupation, which would necessarily lead to the dismemberment of the Chinese Empire; and, secondly, that there was to be the principle of the open door, by which freedom 1561 of access for the commerce of Great Britain, under the Treaty of Tien-tsin, and other nations should be maintained and preserved in China. Thirdly, there was to be no acknowledgment of claims to special spheres of influence for particular Governments and States, but equal rights should be claimed and exercised everywhere. I think that is not an unfair statement of the policy which was declared and approved, not only by the supporters of Her Majesty's Government, but also by those who were their political opponents. By the light of these Papers, let us examine how far these principles have been carried out. In referring to these Papers it is necessary—I suppose it cannot be helped in Blue Books—that a great number of totally different questions should be mixed up on account of chronological difficulties. In order to really follow this matter you must endeavour to extricate particular subjects and follow them in their natural sequence; and, Sir, if I have to intrude upon the patience of the Committee it will be because in dealing with matters of this character you cannot be too accurate in the statements you make, and you ought to adhere, as near as possible, to the actual words used in the dispatches, because the attempt to paraphrase them might mislead, and might not be impartial. Now, Sir, I would ask leave, first of all, to examine the case of Germany separately from the case of Russia. In the case of Germany it was about the end of November that there was a forcible occupation of the port of Kaiou-chau. I do not propose to dwell upon the circumstances of that occupation. In the first instance, it appeared to be only a temporary occupation to exact certain conditions, in consequence of certain outrages which had been committed upon German subjects. Now, among those conditions was one to which I will call attention. On the 22nd November it was reported that the fifth condition imposed was that—German engineers were to have the preference in the building of any railway which China might construct in the province of Shan-tung, and also in the working of any of the mines lying along the track of the railway.1562 After that, on the 8th February, Lord Salisbury gave these instructions—Inform the Chinese Government that Her Majesty's Government, if this point is conceded, will be compelled to demand equality of treatment for British subjects under the Treaties, and that compensation will be required on points in respect of which rights under the Treaties have been disregarded.Let us ask how far that has been carried out in respect of Germany. I will mention the condition on which the fifth Article, on the 22nd November, was ultimately carried out and enforced. These preferential powers, as against Great Britain, and as against other countries in the Shan-tung peninsula, in regard to these railways and mines, are actually in the agreement as stated on the 5th January. On the 8th February—which, it will be observed, was the very day of the opening of our Parliament—Lord Salisbury declared that the arrangements with Germany were perfectly satisfactory. The German Minister in the Reichstag said that the construction of the railway from Kaiou-chau, in a northerly and westerly direction, is to be connected with the great railway system of China, and is to be handed over to a German-Chinese company, the mines to be exploited with German capital. That is the condition under which Shan-tung is to be connected with the great system of railways throughout China, and consequently with Pekin. That is the official declaration of the German Minister in the Reichstag. Then what is the situation in which this country is left in regard to Kaiou-chau with Germany? We have had a vague statement that there was to be liberal treatment. The English colonial system was regarded as the best. I myself more than once have asked: Have you got any definite understanding; have you got any agreement whatever as to what the actual terms with Germany are to be? Let us see how that is. What I have been speaking of hitherto was before the notion was planned, or was known, of the making of a permanent naval station by Germans at Kaiou-chau. It was supposed to be only a temporary occupation, for the purpose of redressing grievances; but on December 21st it was announced that Kaiou-chau was to be made a coaling station, and that the port was to be fortified. Therefore, Kaiou-chau was to be a fortified 1563 naval station in the hands of the Germans; and, what is more important still, on the 3rd January, it was announced that it would be leased for 99 years to the German Government, the Chinese Emperor giving over his sovereign rights. In that respect the lease differs in form from the Russian lease, which professes to preserve the sovereignty of China, in regard to Treaties—a very important distinction, because, if the sovereign rights of China are extinguished at Kaiou-chau, of course Treaties with China would cease to be binding. Then we accepted the naval station established at Kaiou-chau by Germany. No demur of any kind was made. Then it was asked, what is to be our position there? On the 5th April, the date of the last discussion we had in this House, it was stated by the Under Secretary—whose absence, especially on this occasion, we all deeply regret—it was asked what would be the terms on which we should have access to Kaiou-chau? He said the assurances of Germany were that it was to be like the English Colonial system—a free port. But that is not the official declaration on the part of the German Government; and I shall be glad to hear from Her Majesty's Government that they have got a binding arrangement that it is to be a free port. I would ask specially for an answer to that question, because in this very speech the German Minister, on the 8th February, says—The best way to serve our interests would be to make it a free port. I should not like to pledge myself beforehand, especially to foreign nations. I believe it is better to hold ourselves free to do what we like, as I believe the English have done, and are doing, in Hong-kong.I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the face of this declaration, that the German Government consider themselves absolutely at liberty to do what they like, and that they will enter into no engagement with foreign nations, there is any security at all for a free port? Then I come to a matter that has been a great deal observed upon quite recently, and that is a communication upon 26th March between the British Government and the 1564 German Government, when they acquired Wei-hai-Wei. The words are very important—It is possible that the German Government will address you in regard to our occupying territory which forms part of the Province of Shan-tung.Now, mark, it is not Kaiou-chau, but the whole province of Shan-tung. And then the Minister is—authorised to explain that Wei-hai-Wei is not, and cannot, we believe, be made a commercial port, by which access can be obtained to any part of the Province. We do not wish to interfere with the interests of Germany in that region.If that means anything at all, it means the deliberate recognition of the province of Shan-tung as within German influence. What else can it mean? Why else should you go to Germany, and explain to them that what you are doing would not give you access to a province which is under their influence or interfere with their interests there? What are their interests there? Why, their interest there is to have a railway and the mines, which are to be in connection, as I have said, with the great railway system of China. What becomes, then, of the Treaty of Tien-tsin, which gave to Great Britain every condition of advantage and favour which any other nation enjoys? We desire very much to have an explanation of that consistent with the declaration made by Her Majesty's Government. Within the last 48 hours we have had an explanation from the German Minister, and the German Minister says that the English Government, of its own accord, have made a declaration and assurance that the English Government will not use Wei-hai-Wei "in the sphere of our political and commercial interest." That is the claim, and the sphere of influence is the whole of the Shan-tung peninsula. That is, that we have no right, and are not disposed, to interfere with that influence at all. Reference has been made to the partition of China. These spheres of influence are nothing less than the partition of China, and the German Government say that they will not take any initiative in the partition of China. But this is the language of the German Minister—The moment when the train starts does not always depend upon the will of the 1565 passenger; it is his business to see that he does not miss the train. The devil take the hindmost.It is perfectly plain that all that means that Her Majesty's Government have recognised, and do recognise, the occupation by Germany of the Shan-tung peninsula as a sphere of influence which they will respect. I pass away from Germany with this observation: in my opinion, the Papers show that it is an adoption of a sphere of influence in regard to Germany, that it is an abandonment of the claim of equal rights under the Treaty of Tien-tsin, that it is an acceptance of the territorial occupation and the establishment of a naval base by Germany, and that it is also an acceptance—I was going to say an absence—of any binding agreement with regard to open ports. It accepts and confirms really the special privilege which Germany has obtained under this agreement with China in regard to railways and mines; and it is an admission, consequently, of the special rights of Germany in these railways and mines in the Shan-tung region. Regarding, therefore, the question of Germany, I must affirm that the results have not been to achieve the policy enunciated by Her Majesty's Government, and which they desired to bring about. Its results have been, as far as possible, exactly the opposite. I now go to another chapter, which is very important in this matter—a chapter which, in effect, resulted in nothing, but the negotiation of which had very serious consequences. That is the question of a proposed Loan between China and England. That transaction began by the knowledge, on our part, on the 22nd December, of a Russian Loan offered to the Chinese. The conditions of that Loan were that Russia should have control of the Manchurian railway; that a Russian should be appointed Controller General of Customs when the post became vacant; and there were other conditions which the Chinese Government did not desire to accept. On the contrary, they desired to reject them, and they appealed to the British Government to know if the Anglo-German Loan would now be granted. Well, the proposal on the part of the Chinese Government was entertained by the British Government. 1566 They affixed certain conditions to that Loan. First of all, the Yang-tsze Valley should not be parted with. I always thought that a most extraordinary condition. The rights as claimed by us were over the whole of China, and not in the Yang-tsze Valley alone. I could understand it if they were prepared to say, the Russians shall have Manchuria, the Germans shall have Shan-tung, the French shall have a district in the south, and we shall have the Yang-tsze Valley. A division of that kind would have been perfectly intelligible. However, that was one of the conditions, and it is said that that conditions has now been given. But a very pertinent question was asked by the noble Lord the Member for York on that subject—What measures have you taken to give effect to that condition? China will never give up the Yang-tsze Valley if she can help it. That is perfectly certain; but you want something more than the assurance of China. Therefore the question I would ask the Government is: What security have you taken, or are you about to take, to give practical support and effect to that condition? Then there came another condition, which, in its consequences, has been, in my opinion, the cause of much of the mischief which has occurred, and that was the putting forward of Talienwan as a Treaty port. Up to that time nobody said anything about Talienwan as a condition; authority was given to make this demand on January 8th, and then there occurred a matter which, to me, is a most serious feature of this transaction. It was on January 8th when these conditions were communicated to China. Of course we know that through Pekin those conditions would become at once known to Russia. At that time, on the 12th January, we received a friendly communication from the French Government, through M. Hanotaux, of very great importance in this matter, and I would ask leave to read it to the House—His Excellency then inquired whether I could tell him anything as to the prospect of an Anglo-Chinese Loan, to which I answered that I had no information, and that when I left London I imagined that nothing whatever had been settled on this subject. His Excellency would, however, have seen by the tone of the English Press that such a transaction 1567 was very favourably viewed in the City. M. Hanotaux said that this had not escaped his notice, and that he quite understood that such should be the case; but it seemed to him that in the event of an isolated guarantee on the part of Her Majesty's Government there would be risk of a good deal of jealousy in other quarters, which might be averted by a frank disclosure of intentions on the part of the London Cabinet.That was a warning, and a friendly warning, by an ally of Russia, that we should not proceed in the matter of this Loan without a frank communication to the Powers. I venture to express my opinion that the only wise thing on that occasion, if the Loan was to have been made to China, was that it should have been a Loan offered to all the great Powers engaged. However, that advice and that warning were not taken, and you will find, throughout the whole of this matter that the whole spirit, and language, and conduct of Russia changed, and became extremely hostile to this country. On January 16th, four days after this warning, the Russian Chargé d'Affaires protested at Pekin under instructions, and warned the Chinese Government in the strongest manner that they would incur the hostility of Russia if they proceeded in this matter of the Loan, and consented to the opening of Talienwan as a Treaty port. That was on January 16th, and on January 17th, the very next day, Lord Salisbury withdraws the condition as to Talienwan, though he said he would give it up with great regret. Some of us were surprised to read that, because I remember that at the opening of the Session, on the first day, Lord Salisbury said that the stipulation as to Talienwan was of no consequence at all; but it was withdrawn under the menaces of Russia. After this warning had been given, and we had withdrawn, as Lord Salisbury says, with great regret, Lord Salisbury tried to continue that stipulation in regard to this place—which was of no value—in case the Manchuria railway should communicate with it. That was a very curious thing. Of course, if the Russian railroad came there, it could only be for the purpose of making it a Russian port. Obviously, that would be the consequence. On that same day—on the 17th January—the Chinese Government come to the 1568 English Minister, and they say that the terms on which the English Loan was offered were preferable to those proposed by Russia. Li-Hung-Chang hoped, a wever, that the request for Talienwan being made a Treaty port would be withdrawn by Her Majesty's Government, as it was violently opposed by Russia. You will see throughout that this proposal as to Talienwan was regarded by Russia as a distinct indication that Great Britain wished to counteract her presence in Manchuria, and throughout the whole of this correspondence they always ring the changes on this demand for Talienwan. On the 19th January the Russian Ambassador in London declared to Lord Salisbury that if we insisted on Talienwan as an open port it would be encroaching on the Russian sphere of influence, and denying her in future that right to Port Arthur to which the progress of events had given her a claim. This question of Talienwan was not the insignificant thing which we were led to believe at the opening of the Session. It was the keystone of the whole matter, if we may judge from this correspondence. On the same day Count Muravieff, at St. Petersburg, said that this demand—using a very serious term in diplomatic language—"could not be regarded as a friendly action." I come to another point—that is, the removal of British ships from Port Arthur; and I ask you to observe that it is from that very day, and not before, that the demand was made for the removal of the British ships from Port Arthur. It is quite clear, when you come to look at the question, that it was this Talienwan question that led to that demand being made. On 25th January, the Chinese Government announced that Russia had protested in the strongest manner against the Loan on the ground that it was disturbing the balance of influence in China. And there is this passage that I must ask leave to read from the correspondence. I think it is one of the most serious passages in it. I should have said that the Loan was to be withdrawn under the pressure of Russia. Our Minister at Pekin writes to Lord Salisbury, and says—I have pointed out to the Chinese Government the very serious responsibility and danger they are incurring in listening to such protests. 1569 They have asked us to guarantee the Loan, and we had consented to do so; and if, after all that has passed, China is now to renounce our offer of the Loan, she must be prepared for the consequences.That is very strong language for a Government to use, and yet on the first night of the Session we were informed by the Prime Minister that the Government did not care particularly about the Loan. That is a remarkable inconsistency. The Chinese Government were warned, when they asked for the Loan, that they must take the consequences if they renounced the Loan. What were the consequences? The Yamen had taken time to consider the question of the Loan, and on the 23rd of January they said they would gladly accept the offer if left to themselves—this was after the warning I have read—but Russia had used such threats that they could not venture to borrow either of Russia or of England, and that a promise of protection against Russia was the only thing that could help them. Thereupon the Loan was abandoned, and the Chinese Minister in London said that his Government had been warned by Russia that their acceptance of a Loan guaranteed by Great Britain "will entail an interruption of the friendly relations between the two countries." Then, in consequence of the "minatory attitude assumed by Russia"—to quote the words of the dispatch—the Loan was abandoned. Well, Sir, I say that is a very different state of things from that which we gathered when, on February 8th—the first night of the Session—we were amused with the "legend of Talienwan," and were told that the Loan was of no consequence. Whether it was a good thing to have a Loan or not, I do not know, but I am quite sure that if we wanted to have a Loan we attached conditions to it which made it impossible that we should get it; conditions which inevitably set Russia against the whole transaction, and made difficult at the time the accomplishment of what I believe might have been a settlement with Russia of this question. Here, again, in my opinion, the policy proposed to themselves by the Government has been defeated and abandoned. The measures adopted were maladroit, and the retreat consequently 1570 has been undignified. Proposals of an irritating character were advanced, and they were withdrawn under menace. A policy of that kind has necessarily the effect of destroying the authority of Great Britain both in China and in Russia. Now I turn to the question of Russia and Port Arthur. The first thing with reference to Port Arthur is that on December 17th we were informed that five Russian men-of-war were going, by permission of the Chinese Government, to winter at Port Arthur. On December 23rd Count Muravieff gave the assurance that this was only a temporary occupation. I know that honourable Gentlemen think that at that time that was an untrue assurance. That is not the impression produced on my mind, and I will proceed to state my reasons. That Russia may have contemplated ultimately, when the railway was completed in Manchuria and in the Liao-tung peninsula, the permanent occupation of Port Arthur I do not doubt. To my mind, that was not an unnatural thing. I do not assume that there was anything unnatural or unfriendly in any transaction of that character, but at that time I do believe it was only intended to be a temporary occupation. Count Muravieff said it had no connection with the German occupation of Kaiou-chau. It also appears from the correspondence that at the earliest date the Russian Minister informed us that the German occupation of Kaiou-chau had taken him by surprise, and, therefore, it is not true, as is generally supposed, that there was joint action on the part of Germany and Russia in this quarter. The Russian headquarters, he said, were to remain at Vladivostock, and there would be no change, therefore, in the situation. That was early in December. On December 29th there were two British ships-of-war at Port Arthur, and during the whole of December and well into January there was no complaint whatever on the part of Russia of the presence of British ships in Port Arthur. But on January 12th for the first time the Russians object to these British ships being there. I mentioned just now that this was at the very time when M. Hanotaux warned us to be very careful about what we were doing in regard to the 1571 Loan. Upon that date the Russian Minister objects to the British ships being there, and Lord Salisbury, while reserving rights, makes what I can only call an apology, and gave an assurance that they would not remain there long.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Do you mind reading the apology and assurance?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The right honourable Gentleman will observe that I apologised for using the word. Well, I will use another word; an explanation, is, perhaps, a better word to use than an apology. What Lord Salisbury said was this—The Russian Ambassador referred to the presence of two of Her Majesty's ships at Port Arthur. His Excellency said he was not instructed to speak to me on the subject, but the circumstances produced a bad impression in Russia. I replied that I saw no ground of complaint in the presence of British ships in a bay, when they had a Treaty right to enter, but that as a matter of fact they had been sent thither by Admiral Buller without any orders from home, and that in the ordinary course they would soon move.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
On the you will not object to my calling that an explanation. It was saying, "Not guilty, but we will not do it again."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I think 19th of January Sir Nicolas O'Conor, in his letter from St. Petersburg to Lord Salisbury, says—In the course of my interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs to-day, on the occasion of his weekly reception, his Excellency complained of the action of the British gunboats in entering Port Arthur. These proceedings, he said, were looked upon here as so unfriendly as to set afloat rumours of war with Great Britain, and the Russian Ambassador had consequently received instructions from him to make representations in a friendly spirit to your Lordship on the matter. I observed that I was unable to perceive how the exercise of a right secured to us by the Treaty of Tien-tsin could be construed as an 1572 unfriendly act. The boats in question had probably gone to Port Arthur on a reconnaissance, such as is usual in these waters, and I added that I did not suppose that your Lordship had given orders respecting their movements.That the question of the presence of the British ships in Port Arthur was raised in a very serious manner by the Russian Government nobody can doubt. If it was a fact, as it was a fact, that you had a Treaty right to have those ships there, if you wanted to come to an arrangement with the Russian Government, the worst thing you could do was to remove them or allow them to be removed. Here was a direct issue. The Russian Minister told you it raised questions of hostility between Russia and Great Britain, and the least you could have done was to have said, "Very well, let us have this question settled," and then to have gone into negotiation on the subject, and come to an understanding as to whether Port Arthur was to be a commercial or naval port. These ships of ours were there by right of the Treaty of Tien-tsin. By the most ordinary diplomacy that would have been the course to adopt. You will find from the correspondence on page 25 that on January 20th the Russian Ambassador in London said he hoped on this matter we would show our desire to avoid any friction in their sphere of influence in China, and therefore the question of the presence of the British ships in Port Arthur was, in the view of the Russian Government, an invasion of their sphere of influence in China. Well, Sir, that was a very serious question to be decided by negotiation and by settlement; but the worst way to have settled it was at once to say, "Oh, it is of no consequence; they have incidentally gone there, they will go away soon." They have never gone back. There is one other piece of information of a serious nature contained in a dispatch from Lord Salisbury (page 25) to Sir N. O'Conor, dated January 26th—The Russian Ambassador called at this office on the 20th inst., and said that he had just received a telegram from St. Petersburg, stating that the Immortalité and Redpole had now arrived at Port Arthur. The telegram went on to say that the Russian Government attached great importance to the maintenance of the most friendly relations with Great Britain in the Far East, and they hoped we should show our desire to avoid any friction in their sphere of influence in China.1573 Here comes the explanation—His Excellency was informed that, as far as the actual facts were concerned, it had been understood that the Iphigenia alone had remained at Port Arthur, and that she had now left. If any other vessels had called, as they might have done in the ordinary course of cruising, they were not likely to remain.Then Lord Salisbury proceeds—In consequence of His Excellency's remarks, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty having, at my request, made inquiries by telegraph of the Commander-in-Chief at the China station as to the British vessels of war at Port Arthur, M. de Stäel was informed that neither the Immortalité nor the Redpole was there, the only British ship at Port Arthur being the Iphigenia, which would be leaving in a few days. Her visit to Port Arthur was made under instructions from the Admiral, issued in his own discretion, and not in consequence of any directions from Her Majesty's Government.Well, but I should have thought Her Majesty's Government would have given directions. The letter continues—I thought it right, however, to observe that British ships of war had a perfect right to visit Port Arthur and other Chinese ports in the neighbourhood, and that there did not appear to be any ground for raising objections or attaching special significance to such visits.Yes, but what is the use of a right if it is not to be exercised? Now, as to the effect of these transactions. Sir Claude MacDonald, writing from Pekin, on the 27th January, says—It is stated in a Reuter's telegram published here that it is officially announced at St. Petersburg that British men-of-war have received orders to quit Port Arthur immediately, in consequence of representations made by Russia. Above is having a most injurious effect here.In reply to that, Lord Salisbury said that the whole matter was left to the Admiral to do what he thought convenient.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I will read the words—Statement that the Admiral has been directed to withdraw ships from Port Arthur is a pure invention. The Immortalité was ordered to Chusan on January 10th. It was left to the Admiral, whenever he thought convenient, to send the Iphigenia elsewhere.If you were wanting to maintain the Treaty of Tien-tsin, in my 1574 opinion it ought not to have been left to the Admiral to determine the convenience. And now, Sir, I come to the last head—the manner of dealing with the Russian Government on the subjects of Talienwan and Port Arthur. The first communication to which I shall refer is that of the 27th January from the Russian Ambassador in London, in which surprise is expressed at the agitation in England, seeing that English statesmen had admitted the right of Russia to an outlet for her commerce through an ice-free port, as any such ports—referring to Port Arthur and Talienwan—would be open to ships of war, like other ports on the mainland, and to the commerce of all the world. Now, it will be observed here that this was an announcement of an intention to occupy Port Arthur and Talienwan, but that the British Government took no objection to the occupation. On the contrary, they proceeded, from that date down, as you will find, to 22nd March, to discuss with the Russian Government the terms of the occupation of Port Arthur. You will find that the whole course of correspondence is simply directed to securing certain conditions for the occupation of Port Arthur, as well as of Talienwan. There was an assurance given on January 27th, and the passage is very important to bear in mind. You will find on page 23 a communication from Lord Salisbury giving an account of his interview with the Russian Ambassador and the apprehension of an infraction of the most-favoured-nation treatment. Lord Salisbury says—I was very glad to infer from Count Muravieff's telegram that no such idea had received any sanction from him, and I heartily concurred with his observation that British and Russian interests cannot be seriously antagonistic in China.I believe that is a very wise statement of the matter, and that at that time the Government saw nothing antagonistic to the interests of Great Britain in the establishment of Russia, upon certain terms to be afterwards settled at Port Arthur. That is a point which I think it is important to observe. The whole of the negotiations went on on the assumption that Russia was at Port Arthur, and in giving this assurance I think it was only natural that the 1575 Russian Government should consider that the British Government did not object, and proceed to negotiate for a lease. As I have said, I believe the original intention of the Russian Government was that the occupation should be merely temporary, and they proceeded with the negotiations on the understanding that Port Arthur and Talienwan would fulfil the conditions mentioned by the First Lord of the Treasury, of the right of Russia to an ice-free port. However, there came, on 25th February, a suggestion from China that the British Government should take a lease of Weihai-Wei, and that was obviously the result of the pressure put upon the Chinese Government by Russia for a lease of Port Arthur and Talienwan. The offer was then declined by Lord Salisbury as premature, but on 7th March there is a telegram from the Marquess of Salisbury to Sir C. Macdonald—If, as the Times reports, the Russians are to have a lease of Port Arthur and Talienwan on the same terms as Germany and Kaiou-chau, it seems desirable for us to make some countermove. The best plan would perhaps be, on the cession of Wei-hai-Wei by the Japanese, to insist on the refusal of the lease of that port on terms similar to those granted to Germany.It was not until 9th March that official communication was made of the intention of China to give this lease of Port Arthur and Talienwan, and it was stated that the only reason given for this demand was to assist in protecting Manchuria against the aggression of other Powers. The Yamen said they must yield to Russian demands unless they received help, and then comes this remarkable passage—They earnestly beg that your Lordship will assist them by giving an assurance to the Russian Government that Her Majesty's Government has no designs on Manchuria.That is repeated again later on, and the British Government are urged again to give an assurance, because it would have a great effect on the mind of the Czar, who had been persuaded to the contrary. Then the Russian Government announced their demand for the cession of the two ports, and on 11th March Lord Salisbury telegraphed to Sir N. O'Conor, mentioning the distinction there seemed to be between Port Arthur and Talienwan in respect to treaty rights, and on 1576 13th March our Ambassador pressed the Russian Government to give an assurance that Port Arthur and Talienwan should be open to foreign commerce, and the assurance was the more required because the Leader of the Opposition had given notice of a Question in Parliament on the subject. Now I come to the critical part of the matter. On 16th March (page 51), our Ambassador writes from St. Petersburg—Count Muravieff informed me last night that he had seen the Emperor in the morning, and that his Imperial Majesty had authorised him to give me the assurance that both Port Arthur and Talienwan would be open to foreign trade like other Chinese ports, in the event of the Russian Government obtaining a lease of those places from the Chinese Government.Now that was all Her Majesty's Government had asked for up to that time, and here you have the assurance of the Czar himself that Russia would respect the rights of Great Britain in China under the Treaty of Tien-tsin in taking the lease, the terms of which had not been concluded. Again, up to that date, there was no suggestion for one moment that the Russians were not to occupy Port Arthur, but on 22nd March, after all this time had been spent in negotiating—and although, of course, everybody knew that when in Port Arthur they were in a naval port and not in a commercial port—the Government for the first time formally objected to the occupation of Port Arthur by Russia at all; and they give reasons. They do not ask for access for commercial ships, or even for war ships, of other countries. They maintain that the military occupation or fortification of any other port on the same coast or in the Gulf of Pechili would be a standing menace to Pekin, and the commencement of the partition of China. What a remarkable thing that there should have been seven weeks negotiating, backwards and forwards as to the terms on which Port Arthur was to be occupied, and as to whether Port Arthur was included in one declaration or another. If you say that the occupation of Port Arthur at all by Russia was a danger and a menace to the interests of this country and to the integrity of China, what is the meaning of all these backward and forward negotiations 1577 from 2nd February to 22nd March? Then, on taking objection to the occupation of Port Arthur by Russia, the Government offered not to occupy any port in the Gulf of Pechili if Russia would not do the same. On 23rd March, Count Muravieff said that—Russia cannot be denied what has been granted to Germany and Japan.and he added that—the British Government was the only Government which objected to Russia being in Port Arthur.On 24th March the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury declared to the Russian Ambassador that the occupation of Port Arthur would be in effect the commencement of the dismemberment of China, and would invite other Powers to follow their example—which they did—and would have an effect on the balance of power at Pekin. Why was that only discovered on 24th March, when you had been going on for two months discussing how and why and when Port Arthur should be occupied? And then the Russian Ambassador replies that Talienwan was dominated by Port Arthur, which was necessary as a naval base for the protection of their commerce. You cannot deny to any country which has or pretends to have a large commerce what you want yourselves—that she should have some naval base to protect that commerce. Germany has Kaiou-chau, and you admit that Russia has a right to an ice-free port for her commerce. How can you maintain she is not to have facilities for a naval port to protect her commerce? You cannot possibly deny it. Accordingly, on the 25th March, our Minister was directed to obtain a lease of Wei-hai-Wei, and the British Fleet was ordered there. The next day the assurances I have referred to were given of noninterference in Shan-tung. Next comes the remarkable dispatch from Lord Salisbury, in which he reviewed the whole transaction of 28th March. He recites those Russian assurances, which were given by the Emperor on 16th March, and he states that—the commercial side of the Russian policy in Manchuria, considered in the light of these engagements, is in accord with the general view of Her Majesty's Government.1578 That applies both to Port Arthur and Talienwan. Lord Salisbury has demanded these assurances; he has received them from the Emperor, so far as the commercial aspects are concerned, and he has admitted that there had been no objection to Russia having a naval base at Port Arthur up till 22nd March.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
No, and no objection to their having a naval port; up to 22nd March no official objection was taken by the British Government. They have always gone on assuming that Russia would have a naval force there. I can find no evidence whatever put forward in those negotiations, until 22nd March, that Russia was only to have a commercial port. There could not be a commercial port. Everybody knew that, if Russia was to be there, it would be with a naval force, and there is no evidence in these negotiations confining Russia to a trading port only. When Russia gave notice of the occupation of Port Arthur and Talienwan, Count Muravieff stated that he adhered to all the assurances given on that subject with reference to Talienwan, but he omitted Port Arthur, and then, on 31st March, Lord Salisbury insists that the assurances of 16th March should be obtained in writing, and makes this remarkable statement—and this was after they had determined to take a lease of Wei-hai-Wei—Our present policy is based on these assurances.No doubt these assurances had been given and were satisfactory; they were demanded in writing, and actually on 31st March, after the lease of Wei-hai-Wei had been decided upon, Lord Salisbury states—Our present policy is based on these assurances.The assent of Japan was obtained on 31st March, and on 4th April, the Russian Ambassador in London states to Lord Salisbury the intention of the Russian Government—to maintain as far as possible the status quo existing under the Chinese jurisdiction, except as regards Talienwan, which will be open to international commerce. The situation, therefore, will be in no way modified, except by the opening of a new port in the Yellow Sea.1579 Then, Count Muravieff says that British ships of war and commerce would—consequently be admitted, on the conditions prescribed by the existing regulations, and Talienwan will be in a muck more favourable position"—i.e., than under present conditions. That is the situation which the Russian Government claimed to occupy. They say, "We have a lease in these two places; we have not, as in the case of Germany, abrogated the Chinese sovereignty. We are, therefore, bound by Chinese obligations, and are prepared to maintain the status quo as it was under the Chinese occupation." That is to say, with reference to the Treaty of Tien-tsin, as I understand it, the Russian Government say the rights Great Britain had under that Treaty we still have, because Russia represents the Chinese Government there, and we accept these obligations. I have now gone through the Papers on the points which seem to me to be material. But there is no doubt that this concluding dispatch of Count Muravieff is a very remarkable one, and, what is still more remarkable, it is presented to this House without any answer on the part of Her Majesty's Government. That dispatch was received on 13th April, and I observe that we did not get these Papers until 21st April. Therefore, there has been more than a week in which a dispatch might have been written, and that we should have no answer on the part of Her Majesty's Government to the dispatch of the Russian Government seems to me extraordinary. Well, Sir, perhaps we have no right to complain, but it would have been very interesting if we could have had a statement of the situation which we occupy with reference to France in South China, but we are told that negotiations are still going on. In conclusion, in reviewing this correspondence, I can only, by the light of those principles to which I referred at the commencement, characterise it—and I think fairly characterise it—as a record of continual failure at every point. The principle of no territorial occupations which was put forward has been abandoned.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I must really interrupt the right honourable Gentleman. If he will read the phrase in my speech of 11th March 1580 he will see that I made a special exception which might be necessary.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I do not wish to misrepresent the right honourable Gentleman, I am sure, but I say that, generally speaking, the principle of no territorial occupation has been abandoned. The question is, why have you been driven to territorial occupation? It is because you have been so maladroit in your negotiations that you have been driven into that position. The Treaty rights of open ports and equal opportunities you have failed to secure; you have, so far as I know, no binding obligation from Germany as to the particular tariffs in their sphere of influence at Shan-tung. You have claimed a sphere of influence for yourself in the Yangtsze Valley, but I should like to know what means you have taken to secure that sphere of influence. In the presence of these accumulated defeats of your policy you have rushed, as it seems to me, very suddenly on a course which is in contradiction of all your previous policy, especially with regard to Wei-hai-Wei. If the view upon which you proceeded was right, you ought to have come to that conclusion long ago—before you began three months ago to discuss with Russia the terms upon which she should have Port Arthur. The cession of Wei-hai-Wei was completed on 3rd April, just before the discussion came on in the House of Commons, which looks very much like "saving the face" of Her Majesty's Government. You claim to act solely in the interests of trade, and, at least, as far as Russia is concerned, you have admitted that you have obtained everything you asked. It is stated by Lord Salisbury in his dispatch that, as regards the commercial interests, they are completely saved by the assurances given by the Emperor. And, as to what you have taken, you admit that for commerce Wei-hai-Wei is of no use at all; on the contrary, the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury told us that a man who went for the purpose of trading to Wei-hai-Wei was a fool for his pains. And now you say that you have taken it from a political point of view.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, a military point of view. That means a counterpoise to Russia at Pekin. Even allowing this doctrine of counterpoise, how are you going to make it a counterpoise? A counterpoise that is not effectual is a very costly and dangerous experiment. Everyone knows the difference between a naval base which has great land resources behind it and a naval base which has no land resources behind it. You have cut yourselves off at Wei-hai-Wei from all internal communications; you are to have no communication with those railways within the German sphere of influence; in short, you have no resources in the Shan-tung peninsula. If you are going to establish yourselves at Wei-hai-Wei, how are you going—and this is a material question for the Government—how are you going to make it a counterpoise to Russia? That is the momentous question upon this policy which we ought to put to Her Majesty's Government. Are you going to make Wei-hai-Wei a Gibraltar or a Malta, or are you going, according to the friendly suggestion of the honourable Member for Bodmin, to regard it as an "experimental Cyprus?" But if you are going to make it a military fortress, a sort of sally-port against Russia, by what means and at what cost are you about to do it? We have, within the last few days, been discussing—I think, those who know the seriousness of it, not with light hearts—the stupendous growth in the expenditure of this country. We have also, at an earlier period, been discussing the narrow resources of our military forces, and before we enter upon this new policy—a reversal of all the policy you have previously proclaimed—we have a right to ask you for a much more explicit revelation than you have yet given us of the present scope and ulterior consequences of that policy. It is upon that matter that I wish to call for a further explanation from Her Majesty's Government.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I rise at a very early stage of this Debate, knowing full well that the result of that procedure may be that I shall again, before the Debate is concluded, have to trouble the House in regard to the comments and criticisms that have yet to be made. But I feel that the lengthy and elaborate survey which the right 1582 honourable Gentleman has given the House of our policy cannot remain, even for one moment, without some reply from this Bench. It is not that the general tenour of the right honourable Gentleman's criticisms are likely as a whole to commend themselves to any section of the House. There were side issues, parenthetical attacks, upon Her Majesty's Government which undoubtedly have received sympathy from some of my honourable Friends below the Gangway, but in its broad aspects the policy of the right honourable Gentleman is one which, I believe, commends itself to nobody in the House, or hardly anybody. It is a policy which, if carried out in the manner in which the right honourable Gentleman would have carried it out, had he been the responsible adviser of the Queen, would have had the result that Russia would have been where she is now, at Port Arthur, with or without the pledges in regard to our commerce, and we should have made no reply to that procedure on her part. Whatever be the points upon which the right honourable Gentleman may meet with agreement, either among his own friends or mine, at all events, upon that particular line of policy he stands separated from every man on this side, and from not a few upon the other side. I must trouble the House with a survey point by point of the indictment which the right honourable Gentleman has brought against us. He began, not with any criticisms of our policy with regard to Russia, but with various suggestions of dissent from the policy we have pursued with regard to Germany. I say "suggestions of dissent," but I am not sure that the right honourable Gentleman was bold enough to commit himself to the proposition that in what we have done with regard to Germany we committed an error of judgment. The right honourable Gentleman appears to think that in the statement that we authorised our Ambassador at Berlin to make to the German Government we have, in the first place, admitted spheres of influence; that in the second place we have given up valuable privileges; and that in the third place we have allowed the Treaty of Tien-tsin to be abrogated so far as Shan-tung is concerned. The right honourable Gentleman is wrong in all these statements. Spheres of influence we have never 1583 admitted; spheres of interest we have never denied. The distinction may be a fine one; but the House will observe that for us not to admit spheres of interest would have been a most fatal policy for British commerce. We hold, we have always held, that, throughout the length and breadth of China, citizens of this country have equal commercial rights with citizens of all other countries. In that sense we admit no division of spheres at all. But, when it comes to other matters in which we are deeply concerned I think the right honourable Gentleman would be the first to admit that this country has certain spheres of interest in China, and that, having certain spheres of interest itself, it would be selfish and impossible to maintain that no other country should be admitted to share them. That proposition of mine can be tested in a very simple manner. Would the right honourable Gentleman, or any of his supporters, see with equanimity and without any remonstrance a port leased in the middle of the Yang-tsze Valley by some other Power than ourselves, and great concessions for railways leading to that port placed under the control of other Governments and capitalists than our own? Neither in the law of China, nor in the law of nations, is there any obstacle to such a policy being pursued by any country; but I am certain the right honourable Gentleman would think it an unfriendly act of any nation to pursue such a policy with regard to us; and, if that policy would be unfriendly with regard to us, a corresponding policy pursued by us would be, mutatis mutandis, unfriendly with regard to another nation. Therefore, let the House remember that, if it resolves not to admit anything which we have described as a sphere of interest with regard either to Germany or any other country, that carries as its inevitable corollary that we should have no right to remonstrate with or to resist if what we regard as a sphere of our own interests were invaded by other countries. I am certain that there is no man in this House who will be prepared to deny my second proposition; therefore let no honourable Member rashly commit himself against the first. As regards the Treaty of Tien-tsin, the right honourable Gentleman is mistaken in supposing that it is abrogated in either the province of Shan-tung, or in any 1584 other part of China. We have constantly heard it stated, and the right honourable Gentleman certainly suggested, that the Treaty of Tien-tsin has been invaded either by Germany in the province of Shan-tung, or by (Russia in the province of Manchuria. I demur to that; I do not believe it is the fact. I do not believe that the Treaty has been abrogated, either by the law of nations, or, in fact or substance, by either of those great Powers. In those circumstances I do not think the right honourable Gentleman has any reason to complain of the course we have pursued. But he suggests in his criticism on our Wei-hai-Wei policy that we should never, in taking that port, have so far sacrificed British interests as to give to Germany the assurances we have given. I cannot believe any practical politician in this House takes that view. It may sound very easy and plausible to say. Why did you not take Wei-hai-Wei, in spite of all the world, and refuse to give assurances to anybody? [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT indicated dissent.] It may sound very easy and plausible to say, Why did you not take Wei-hai-Wei in spite of all the world, and refuse to give any assurances if asked for with regard to that base? As we obtained the lease of Wei-hai-Wei for military purposes alone, as we took it without any reference either to the trade or commerce of Shan-tung, and as it had no reference whatever to the German occupation of Kaiou-chau, what objection was there to conciliating German public opinion by volunteering a statement of that kind? In my opinion, and I do not hesitate to avow it in this House—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think it would be most foolish and shortsighted on our part not to make the policy which we have thought it necessary to pursue in our own interests as palatable as possible to every other nation concerned. I leave these criticisms with regard to the Shan-tung peninsula, in which I think the right honourable Gentleman himself took very little interest, and I go on to his observations with regard to the Loan. 1585 As regards the Loan he appears to be very indignant with us because we did not, instead of attempting to negotiate the Loan ourselves, endeavour to have a kind of triple or quadruple arrangement with the other Powers of Europe—with Russia, France, and, I imagine, Germany—with regard to guaranteeing the Loan to China. There is more than one observation to be made on that suggestion. In the first place, I would point out to the right honourable Gentleman that Russia has already a Loan of £16,000,000, contracted in 1895, and, therefore, if a new Loan had been divided, as he suggests, Russia would have had an additional £8,000,000, which would have made her share three times as great as that of France or England under the proposed arrangement. I do not think it would be a very convenient or a very desirable thing.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
At all events, Russia would, by the arrangement proposed by the right honourable Gentleman, give a very large share of this public European Loan to China. In the second place, I would remind the right honourable Gentleman of an episode with which he and gentlemen sitting near him are perfectly familiar. Unless I am greatly mistaken, in 1895 precisely the same question came up with regard to the first Chinese Loan, and it was then suggested, I think, by Her Majesty's then Government that there should be a joint guarantee by the European powers of the then Chinese Loan of £16,000,000, and communications were to pass between Germany and Russia on that subject. One fine morning we discovered while these negotiations were going on that Russia had, as a matter of fact, in the Paris market made all the arrangements for having the Loan with herself, and came to an arrangement with China on that basis. I do not know whether the right honourable Gentleman thinks that precedent of such happy augury as that we should endeavour to repeat the experiment which came to a disastrous conclusion to the Government of which he was a member. But the right honourable 1586 Gentleman could not resist, having made these general criticisms on the Loan, having a dig at Her Majesty's Government on a subject where he hoped to obtain some kind of support from gentlemen on this side of the House. He repeated that old and, I venture to say, absurd legend that we abandoned the claim on Talienwan in consequence of threats by Russia. I should have thought a study of the Blue Book would have convinced the right honourable Gentleman of the absurdity of that hypothesis, and would have shown him that the hypothesis was impossible. What did occur? The history is this: Russia suggests to China that she will help with the Loan. That breaks down. China then begs us to give a Loan. We say, "By all means—on terms," and we consult Sir Claude Macdonald as to what those terms should be. Among terms suggested by him, and accepted by us, was the opening of Talienwan as a free port. Russia, rightly or wrongly, entered a very strong objection to that, and put what pressure she could on the Chinese Government, and the Chinese Government says, "Is it worth our while having the Loan if the result of taking it is a row with Russia?" It is perfectly true—nobody has ever denied—that Russia did put pressure on China to prevent her from accepting the Loan, and that China yielded to that pressure. By what political legerdemain can this be twisted into a concession by Her Majesty's Government, owing to pressure by Russia, or to the threats of Russia having influenced Her Majesty's Government? You might as well say that our strong protest to the Chinese Government that we would not permit one of the terms which Russia had asked from China for her Loan—namely, the succession to the office now held by Sir Robert Hart—and the fact that China has broken off the Loan with Russia meant that Russia was yielding to our threats. We did not intimidate Russia, and Russia did not intimidate us. Russia asked for terms from China, which we would not allow China to give, and no doubt Russia retaliated by insisting that China should not give the terms we asked. Both Loans fell through—the Russian Loan and the English Loan. I must say, leaving this rather absurd attack on us for yielding, and coming to 1587 the ultimate result of the transaction, that I do not now regard, and never have regarded, the breakdown of that Loan as in any way a serious misfortune to this country. A Loan carries with it—this Loan like all other Loans—a certain amount of financial risk, and the question is whether this financial risk is balanced by the advantages you are likely to get out of it. As a matter of history and fact we have got without the Loan almost everything we desired in connection with it, and the Loan has finally been negotiated—not indeed by England, but still less by Russia—and the great corporation, the Shanghai Bank, who have managed it, have obtained the money through English and German financiers. Before I leave the subject of the Loan let me deal with one very absurd—as I thought—theory of the right honourable Gentleman. He thinks that the vital mistake made by the diplomacy of this country was in suggesting that Talienwan should be an open port. He seems to think that until this suggestion was made Russia's one anxiety was to work with us harmoniously in every respect in China, and that there never could have arisen any cloud of difference between us, or any difference embarrassing our reciprocal relations. Sir, I think he attributes a fancifulness of character and a changefulness of purpose to the Russian Government to which it is not really open. There was no insult conveyed in suggesting that Talienwan should be opened as a Treaty port. Russia might have thought that it would be more to her interests that Talienwan should not be a Treaty port, but as a Treaty port it would be as effective a commercial termination to her railway as Talienwan can now be, and I cannot see that we made any suggestion of which Russia had a right to complain, or that we inflicted upon her any serious material or moral inconvenience. Then, Sir, the right honourable Gentleman, leaving the question of the Loan, or leaving that aspect of the Loan, went on to that more vexed and controverted subject connected with the withdrawal of British ships from Port Arthur—a subject which is connected with the Loan, no doubt, because the two events were contemporaneous, and because the telegram—the mendacious telegram which appeared 1588 in the newspapers—no doubt had an effect on the negotiations. That, says the right honourable Gentleman, is why he was justified in connecting the Loan with the action of Her Majesty's vessels of war. I frankly admit that I listened to all these attacks on the Government, in connection with our warships, with feelings akin to extreme surprise. Honourable Gentlemen on both sides of the House—I readily admit that there are quite as severe critics in this matter among our own friends—have conjured up an amazing picture of what they conceive to have taken place. They seem to suppose that we sent a kind of timid military reconnaissance to Port Arthur.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I am not now replying to the right honourable Gentleman. I am replying to the critics whom the right honourable Gentleman thinks he has done his best to please, and who, I think, will not assert that the picture I am drawing has in it much of caricature. They assume that the Government sent for a quasi-military reconnaissance a certain number of ships to Port Arthur, that the Russian Government thereupon got extremely indignant and came to the English Government and practically said "We insist on those ships leaving," that we meekly acquiesced, and that the result of that—the not very remote result according to the right honourable Gentleman—was that Russia occupied Port Arthur. That is the train of events, as I understand it, which the right honourable and learned Gentleman conceived to have taken place, and which they think inflicts an indelible stigma of disgrace on the cowardly counsels which directed the policy of Her Majesty's Government. Sir, I need not say that in our view, at all events, that picture has no resemblance, however distant, to the truth. Keeping ships at Port Arthur never was part of the plan of the Government. No ships were ever sent to Port Arthur in connection with any diplomatic or military policy. At the same time we had the right, and still have the right to send ships to Port Arthur. Is that denied? We had need still to have the right to send ships to Port Arthur. In addition to that the 1589 Russians had at that time the right in consequence of an arrangement come to with the Chinese Government to use Port Arthur as a practically permanent anchorage during the winter months—a right which we do not possess, not having made any arrangement, or desired to make any arrangement of the kind with the Chinese Government. We were of opinion, and we are still of opinion, that no diplomatic or military advantage could arise from having our ships there. We were of opinion, and we are still of opinion, that diplomatic disadvantages might have arisen from that course, but as a matter of fact, during the whole time of these Loan negotiations, no ship of war was ever moved away from Port Arthur by the action of Her Majesty's Government. The course pursued was pursued in the ordinary process, if I may so describe it, of Admiralty management in those Eastern seas; and I do not believe that our Admiral had a hint of the view which I have just expressed with perfect candour to the House until the whole question of the Loan was well out of the way. Now, Sir, it may be said, Though you sent no orders to your ships on March 21st, or 22nd, or February 8th, or whatever the date may be, though you left the matter remaining on, you ought to have seen that unless you at once returned an answer to the Russian Government indicating that we ourselves saw great advantages in keeping our ships, and counting on keeping them there, we ought to have foreseen that some such report as that which reached China through Reuter from Russia, would be made." I quite admit that it did not occur to us that so entirely false a statement—a misrepresentation so gross—could by accident, or in any other way, reach China and have any influence on the negotiations then going on. But that error of judgment, even if it be an error of judgment, is the only error of judgment to which we plead guilty, and I have never yet seen, and do not see at this moment, anything in the demand, or request, made to us by M. de Staal to which we had any legitimate reason to object. Nor do I see, nor have we ever seen in the course of these negotiations, any advantage in keeping one or two of our vessels at Port Arthur. But I do not wish to leave the matter there. 1590 I am sure the House will not think that it is with any view of defending Her Majesty's Government from attack that I now express my regret at the species of criticism which has been levelled against us, first with regard to Talienwan, and then with regard to the ships. After all, we can very well take care of ourselves, and we are, most of us, too much accustomed to hard political knocks to mind an attack, more or less, from whatever quarter it may come. But I do seriously say that that kind of criticism, from whatever side it comes, and whatever party be in power, is injurious to the interests of this country. Observe that as the world is constituted there is a struggle—sometimes industrial, sometimes military, sometimes diplomatic—going on between the leading nations of the world. I am glad to think that is not the only way in which we can contemplate a display of civilised forces, but that is the way we have to keep in view, and this kind of criticism seriously weakens and hampers the nation which indulges in what I may describe as a diplomatic contest. Remember, that being as it is and under the very conditions of our political existence, diplomacy is carried on here under difficulties absolutely unknown to any other country in the world, for the United States may be considered for this purpose not to have a diplomacy of the same elaborate and complex kind as, unfortunately, Europe has so long been used to. France is the nearest to us in point of method, but France is far removed from the system, which cannot be altered—which I do not desire to see altered—under which the Government of the day carry on the most difficult and delicate negotiations, and are under a constant fire of comment and question. And if it were not that this Opposition, and, I hope, previous Oppositions—not only Oppositions as a whole, but individual Members—were animated by patriotic motives, and were always glad, I think—certainly in extreme cases, and after representations by the Government—to abstain from driving their privileges to excess, I say that our system would not work for a week. Even as it is the right honourable Gentleman will grant that the system is not an easy one for us to work. Compare that with Germany, where, practically, no criticism on foreign 1591 policy, no cross-examination on foreign policy, takes place. Compare it also with Russia, where, of course, there is no criticism at all. Now, Sir, take the two cases I have mentioned. Take Talienwan and take the ships, and consider them. Talienwan was put forward by us in the earlier stages of a bargain. The other parties to the bargain objected. We gave it up, as Lord Salisbury said, with reluctance, and we were immediately accused of having climbed down. If that is the way you are going to enter into a bargain, why, it means that you must in all cases start with your irreducible minimum, and the play of motives between the two parties is not, in this transaction, to have a freedom which, in every other transaction of life, is absolutely necessary. No private business could get on for a week under these circumstances, and I venture to say that it is very rash to attempt to introduce into public affairs principles which everybody knows would not succeed in any other sphere of human activity. The truth is that our diplomacy, under the results of this system, moves, and must move, in fetters. You require, as it were, our forces to go about, as if on parade, full-dressed, in all the splendour of the most magnificent uniform, and under the gaze of admiring quid nuncs of the day. Sir, that is not the way in which battles are won; that is not the way in which you are to manœuvre your troops if you want to win battles. Compare the Russian system. Compare the freedom of action which Russia obtains, and the want of freedom we are, or may be, forced into. Russia has recently, for reasons which, I have no doubt, are excellent, but which it is not my business to fathom, made apparently a great retreat in Korea. She has practically given up the control of the finances, practically given up control of the Army. Still, Sir, I venture to say that if we had been in the position of Russia in Korea, no British Government would ever have dared to suggest such a course as that, however expedient it might have been from the general point of view; and if you insist on limiting us in the way in which you seem disposed to limit us, then it is absolutely impossible, in so far as the competition between us and Russia is a diplomatic competition, that we should fight on equal terms. They have already, in their 1592 secrecy, and in the absence of an auditor and Comptroller General, certain advantages to which we cannot pretend to aspire. Do not let us give her additional advantages which are, as I think, absolutely unnecessary. There remains very little more for me to deal with in the right honourable Gentleman's speech, except the question—the tolerably important question, after all—of Port Arthur and Wei-hai-Wei. The right honourable Gentleman has asked me various questions about the importance and value of Wei-hai-Wei, such as: "What will it cost to fortify it? Are you going to make it into a second Gibraltar? To what use do you propose to put it?" I am not going to answer these questions, because, until we go to Wei-hai-Wei and have control of it, it would be premature for us to arrive at final conclusions—still more to announce them to the House. My own firm belief is that if Wei-hai-Wei never had a gun put in it at all it might be and would be of the utmost value to us diplomatically at Pekin while peace is going on, and strategically from the naval and military point of view if we happen to be at war. The advantage of a port which is in our own control, in which we have the right to remain for an unlimited period, which we can use as a base, without breaking the law of nations, and from which we can take such military action as seems good to us is very great, and, in my opinion, can be made much greater without that vast expenditure of money, which is, perhaps, of less importance, and that vast locking up of men, which is of infinite importance, of which the right honourable Gentleman seems to be afraid. I do not believe that any such expenditure either in money or in men will be required at Wei-hai-Wei, and I am convinced that in any case it must be, if naval complications should take place in the northern China seas, a secondary naval base of infinite importance to this country. Let me go from Wei-hai-Wei to Port Arthur. A great many of my honourable Friends think that we ought at all hazards to have prevented the Russians coming to Port Arthur. It would have been, I believe, perfectly possible for us to do so. This, of course, is a personal appreciation. It is dealing with the unknown, and my own personal calculation may be erroneous; but I 1593 believe it is extremely probable that if we had sent our Fleet to Port Arthur and occupied the port Russia would not have made it a casus belli. There is no certainty about it. It might have involved us and Russia, and by a not unnatural consequence the whole of the civilised world in arms, and, for my part, I would never consent to take part in a game of bluff, which may have consequences like that unless I am prepared to face those consequences. I do not think we should have been wise to engage, and I do not believe anybody in this House would have the courage to say we ought to have engaged in a European war in order to prevent the Russians from going to Port Arthur. But let us take the other horn of the dilemma. Let us suppose, as I am quite ready to do, that very likely Russia, like us, would not have thought it worth while to involve the whole globe in the horrors of war for the sake of that small port at the end of that distant peninsula.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
What would our situation have been then? We should have been in occupation of Port Arthur, and Russia would have gone on making her railway, and the tension between the two countries would have been extreme. I assume it would not have been at the breaking point, but it would have been almost at the breaking point, and, of course, the very first object of Russia would have been to involve us in war with somebody else, or, at all events, to obtain such an opportunity, or to choose such a moment of difficulty, that she could pursue her own objects at Port Arthur and get over difficulties which we had temporarily placed in her way. And every year that difficulty would of necessity become greater, for every year the railway would have crept down—the railway, which nobody desires to resist, which we all admit is a civilising and beneficial influence—that railway would have crept down from the Siberian railway, and would have come closer and closer to the port which we had occupied, by what right I am not sure. I do not know whether we should have taken a lease of it or not. The end 1594 of that would have been that so long as we occupied Port Arthur we should have had to lock up there a very large garrison to answer to this railway in connection with the mainland force of Russia in Siberia and in Russia itself. We should have had to keep an answering force at Port Arthur, to the immense inconvenience—to put it no higher—of my right honourable Friend here the Under Secretary for War. We should have had to fortify it up to the hilt and to fill it with British soldiers. The case of Wei-hai-Wei is entirely different. In the first place, it does not rouse Russian susceptibilities to the same extent. I do not say that Russia likes our having gone there—I am afraid she does not—but it is not an insult, it is not a defiance to Russia in the same sense as occupying Port Arthur would have been. It is not a standing humiliation to her; it is not a reason, so far as I can see, for permanently strained relations between the two countries; it cannot be attacked with effect, I believe, except by a Power which has the command of the sea; and if Russia had command of the sea I do not think it would much matter whether we do or do not possess Wei-hai-Wei, or whether we do or do not possess Port Arthur. These are the reasons which convince me that, if we are to have what I believe almost all my Friends on this side of the House and many opposite think we ought to have—namely, a reply political and strategical to the Russian advance—I am convinced the reply we have taken is the most effective, is the best for our own interest, is the least likely to produce future complications, and is one which not merely every lover of peace but every lover of his country and the power of his country in those distant seas would desire to see adopted. I am told—I think by the right honourable Gentleman among other candid critics—that the last six or seven months have been an unbroken series of triumphs for Russian diplomacy and an unbroken series of humiliations and defeats for British diplomacy. I take precisely the opposite view. Little attention was paid seven or eight months ago by anybody, except, perhaps, my honourable Friend the Member for Sheffield, who keeps a diary of events that pass in all parts of the globe—little 1595 attention was paid by the public at large to the position and prospects of Russia in the Far East, and yet I am convinced that the position of Russia seven or eight months ago was incomparably better than the position of that Power at the present moment. I do not say it is entirely the fault of Russia; it is partly her misfortune. What has happened in those seven months? The first thing that happened was that the Germans went to Kaiou-chau. They established themselves in that port, and their commercial interests are spreading, or may be expected to spread, and radiate from that centre in all directions towards the west end of the province. That was the first thing that happened, and let me say that I regard that event as a very great advantage to the future commercial status of China and of this country. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Sheffield would, I think, have liked us to have quarrelled with Germany over Kaiou-chau. Personally I too highly appreciate the advantages which that occupation has given to this country and the whole of the commercial world to have any such wish. What is the second thing that has happened? It is that we have been forced by Russian action to take a base for ourselves in the Gulf of Pechili, which we certainly would never have taken but for the Russian action. We certainly would not have taken it now, and in the development of events we might never again, whatever had been our necessities, have been able to take it in the future. The present is a moment when, without offence, we are able to occupy the only other port in the Gulf of Pechili which can in any way correspond or compete with Port Arthur. I do not know that if some years hence the same necessity had arisen and we had not been the possessors, the lessees, of Wei-hai-Wei we should have been able to take the steps we have now taken without difficulty and without serious offence. The third and serious disadvantage which Russia has brought upon herself is the inevitable feeling of distrust and bitterness which has been aroused in this country by the perusal of the various interesting documents which we have laid upon the Table of the House—documents on which I do not propose to comment, but which are in the hands of every 1596 Member, and on which every Member can form his own judgment. And the fourth reason is that by the action largely of Russia—mainly of Russia—the whole Chinese question has been so stirred up that we have been in a position to ask China for commercial concessions of the most far-reaching character, from which not we merely, but the whole commercial world will benefit. I am not calling attention to that now from the point of view of commerce. I am calling attention to it from the point of view of the future of any Power desiring to make aggressions on China. For what will be the result of these concessions if, as I hope, they open the interior of China to Germany, to France, to America, to this country, and to all the great commercial countries of the world? The result of that will be that there will be slowly creeping up, perhaps not very slowly, a body of interests in all those countries which will insist that the open door spoken of by my right honourable Friend shall be kept open. Russia, who, but for the policy I have indicated, might have quietly pursued her way, extending her railways without exciting jealousy, abstaining from taking these military ports, quietly consolidating her power in the north of China, has by precipitating events brought into the field not all these forces—because the German occupation of Kaiou-chau is an independent matter—Russia is confronted by all these forces, many of them directly due to her policy, and there, I think, if we are to attribute to her the ambition which many gentlemen have supposed she has, she will find a very serious obstacle in her path. But, Sir, it may be that this contest of Europe in the Far East may never come about. I know not; but I know that we have taken every precaution that a reasonable man can take to ensure that, if it comes about, the forces of commerce and freedom shall not find themselves at a disadvantage. If, for the sake of hypothesis, I assume that Russia is the enemy—and I do not wish to make any such assumption—then I admit that there are advantages which she possesses of which no man can deprive her. She, and she alone, has the means of direct military access to the centre of China. She, and she alone, has got a great land frontier 1597 of 4,000 miles conterminous with the Chinese Empire. No man can deprive her of those advantages; but she has deprived herself of many other advantages which otherwise she might have enjoyed. At this moment all those countries—I will not name them—who have interests and commerce in China find themselves in an incomparably stronger position in regard to the future than they could have pretended to be but for this action of Russia. I do not say that I have vindicated the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I care not for one moment what judgment may be passed upon this telegram or that dispatch. But I think we may say now, before the House and the country, that now, after all these months of active diplomacy, we find ourselves commercially and strategically in a far stronger position than we did before, and can look into the future with feelings of far greater confidence and assurance.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House has asked us to believe that Russia possesses a freedom of action which is wanting in the case of the Government of this country, and that the criticisms of this free country and of the House of Commons have been such as to destroy the effects of the policy of the Government and to prevent them from obtaining those advantages to this country that they otherwise would have been able to obtain. I think the right honourable Gentleman is most ungrateful to the House of Commons. This is a long-suffering House of Commons. I do not say that with regard only to those Members who differ in their opinions from the right honourable Gentleman—I speak just as strongly on behalf of many of his own supporters upon the other side of the House. This is a long-suffering House in regard to its behaviour towards the Government with reference to the conduct of foreign affairs by the Government. In this House the Government have been more free to bring their policy to a conclusion than any other Government have ever been in this country in anything like similar circumstances, and if the Government have failed in carrying forward their policy with a greater measure of success it is 1598 entirely their own fault, and the House does not share the responsibility of it with them. This consideration raises the question of what it is we are about to debate to-night. There are many of us who sit upon this side of the House who have wished to have a full opportunity of debating the whole question—the whole Vote upon Foreign Office Affairs—and we desired that the Government would give us the opportunity of so doing; but, unfortunately, we are deprived of it. What happened in regard to this matter was that the other day a strong appeal was made to the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House that we should have the opportunity of discussing the Foreign Office Vote upon an early day. The right honourable Gentleman, upon his part, thereupon appealed to the House not to take the Vote to-day because of the illness of the right honourable Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and because he [the right honourable Genman the Leader of the House] would consequently be deprived of the benefit of that Gentleman's services. But for the purposes of discussing this present matter of China which has been brought forward in the papers, we might go forward. Now, as I understand, it is rather the desire of the Government that the Debate to-night should turn upon that question which the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House has opened. Therefore, as a matter of courtesy—not as a matter of right—we accede to it, and we are thus deprived of the right of debating the full Foreign Office Vote. So far as I am concerned to-night, I shall confine myself entirely to certain branches of the China Question. I do not now propose to weary the Committee by repeating any of the numerous arguments which, upon former occasions, we have had an opportunity of impressing upon the House with regard to the naval bases and other matters. Sir, I cannot help thinking that the country at large, and, indeed, many members of this committee, desire very greatly to treat this subject from a somewhat broader view than a mere recapitulation of the various promises which the Government have asked for in regard to these concessions, some of which have been given and some of which have been refused. I myself am somewhat impatient of all these 1599 promises with regard to the China Question, because I feel that these promises will only be kept so long as the Powers who have made them desire to keep them. Now the Government have attached great importance to these various promises. I take a matter mentioned to-night—mentioned by the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, in his reply to the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—the right of this country to send ships of the British fleet up to Port Arthur. The Leader of the House triumphantly said we still had that right. How do the Russians define that right? In the dispatch of the 1st of April they say—Port Arthur is a closed port of China, open under certain circumstances to British ships.What does that mean? Why, in times of peace our fleet goes into Vladivostok; in times of peace our fleet goes to Toulon; but here the Russian Government will let our ships into Port Arthur or keep them out according to their interest at the moment. The whole of the Chinese policy of the Government appears to me to be based very largely upon such promises as these—promises asked for and obtained from Russia in the north, and promises asked for and obtained from China in the Yang-tsze Valley. I attach no importance to the promises given by Russia, and what the particular worth is of the promises of China the case of Kiang-hung has shown. I attach little importance to these promises, and very little importance to the treaties as applied to the ports occupied by the Great Powers in China. The usufruct of the fortress and dockyard of Port Arthur assumed by Russia for military purposes virtually—in fact—carries the sovereignty of that part of the country just as much as our action in Cyprus carries the virtual sovereignty of that island. Our treaties with China, giving us low tariff and most-favoured-nation treatment, and what is called national treatment, which means treatment equal to that extended to the natives, depend entirely upon the sovereignty and the administration of China, and those treaties are as good as gone where any European Power has any port in the country. You may veil the fact by 1600 promises, but you cannot touch the fact itself. Now, the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, who has defended the policy to-night, in February, 1896, went out of his way to welcome Russia to an ice-free port in China, thus instancing the policy of giving away what was not ours to give, and giving it away against our own interests, which had been displayed in relation to Madagascar and Tunis, and in almost every case with which they have had to deal. I am perfectly well aware that the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, since his attention has been called to the danger which underlies his words of February, 1896, has explained that his words only had relation, and were strictly confined to commercial privileges.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
But I will put it to him that there is nothing in his words against that view—I will put it to him that if Russia were to bring this railway down to the Gulf of Pechili, no one believes for a moment that Russia would not insist upon having the control of Port Arthur, upon which all her interest depends. Now, the Government shut their eyes to all this, because they continue to tell the House that the Cassini Convention never had any real existence at all, and that the state of affairs is independent of a particular form of any terms of any particular convention. But the fact is that every item which was included in this suggested Cassini Convention, as telegraphed here in October, 1895, is conceded, and everything which has since occurred is in direct accordance with the terms of the Convention, which is said to have no existence. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House to-day complains that Governments in this country are hampered in their acts; but not only members of the Opposition in this House, but many of the right honourable Gentleman's supporters, doubtful of this policy, have refrained from any attempt to cross-examine the Government in respect of it. The Government, as a matter of fact, have not taken the House of Commons into their confidence until it is too late. They have not 1601 taken us into their confidence until after they have failed in their policy. Even now the information that they give us is often misleading. Well, now, Sir, for instance, they denied the existence of the forts at Port Arthur until the witnesses and photographs were produced. They knew nothing till lately of the military position which Russia was assuming in Manchuria. The Leader of the House was asked a question as to the number of Russian troops in Manchuria, and he replied that "there are not many"—as if the number mattered. In the neighbourhood of Kirin, on the river, which is the capital town of the province, there is a Chinese dockyard, and there we have seen people working at the arsenal and the dockyard, and there also the Russians are drilling Chinese blue jackets and working the powder factory. The importance of the point is not the number of troops, but the particular points which the Government concealed from the House. But the main point is not a promise with regard to this or that particular port. The main point is the dominance of Russia at Pekin, and the power she possesses to carry out the whole of her policy at the moment she chooses. Let us consider the points which the right honourable Gentleman has made of the policy of the Government as it appears from the Papers themselves. I confess that I myself think that the story which the right honourable Gentleman thinks we have conjured up—those of us who object to the policy with regard to China—is humiliating: I mean the episode of the British ships in Port Arthur. He says that the story which we have conjured up is one which he is able to disprove from the Papers themselves. Now I will ask the Committee to consider for a moment what that story is. On the 12th of January the Russian Ambassador complains of the presence of British ships at Port Arthur. Lord Salisbury's reply was that "they would soon move." That would necessarily show that there had been some communication with the Admiral. I believe there had, and I doubt whether the statement made in regard to the ships would have been made without communication with the Admiral. On the 17th of January came 1602 the suggested opening of Talienwan as a Treaty port. This met with the violent opposition of Russia a few days later. On the 19th of January the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs makes a solemn protest upon both these points, which he puts together for the first time. He complains of the presence of British ships at Port Arthur, and he also says that our pressing that Talienwan should be made an open port is not a friendly action, words which justified the right honourable Gentleman in saying that we yielded to that point under menace. The ordinary words "by menace," used on this occasion, are the traditional words of diplomacy. I need only point to the fact that on three occasions the present Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has quoted those same words from the honourable Baronet [Sir E. Grey] as used of the French on the Nile, and on those three occasions the present Under Secretary quoted them as words of menace. Now, Sir, I will pursue this description of the affair of the ships for a few minutes longer. On the 20th of January a further request was made, when the Russian Ambassador again complained about the presence of these ships at Port Arthur, and asked that they should be withdrawn. There was made to him apparently a double reply, verbal and written, on the 23rd of January. The statement was that—there was only one ship there, and she will be leaving.On the 26th of January the fourth complaint was made by the Russian Government, and the reply was made that "she had left." The complaints were made on the 12th, 17th, 19th, 20th, and 26th. On the 27th of January Sir C. Macdonald telegraphed that a Russian official telegram had been received at Pekin in which it was stated that the British ships had been ordered to leave by our Government because of Russian representations, and that that statement was having a "most injurious effect." The reply was made the same day by the Foreign Office that the "statement is a pure invention." Now, Sir, I ask anyone to read those documents, and I believe that the great majority of Members of this House when they have read those documents will not 1603 believe that that statement was a pure invention. But what was it? No doubt no direct orders were sent to the Admiral to withdraw the ships; but surely, having been told what was the exact position of affairs as to the ships, and being informed of the Russian complaint with regard to the ships, the Admiral took that as a very strong hint that the ships should withdraw.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
The right honourable Gentleman says no hint was given to the Admiral. The Admiral had been asked questions, and he had not been told to stay. It was left to him "whenever he thought convenient to send" the last ship elsewhere. After repeated Russian representations, the ship left. Now, can that Russian telegram be truthfully styled "a pure invention"? On the 21st January the Government had telegraphed to the Admiral—and it is not denied that other telegrams were also sent to him, although they are not given—saying—It is alleged by the Russian Government that the Immortalité and Redpole have arrived at Port Arthur. Will you state the facts?The First Lord of the Admiralty refused to produce the other telegrams, but he produced this one, and he does not deny that there were others. But, surely, those very words themselves, especially if repeated several times—which I judge from these Papers that they were—constituted a hint to any Admiral with a head on his shoulders that the presence of British ships at Port Arthur was not agreeable to Her Majesty's Government? He was not told to leave the ships there; no words were added to say when to act, or whether he must act on his own responsibility; but I think that most Admirals are very nervous even in time of peace about such messages from the Admiralty when diplomacy is involved. Most Admirals would hesitate to take the responsibility after having several telegrams of that kind.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I cannot have expressed myself clearly. The time of the departure of no ships was altered by any telegrams at that period.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
It seems to me, from the Papers, that several tele 1604 grams were sent asking the Admiral questions about the presence of ships there, and in this it is stated, "It is alleged by the Russian Government"; and any Member of this House putting himself in the position of the Admiral, and not being hampered by the Admiralty, but being worried by the Admiralty with regard to telegrams and with regard to diplomacy, of which he does not know the circumstances of the case—any Admiral would take that as a very broad hint to withdraw the ships.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
But the Admiral did not take it as a broad hint. The day on which the ship left was fixed by the Admiralty itself before any telegram was sent to the Admiral.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
Well, I am content to say I do not always absolutely credit the accuracy of the statement that there is no foundation whatever for the allegation made by a foreign Government on these occasions. We are told that the statement is a pure invention, but the ships were only withdrawn after four or five representations had been made by the Russian Government. They were withdrawn after repeated questions to the Admiral, and withdrawn, I believe, by the Admiral in consequence of communications received by him from the Government. I remember a case of a similar telegram almost word for word the same as this one with regard to "a pure invention." There was the famous question of the Tunis negotiations in 1878, at Berlin, when Consul-General Read, who was our representative, telegraphed home—those who look back to the Blue Books will find it—in almost the same words in which Sir C. Macdonald telegraphs. When that telegram came in 1878, during the sitting of the Congress at Berlin, a reply was made in almost identically the same words as the reply made here, stating that the statement was a pure invention. Well, when the Papers came afterwards, I am bound to say that there was some foundation for the statement which had been declared to be a pure invention. Now, the story of the withdrawal of these ships, and the ill-effect it produced at the time upon the negotiations, does seem to me to be 1605 a humiliating story, and I cannot but think that this will be the judgment which the House will pronounce upon the whole of these negotiations. The other point upon which I wish to trouble the Committee for a few minutes is this one. There was a complete change of front by the Government, which we suspected on the last occasion when we discussed this matter, and which suspicion we know now, in the course of the last two months of these negotiations, was well founded. There is a long blank in the Papers between January and the 25th of February. Now, it was on the 25th of February that our Government declined a port on the Gulf of Pechili, and declined it on the ground that it would not do for us to occupy such a port unless the action of the other Powers altered the case. Then there is another long blank as regards negotiations, and on the 28th of March the dispatch is written. But there was action before the 28th, when the change of front was fully admitted by the Government, and was stated in their dispatch of the 28th of March, which is their long dispatch explaining their change of front and the reasons for it. But that change, as far as I can discern in the Papers, for which they were going to wait, was not a change brought about by the action of other Powers. I confess that I have an impression which I formed when I first considered these matters, and which I think many other Members formed, that the change was due more to the subsequent revolt of certain Conservative Members—amongst them the honourable Member for Chester—and the criticisms of the Conservative Press, than to any other action. Now, Sir, how can we prove this? What are the grounds put forward by the Government themselves in their dispatch of the 28th of March for the change? This is the main paragraph. They state that—Manchuria will be revolutionised when it is traversed by a railway under Russian management, connecting ports on the Pacific under Russian control with the commercial and military system of the Russian Empire.That is the great fact, that Manchuria is to be revolutionised when it is traversed by this railway. Well, that is what we knew in April, 1895, and in October, 1895.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
Well, I read as the main ground put forward for the change, that!Manchuria will be revolutionised when it is traversed by a railway under Russian management, connecting ports on the Pacific under Russian control.It seems to me that that is exactly what was known all along, and there was no ground, therefore, for the change of policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government. The main defence in the conclusion of the powerful speech of the Leader of the House of the policy of the Government is this: that we got everything we desired. Well, I am bound to say that, if he thinks that, he is very easily pleased if he got everything he desired in the course of those negotiations. One thing he got, and that was a confirmation of the position of Sir Robert Hart, a matter which I admit to be of the first importance. But that is a thing which, like every other privilege we have secured, has been got under circumstances which are so dangerous that it can only be enforced, when seriously threatened, at the risk of war. It is a promise, and, of course, it forms a very valuable basis as regards the future of the Chinese Empire, and it can only be enforced, when threatened, at the risk of war. But the main point which the Government themselves appear to put forward as a great concession which they have secured in these negotiations concerns the opening of the rivers in China. The right honourable Gentleman used eloquent words with regard to it to-night. On a former occasion, there were more details given by the Government; they said—The opening of the rivers means that we shall be able to take British merchandise in British ships, not merely to the ports recognised by Treaty, but to every riverside town and station in the whole of the interior of China.Now, Sir, we have had already some occasions to judge how far these concessions will be carried into effect. I admit that if all the riverside towns and stations of China were open in future to our trade 1607 and to the trade of the world it would be an enormous point to secure, but I do not believe it is possible in practice to secure the wide opening of the rivers of China, which the Government point to as their main success. We have had other experience, and quite recent experience, on this very matter. We have had the experience of the West River, a matter to which the greatest importance was attached two years ago. In practice it has not produced great results, for the opening of that river has been deliberately interrupted in a manner which is not encouraging in regard to the actual performance of this promise, and I do not believe that, in practice, it will be possible to secure this wide opening of the rivers of China which the Government have laid down as their main success. But, Sir, there is another example of stipulations of the same kind which have wholly failed in the past, and that is the stipulation which we have by Treaty with regard to internal taxation in China. We have the most admirable stipulations with regard to it, and we have spent the whole of our time in going back from those stipulations which were originally made. We began by sweeping away the whole of the internal taxation of China. After that we found that it flourished more than ever, and as we proceeded to replace its complete abolition by a system of limitation, and we have constantly gone back upon abolition of inland taxation, which now does more harm to trade in China than when we stipulated for its total abolition. It chokes and strangles all our trade. These are examples of how much concessions on paper are worth, and how little you may get for them when the time arrives. I very much doubt whether the political value generally of the China policy of Her Majesty's Government will in practice be redeemed by the success of their commercial policy in this matter of the opening of the rivers to trade. The policy of the Government in regard to China seems to me still to stand in the same unhappy position in which it stood when we last debated this question in this House. We find in the eloquent words of the right honourable Gentleman, the same absence of a firm idea running through his speech and running through the whole of their policy in China. There has been the absence of this firm idea, and 1608 an absence of firm resolution in consequence, and I confess that we now seem to be pacified by assurances with regard to a commercial future which have no solid foundation, as far as the Blue Books show, and are not likely to produce solid results.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM (Dover)
The right honourable Baronet began his interesting speech by saying that he attached very little importance to promises, and very little importance to what he calls our Treaty position of the various Powers in China. Sir, there may be some truth in that, but when he taxes the Government with this because they do attach some importance to those rights we enjoy under Treaties in China he must admit that when those Treaty rights cover and defend the interests, not only of this country, but also of some other great industrial countries, then they have a very real value indeed. The Treaty rights we have in China are also the Treaty rights of Germany in China, and the more Germany embarks in industrial enterprise in that country the more certain are we of finding that the value of those Treaty rights will increase from year to year. I do not propose to follow the right honourable Baronet through the whole of his speech, but I must say that the language which he thought fit to use in respect to the port of Talienwan seems to me to bear no relation whatever to the facts of the Blue Book before the Committee. He spoke of the Government having yielded Talienwan to menace; but to whom did we yield Talienwan? Why, to nobody. No question of yielding enters into the matter at all. When China, of her own initiative, asked us to assist her with a Loan, we suggested that the making of Talienwan into a Treaty port open to all the world would be a considerations which we stipulated for in came to our Government and begged of us not to put that in amongst the considerations which we stipulated for in return, we did not feel it in our power, nor consistent with ordinary reasonable behaviour, to say to China that she must open that port. The right honourable Baronet, in touching upon the question of Wei-hai-Wei, says we have yielded to the contention of the Leader of the Opposition. He seems to accept the amusing 1609 theory, if I may so term it, put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, that all these negotiations proceeded, until a comparatively recent date, upon the basis that we did not object to Russia occupying Port Arthur.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM
I am glad to hear that the right honourable Gentleman cheers that remark, but how can he reconcile that with the dispatches in this Blue Book, No. 28 and No. 29? The allegation of the Leader of the Opposition is that we showed no anxiety for this question of Port Arthur until the month of March; but in December last year we find that there was a dispatch from Mr. W. E. Goschen, at St. Petersburg, pointing out that very explicit undertakings had been given with respect to Port Arthur as early as December.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
You will excuse me for a moment. What I said was that up to March 22nd the Government agreed that Russia should be in Port Arthur so long as Russia, left it open to the rest of the world, and after our occupation of Wei-hai-Wei they asked that that should be put in writing. This was done at the last moment, and they said that their policy rested upon that assurance.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM
I can only say that we must assume that the conversation with the Foreign Minister was purely formal. It is ridiculous to believe that the Russian Minister would have given such assurances to our representative at St. Petersburg unless our representative at St. Petersburg was asking some searching questions as to the possible intentions of Russia with respect to Port Arthur. I followed the speech of the Leader of the Opposition very closely, but I am bound to say that he left me in complete darkness as to what alternative policy he would have fixed upon had he been the Foreign Minister of Great Britain at this great crisis. He was struggling through a somewhat difficult task. In one part of his speech he seemed to be suggesting to a small and diminishing number of his supporters 1610 that, had his hand been at the helm, he would have run away all along the line; he would have conceded everything to Russia for the purpose of coming to an understanding with that country. But in the same speech he seemed to suggest that some honourable Members are on the China Committee, and would have gone to war with Germany because she claimed the right to have a German engineer on a railway to be constructed with German money, through a province in which we had no commercial interest. Well, Sir, that kind of criticism is always easy, and can always be directed against any British Government. It is inherent to the position we occupy in the world. We live in a small island, and our power is a sea power. It is, therefore, manifest that we must develop our trade in distant countries if we are to prosper as a nation. It is manifest that we must when we can prevent those Powers whose policy it is to cut off our trade from doing so—when I use the word "prevent," I use it in the old sense—and under remote contingencies we must take more drastic measures. Although that is quite manifest, it is by no means so clear that it is our duty or our interest to make a casus belli on every occasion when any of the Powers occupy the smallest portion of any such field for commercial development. It is not only not clear, but manifestly in the contrary direction, and it would be foolish for us to make a casus belli of any such action on the part of a Power which gives us most explicit pledges that it has no intention to shut such territory against our trade. Now, that is the position as between ourselves and Germany. I am not referring to Russia, but the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition seemed to divide his speech into two parts. He said he would first deal with the question of Germany. Now, if that had any practical bearing whatever, it had this bearing: that we should, in some way or another, have resented the action of Germany in making certain arrangements in respect to her relations with China. What is this province? It is a country thinly populated, and although it contains some coal, it is not a highly mineralised property. If every inch the province of Shang-tung were sown 1611 with wheat, leaving no standing room for the inhabitants, they could only grow about as many bushels for their inhabitants as an Englishman grows and not quite as many as a Frenchman or a Russian grows. This province is a very poor property. It can be of no use to anyone until some Power builds a railway to reach the coal region and develop the glass and pottery industries. Would not the honourable Member welcome such action on the part of any Power? Would not he see in such action on the part of Germany a pledge that China would become an open sphere for the friendly rivalry in commerce of the Great European Powers? I have found the greatest difficulty in reconciling the references made by the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to Germany with the references which he made to Russia in the course of his speech. Apparently we are to believe every word that Count Muravieff says, but when Herr von Bülow gives a most friendly and explicit pledge of his own motion, we are to say that we cannot trust that gentleman's word in the least degree.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I pointed out that Herr von Bülow said he would give no pledge, that he would keep himself free.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM
I will refer the right honourable Gentleman to page 31. There Sir Frank Lascelles gives what Herr von Bülow told him. He says—He repeated what he had previously told me—that the German Government had carefully selected a port which was not in the direct sphere of English interests; and that we need feel no apprehension from a commercial point of view, as he was convinced that Kaiou-chau would be open to the commerce of the world. In fact, he said, the German Government fully shared the English views of colonisation, and believed that our system of opening our ports to the commerce of the world was best in the interests of the Colonies themselves.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM
I can only say that I do not believe that Herr von Bülow would have 1612 made that communication to Sir Frank Lascelles with a view of departing from the policy which has been laid down. If you hold that suspicion against Herr von Bülow, he is equally entitled to cherish it against us, because it is absolutely our own position, I believe, in respect of matters which are entirely similar. The words of Herr von Bulow are—I should not like to pledge myself beforehand, especially to foreign nations. I believe it is better to hold ourselves free to do what we like, as, I believe, the English have done, and are doing, in Hong-kong.That is the point which I was making. In this Blue Book I find a very frank and explicit letter—Herr von Bülow to Sir Frank Lascelles. He reserves to his own opinion no larger powers than we reserve for ourselves. I cannot put myself into the mental attitude of the right honourable Gentleman, who, in Arcadian simplicity, draws the deduction from these communications that we should have been a little more polite to Russia, and that we should look with dark suspicion on the German, whose policy boded evil to ourselves. This kind of criticism can always be made against any Foreign Minister. We are, as I said, a nation dependent upon prosecuting our trade, and we have to prosecute that trade in distant continents where we have no great military power at our command. I can illustrate the position from the career of another Cabinet, of which the right honourable Gentleman was himself a member. I do not say he was to blame, but if anybody were to follow what took place in Africa with reference to the strip of land which we had leased from the King of the Belgians, he would find that the variation from that policy could be described in exactly the same kind of criticism as that to which we have listened. Any attempt on the part of this Government to make a good commercial bargain with another friendly Power is, according to the right honourable Gentleman, if another State intervenes, to be described as "courting a rebuff." If you do not make a casus belli of that, well, you are guilty of cowardice. But if, not having made a casus belli of that, you take some step in order to improve your position for the next deal, then you are indulging in 1613 ineffective exasperation. I can criticise the whole of the policy of the late Government in these terms. You lease a strip of land from the King of the Belgians; you court rebuff. If you do not go on with the bargain, you run away. You make a railway to Gambia; you are dealing in ineffectual exasperation. The parallel is complete, and I commend it to the careful consideration of the right honourable Gentleman, who was a member of the Cabinet, which, in common with all British Cabinets, underwent changes which are inherent in our position as a commercial country endeavouring to extend our commerce. We have heard a great deal about Shangtung. Does the right honourable Gentleman forget that China has other provinces? In adding up the large benefits which have accrued from the policy of the Government, the Leader of the House did not refer to the very great diplomatic triumph of the Government, or rather, through the instrumentality of the Government. The province of Shang-si has not even been referred to in the Debates of this House, but it is known to be the best coal field in China—it is the most highly mineralised province in China. It is owing to having defended China from pressure that we—perhaps I should not say "we"—but a syndicate of Englishmen have received a concession from the Chinese Government to work the whole of that coal field, and to construct railways in that province; and only four days ago, owing, as I cannot but believe, to an increase in our prestige, the Tsung-li-Yamên threw in the province of Ho-nan, thereby giving access to the whole of that territory, to the waters of the Yang-tsze river. If you talk of spheres of influence, the Yang-tsze is in our sphere of influence, and we have now, or shall have in connection with that, a railway which is to be constructed giving us communication with what those who have received the concession describe as the richest provinces in the whole of China, and they were selected by the concessionaires because the reports of the experts upon them were to that effect. Sir, I cannot but believe that that shows that the powers which the Government possesses at Pekin have not sensibly diminished, but, on the contrary, have augmented during the last few months. If I turn 1614 now to the question of Germany, and a comparison between the richness of the provinces of Shan-tung, Shang-si, and Ho-nan, and consider it in reference to the Russian aspect for a moment, I am at a loss to understand how the right honourable Gentleman can believe for a moment that we could have had a friendly arrangement with Russia. I will confess that I have for many years cherished what has proved to be a delusion—namely, that it would be possible for us to approach Russia in a friendly spirit, and to demonstrate to her that in Asia there were worlds vast enough to monopolise the energies of both countries for a long period of years to come. The cause of the vanishing of that delusion was the reading of this Blue Book. That, however, may be one of the chief gains which have been arrived at during the last troublous months of diplomatic action. There is no project too vast, apparently, for the ambition of Russia. There is no detail too small to engage her attention. You read this Blue Book, and you find that, months ago, the whole forces of Russian diplomacy at Pekin were being taxed in order to get an English engineer, Mr. Kinder, removed from the control of the railways and a Russian substituted in his place. You find the whole force of Russian diplomacy exerting itself, too, in order that the Loan to China shall not be made by this country, and you also find that Power striving to the uttermost by every available means to secure the substitution of Sir Robert Hart by a Russian. What Loan to China shall not be made by this system of diplomacy? You can make a very fair balance-sheet. Put down on the debit side that Russia has the control of Talienwan. Yes, but that port is to be open to trade. Put again on the debit side that Russia has a fortress on the Gulf of Pechili. Yes, it is true; but we have taken a naval base which is far more suitable to our naval requirements than Port Arthur could ever have been. Had we secured Port Arthur, and Russia secured Wei-hai-Wei, we should be in a melancholy situation indeed; but it is, fortunately for us, the other way round. I do not propose to dwell, as a previous speaker has dwelt, upon the question as to whether we ought to believe all we are told by Russian diplomatists. If her pledges have been broken, that need 1615 not distress us very much; we shall now know that greater circumspection is needed in such matters, and we shall learn to distinguish in the future between verbal and written assurances. Some of the criticisms made by the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, which were directed against our naval base at Wei-hai-Wei, seem to me to be altogether outside and beyond the mark. The possession of that naval base by us constitutes on our part a defensive action against the possession of Port Arthur by Russia. In obtaining that naval base we have restored the balance of naval power in the Far East, in which we were predominant. I think that small verbal criticisms upon this point are really trivial. When we are told that we have abandoned the principle of the integrity of China by leasing this port, it seems to me that that is fooling ourselves by phrases. We were wanted by China to lease Wei-hai-Wei in order to buttress and support her against Russia. This is merely an homœopathic treatment; it is treatment which China has asked for herself, and I doubt if it is any use to talk about "principles" in this matter at all. When you say that your principle is to get China open to trade, you must remember that that is the star by which you are to steer your course—that and nothing more. The Government has steered that course, and in doing so has achieved very real success, and obtained very real benefits indeed. I may say, without fear of contradiction, that they have absolutely and most faithfully carried out the indication of policy given so long ago as 10th January last by the Leader of this House. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition began to-night by putting that indication of policy in his own words, in heavily-leaded type; but when I turn from his sensational presentment of the policy to the words actually used by the Leader of the House I find that the Government promised to do much less than the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, and that he described the position in much calmer and quieter language. The Leader of the House, speaking on 10th January, anticipated even then the possibility of our having to occupy Wei-hai-Wei, for he said that, in his view, 1616 territory is a disadvantage excepting in so far as it was necessary to supply a base for possible warlike operations. So that the whole of the charge as to inconsistency upon that point falls absolutely to the ground. Then, if I come to the indication of the lines of policy which the Government would pursue, I find that he laid down two propositions. First, that the Government must, so far as it can prevent any Power securing such an advantage as would enable it to bring great pressure to bear upon the Chinese Government at Pekin; and secondly, that the Government would do its best to see that in no way should our interests be prejudiced. Will anybody read that Blue Book, and maintain that the Government have not been doing their best to see that undue pressure is not brought to bear upon China by other Powers? We have already had some earnest of our success in that direction. Mr. Kinder, to whom I have referred, was not dismissed, notwithstanding the pressure of Russia in that direction. The succession to Sir Robert Hart is secured to a British subject, until the balance of our trade is level with the trade of any other Power—an almost impossible contingency. The Chinese Loan, although not contracted by this Government, has been contracted jointly by British and German financiers, and I have already referred to the opening up to British enterprise of the provinces of Shang-si and Ho-nan. So far from any other Power being able to interfere with China, we, who are acting in the interests of China, are receiving concessions from China to our benefit. Above all, we have confirmed China in the belief that we are her friends, that we have disabused Germany of the unfounded belief that we are her foes in matters of commercial rights. We have also gained time. Time, to a country like our own, which has a population and wealth which grow year by year, is everything. After some few years, or at least after some few decades, we shall be in a better position than we are now. Time enables other nations to reflect. It may be that our Colonies, it may be that Germany, it may be that America, on the reflection which time will give them, will enable them to decide that it is better, after all, to throw in their lot with us, to assist us in our effort to substitute the policy of 1617 friendly emulation in commerce for the policy of hostile rivalry, which degrades—and sometimes even sacrifices—commerce altogether.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I think I have heard it said by honourable Gentlemen opposite that we are not precisely a happy family on this side of the House, but it seems to me, from the very enthusiastic manner in which the attack on the Government from my right honourable Friend the Member for Monmouth was received, and from the very calm fashion in which the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House was received by his friends, that Gentlemen opposite are not quite so much of a happy family as they usually profess they are. In looking at these matters we are bound to regard the circumstances and the difficulties and the results, and judge them by the results. I recognise what the circumstances were and what the difficulties were. Some honourable Gentlemen of Jingo proclivities are inclined in all these matters to ignore circumstances and difficulties, and to misjudge results. What was the position only a very few years ago? We were absolutely paramount in the East. We sometimes talk about balance of power; but then there was no balance of power. We were absolutely masters. We were masters because of the strength of our Fleet in the Chinese Seas, and also because we held the key of the door between Europe and the Far East. Matters have changed very much in the last few years. We had then Japan, formerly an uncivilised country, with a navy consisting of a few junks. Now Japan is a great naval factor in the world. But the change has been still greater in regard to Russia. Russia has civilised Siberia, and has made a very large part of the railroad which in a year or two will connect Europe with the Far East. Russia, therefore, has made a new road to the East, and a road which we cannot touch. There are, therefore, two roads, one of which is in our hands and the other entirely in the hands of Russia. The result of this is that Manchuria has become within the military area of the Russian Army, and that Pekin is within striking distance of this Army. While this was going on Germany was extending her commerce in China and seeking to increase it still 1618 further. She obtained a concession from China in the shape of Kiaou-chau, of which she has a lease, and which is both a commercial port and a naval base; and there is a considerable Hinterland behind that naval base. We gave our consent readily to that. Russia, on the other hand, was in this difficulty: she had only an ice-bound seaboard on the Pacific. She naturally wished to have a terminus to her railroad, to which her ships could be connected at all times of the year. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, in a speech which we all remember, laid it down that this terminus and the consequent passing of the railway through Manchuria was a legitimate ambition on the part of Russia. After that I am sorry to say that we have adopted a somewhat nagging attitude towards Russia. The right honourable Gentleman himself has explained that we proposed to Russia to grant a Loan to China on the condition that they made Talienwan a Treaty port. Russia objected to this, and the whole thing fell through. I, personally, am exceedingly glad that it did fall through. I should have been very sorry to hear of our guaranteeing £16,000,000 of the British taxpayers' money to China; and I therefore am personally grateful to Russia for having interfered and stopped that Loan. The reason why it fell through was that Russia protested against it, because she had claimed to have a port in Lake Pechili, and it was admitted that Talienwan was the port best fitted for the requirements of her railroad. The next thing that took place after this was that Her Majesty's Government made no further complaint—they accepted the position, and no great harm was done so far. Russia insisted on treating with China for a commercial port at Talienwan and a naval base at Port Arthur, and I think that she had a perfect right to do so, and I do not believe that anybody really doubts that she had a right to do so. There was no concealment on the part of Russia that she wanted a naval base, and there was no concealment that she wanted Port Arthur to be that naval base, and the two ports are close by. Lord Salisbury himself objected to Russia having any naval base, and he particularly objected to that naval base, if she had one at all, being Port Arthur. 1619 His contention was that Russia was already strategically strong by land, and if in addition to this strategical land advantage she also had a naval advantage by means of a port on Lake Pechili, that would make her almost too strong for the other Powers, and she would exercise too great an influence at Pekin. Russia's reply was that all other Powers have a naval base in Chinese waters. She, it is perfectly true, has a naval base at Vladivostock, but it is icebound, and you have admitted that she ought to have another. Russia also said that she had a fleet, and that she wished that fleet to be defended, if possible, by having a naval base into which the fleet could retire at any time. She further stated that Talienwan could not be defended unless she had Port Arthur, and I think these arguments on her part were very reasonable. She did not wish her commercial port to be at the mercy of the Japanese or of any other Power. This seems to me to be entirely in accordance with common sense. China was ready to refuse, and said she would refuse this lease of Port Arthur to Russia provided that we entered into such relations with her as would practically guarantee her independence against Russia. At the same time, we found that no other Power except ourselves was prepared to join us in any action against Russia obtaining this naval base. Faced with these facts, Lord Salisbury did not push his opposition further. As has been said by other speakers, there are many things done by other Powers which we may think undesirable, but it by no means follows that we should push our objections to the point of war. For instance, just now I heard a Question in the House as to the American Government putting a tonnage due on English ships. Nobody would dream of going to war if the United States insisted upon enforcing that tax. Only a year ago the Armenians were vilely treated by the Turks. We protested at the time, but we did not go to war on account of our protest. Then, Sir, there followed some sort of discussion between Her Majesty's Government and the Rissian Government in regard to the position that foreign ships would occupy when using Port Arthur. I confess that I did not understand the point of Lord Salisbury's contention. These two ports are 1620 close together, and ought to be embraced in one common fortification. They are to all intents and purposes one good naval station, one portion of which is reserved for warships and the other for commercial ships. It really does not signify one atom whether you have a Custom House at Talienwan alone, or at Talienwan and at Port Arthur. What I apprehend was the view taken by Her Majesty's Government that, unless some definite understanding were come to, it might be that Russia would regard Port Arthur, being a naval base, as a port where exceptional advantages might be given to Russian commerce; but the representations on our part have been met by Talienwan becoming a Treaty port, in which there is no preference given to one country over another, and by Port Arthur—the other portion of this naval station—being no port of entry at all. I really do not think that by this arrangement we have in any way injured our position, or that we should better our position if both Port Arthur and Talienwan were ports of entry. Sir, I have heard it stated in the Press that Russia has acted with bad faith. This appears to me a very serious allegation to make against a friendly Government, and it is not likely to promote friendly feelings between Russia and England. I assert that it is absolutely untrue. The question arises upon the position that our ships or foreign ships are to occupy in future in Talienwan and Port Arthur. In regard to Talienwan there evidently was a misunderstanding between Lord Salisbury and M. de Stael. The conversation took place in French, and Lord Salisbury translated what M. de Stael said to mean that Talienwan was to be a free port. That misunderstanding has been put an end to for the present, and no one can assert that upon this ground Russia has been guilty of bad faith. Then there came the question of whether Port Arthur and Talienwan were or were not to be open as commercial ports. Undoubtedly Count Muravieff thought they were to be commercial ports at the time. Since then he has changed his mind, but it must be remembered that there is a great difference between changing one's mind and acting with absolute bad faith. Moreover, we are not damnified in any way by this change of mind on the part of Russia. 1621 After this there was most unquestionably a serious error committed by Lord Salisbury. I allude to Wei-hai-Wei, which was taken as compensation for Russia occupying Port Arthur. Sir, we are told that Wei-hai-Wei has been occupied entirely upon strategical and political grounds. I believe I am right in saying that all military experts do not agree that we are the gainers in a military sense by the acquisition of Wei-hai-Wei. If it is not fortified it will be of no advantage to have such a station, and if it is fortified the fortifications will not only cost us £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, but we shall be obliged to have it garrisoned, which will require some 10,000 men to be kept there at great cost. While we find it difficult to get soldiers for the increase of our Army, it seems to me a very great mistake, unless the thing is an absolute necessity, to increase our garrisons in this way in foreign parts. Equally certain it is that when we took Wei-hai-Wei it was an absolute reversal of our foreign policy. Our prestige consisted in China of our being disinterested and other Governments not being disinterested. Wei-hai-Wei had been offered to us and we had refused it, and I cannot help thinking that by doing so we increased whatever prestige we happened to have with the Chinese Government. The real reason why Wei-hai-Wei was taken was not lest we should lose prestige with the Chinese, but because there was a dread on the part of Lord Salisbury that he would lose face with some of his Jingo friends here. The Jingo is a sort of being who expects a Minister of the Crown never to enter into any negotiations without coming back, like a magpie, with something to show that he has gained. A Jingo does not care whether what has been gained is to the advantage of this country or not: but he is always angry when he hears that any other country has acquired additional territory, if we cannot show also that we have obtained a like acquisition of territory. I regard the acquisition of Wei-hai-Wei purely and solely as a sop to the Jingoes—a sacrifice on the Jingo altar. This Wei-hai-Wei appears to have been taken in a great hurry. We read in the Blue Book that a telegram was suddenly sent, stating that—Russia has taken Port Arthur. We want compensation. Take Wei-hai-Wei.1622 That is not the way in which things ought to have been done. Her Majesty's Government ought surely to have consulted some military and naval experts. I should like to know whether they did so or not. I hope before we exercise the option of taking it over naval and military experts will be consulted, and, if it is not held to be absolutely necessary to have a garrison or fortress there, that we shall content ourselves merely with having the option. The option, as a matter of fact, is better than the possession. The option, on our part, would prevent any other Government taking the place, which is the entrance to the Gulf of Pechili, and that is all we really want. In listening to the Debate I have found that there has been a great deal of indignation expressed with regard to what took place with respect to the British ships that put into Port Arthur. I really do not join in this indignation in the least. The matter was exceedingly simple. Certain warships of England did put in there, and the Russian Government saw, as I saw, in the English Press, the greatest boasts of what we were going to do. "We are," it was stated, "sending our Fleet into the northern Chinese waters; let the Chinese tremble." It is admitted that Port Arthur was within the sphere of Russian influence. What then happened? M. de Staal came to Lord Salisbury, and said—We are most anxious to keep on friendly turns with you. We have obtained the permission of the Chinese Government to our ships remaining at Port Arthur during the winter, and surely it will be very undesirable for you to send up as a great naval demonstration your fleet in Chinese waters, from Hong-kong into Port Arthur.The suggestion seemed to me to be a perfectly reasonable one, but what was the reply of Lord Salisbury? The reply was—You are entirely mistaken. We (the Government) never sent those ships there. There are only two or three ships there, and they are going to leave immediately.M. de Staal was naturally satisfied, and I think Lord Salisbury's explanation of what was the real fact was a very useful one. To say that we yielded to the menace of Russia, in making our ships leave Port Arthur, when they had a right to be there, is an entirely erroneous 1623 view of the situation. To reverse the position: supposing you heard that the Russian Fleet in Port Arthur had appeared in Hong-kong or Shanghai, what an outcry there would have been on the part of the English newspapers! Surely it would have been reasonable on our part to have suggested that perhaps, under the circumstances, they would be good enough to put in if they liked for a day or two, but not to make a naval demonstration in our waters. Sir, the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord has pointed out that the difficulties of the situation have been enormous. I entirely agree with him. You were negotiating at Pekin, London, and St. Petersburg at the same time, and naturally it was very difficult to avoid temporary misapprehensions taking place. In Pekin you had to treat matters with the Chinese Government, and it is obvious that the Chinese were doing what generally a weak Government does—they were endeavouring to gain themselves by playing us off against Russia and by playing Russia off against us. But not only had Lord Salisbury to meet these natural difficulties of the situation, but he found himself under a fire of hostile criticism in this country. The Press, in their anxiety to get news to stir up and inflame Jingo passions, picked up every scrap of news they could get hold of and published it. Often the news was entirely incorrect, often it was partly incorrect, often it could not be understood without having the context; and all this was used for comments against the action of Lord Salisbury, because he did not come up to the Jingo mark. The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord seemed to complain that we on this side of the House had been unpatriotic in our action in this matter. We were not the persons who subjected Lord Salisbury or the Government to cross-examination on what was going on in the Far East. It came entirely from honourable Gentlemen on the other side of the House. Things were pushed so far by these honourable Gentlemen on the other side that I understand a committee of public safety had been established, one of whose missions was to force Lord Salisbury into a Jingo attitude in regard to China. Well, Sir, with this attitude on the part of the Press, with this cross-examination 1624 every day, and with this committee of public safety of his own followers looking after him, insisting that he should do this and that, and interfering and meddling on every occasion, I do say Lord Salisbury had a most difficult position. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire criticised a good deal many of the details of what is going on; but on what grounds did he criticise them? The right honourable Gentleman criticised them because Lord Salisbury was too Jingo. He thought we ought at once to have entered into friendly terms with Russia, and to have carried on negotiations with Russia, based upon a reasonable give and take. His objection was stronger in regard to Wei-hai-Wei, but the right honourable Gentleman's whole opposition was that Lord Salisbury had been, perhaps, in details, more Jingo than he (the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire) approved of. The opposition to Lord Salisbury on the ground that he has not been sufficiently Jingo has come almost entirely from his friends and from a few honourable Gentlemen on this side of the House who share in the opinions of those friends, but whose opinions are not, I assert, the opinions of the Radical Party in this country. Sir, if honourable Gentlemen do attack Lord Salisbury on the ground of what he has done, they should not generally and vaguely rail against him. They should specify what he has done wrong, and what he has left undone. Do they object to the declaration of the First Lord of the Treasury that Manchuria had fallen under Russian influence? If so, how would they propose to meet it? Do they want to sand an army to Manchuria? Manchuria has necessarily, from the logic of geography, fallen under Russian influence, and there Manchuria must remain. Do the critics object to Port Arthur becoming a naval basis for Russia? Do they object to Lord Salisbury's policy because he did not carry his objection to the extent of war? Some of them assert that war would not have been necessary, and that we had only to assume a firm tone with Russia, when Russia would have immediately yielded. That appeared to me an open question. For my own part I do not believe that we ought to present any 1625 ultimatum to a foreign Government without realising this, that either we shall have to eat our own words, if that country does not yield, or we shall have to go to war. Then, Sir, others tell us that we ought to have come to some sort of agreement in order to secure further concessions from China; that is to say, we were to tell Russia that we would agree to their having Port Arthur on condition that Russia would agree to our squeezing something out of China. It seems to me that that is a most contemptible position to occupy. I should like these gentlemen to tell us what they do want in the matter of further concessions. We have got an assurance that the Inspector of Customs will always be an Englishman. We have got a guarantee that nothing will be ceded in the Yang-tsze Valley. We have got a concession with regard to river steamers. I do not understand what more it is suggested we want. We must always remember that our aim is to keep, as far as we possibly can, China together, and not to break it up. It is obvious, if we get territorial or other concessions from China, that other countries will follow our example and do the same. Therefore I do hope that before the end of the Debate the House will be informed clearly and specifically of the nature of the further concessions which it is stated we should secure from China. I do not think Russia would object to these concessions. She would rather like them, because they would mean getting more concessions on her part. China would not object, and I do not think it would much matter if she did. Now, Sir, I judge, under these circumstances, entirely by results. I quite admit that there is a good deal of which we might complain in regard to these negotiations, but I think that negotiations are very like the manœuvres before a battle. Anyone watching these manœuvres would see troops advancing in one direction and retiring in another. He would probably not be able to make head or tail of what was going on, but what he would do, as a practical man, would be to leave it in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief, and judge by the result of the battle. What are the results of all that has been going on in China? The first result is we have had no war, notwithstanding the 1626 fact that a great many gentlemen opposite and gentlemen in the Press have urged Lord Salisbury to make war with Russia. I thank God there has been no war, and I feel the deepest gratitude to Lord Salisbury. There has been no general break-up of the Chinese Empire, a result which would be much against our interest, and might have followed if the negotiations had not been wisely conducted. What is our real main interest in China? It is that China should remain a free trade area exactly as before. At the present moment, notwithstanding Russia's paramount influence in Manchuria, notwithstanding the fact that Russia has got Port Arthur, and notwithstanding the fact that Germany has got Kiaou-chau, China is a free trade area. There is free trade in China proper, in the territory ceded to Germany, and in the whole of Manchuria. The Treaty of Tien-tsin, and the limited duties that China can raise upon our products and other products, exist at the present moment precisely as if nothing had occurred. Allowance must be made for Lord Salisbury, for he had to pay a ransom to Jingoism to save a war. If really it was a question of going to war or paying this ransom I should have preferred, of the two evils, that Lord Salisbury did pay the ransom. The position is very much the same as that of Irish Members, in regard to the Local Government (Ireland) Bill. They object to the amount to be given to the landlords, but they know that the only way to obtain their Local Government Bill is to pay a ransom to the landlords. Therefore, objecting as they do to this ransom, they say, "We are the greater gainers, and we will pay the ransom." Wei-hai-Wei is the ransom, and I accept it as an alternative to war, regretfully acknowledging that it seemed the only way of keeping the peace. I have never yet in this House made my vote and my support dependent upon Party considerations. I have voted with perfect indifference, as often against a Liberal Government as against a Conservative Government. In the matter of foreign affairs, I have never had a Government which suited me. Notwithstanding my high respect and admiration for Mr. Gladstone, I suppose I must have voted against his Egyptian policy a hundred 1627 times. I do not make foreign politics a question of Party. I have my own views. I am opposed to this Jingoism. When I find any Minister playing to the Jingo craze then I am opposed to him, but when I find a Minister, whether he be Conservative or whether he be Liberal, standing up against this Jingo craze, when I find him attacked and reviled by Jingoes, then, Sir, I rally to his support. I do not suppose two persons could more absolutely differ in domestic politics than I do with Lord Salisbury, but I do recognise that the underlying principles of Lord Salisbury's scheme of negotiations in the Far East were perfectly sound; and I further recognise that, although he may have made what I respectfully should have thought were some errors in points of detail, yet the result has been most satisfactory. I therefore take a broad view, as I think we ought always to do in matters affecting our relations with foreign countries. I overlook errors of detail, and give my cordial support to Lord Salisbury, and thank him for what he has done.
§ [On the return of the CHAIRMAN of WAYS AND MEANS, after the usual interval—]
§ MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Barnsley, York, W.R.)
I ask the indulgence of the Committee, which is usually extended to a Member who speaks for the first time, while I venture, as representing an important industrial constituency vitally interested in the upholding and extension of British trade, to approach the question under the consideration of the Committee. The safeguarding of British trade interests in the one great market of the world outside the British Empire with which we have, up to the present time, been able to trade on equal terms with other nations, is essential to the future prosperity of this country. The basis of our trade rights in the Chinese Empire is found in the Treaty of Tien-tsin, where it is expressly stipulated that the British Government and its subjects shall be allowed free and equal participation in all privileges, immunities, and advantages that may have been or may be hereafter granted by the Emperor of China to the Government or subjects of 1628 any other nation. It will be within the knowledge of the Committee that the policy of Her Majesty's Government is to uphold these rights unimpaired, for it is within their recollection that on the 8th February it was stated "in another place" that, not only had we not surrendered one iota of our Treaty rights, but that we had no intention of surrendering them, and that there was no effort which the country would not make rather than allow these rights to be destroyed. I will not deal with the question of Russian aggression on China further than to say it appears to me that a fatal mistake was made by Her Majesty's Government when, instead of demanding that our Treaty rights throughout the whole of the Chinese Empire should be expressly reserved to us in any arrangement the Chinese Government might make with any other Power, this demand was limited to the Yang-tsze-kiang Valley only. Surely other nations were bound to interpret this as meaning that, outside the Yang-tsze-kiang Valley, we were not disposed to press our claims, and this, naturally, caused the Russian Government to come to the conclusion that this country might safely be ignored. With regard to the concessions obtained by Germany, I find, according to Paper No. 5 on Chinese affairs, issued so long ago as the 22nd November, it was stipulated that German engineers should have the preference in the building of any railway which China might construct in the province of Shan-tung, and also in the working of any mines which might exist along the track of such railway. Our reply on the 10th December to the German demand was equality of treatment for British subjects, according to the Treaty rights possessed by Great Britain, and compensation on any points in respect of which these rights might be disregarded. It will be remembered that it was stated in the House that similar assurances to those given by Russia had been made to us by the German Government, with respect to the territory they had recently occupied, that our Treaty rights would be in no respect infringed. This appeared to be a most satisfactory announcement, but, unfortunately, as had repeatedly happened in regard to the recent negotiations in 1629 regard to affairs in the Far East, we were again doomed to disappointment, for I find that on the very same day, the 8th February, Herr von Bülow stated in the Reichstag—The following stipulations have been secured respecting railway and mining concessions:—The Chinese Government have consented to hand over to a German-Chinese Railway Company, to be formed hereafter, the construction of a railway from Kiaou-Chau, to be subsequently connected with the projected great railway system of China. The railway will serve the coal-fields of Weih-sien and Poshau, situated to the North of Kaiou-Chau, which will be exploited by German capital. The Chinese Government have further pledged themselves to accord to the Chinese-German Railway Company to be thus formed conditions at least as favourable as those granted to any other European-Chinese Railway Company in China.Herr von Bülow concluded by saying that, with regard to putting Kiaou-chau on the footing of a free port, he would not like to commit himself beforehand, especially to foreign nations, that he believed it was better to hold themselves free to do what they liked, as he believed the English had done, and were doing, at Hong-kong. This statement plainly showed that the assurances which Her Majesty's Government imagined they had received from the German Government were valueless. I will now refer to the latest incident—namely, the astounding communication that has appeared in the Berlin Imperial Gazette, on the 22nd April, in connection with our approaching occupation of Wei-hai-Wei, to the effect that this country has spontaneously intimated to the German Government that it has no intention of injuring or calling in question German rights or influence in the province of Shan-tung, or of creating any difficulties for the German Government in the province; and that, in particular, it has no intention of laying down railway communications with the interior from Wei-hai-Wei, or from the territory which appertains to that port, thus surrendering British Treaty rights which, on the 10th December, they had declared must be upheld. But when we have regard to the fact that we proposed to use Wei-hai-Wei as a naval base in the Pacific Ocean, and that we find one of the principal points which the Germans have in view in taking Kiaou-chau was that it would enable them to control the 1630 supply of coal in northern Chinese waters, could any more fatuous policy be imagined than that, unasked by Germany, Her Majesty's Government should preclude themselves from the right to connect Wei-hai-Wei with one of the coalfields of Shan-tung in order to ensure an independent supply for our ships of war at that port? I am afraid that too much attention has been devoted latterly to Russian aggression in northern China, to the possible neglect of our more important trade interests in the densely-populated regions of southern China. We have not had much reference to what has transpired in the matter of negotiations as between this country and France. Nevertheless, I think it is not inopportune that we should have some regard to British interests in southern China and as to how far any demand made by France upon the Chinese Government may have endangered them in the future. I might say that I have long taken a special interest in this part of the Chinese question, and have travelled through British Burma with the object of obtaining information as to the possibilities of commercial development, and especially with regard to an extension of the Burma railway system to the upper valley of the Yang-tsze-kiang. I therefore wish to consider how far any action that the French Government have recently taken is calculated to injure our own trade interests in south-west China. The Committee will recollect that by the wresting of Tong-king from the last vestige of Chinese control in 1884 by the French, and the erecting a wall of hostile tariffs against the admission of our goods subsequently, the first step was taken by France to our disadvantage. In 1886 we only succeeded by the very skin of our teeth in preventing the French taking possession of Upper Burma, and I need hardly point out to the Committee that had they accomplished this object they would have gained possession of our hinterland in the same way as they have succeeded in doing in western Africa. In 1885 a convention was concluded between France and China, in which it was stipulated that, when China should have decided to construct railways, she should have recourse to French industry, and the Government of the Republic would afford 1631 every facility, but that this clause should not be looked upon as constituting an exclusive privilege in favour of France. But when this convention was renewed in 1895 very different language was employed. There it was stated, with regard to the construction of railways and working of mines in Yunnan, Kwang-si and Kwang-tung, in default of giving a preferential right, this provision conferred on them a right of priority which they would not allow to be disregarded. In explaining the stipulations as to the construction of railways and the working of mines, and the opening of Szumao to Franco-Annamite trade, they stated that, for the future, they afforded to their Tong-king trade new, shorter, and more direct roads for penetrating towards the centre of China; they opened, in fine, for their industry, the prospect of developing the mines of China and extending the railways of French-Indo China. Our Government naturally protested against these exclusive privileges being granted to France; and, as the final result, an agreement was come to between Great Britain and France, and embodied in a declaration, Article 4 of which provided—In the province of Yunnan and Szecluen, all the privileges and advantages of any nature conceded to France in the Agreement of 1895, and which may in the future be conceded in these two Chinese provinces, either to Great Britain or to France, shall, as far as rests with them, be extended and rendered common to both Powers and their nationals and dependents, and they engage to use their influence and good offices with the Chinese Government for that purpose.In face of this distinct agreement, so recently entered into, it is somewhat astonishing to find in the correspondence respecting the affairs of China that, on the 25th of January, the French Government had protested against the opening of Nanning, on the West River, and against the right to connect British Burma by railway with the upper reaches of the Yang-tsze-Kiang Valley, which China had agreed to as two of the conditions upon which we were to make her the Loan. On the 31st of January the French representative again spoke to the Yamen very violently against the opening of Nanning. Now the spirit and the letter of our agreement of January 1896 with France 1632 was that both nations should enjoy equal and mutual rights to trade in the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Szechuen. Yet we find that when this Government sought to have the West River opened to its navigable limits, French influence prevented it being opened beyond Wuchow, an agreement in respect of which was arrived at on the 4th of February, 1897. The only possible object that the French could have in resisting the opening of the West River to Nanning must have been in order to lessen our facilities for trading with Yunnan by a waterway, and thus compel our sending British goods through Tong-king, where they were subjected to a 10 per cent. tariff. Amongst the French concessions, we learned there was that of a railway connecting Tong-king with Yunnan-Fu, by the Red River, in regard to which it was stated in the French Chamber that—It would create the rôle and the function of the quickest and cheapest road of international trade with South China.Thus, after opposing our obtaining the right to construct a railway from British Burma into Yunnan, and notwithstanding the fact that the French Government engaged under agreement with us of January, 1896, to use their influence and good offices with the Chinese Government to secure us equal privileges and rights, they have not hesitated to enforce their demand upon the Chinese Government for a railway concession similar to that which they objected to our having. The French have already completed their railway system in Tong-king up to the Chinese frontier, whereas it will take us two or three years to complete the railway system of Burma to the frontier of Yunnan. I know that some persons hold the opinion that the country to be traversed by a railway connecting British Burma with the upper reaches of the Yang-tsze-Kiang Valley presents enormous engineering difficulties. This may be true, but I apprehend that the French will have to face similar difficulties; yet they have not hesitated, but have consistently, and step by step, forced on, and, if we do not take care, will carry to a successful issue, the tapping of the trade of South West China in front of us, while we are folding our hands and doing 1633 nothing. There can be no question that Her Majesty's Government ought, in the trade interests of this country, to demand a railway concession from the Chinese Government to enable us to connect British Burma with the upper valley of the Yang-tsze-Kiang. A French expedition is already in Yunnan surveying the route of their intended railway, and as the work of making alternative surveys will occupy, in all probability, a very long time; it seems to me imperative that Her Majesty's Government should, at any rate, commence necessary surveys at once in order to ascertain the most practicable route for the continuation of the Burma railway system into China. Can any railway project in the world be of greater importance than this one, seeing that a line constructed from British Burma into the Yang-tsze-Kiang Valley in China will have at each end of it a great empire containing a population of nearly 300 millions? Surely, from a commercial standpoint, two great populations like these ought to be brought info connection by a railway system, no matter how great the engineering difficulties to the construction of a line. As Great Britain no longer holds the supremacy in the markets of the world that she enjoyed 30 or 40 years ago, owing in some degree to the increased ability to manufacture on the part of competing nations what we used to supply them with and, in some measure to the protective tariffs they have placed against the admission of our goods, it is all the more imperative that our trade interests should be upheld, our existing markets extended, and new ones opened. To insist on an equal right to trade in China in the same way that we so freely accord an equal right to trade to all nations throughout the British Empire is a just policy, a policy vital to the prosperity of British commerce, and one which, if resolutely and consistently pursued by Her Majesty's Government, will secure for them the united support not only of this House, but also of the whole British nation, irrespective of political differences.
§ MR. E. R. PACY MOON (St. Pancras, N.)
said that having, since the beginning of this Parliament, visited the capital of China and other parts of the country, having asked in the 1634 House over two years ago what was, he believed, the first question about the Trans-Manchurian Railway—that undertaking which had been such an important factor in bringing the situation to its present point—and having followed Chinese affairs closely ever since, he ventured to interpose for a few moments in the Debate. It was almost superfluous, it seemed to him, to criticise or characterise the tortuous character of Russian diplomacy, as set forth in the Papers. He did not propose, after the expression that had fallen from the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury with regard to the distrust and bitterness engendered in England, to bring before the notice of the Committee the pretexts on which Port Arthur was first visited and subsequently held by Russia. But a point which had not been brought before the Committee he thought he might venture to touch—namely, the line taken by Russia in April, 1895, when she turned Japan out of the Leao-tong peninsula. In April, 1895, the Russian Minister presented a Note to the Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister, asserting that the cession of the Leao-tong peninsula to Japan by the Peace Treaty would be a continued menace to Pekin, a threat to the independence of Korea, and a danger to peace in the Far East. The view which he ventured to put forward was that the Government, in allowing Russia to acquire Port Arthur, had lost a very important move. He thought we might have checked the acquisition if one British ship had been kept at Port Arthur. The presence of one ship would have put such spirit into the Chinese that they would have stayed there, and Russia would hardly have embarked on such a piratical, filibustering, and outrageous policy as to attack Port Arthur in times of peace. Moreover, in relation to that, he should like to draw the attention of the Committee to two telegrams, Nos. 67 and 68. The telegram of Sir Claude Macdonald to Lord Salisbury on the 27th January ran thus—It is stated in Reuter's telegram, published here, that it is officially announced at St. Petersburg that British men-of-war have received orders to quit Port Arthur immediately, in consequence of representations made by Russia. Above is having a most injurious effect here.1635 Lord Salisbury's reply was "that the statement that the Admiralty is asked to withdraw the ships is a pure invention." Would the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, or some Member of the Front Bench, inform the Committee whether the Russian Government did or did not make that statement officially? The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House had characterised the statement as "mendacious." Was Reuter's statement that the Russian announcement was official mendacious, or was the official announcement of the Russian Government mendacious? He thought the mere fact that we allowed Russia to acquire Port Arthur was not more than the loss of a move, though it was an important move. The serious evil consisted in the fact that by allowing Russia to acquire Port Arthur we had accelerated her acquisition, assimilation, and absorption of Manchuria by many years. But for that China might possibly have had time to put her house in order. From Manchuria, however, Russia was within easy striking distance by land of Pekin. Shing-king, the most southern of the three provinces of Manchuria, extended south to the point where the Great Wall abuts on the Gulf of Pechili, to Shanhaikwan, the railhead of Mr. Kinder's line, which is only 200 miles from the capital. How did Russia first get a hold on Manchuria? That was some three years ago, when Russia first obtained a footing there, through the agreement concluded between the Chinese Government and the Russo-Chinese Bank for the construction of the trans-Manchurian Railway. He did not think any sane person could have any objection to that agreement in its broad outline, but he did not think its details were fully considered, or their effect fully realised, at the time it was made. He referred particularly to Section 8, which read as follows—The Chinese Government has undertaken to adopt measures for securing the safety of the railway, and of all employed on it, against any extraneous attacks. The preservation of order and decorum on the lands assigned to the railway and its appurtenances shall be confided to police agents appointed by the Company.It appeared from the information given by persons who had been there that the 1636 police agents were mainly Russian, and these were doubtless practically a military force. He remembered the statement that had been made in the House by the First Lord of the Treasury, and which had been referred to by the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, that the number of Russian troops in Kirin was not large, but that Russian troops were there was not denied. A telegram from Odessa, which appeared in the Times on Wednesday, gave details of the number of Russian troops now in Port Arthur. This telegram stated that—The number of the Russian occupying force now at Port Arthur is 3,000 men, and during the next two months, according to present orders, this number will be increased to 5,000. By the end of next year, the force in occupation is to be brought up to 20,000 men. The number of men to be quartered in Manchuria to act as guards for the protection of the railway is to be brought up to 50,000 by the time the line is completed.And then the Times correspondent stated that—It is worthy of notice that these guards are picked men, and their well-set, sturdy appearance had very favourably impressed several foreign military critics who have seen them. Their uniform is dark blue, almost black, with yellow facings, and bears the yellow dragon on the collar, while their cap carries the Imperial Russian arms in yellow metal.The Russification of Manchuria was proceeding at a pretty fast pace, but this had been greatly accelerated by permitting Russia to acquire Port Arthur. Further, it was thought at first, when Russia was taking Port Arthur and Talienwan, that she was merely acquiring that strip of some thirty miles which lay from north to south, between those two places, but a day or two ago information was received that that extent of territory was to be more than doubled. The territory to be leased to Russia was to go 25 miles further north, over a portion of the peninsula which was much broader than the southern portion. While he was of the opinion that Her Majesty's Government had lost an important move in the game, he thought that the acquisition by Russia of the north of China, especially Manchuria, was inevitable. On that point, therefore, he should not vote against the Government. There was one further reason why Manchuria was of 1637 importance to China—namely, on account of its being the home of the reigning dynasty. The Chinese had had lost prestige by the Russians acquiring the territory from which the family came, and where the tombs of their ancestors remained. With what feelings would the annual ceremonial procession, from Pekin, be made to these tombs, only 60 miles cast of Mukden, when they were practically in alien territory? It was stated from Shanghai, a day or two ago, that the opinion was gaining ground that a removal of the Court from Pekin was contemplated, either to Singan-fu or to Nanking, each of which cities had been the capital of a former dynasty. In China, heretofore, a change of capital had been followed by a change of dynasty, and therefore the proposed removal of the Court, though it might seem reasonable and proper in this part of the world, was viewed in China as a dangerous, if not impossible, step. There were two matters he would like to submit to the Government with regard to Manchuria. We had what he might call two positions left there. We had the position of Mr. Kinder, of whom such a high opinion was expressed by Sir Claude Macdonald in one of his dispatches; and there was also the port of Niu-chwang, in which we were largely interested. We did a large trade at that place, and he understood that the contemplated railway would run ten miles from the town. The suggestion he wished to make was that the Government should prevail upon the Chinese Government to insist upon the rights which they possessed under their Railway Agreement with Russia, and cause the railway to run through Niu-chwang, or else to bring about the construction of a branch line running from the main line to the town. There were two telegrams (Nos. 115 and 117) on page 48 of the Papers, the latter of which, from Sir Claude Macdonald to the Marquess of Salisbury, seemed to him (the honourable Member) to leave a loophole, which might very likely be availed of by the Russian Government. The telegram was to the effect that Mr. Kinder would not be disturbed in the part of the line which he had built. Mr. Kinder had surveyed the line far beyond Shanhaikwan and up to Mukden, and therefore ought to be maintained in that position. He hoped the 1638 Government would do what it could to prevent the rest of China being absorbed by Russia, and that we would take advantage of any desire on the part of China that her naval and military forces should be trained under English officers. In the Peterburgskiya Viedomosti, Prince Oukhtomsky, who is the president of the Russo-Chinese Bank, so closely connected with the Manchurian Railway, spoke of England's artificial position in Asia generally, "where Russia takes deep root, and England only clings to the surface." That might apply to the North of China, but he did not think that this country would acquiesce in that view with regard to the great bulk of the eighteen provinces. In conclusion, he expressed the hope that a close and vigilant attention would be given to preserve and, if possible, extend those equal opportunities of the trade of China, of which trade we had been the unselfish pioneers.
§ MR. A. D. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
Sir, the defence of the Government policy on the part of the First Lord of the Treasury was largely apologetic. He spoke of the difficulties of negotiating, subject, as the Government was, to questions in the House, but their difficulties were entirely of their own creation. The right honourable Gentleman asked, I think, for sympathy on account of the trouble which they have in dealing with diplomatic questions, subject, as they are, to a fire of questions in this House. Had these events taken place between 1880 and 1885, and we had been on the Government Side of the House, we well know that there would have been a different state of things. If this present Government had been subjected to the treatment that the Government of 1880–85 was subjected to, they would have had reason to complain. Few questions had been asked on the subject from this side of the House, and most of these came from his own supporters, and none of them had been put in the House until it was too late to effect any beneficial change in the Government policy. The First Lord of the Treasury said that we obtained Wei-hai-Wei for naval, political and diplomatic reasons, and without reference to trade or commerce. This does not agree with Lord Salisbury's statement. He ought to know something about the 1639 terms upon which we shall lease that port, and he says in No. 150 of the Chinese correspondence—You are authorised to inform the Japanese Government that Wei-hai-Wei will be leased by us on the same terms under which the Russians have been granted a lease of Port Arthur and Talienwan.In No. 120 we have the assurance of the Emperor of Russia that both Port Arthur and Talienwan would be opened to foreign trade, like other Chinese ports. Therefore, there is not the slightest doubt whatever that Wei-hai-Wei ought also to be open to foreign trade, like other Chinese ports. If the statement made by the right honourable Gentleman is correct that Wei-hai-Wei has been taken possession of merely for naval, political, and diplomatic purposes, then there is a serious discrepancy between the two statements. Now, Sir, all these negotiations we are constantly informed are being carried out in the interest of commerce and of those who carry on our trade with China. For many years, merchants have had little countenance from the House, but it appears as if their time had come. The House may, therefore, wish to know how it is looked upon by merchants engaged in the trade. One Minister recently said that the open-door policy would be insisted upon even at the cost of war, and he afterwards told us that the most-favoured-nation clause "precludes any other Power from setting up exclusive claims." This language ought to make those who carry on the China trade feel safe, but, as a matter of fact, they are entirely dissatisfied with the conduct of the negotiations by the Government, because Germany, France, and Russia have not only made exclusive claims, but have had them granted. How does this action of the Government strike the merchants engaged in the trade of China? I may mention here that, to my mind, there was an omission from the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, because he never said one word, either when speaking on this subject a fortnight ago or to-night, as to the policy of the Government being approved by those in whose interests he says the policy was pursued. So far as I know the views and opinions of those engaged in the China trade—and I know them 1640 fairly well—they feel that their trade interests have been neglected in many ways, not only now but during a long past, and their position, I might almost say, sacrificed. The commercial Press of China and Japan are entirely opposed to the Government policy. I am bound to say that I do not believe that a single representative opinion from merchants engaged in the China trade could be found in favour of the policy pursued by Her Majesty's Government. There is a consensus of opinion amongst the merchants engaged in this trade that the Government have been very remiss indeed, and have lost many opportunities of benefiting our commerce. Not a word fell from the First Lord of the Treasury signifying the commercial community of China approved of his policy. Being engaged in the trade myself, I have much correspondence from China in regard to it; and within the last few days I have received a long letter from a merchant in Shanghai who, from his position, may be considered to represent the mercantile community of that place, which is the largest port in China, and he states that the conduct of the Government shows a neglect of British interests in China, and want of a continuous and firm policy in our dealings. He speaks of the regrettable and perilous want of knowledge as to what our interests really are, and, in reference to Lord Salisbury's explanation during the Debate on the Address on the day Parliament opened, said that he felt sure he was expressing the opinion of every British subject in China when he said that the explanation was received with astonishment and dismay, and that Lord Salisbury had treated the matter with a lightness which he could only explain by the supposition of ignorance of the gravity of the issues at stake. He complained that the Government seemingly accepted the assurance of Russia that when the railway was completed, and the port opened, Talienwan would be free to the trade of the world. Such a declaration from the Premier appeared to be absolutely fatuous. Looked on by the light of recent events, I am sure it appears so now to everyone else. Several statements have been made in the Debate of a fortnight ago, and also to-day, intended to minimise the 1641 value of our trade with the northern part of China. There are almost no shipments from this country to any place north of Shanghai, excepting to Vladivostock, to which place an occasional steamer goes direct from London. Shanghai is the depôt for all the trade that lies north of it, and taking one branch of the trade only—namely, that of cotton and woollen goods and yarns—the statistics show that half of all such goods imported into Shanghai are afterwards re-exported to the three ports in the Gulf of Pechili. The trade is important and increasing. The imports into Newchwang have more than doubled during the last ten years, and they have also largely increased to Chefoo and Tien-tsin. The articles I mention are all of British manufacture, except some American cotton goods and Japanese yarns. The trade done between Shanghai and Vladivostock, which, until the Russians obtained Port Arthur and Talienwan, was the most southern port of Manchuria, has increased threefold during the last seven or eight years since any statistical account was kept of it. Therefore, although we all know that Shanghai is one of the largest trading ports in the world, very few know that a half of all that is carried into that port, in one of the most important branches of the trade, afterwards finds its way up to that very part of the country which will fall ultimately under the control of the Russians. The First Lord of the Treasury has expressed surprise at Chinese helplessness, but, since the war between China and Japan, all the world has known that China is unable to resist any pressure whatever, and that her promises or assurances are consequently of no value, and would be broken at once if pressed by France, Russia, or Germany, China could not prevent herself from giving up anything that any one of these Powers wanted, if no other Power stepped in to prevent it. We had an instance of this pressure mentioned to-night in China having conceded to France territory which we had given back to her on the distinct understanding that they were not to cede it to any other country. The astuteness of Russia in these negotiations is not so noticeable as is our own neglect of our interests. The First Lord of the Treasury has spoken of the precipitateness of Russia. She has not been precipitate. There has been no secret as 1642 to what she intended to do. It has been common knowledge. Her intentions have been known for years. She merely waited an excuse and an opportunity to obtain Talienwan, and Germany's having taken possession of Kaiou-chau supplied this. Russia's opposition to our commercial interests has been shown in many ways; indeed, she has always been antagonistic. She prevented the Loan of 1894 being obtained in London and had it settled with France. She prevented the Loan of a few months ago, and also stopped Talienwan being opened as a Treaty port. She affected offence at our men-of-war going to Port Arthur, where they had the same right to go as the men-of-war of any other country. She endeavoured to have Mr. Kinder, the engineer of the Chinese railways, replaced by a Russian engineer, and in the route of the railway, which is to come to Port Arthur, it is to pass about 10 miles from Newchwang. The whole object is to transfer the trade of that port to Talienwan. In every way she has tried to obtain undue illegitimate advantages at the expense of ourselves. And there has been no secrecy about these; when asked about them our Government has always received and been apparently satisfied with an assortment of assurances whatever they may be taken as worth. The difference in the value of the concessions obtained by the other countries and ours is noticeable. The Yang-tsze-Kiang Valley is not to be ceded or mortgaged to any other country, but there is no definition as to what is included in the Valley of the Yang-tsze-Kiang, and as it is only an assurance of the Chinese Government may be worthless. Of far more value is the promise that Sir Robert Hart will be succeeded by a British subject as Commissioner of Customs. Here again we have only a promise which, on pressure from any other country, would be broken; indeed, this promise has been already set aside by Russia as regards Talienwan and Port Arthur, and by Germany as regards Kaiou-chau. The concession of steamers on the waterways of China and the opening of three new Treaty ports are of great value, but although obtained by us these advantages are common to everyone. On the other hand, the concessions to other countries are exclusive and in their possession. Russia has Port Arthur and Talienwan, 1643 both of which will be fortified and become two Sebastopols. There is also the Manchuria Railway Contract, nominally made on behalf of the Russian Chinese Bank, but really on behalf of the Government. This company is to have Russian and Chinese shareholders only. The imports and exports into and from China by the railway are to pay only two-thirds duty charged on seaborne goods, and goods coming by the railway and passing into the interior are to do so at less than the usual transit-pass rates. All these concessions are substantial, and can never be taken away. The same is true of concessions obtained by France and Germany. The honourable Member for Dover has stated that no alternative policy has been suggested by the Opposition, while there has been an abundance of destructive criticism. No one has objected to Russia making the termination of the railway at an ice-free port on the Pacific. The whole question is as to the terms on which she was to do so. The railway would benefit the whole commercial community, and ours probably more than any other. What should have been done was to have come to terms with Russia long ago and settled a suitable place for the railway terminus, and have had that place opened by China as a Treaty port, which would have made it the common property of all the world. Then everyone would have had a natural interest in maintaining it as an open port. Now we shall be debarred from them, and to the present moment we have not heard of the terms upon which goods may enter Talienwan. It has been stated that Talienwan is to be a free port, but that has been contradicted. We are constantly told that all these negotiations have been entered into for the benefit—at least, in the first instance—of those who are engaged in the China trade, and who are expected, therefore, to be able not only to maintain, but to increase, our trade. I am sure that I express the opinion of the mercantile community of China when I say that our interests have been misunderstood as well as neglected. They have, indeed, in some ways, been sacrificed. We look upon the negotiations as an example of diplomatic ineptitude. Assurances appear to have been accepted 1644 from anyone—from the Chinese Government, which cannot possibly carry them out if pressed by Russia, France, or Germany, and from these countries, which have no intention of carrying them out unless it suits their interest to do so. If the Government do not abandon their present halting, drifting, ineffective policy they are sure to meet with a series of diplomatic defeats and humiliations, which, it is not unlikely, may almost lead to war.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (York)
Amongst the Papers that have been presented to the House there appear many extraordinary statements, but the most extraordinary one is that contained in dispatch No. 140, from Lord Salisbury to the Minister at Pekin, in which he says that the British policy was entirely based on the assurances that were given by the Russian Minister at St. Petersburg. Now I know very well that all diplomacy must be carried out by dispatches, by verbal communications, and by different methods of that sort between the various Ministers and Ambassadors, but you are in a very false position if you accept the assurances from a Minister of a foreign country, and base your policy on those assurances, which he does not stick to; or, in other words, he does exactly the opposite to what he tells you he is going to do. If your foreign policy is based upon assurances of that description it must inevitably lead you into difficulties. Where I find fault with the Government is in trusting to assurances from the Russian Minister, after this country has had such an extensive experience of assurances from Russian Ministers in previous cases. It is quite within the recollection of this House, and everyone who has ever taken any interest in politics, of what happened in the cases of Khiva, Merv, Bokhara, and Batum. As far as Khiva is concerned, there was the express word of the Czar that he had no intention of going to Khiva. Surely after that experience it is an extraordinary thing to base our foreign policy upon assurances received from Russian Ministers. I do not blame Russia at all. I admire her very much because, whenever she enters into a political argument with this country, she invariably wins and we invariably lose. As far as the Russian idea of diplomacy and political 1645 effort goes, it invariably beats the English idea of diplomacy and political efforts. But there is another point in which Russia has always been successful, and that is that the Russian Foreign Minister gives a very different version of what is going on in some distant part to what the general, or whoever may be in charge, gives. Over and over again the Foreign Minister has given our Government grave assurances that their general was not going to such and such a position. The general invariably went to that position. That general was to a certain extent disgraced—from Saturday to Monday—and the following week he was promoted to a very high position. He got to the place where the Russian Foreign Minister said he was not going to, and which was the place where our Government objected to his going to. That was the way in which Russia conducted her diplomacy. It is good for Russia, but I do not think it is good for this country. In dispatch No. 45, you will see that the Foreign Minister at St. Petersburg says that there is not the slightest intention on the part of the Russian Government to remove Mr. Kinder, and at the same time the Russian Minister at Pekin is using every effort that he can, excepting actual assault, to remove him from the position which he holds with the acquiescence of our Government. Then we have another instance with regard to the Loan. The Russian Ambassador at Pekin asserts that under no circumstances whatever will China be allowed to accept this Loan from us, whereas the Russian Minister at St. Petersburg, in his official dispatch, expresses surprise that there is any agitation in England, and that both countries ought to be quite agreed, and so on. That sort of thing has been going on for years—in fact, ever since we have had any diplomatic relations with St. Petersburg. Assurances have been given which we have trusted to; and invariably, to use a not very Parliamentary expression, we have been thoroughly sold. I will now go to the assurances with reference to Talienwan and Port Arthur. Dispatches 105, 108, 110, and 114 declare most emphatically that both these ports are to be open. In fact, we find the Czar, in making his speech to his Ministers, say that both these ports are to be opened. There is one curious point about this. There 1646 was some delay about this, and the Minister in St. Petersburg asked for delay. Now about these assurances. One of these ports is at present closed altogether—absolutely closed as a naval base proper—and the other port, as far as I understand, is half closed. What I object to in all these cases is that our reply to these assurances is not very dignified or in the interests of this country. We have been deliberately taken in, and whenever these things happen, all we ever do is to utter a few mild protests. I do not think that that is strong enough, or that it will succeed in securing our interests abroad in other countries. Some, nevertheless, will say, "What can we do? Go to war?" I say, No. The last thing we ought to do is to go to war, if we can possibly avoid it. But a policy of accepting other people's assurances is much more likely to involve us in war than a policy of putting our foot down and saying, what do you mean and why do you mean it, and what are you going to do? The episode of the withdrawal of our squadron from Port Arthur is one of the most humiliating things that ever happened to this Empire. It was bad for the Empire, and it lowered our prestige in the East. Anybody who knows anything about the East knows that all countries in the East live by prestige. Now, what happened in regard to this? Here is a very curious thing: I notice from the papers that when M. de Staal approached Lord Salisbury, with regard to the small squadron in Port Arthur, he told Lord Salisbury that he was not instructed by his Government to ask about this question. No naval officer that ever approached a dangerous coast approached the subject with such careful soundings as M. de Staal approached Lord Salisbury on this question. He wanted to see how the land lay. He then proceeded to say that these ships being there created a very bad impression in Russia, and absolutely led to rumours of war between this country and Russia. Our reply was altogether of an apologetic character. What was the apology? If war between this country and Russia, in a few days, that they were sent there by mistake altogether, and that the admiral sent them there, and not Her Majesty's Government. I think that was a most undignified proceeding. May I read out the terms of the dispatch from 1647 our Minister in Pekin to Lord Salisbury in London—It is stated in Reuter's telegram, published here, and it is officially announced at St. Petersburg, that British men-of-war have received orders to quit Port Arthur immediately, in consequence of representations made by Russia. Above is having a most injurious effect here.My Friend below me has said it is most remarkable; but let us go to the practical effect of it, as to the matter of prestige. That was put in every paper in Russia. It was put in most of the papers in China. That is the information that the Russians and the Chinese get, and they saw our ships leave the harbour afterwards. There is the practical effect. I should like our Foreign Minister to have adopted the same line towards Russia as Russia has adopted towards us. Russia became very offensive about the Loan. As far as the first Loan statement is concerned, I must say it was a very clever one, but that is a mere point of view. What happened in regard to this Loan? The Chinese came to this country, and asked us to give a Loan. It is said that we have got a great number of concessions, but I may point out that the concessions are entirely conditional, and unless we are prepared to see that we really get these concessions, unless we are prepared to let other countries know this, I believe we shall get into very great difficulties indeed in the future. With regard to Wei-hai-Wei, I have seen a great deal written about that. I agree that it would be impolitic, unwise, and perhaps impossible, for us to make Wei-hai-Wei a very heavily-armed naval base; but if it is to be a naval base at all, it certainly ought to have some method of quickly repairing our ships, and it should be well stored. I should propose to garrison it, not at all with a large number of British troops commanded by British officers, but with a Chinese garrison commanded by British officers. The Government have not given us information upon these points. I should like to hear some definition from the Government as to how they intend to protect our interests in the Yang-tsze-Kiang Valley. With regard to the remarks I have made to-night, I think the Government should say how far they are prepared to assist China not only in 1648 maintaining the Chinese Empire, or what is left of it, but how far they are prepared to assist China in protecting the Yang-tsze-Kiang Valley. As for the few remarks I made with regard to this question, I may point out to the Government that I stood for York in January when these questions were beginning to attract attention, and I have not changed one iota from what I expressed at York. There, I expressed the view that if other countries took any advantage we were bound to do the same. I also expressed the opinion that the Government should clearly put down some policy with a name in it, that other countries should know what we are going to do, and why we are going to do it. I did not win that Election by a very extensive majority, but, even with those very strong remarks, I had the satisfaction of winning the one seat which the Government has won during the Session.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury said earlier in the evening that the position of Her Majesty's Government in regard to foreign affairs was often a very difficult one, because of the amount of criticism and catechism to which it was subject, and that sometimes that criticism was injurious and embarrassing. Well, Sir, I was not quite clear when he said that to what criticism he referred. I do not know whether he would include under the head of injurious criticism the speech of the noble lord the Member for York.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
Well, then, I think he will probably agree with what I am going to say, that hitherto on this question of the Far East there has not been in this House any criticism at all which could fairly come under the heading of being injurious or embarrassing. If the right honourable Gentleman referred to criticism outside this House, of course that is another matter with which it is not for us to deal here; but up to the publication of these Papers I think the House has been remarkable not for anxiety to criticise, but for patience and forbearance, and for making its criticism tentative. Now that we have the Papers 1649 before us, I may say that I do not think that in recent years any Papers on foreign affairs have been published which would more naturally invite and provoke the criticism which has been made than those before us. The criticism which has been made this evening, and which was made in the speech of my right honourable Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I do not think was disposed of by the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury. He dealt, for instance, with such a point as that about the request put forward for making Talienwan a Treaty port, but I do not remember that he touched in his speech what is the real criticism on that point. He stated that the Government, in withdrawing that request, did not yield to Russian menaces. Well, Sir, that only shows, I think, how unsatisfactory merely verbal criticism is. It may be literally true that the British Government did not yield to Russian pressure, but it is just as true to say that it was in consequent of Russian pressure that the request was withdrawn. Russian pressure was applied to the Government of China, and the Government of China gave way to that pressure, and Her Majesty's Government withdrew their request in deference to the wish of China. That is not our real criticism in regard to the demand in reference to Talienwan; it is that the putting forward of the request that Talienwan had other consequences besides its withdrawal. That may be satisfactory, but the putting forward of this request, had consequences which went on long after the demand was withdrawn. You have only got to look at this book to see the effect it produced on the Russian Government. Their opposition at Pekin became violent; and as lately as March you will find, from a dispatch in the Blue Book, that the Russian suspicions were apparently still active, that, because this demand had been put forward for making Talienwan a Treaty port, there was some design, some hidden device, on the part of Her Majesty's Government in some way or another of scoring a point without the knowledge of the Russian Government, and I am quite convinced that the putting forward of that demand had a considerable effect in precipitating Russian action. That is my first point—that the putting forward of this request 1650 raised the apprehension on the part of the Russian Government and precipitated their action. I admit, of course, that it was quite unintentional on the part of Her Majesty's Government, but that was the effect, and I think they might have known that that was likely to have been the effect. Now, the Russian Government having become active, there followed these interviews about the presence of British ships at Port Arthur. Now, when the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was dealing with this point, he had occasion to quote some sentences, or one sentence, in which Lord Salisbury expressed his surprise that the presence of British ships at Port Arthur should be regarded as in any way interfering with Russian interests; and the fact that Lord Salisbury had used that expression seemed to one or two honourable Members on the other side, judging by their cheers, to give some satisfaction as regards Lord Salisbury's action in the matter. Now, Lord Salisbury expressed his surprise, but he asked for no explanation as to why this action was so regarded by the Russian Government. He expressed surprise, but he asked for no explanation, and he pressed for none. Now, Sir, take this question at the end of dispatch No. 66, which is dated January 26th, in which Lord Salisbury says—I thought it right, however, to observe that British ships of war have a perfect right to visit Port Arthur and other Chinese ports in that neighbourhood, and that there did not appear to be any ground for raising objections or attaching special significance to such visits.Did it not occur to Lord Salisbury that there were real grounds for attaching special significance to the Russian request? That is the point that strikes us. There is no evidence that there was any explanation as to why this request was made by her at this particular time. Well, the ships moved away, and the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury says no orders were given to move those ships. Yes, no orders were given, but the Russian Ambassador was assured that they were not likely to remain. If that assurance was given there was no need to give any orders. He was assured that the ships would be leaving in a few days, and that 1651 if other vessels called they were not likely to remain. That gave rise to what the right honourable Gentleman opposite has called the "mendacious rumours" which have been read out to the House by the noble Lord the Member for York. Yes, they had the most injurious effect, and the British Minister at Pekin complained of that effect. And what answer did he get? Truly, he thought, the British Government would have remedied that effect. But the answer was that it was left to the Admiral, whenever he thought convenient, to send the Iphigenia elsewhere. What was the British Minister to say to the Chinese Minister when he got that telegram? What did that telegram amount to? It amounted to this: that he could not deny that the ships had either left, or would soon leave; but he was empowered to say that it was not by the orders of the British Government, but by the orders of the British Admiral, that they were leaving. How could you expect the effect which had been produced on the mind of the Chinese Minister to be removed by empowering your own Minister to make such a statement? But surely, before all these forms of words as to whether Lord Salisbury actually gave the orders or whether he did not give the orders or as to whether it was the Admiral acting on his own initiative, without interference from the Government; below all these forms of words surely the great underlying fact which any man might have seen at the time was that what really mattered was not whether Lord Salisbury gave the order to remove the ships, but whether the ships did actually go or not. Well, Sir, that is our point in this case. When Russia put forward her demand that the ships should be removed, then was your time to have explanations from the Russian Government. That was the last parting of the ways at which the Government might have pursued one of two policies. They might have demanded an explanation from Russia and have said that they would not remove the ships until they had had an explanation. If the result of those explanations was to convince them that the Russian Government had designs on Port Arthur, then they might have made up their minds to resist those 1652 designs, and that would have kept the ships there, because it would be shown that they meant to resist that move on the part of the Russian Government. That would have been a possible policy, and it would have been a policy which would undoubtedly have caused a division of opinion in this House, but a policy which the Government, with their large majority, could have pursued if they had chosen. The right honourable Gentleman opposite dealt with the possibility of that, and he dealt with the seriousness of the antagonism which it would have created between the two Governments. Well, Sir, we admit the seriousness of it, but there is another policy. The other policy was to have come to an understanding with the Russian Government at that time—having found out what their aims were—to say, if you like, if you thought it wise, that those aims did not necessarily conflict with British interests, but that if you were prepared to acquiesce in Russia accomplishing those aims, it must come about as the result of an understanding between the two Governments. I know that policy would have created a division of opinion in this House, but such was the power behind Her Majesty's Government that they might have pursued either of those policies from that moment. The first policy would, I think, have succeeded in its immediate effect, whatever the patriotic consequences and subsequent consequences might have been. The other policy would equally have succeeded in its aims and would have prevented any of the friction which has occurred. Now, Sir, what the Government did was neither of these things. They held their peace, the ships went away, they got no explanation, and having already stimulated Russian action by putting forward the demand about Talienwan, they then cleared the way for Russian action by removing the ships. The British Ambassador at St. Petersburg is instructed to go to the Russian Foreign Minister and request that he will not do that which the Government must have known was the only reason for doing it. The Russian Foreign Minister received that with some heat and some surprise. Well, now, Sir, I am surprised at one thing on this point of Port Arthur, 1653 which I do not think the right honourable Gentleman opposite dealt with at all. Port Arthur is mentioned by the Russian Government some time before there is any objection made to its passing into Russian hands. For at least eleven days argument goes on with the Russian Government as to whether they will give satisfactory assurances supposing they get Port Arthur, and it is not until a good deal of argument has passed on that point that the Russian Government is suddenly told that Her Majesty's Government know that Port Arthur can never be a commercial port, and can only be used as a naval base, and that, therefore, assurances as regards it being a commercial port was not the real point at issue. What seems to me to be the great criticism upon the policy, or want of policy, which has been pursued by Her Majesty's Government, is that it has landed us in a position which, whatever policy, by hypothesis, the right honourable Gentleman opposite might advance, we should not have been in by the adoption of any sound, consistent policy. There are two things which might have happened. We might have been by one policy landed in antagonism with the Russian Government, and by the other the Russian Government might have obtained what she now possesses. We might have obtained what we have now got, but it might have come about as the result of an understanding with her. Unfortunately, what we have is both acquiescence and antagonism together, and it is that which seems to us the unfortunate result of the policy of Her Majesty's Government. There is a sentence in this Blue Book which I do not know how to work into any part of my speech. It stands by itself. It is a very remarkable, sentence. There is so little else about it that it seems impossible for us, without having further information than is contained in these Papers, to make any criticism upon it. It begins at the bottom of page 31—Herr von Bülow went on to say that he had heard with much pleasure from the German Ambassador at St. Petersburg that the Russian Government was anxious to avoid any complication with England with regard 1654 to China, and was even disposed to come to a good understanding with her.We do not know what is behind that statement. Was it a mere obiter dictum on the part of the German Foreign Minister? These statements are not made without some indications. Things may have passed which we do not know of, but the statement as it stands in the Blue Book is one on which it is impossible for the Opposition to comment without further information before them, and one, at the same time, on which comment would be most interesting and most instructive, and might have an important bearing on future policy. Now, Sir, I pass from the immediate criticism of the Blue Book to a survey of the present situation. The present situation in China is greatly changed. To you the position of Russia in Manchuria is so well known that I need not say anything about it at length. The position of Germany in Shan-tung has had some definition given to it by the spontaneous assurances given by Her Majesty's Government. The First Lord of the Treasury has told us that the assurance given by the German Government is one that does not take away from the rights which the German Government previously had. Yes, but there is a light thrown on what a sphere of influence means. The assurance given to the German Government really amounts to the abnegation on our part of competition, or special advantage for competition in that province. But the "open door" is founded on equal competition, and the assurance given to the German Government was one that was not intended to create competition. That is a statement that will be important as regards the future. But there is very much we should like to know about the present—perhaps it is too early to tell us. There is the question of what the effect of this policy is going to be on the action of Japan as regards China. There is the question of the effect it is having on the Government of France, and what the demands of the French Government are in other parts of China. As far as we have heard the demands of the French Government, they appear to be founded on our example in claiming that the Chinese Government 1655 should not alienate certain provinces to other Powers. It is said that the French Government has asked for an assurance to be given as regards other provinces. If that assurance is asked for, and obtained in the same spirit as given to us, then I think we have no cause for objection. But if, on the other hand, it is being asked for in order that a sphere of influence may be created, then a great question may arise. The important thing which may be acquired by the demand of France is that part of the trade which now greatly finds its way to the West River. If the French Government is going to ask for railway concessions down which trade may travel to Tonquin, that is fair enough, and we may find our compensation in concessions for railway communication through which the trade of some part of China may find its way to Burma. But if the French demands in that part of China were not merely to take the form of greater facilities for themselves, but of active opposition, on the ground that they have a sphere of influence as regards the opening of ports on the West River—that is to say, blocking the natural facilities which already exist in the physical configuration of the country—then there would be cause for friction. On that it is, perhaps, too early for the Government to speak. The present position in China on the surface, of course, is much more satisfactory than it is underneath. On the surface we have a great many assurances about the opening of the country and keeping "open doors," and that the sovereignty of China is to be preserved; but some of that, I am afraid, is at present merely a covering under which other changes may occur—great changes, which may accomplish themselves silently within the next few years—changes through which many things which we had thought to be fixed and unalterable will be dissolved; and new forces will assert themselves and work new effects. It is from that point of view I wish to look at the future. Assurances of open doors are becoming features of the Chinese Empire. It is a fine distinction, we are told—that between spheres of influence and interest. Yes, I think it is too fine to last. Everything that has happened within the last few 1656 months makes, and will continue to make, for these spheres of influence. The right honourable Gentleman says, that being so, we have a stronger commercial position than we had before. I doubt whether we have a strong commercial position. The commercial position is very much altered. The right honourable Gentleman says that the Treaty of Tien-tsin has not been violated. Nor Sir, but the obligations imposed by that Treaty of Tien-tsin are passing into other hands. The open door has not yet been violated, we hear. No; but before we looked for the maintenance of the open door to one central Government—the Government of Pekin—where our influence was so strong that if the open door was threatened we had but to create pressure at one given point and the open door would be maintained. But now the policy of the open door depends on many assurances. I do trust, as the right honourable Gentleman said, that the force of circumstances and the natural interests of different countries in China, will bring it about sooner or later, and may rally to the policy of the open door; but at the present moment we cannot feel that our commercial position is as strong as it was. It is said that, as regards our commercial position, we have a concession of our own. No doubt we have a concession from the Chinese Government in the Yang-tsze regions, a very important and far-reaching one. I think it has been alluded to as an instance of the progress gained by the Chinese Government in the opening up of China. One element of progress is surely stability, and these concessions can hardly be called evidences of Chinese stability. But in their real essence, looking at the rapidity with which they have been obtained, one after the other, I should regard them as proof of the weakness of the central Government. The question for us as regards the future is, How are these concessions to be maintained and made effective? The Government themselves, though they say our commercial position is stronger, admit that our position is threatened by the action they have been obliged to take with regard to Wei-hai-Wei. That has been their answer to the changes that have taken place. Let us consider, as 1657 far as we know it, the value of Wei-hai-Wei—what are its intrinsic merits?—what is the naval value? The noble Lord the Member for York deals with the question of Wei-hai-Wei in a somewhat tentative manner, but I read a statement last week in the Army and Navy Gazette which is really one of great importance, though I am not in a position to confirm its accuracy. It is to this effect: that in 1890, when the Impérieuse was there, she could only anchor at the entrance, and she draws four inches more than the Powerful, and the correspondent added—I am within the mark in saying that the depth of water will be found insufficient for battleships and large cruisers.However that may be, we have net been told if the Admiralty were consulted as to Wei-hai-Wei, or what naval opinions are on the question. We are also told that, as regards commercial value, it is not intended to have any. Now the position, as we have it with regard to Wei-hai-Wei, is that its value from a naval point of view is doubtful, and that the expense of making it effective is certain to be very great. The origin of our going there is also a little open to suspicion. So far from its occupation being a triumph of diplomacy, it seems rather to have been the resort of diplomacy in despair. Our presence there may enable us to prove to the Government of Pekin that we mean to exert our influence there, and that our influence may be successfully exerted, in spite of that which may be exerted by other Powers. I fear that if this is the object of occupying Wei-hai-Wei the value of it is likely to become more transitory; and one thing which, the Committee ought not to accept is the idea that, now Russia has obtained Port Arthur our presence at Wei-hai-Wei is an answer to it, and that, so far, everything has ended well. One thing that the Committee ought not to accept is the idea that now that Russia has obtained Port Arthur our presence at Wei-hai-Wei is an answer to it, and that therefore everything has ended well. The really important thing, I believe, as regards the Central Government at Pekin in the future is that the question of influencing them is becoming more and more a land question, a military 1658 question rather than a naval question; and what we are anxious about in the future is to know what capacity China has of developing itself to resist any pressure which may be brought to bear upon it by land. Of all things that are mysterious and unknown, apparently, as regards the probabilities of the future it is the question of what is going to happen in China. People who know it best cannot tell us what the effect of this European pressure is likely to be on the Government of China and the Chinese people. It may be that the Central Government will become so weak that we shall be no longer able to look to it to exercise effective control in Central and Southern China, where our trading interests are so great. It may be that the Central Government will depart from Pekin altogether. If any of those things happen, if the Central Government moves from Pekin, our great trade interests in Central and Southern China will not be saved by the occupation of Wei-hai-Wei. If anything of that kind occurs, if the seizure of land by Russia, develops to the extent that you cannot by being at Wei-hai-Wei contend with her influence at Pekin, Wei-hai-Wei will be left as a sort of Gibraltar by itself between two other Gibraltars, Port Arthur and Kaiou-chau, with this difference—that Wei-hai-Wei will be much the weakest port of the three. It will be left in the air, with no Hinterland, no access to coal or food supplies, while as regards Port Arthur and Kaiou-chau, they may have access to these things. That will be a piteous position; and what I want to impress upon the Committee is that, looking at all these considerations, and the impossibility of knowing what contingencies may occur in the future, the Committee should not be decoyed away into thinking that Wei-hai-Wei is a successful move, or one on which we can rely; and that in future years—it may be years or it may be months—we should not be led away into making any great expenditure on Wei-hai-Wei. The right honourable Gentleman has spoken of spheres of interest in China. As regards the spheres of interest of other Powers, we must rely on their assurances where those spheres are established. That is the only way, after all, in which foreign policy can be carried on; but as regards 1659 our own special spheres of interest in China—those of which to-day Hong-kong is typical in one place and Shanghai in another—while we make clear to other Powers that we have no thought of acquiring any interest or influence inimical to the trade of other Powers, yet as regards these we must see that in the future we must rely, not on the assurances of other Powers, not on pressure upon the Central Government at Pekin, but on ourselves. If steps are to be taken, if leases are to be made, if more money is to be spent in fortifying places, the two places on which our eyes should be fixed are Hong-kong and Shanghai. Hong-kong we have already. As regards Shanghai, the way in which our interests can be best safeguarded is one on which the Government alone can best form an opinion. But it is on those points rather than on Wei-hai-Wei that the attention of the Government should be concentrated. Perhaps it may seem in what I have said that I have been a little too far-fetched, or that I have been advancing hypotheses; but hypotheses have become so quickly realised that the lesson of this Blue Book is to take long views and to look far ahead. The honourable Member for Dover said that time had been gained by the Government. I hope that time may be used by them in a way in which the time we have had hitherto has not been used. The right honourable Gentleman opposite spoke of the difficulties under which the British Government conducted foreign affairs as compared with the Russian Government. Sir, no Government has had such freedom as the present Government have had. They announced their policy in January. It was received with impartiality, without demur, with preparedness to acquiesce in the course taken by them, if need be, by right honourable Gentlemen on this side of the House; it was received, I believe, with the unanimous support of their own supporters. They had not only their enormous majority in this House, but they had the support of the whole country. Never before when any important policy in foreign affairs has been announced by a Government has there been such a great body of support in the country behind them. Though their policy was supported, weeks appear to have gone by from the time those 1660 speeches were made in January, and there were no decided steps taken to make that policy effective or to prepare for the dangers by which that policy was threatened. If it was not being threatened by dangers, then what was the need of the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaking as he did, and if it was being threatened what steps were being taken? We do not find them set out in this Blue Book. Now, with regard to the future I am sure that the Government will receive support in safeguarding the great interests which this country has in the Far East. They may not be able to state their policy openly to the House, but I hope that as time goes on they will be able to convince us that they have an intelligible policy, that the steps they take are not improvised under the pressure of the moment, and that they have methods in their own mind which they have decided upon because they believe them to be essential and capable of being made effective. That is a criticism which we have always insisted upon—that any policy which is adopted should be one that can be made effective; our criticism has been that the Government have attempted too much. The one thing which I think will be fatal in this question will be to say nothing and do nothing while changes are preparing and passing, and then to do what has been done in the past, as the Papers show—namely, to attempt something when it is too late to carry it out.
§ SIR E. GREY
There is the matter with regard to the occupation of Port Arthur. An attempt was made to prevent the occupation of Port Arthur, and the British Minister was obliged to admit that he could not carry his point. Our contention is that you should not make the attempt at all if you think it cannot be made effective. The moral of all this is that the attempt in the case of Port Arthur was made too late. If that is done it makes understandings with foreign Powers impossible. It leads to the appearance, at all events, of defeat in diplomacy, and it may at some future date produce exasperation in this country and bring confusion into the conduct of foreign affairs. There is one other point, 1661 Sir, I should like to touch upon. It is what our relations with foreign Powers are likely to be in the future. In regard to Germany the right honourable Gentleman has spoken more than once, I think, lately, in such a friendly tone, that I would add nothing to what the right honourable Gentleman has said, except to say that to be able to infer anticipations of friendly relations as we have been able to do from the remarks he has made in this House is a pleasure, I am sure, to everybody here. But there is another Power whose action has been far more important and attracted our attention far more than that of Germany, and that is Russia. The action of Russia, which has already impressed itself on our attention, is likely to do so still more. It must be so. Russia is a country of extraordinary homogeneity and enormous size. The mass of it is enormous, but it has not, throughout its mass, been active hitherto. Now it is going to be penetrated by railways, and the parts of that country which have been least active are those parts which the railways are to penetrate. This will carry the power of the Central Government all through the mass until it is full of vitality and energy. That must lead to an enormous change in the Far East. It will lead, as it has led already, but still more in the future, to the expansion of Russia as a Power in the Far East. It is not for us to be jealous of the expansion of other Powers, when we are continually talking with pride of the expansion of our own Empire. We should treat the desire of others to expand with sympathy. All through the world there is diffused this wish to expand in foreign nations which is producing in some quarters an impression that the world is too small. This will create great difficulties for the Government of this country and the Government of Russia, in the Far East especially, in the future, and, great as the power of the two nations is, the shock of their meeting in anger in the Far East would be terrible. They must meet; they need not meet in anger, and surely the great lesson to be drawn by both Governments from the Papers before us, and from what has passed during the last few weeks is that the efforts of both Governments should be continuously and consistently devoted in coming years to avoiding a meeting of the interests of the two countries which might bring about a 1662 collision between them. I believe that can be done, provided the Governments themselves consistently strain every nerve in order to effect it; but there is one condition which is essential if the two Governments are to continue to adjust their interests, as the interests of both expand, and that is, that there should be frankness and good feeling between them. When we are looking to the future we do not wish to dwell critically upon the past, and the one sentence in conclusion I should wish to say to the Committee would be this, that we have all been greatly impressed, not merely by what we have read in these Papers, but by the feeling which to our knowledge has been stirred up in the country during the last few weeks. We believe that the danger of anything imminent has passed away, but we are impressed by what the danger has been, or might have been, if events had turned out otherwise than they have, and that in the future the danger of misunderstanding between the two countries is one against which both must be on their guard, and which is certain, if it occurs, to lead to consequences in the course of a few years which we should all deplore, and which all that is past makes us feel can be avoided, but which it needs watchfulness, care, frankness, and good faith on both sides to avert.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I warned the Committee when I spoke earlier in the evening that it might be my duty to say a few words before the Debate closed. Those words shall be very few, for, in truth, the interesting speech which we have just listened to requires from Her Majesty's Government little in reply. I do not mean that I agree with all the honourable Gentleman has said. He has criticised—in some cases, I think, with some unintentional unfairness—the action we have taken, but the general tone and temper of his speech leaves, in my judgment, nothing to be desired. With much of that speech, especially with that part in which he dealt with the future problem which must meet every British Statesman in connection with China, I agree entirely, or almost entirely. When the honourable Member said, for example, or implied that the difficulties in regard to Port Arthur would have been obviated if we 1663 had communicated at an earlier stage to Russia that we objected to their occupation of Port Arthur, or when he implied among other things that if the Admiral had not withdrawn the ships from Port Arthur it would never have been occupied, I think for one moment he lapsed into the ordinary current of banal and somewhat empty criticism which has filled our ears for some time past. But when, leaving those topics, he addressed himself to the difficulties of China, I am sure that every man who, like the Members of the present Government, has had to devote himself to those problems, must have felt that he has, in many respects, gauged the peculiar character of the problems which present themselves. The honourable Member appeared to suppose that we had shown ourselves inimical to an arrangement with Russia. I can assure him that in that respect he is mistaken. When he stated that for such an arrangement absolute good faith should be maintained on both sides, there, I am sure, the House will entirely agree with him. When he told us that the future problems of China might be military rather than naval problems, again I am not disposed to dissent from him; and when he went one step further, and told us, echoing something I myself had said on a previous occasion in this House, that so far as military problems in China were concerned as distinguished from purely naval problems, Wei-hai-Wei might not be of the first importance, again I do not dissent from him. In the two speeches which I have made on the subject of Wei-hai-Wei I have not endeavoured in the slightest degree to exaggerate its value. I think it is of great value diplomatically, that it is of immense value as a naval base, and not merely in naval warfare, but also in military operations by land, should such unhappily in the future become necessary. But I have always said, and I have always endeavoured to impress upon the House that the military position of Russia undoubtedly gives her a special advantage in China which neither Germany, nor France, nor England possesses or can possess. That I have always said, but the honourable Gentleman, I am sure, will be the first to forgive me when I say that, while he showed his accustomed fairness and acuteness in describing the difficulties which 1664 in future may attend the Chinese policy of this country, he did not contribute very greatly to a solution of those problems. I do not blame him. I do not believe that any precaution against these dangers in China in the future can be taken now which has not been taken already. I do not believe that anything can be done which we have not done or are not in process of doing. For the future we must rest our prospects—the prospects of the commercial world—on the sense of common interest in all the nations concerned in trade with China, and if it is not in the power of international diplomacy to bring to a focus these common interests, if we and the other nations interested are incapable of combining for the purpose of safeguarding our rights, then, indeed, the danger may be great. If, on the other hand, as I venture to hope with some confidence is the case, in the progress of events, which, after all, need not be so rapid as the honourable Gentleman supposes, all these nations are gradually brought together by a sense of common need and common responsibilities, then I think the future of China and of the commerce of the world, so far as its interests in China are concerned, are not seriously in danger. I do not know how rapidly the clock is going to move in China—nobody can foresee that. I am convinced that our danger is to foreshorten events, and to assume that populations embracing hundreds of millions are going to have their government changed, their polity and their practice changed, in a period which is far too short to carry out any such great political operations. In that I may be wrong, but my own forecast is that when the events of this year are over, by the year, let us say, 1899, a period of quiescence in the China Question will begin. How long it will last I know not; but when you reflect what a problem is before Russia in the construction of this enormous railway, and what a problem is before commercial countries like ourselves in connection with the development of the commercial advantages which we possess, or which have recently been acquired, I think we may hope and expect that a period of rest in the Far East will follow upon these months of storm and disturbance. It depends on how those months of rest are occupied 1665 whether the future of China is secured for the world, or whether it falls into chaos or falls under the domination of some individual Power whose interests are contrary to the commercial interests of the rest of the world. I am an optimist. I believe that the general forces of civilisation are sufficient for the problem put before them. At any rate, if I am wrong, I am confident that nothing has been done by Her Majesty's Government in the last few years which would make this gigantic task, which lies before us and other countries, more difficult than it would otherwise have been. On the contrary, I believe that we have taken all reasonable precautions, and it is in that faith, and that faith principally, that I trust to the candid judgment of the House for a verdict on the policy which we have pursued.
§ MR. R. MCKENNA (Monmouth, N.)
The First Lord of the Treasury seemed to me to construe the language of the honourable Member who preceded him as conveying a sense of satisfaction with the policy of the Government. I listened with very great attention to the honourable Baronet, but so far from gathering from him that he was satisfied with the policy of the present Government of China, it appeared to me that his speech was one of extreme censure, although expressed in the most considerate and temperate language. Now we hear from the First Lord of the Treasury his final defence of his policy—that Wei-hai-Wei is of immense naval value and possibly of immense value for operations by land. Has the right honourable Gentleman forgotten that by his voluntary statement to a German Minister we are excluded from connecting Wei-hai-Wei by railway with the inland portions of China, and that, therefore, it is absolutely useless to us, so far as operations on the mainland are concerned, either against Germans based on Kaiou-chau, or Russians based upon Port Arthur. I do not propose to enter into a detailed discussion of the question, but I am bound to say that this Debate has shown us that the policy of the Government has not been based on sound and well-considered reasons. We have not moved in the direction of our own choice; we have moved as we have been 1666 pushed and hustled by other Powers. It is unbecoming the dignity and fatal to the welfare of this country that in our policy we should not be left in one single instance to our own choice, but should be forced to take the line directed by the exactions of our rivals. Personally, I am altogether in favour of a policy of friendship with Russia, but I do not like to be humiliated even by my friends. I cannot see that the result of the action of the Government is likely to lead to anything on the part of Russia but irritation at the ill-will we have shown, and contempt for the weakness which has not been able to give that ill-will any effect.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
I listened to the speech which the Leader of the House has just made to us I confess with less pleasure than to his former speech at an earlier period of the evening. I thought, if he will allow me to say so, that his first speech was one of the most effective and happy efforts which the House has listened to, even from him, upon foreign affairs. But when, in his last speech, he dwelt so much upon the future of British interests in China, resting upon a sense of the common interests which the Governments of the Great Powers of Europe would, in time, succeed in feeling, I could not help realising that my right honourable Friend was indulging rather in ideals than in realities. There is only one thing which will protect our interests in China, and that is the protection of superior force. If we are able to resist in the future the efforts which Russia will undoubtedly make to obtain control, first, of Northern China, and then of the whole of China, we shall protect British interests; if we are not able so to do, British interests will undoubtedly fail, and be lost. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House in his first speech gave us a general survey of the position, and he attempted to show to the House, and to the country, that the position of Russia was, at the present moment, weaker than it was six months ago, owing to four principal considerations which, with great ingenuity, he put before the House. The four considerations he mentioned were: first of all, the German occupation of Kaiou-chau and their influence in the province of 1667 Shantung. I agree with him that that German occupation has been, and is likely to prove, one of the most fortunate events that could have happened for this country. It has been said on the other side of the House that the German occupation of Kaiou-chau was the cause of all the changes that have since come about. Sir, the German occupation of Kaiou-chau is not the cause of the troubles we have experienced, but it has been the electric light which has brought home to this country the dangers threatening the Chinese Empire and British interests in China. That stroke of the German Emperor in the occupation of Kaiou-chau was one of the most brilliant strokes which have taken place in our time, and is an operation which has been even more beneficial to this country than it is likely to be to the Germans themselves, for it has aroused us to a sense of our enormous interests in Northern China, and how those interests are affected by the movements of Russia in Northern China—movements which were going on during the past two years utterly unknown to the people of this country, and absolutely ignored by Her Majesty's Government. That is one of our great charges against the Government upon this question. I may say in this connection, that this is the second occasion on which German policy has served this country. German policy served this country with regard to the East. It was the policy of Germany with regard to the Ottoman Empire which prevented the violent dissolution of that Empire, and which practically, by preventing its violent dissolution, saved India for England. On this second occasion, the policy of Germany has come to our rescue, and if you look at the Blue Book you will find that one of its most remarkable features is the persistent attempt of the German Government to convince against their will of their friendly intentions towards this country. There are to be found, on almost every page of the Blue Book, the constant assurances of the German Foreign Minister, and of the Emperor himself, that they were desirous, above all things, of establishing friendly relations with this country. I give my right honourable Friend, the Leader of the House, the very greatest credit for this, that he has been the first Minister for the past five 1668 years who has had the courage or the foresight to show the slightest sense of the importance or desirability of a good understanding between this country and Germany. The Leader of the House has shown that on three several occasions this Session, and I believe that we have now the basis of an understanding between Great Britain and Germany which will be the principal bulwark of British interests in our foreign relations in the near future. I congratulate my right honourable Friend upon the policy which he has inaugurated in that respect. Now we come to Wei-hai-Wei. That is the second point which the Leader of the House mentioned to show that our position had improved. I do not agree with the late Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs [Sir Edward Grey]—who made, as he does always, a very able speech to-night, if he will allow me to say so, though somewhat hampered by his feelings as to the results of the policy of his friends on the same Bench—by which I mean the pretence of trying to keep up a policy of good understanding with Russia, a policy which I am quite certain he does not believe in in the least, and which no honest individual can believe in. The constant perfidy with which we have been treated by the highest Russian authorities in all these matters is transparent, and it is really inexplicable to me that the honourable Baronet should try to make out that there is a possibility of a good understanding with Russia. There is only the possibility of a good understanding with Russia on these terms: that we shall render to Russia such advantages as will give her an overwhelming lever against this country in the future. As the Saxons bought off the Danes you may buy off Russia for a few years or very likely only for a few months, but every concession will only lead to further demands. I say, Sir, that I do not agree with the honourable and learned Baronet in his opinions with regard to Wei-hai-Wei. The acquisition of Wei-hai-Wei is, under the present circumstances, absolutely necessary. There is no likelihood that we shall, owing to our occupation of Wei-hai-Wei, be left in an inferior position. It would have been far better, I admit, that we should have prevented the Russians from getting Port Arthur and kept her out of Manchuria, 1669 as it would have been quite easy to do six months ago. But, once having allowed the Russians to get established in Port Arthur, our only policy was the policy of a counterpoise. Then, with regard to commercial interests. Commercial interests will, like other interests, depend upon power. If Russia gets the control of northern China, if Russia obtains Manchuria and the province of Pe-chi-li, with their 40,000,000 of fighting population as her recruiting ground, the commercial interests of England and of other countries will disappear. Russia will have the power to conquer and absorb the whole of China. Now I come to the point which I venture to describe as, at the present moment, the crux of the whole position. I unfortunately missed the speech of the noble Lord the Member for York to-night, but I have heard his views on other occasions with great interest, and though honourable Gentlemen opposite may not appreciate them quite as highly as they deserve, I can assure them that they carry great weight throughout the country. The noble Lord has, on more than one occasion, pointed out that the concessions we have got from China with regard to the Yang-tsze Valley and Central China in general will be valueless in the future unless we are perfectly able to defend them against attack. I believe that, strategically, the Yang-tsze-Kiang Valley is not defensible against a capable and organised military power holding northern China. I quite agree with the honourable Baronet when he said that the problem of power in China in the future is far more likely to be a military than a naval problem. The crux of the position is this; Up to this moment the Russians have no real military hold over Manchuria. It is a mistake to assume that they have control over Manchuria. They have not, and there is no necessity for their having control over Manchuria if Her Majesty's Government will only play a clear, resolute, far-sighted game with regard to northern China. What Her Majesty's Government have to do with regard to northern China is to prevent Manchuria and Pe-chi-li from becoming a recruiting ground of the Russian army. If they once get possession of that recruiting ground they will make the most of it by enlisting the Chinese, by lending the 1670 Chinese military instructors, and getting in that way an immense force with which they may conquer the rest of China. The First Lord of the Treasury speaks somewhat superficially about the 4,000 miles, of land frontier which he says will give Russia an extraordinary control and influence over northern China. It is our own fault if we allow that. I would ask those who suggest that Russia has at present military control over Manchuria whether they are aware of the enormous distances which the Russian troops would have to pass over in order to get into anything like the northern part of China. Why, it would be far easier for us to send our troops over the thousands of miles of sea that separate us and to strike a blow at Pekin than it would be for Russia to get there from any part of her 4,000 miles of land frontier. It is all a mistake and a delusion. The Russian military power in northern China to-day is nil and before the trans-Siberian Railway is finished. The Russians have played a game of bounce in all these matters, and when my right honourable Friend the First Lord said that he was not going to play a game of bounce that might lead to war, I did not quite appreciate the value of his argument.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I said I was not going to play a game of bluff unless I was prepared to face the consequences.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
I trust that that goes without saying, but, Sir, I say in answer to that, that there was no real risk of war, and further that this country was perfectly prepared to face the war which might have ensued if Russia, in the face of our opposition, had tried to invade Manchuria and to take Port Arthur. The Russian Government were and are far too wise to undergo the risk of war on the Chinese question. My honourable Friend the Member for Dover, who made a speech of very great interest and ability earlier in this Debate, made one most serious blunder in his argument, and it was an error which, I think, rather vitiated some of the conclusions he drew. The blunder which he made was this: He said that time was on our side. Sir, time is not on our side in this matter. Time is on 1671 the side of Russia. All the cards are in our hands at present. We have an overwhelming power in the Northern Pacific; Russia has a naval force wholly unable to deal with us there, and the Russian land power is exceedingly small—at the outside some 30,000 soldiers, over a vast tract of territory. Time will enable the Trans-Siberian railway to be completed. Time will enable Russia to mass troops on our Indian Frontier, where she is now perfectly helpless to attack us. Time will enable the Russian Fleet in the Northern Pacific to be enormously increased. Time will enable Russia to conscript large numbers of soldiers in Manchuria itself. Time can only be on our side if we see that China is so strengthened that she is able of herself to protect her frontiers against Russian invasion. With regard to the fourth statement which my right honourable Friend made, namely, that good had been done by arousing a sense in this country of—I forget the exact words he used, but it was to the effect that the sense of this country was being aroused to a realisation of the unfairness of Russian diplomacy; with that I quite agree. A distinct advantage has, no doubt, been gained in that respect; but I repeat that the crux of the whole position is this, that we should so strengthen and help China to improve her military organisation that China will be able to resist the Russian invasion of Manchuria. It is no use to say that Manchuria has gone. Manchuria has only gone if the English Government make up their minds that it is gone. If the British Government make up their minds that Manchuria is not to be Russianized, that the new Russian railway is not to be a military railway, then China can be saved and British interests preserved; but if the same course of hesitation, drifting aimlessness, and—I will use a stronger word—pusillanimity, is to be followed, as has been pursued in the past three months, then Northern China is indeed lost to this country. Sir, there has been a remarkable omission in this Debate; there has been no reference to Japan, and to the great part which Japan has played, and must play, in the future in connection with the affairs of China. The successes of Japan with regard to Corea should lead us to draw the reverse 1672 lesson to that which the right honourable Gentleman drew. He referred at considerable length to Corea, and to the fact that Russia made a distinct retreat with regard to Corea, and I understood him to say that we ourselves might have to retreat at times for our own purposes. If the right honourable Gentleman wishes to persuade the House that we should give up Talienwan for our own purposes, I think he draws rather largely on the credulity of both sides of the House. What happened with regard to Corea? The Japanese Government did exactly the reverse of what our Government did. Our Government wavered, hesitated, and backed down; the Japanese said to Russia, "Unless you give us Corea you will have to deal with us in Manchuria as well." We remember that remarkable speech of the Czar of Russia in which he said that Russia had had the greatest anxiety with regard to Japan. Russia had good cause for anxiety with regard to Japan, because if the Japanese had moved against Russia there would not have been a Russia in Far Eastern Asia at this moment. It was open to the Government of this country at any time to form an alliance with Japan. Why did they not do so? Was it because Japan was not a Christian Power? It has been a mystery to everyone why the English Government did not six months ago make terms with Japan for checking Russian aggression in Northern China. Sir, I am in a position to solve the problem—I only throw this out tentatively. I am not in the secrets of diplomacy, but as my right honourable Friend has shown very great advance of late, and has developed such remarkable powers as to lead us to hope that he may in the future entirely safeguard the foreign affairs of the country, I say this to encourage him a little. I would recall a remark made by a Japanese statesman to me some time ago, before the right honourable Gentleman was, to a certain extent, guiding the foreign policy of this country, so that the remark is no reflection on him. I had the fortune to converse with an eminent Japanese statesman, and, Sir, on such occasions I always make it my business to try and further the interests of this country abroad. When this Japanese statesman honoured me with an interview, I suggested, in the course of our conversation, that it would be a very 1673 desirable thing that Great Britain and Japan should unite in the Far East for their common interests, and for the purpose of checking the advance of Russia. The eminent Japanese statesman said this—I beg the right honourable Gentleman not to think that I am casting any reflection whatever on him. He said—My dear Sir, do you think that your Government will ever make up their minds to do anything?I was too pained and shocked to make any reply. I could not venture to disagree with the sound and correct axiom which he laid down; but I am glad to think that there are signs that Her Majesty's Government have changed their policy of inaction and are likely to do something in the future. Now, with regard to this question of Japan, it is the most important question for us in the Far East, and if there were any indication in this Blue Book, or in the speeches of Her Majesty's Ministers, that there was a practical understanding with Japan in the Far East, I think that we might be all satisfied that British interests were secured, because Japan represents the practical land force of the Far East. Japan has to-day a navy equal to our own. She has an army of 250,000 available men, which she could at any time land in any portion of North-Eastern Asia. Therefore, Japan holds the key to the position, and if we are sure of the support of Japan we can do practically as we like. Within three years Japan will have nine battleships in Northern Pacific waters, and, therefore, it will be still more important that we should have the support of Japan. It is evidenced by this Blue Book that China actually applied for the protection of Great Britain. There is one remarkable phrase in which the Yamen, when they are being bullied by Russia with regard to Talienwan, say—Nothing is of any use to us unless we are protected by Great Britain.I admit, Sir, that the past cannot be recalled, and that it is no practical use to complain that Her Majesty's Government lost opportunities of offering protection to China when that protection would have kept Russia out of Port Arthur, and practically out of Manchuria, but the question will arise in the near future. Russia will continue to 1674 endeavour to pour her forces into Manchuria, and, unless we are prepared to guarantee the Chinese practical support in resisting that Russian invasion, Manchuria will become a part of Russia; Russia will obtain a fighting force of at least 500,000 men, whom they will, no doubt, train and discipline, and then it is only a question of time when we lose China altogether. The Leader of the House made some remarks about the danger which criticisms in this House may cause to British interests abroad. I certainly think his remarks were not justified by the facts. In reading this Blue Book one cannot help being impressed by the conduct of the Foreign Minister of this country. He was threatened with the wrath of Russia if our warships did not leave Port Arthur, and instead of a reply befitting the dignity and rights of this country, he sends a wavering reply, and gets the Admiralty to telegraph to the commander of the fleet in Northern China what was nothing less than a hint that he had better withdraw his ships from Port Arthur. If when Count Muravieff at St. Petersburg and the Russian Ambassador in London began talking about Manchuria being in the sphere of Russian influence the British Foreign Minister had promptly replied that he did not recognise any Russian sphere of influence in those regions, events might have turned out very differently from the way they have done. I think it is possible to prove that the action of the independent Press in this country, and, perhaps, the action of independent Members of this House, stiffened the back of the Government in this way, and when the Leader of the House talks about criticisms and questions being likely to endanger the credit and the prestige of this country abroad, I ask him whether anything could be more fatal to the influence and credit of this country abroad than many of the revelations contained in this Blue Book. Every criticism and every question which was addressed to Ministers by independent Members of this House is justified, and more than justified, by what we read in this Blue Book. Fortunately, a considerable change has now come over the policy of the Government, and a change for the good; but I say 1675 that the real injury to British influence is not to be found in the questions and criticisms of this House, but is to be found in such interviews as those which our Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador in London had about Port Arthur and about the sphere of British influence. Now there is one point which my right honourable Friend dwelt upon which I hope he will excuse me for criticising. The right honourable Gentleman drew a sketch of what might have happened if this country had made it a casus belli if Russia should occupy Port Arthur, and he says that there would have been an increased tension of feeling; the railway would have been creeping on, and we should have been subject to a period of alarm and disturbance for many years. But, Sir, my right honourable Friend evidently overlooked the fact that all the dangers which he dwelt upon are likely to take place, and cannot help taking place. The tension still exists, the Russian railway is still creeping on, the Russian forces in Manchuria are still being augmented, and at Wei-hai-Wei we are in this position—
§ It being Twelve of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
I should like to put a question to the First Lord of the Treasury as to the possibility and the expediency of continuing this discussion either on Monday or, at all events, not later than Tuesday. He will have observed to-night, I am sure, that an enormous interest, almost, I may say, an unparalleled interest, has been taken in the subject under discussion. The temper in which the Debate has been conducted is a temper of which he cannot find anything to complain. In the old days a discussion on a series of Papers of this kind would undoubtedly have taken three or four Parliamentary nights. I would submit to the right honourable Gentleman, therefore, that as many of us are anxious to continue the discussion, he should put the Vote down again for Monday or, at any rate, Tuesday. He will not fail to observe that the Irish Bill has made progress with 1676 a rapidity which he could not, I think, have counted upon. At any rate, having regard to the rapidity with which progress is being made with the legislative projects of the Government, I think we are not unreasonable in asking the right honourable Gentleman to give us another night for this discussion.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
It would be a poor return to Irish Members for facilitating the progress of the Irish Local Government Bill if the promise of the Government that the Bill should be taken de die in diem should be broken. We are here at a great distance from our homes. English gentlemen are on the spot, and they are able to take a shilling cab and come down to this House at any time, while we have a journey of 100 miles across a rough sea. We have nothing to do with anything but Irish matters; we do not interfere with your English Bills. I would have no objection whatever to the right honourable Gentleman giving a week for this discussion after we have got through the Irish Bill. It is possible to suggest that we have other interests in life than Wei-hai-Wei, and we do not want, at the expense of our Bill, to spend two or three more nights listening to the honourable Member for Sheffield and others, and to hear the honourable Baronet the Member for the Ecclesall Division expound what I would venture respectfully to call the policy of the "open bore."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I must confess that I am somewhat taken by surprise by the appeal, of which the right honourable Gentleman gave me notice just before he rose, that we should continue this Debate for another day. The honourable and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has given one reason why that should not be done, and I think it is a most effective reason. I am afraid it may be necessary to interrupt the Irish Local Government Bill for some absolutely necessary financial business, but, except for that, I certainly have desired, and still desire, that the Irish Bill should go on de die in diem, and I 1677 hope that our progress will be as smooth as it has been in the past. There is this further consideration, that although no absolute pledge has been given on the subject we think it would be a great disappointment to Irish Members if the suggestion that the Irish Estimates should be taken while the Irish Bill is in progress should fall through. The right honourable Gentleman has suggested that in previous times, before the Supply Rules came into force, more than one night was given for the discussion of such important questions as we have been debating to-night. That may be true, but under what circumstances? Under the circumstances that the Opposition moved a vote of censure on the Government.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Certainly. I never heard of the Government giving up an indefinite time for discussion coming to no conclusion, ending in no Motion, or terminated by no decision of the House. The right honourable Gentleman, or, if he thought it not befitting his position, any one of his supporters, might have moved a reduction of this Vote. Even that is not done.
§ MR. DILLON
I may say that we were most anxious to do that, and should have done it except for the absence of the right honourable Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
However that may be no reduction has been moved on the specific question at issue connected with these Papers, and I must say that to debate the whole question for a night, with the Leader of the Opposition and the late Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs speaking, and, at the end of a discussion pursued by Members in those positions, with no vote of censure or reduction of the Vote moved, to ask for a continuation of it without a vote of censure, seems to me to be adopting a wholly impossible position. Sir, I am most anxious to meet the right honourable Gentleman, as he knows, but I can- 1678 not hold out hope that in the immediate future I shall be able to find a day for the discussion of Chinese affairs. I do not imagine that our memories will have grown cold on the subject, but I am afraid they will perhaps be a little lukewarm before the Vote is again presented to the House. That is always excepting the case of a deliberate vote of censure on the Government moved by the Opposition. It is their choice to adopt that course, and if they adopt it of course I shall give a day, but I shall claim the right of complaining that before asking for that they should have wasted 12 hours of Parliamentary time upon a Debate upon which no definite issue was raised and no Motion was moved. I hope the right honourable Gentlemen opposite will not press for any further discussion until the time comes round when, in the ordinary course, we can, on a Friday, take up this or any other subject upon the Foreign Office Vote.
§ MR. DILLON
I trust the right honourable Gentleman has not finally made up his mind about next Friday. There was no doubt a desire that Friday should be taken for Irish Supply. Then when this Friday was proposed to be taken for the Foreign Office Vote, I raised no objection, because I saw there was a very general feeling that these Papers should be discussed. But I think it would be unjust to the Irish Members to take away a second night. I do not wish the right honourable Gentleman to give a definite answer now, but I will put a Question to him on Monday or Tuesday, and trust that in the meantime he will reconsider the matter, and that, unless there is some absolute necessity to the contrary, he will put down Irish Supply for next Friday.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
On what day is the Irish Bill to be interrupted for the continuation of the Budget Debate?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
If a Question is put to me on Monday, I will in the meantime consult my right honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If I may, by leave of the House, reply to the Question of the honourable Member for East Mayo, let me remind him that this Friday would have fallen to the Irish 1679 Members if I could have taken last Friday for the Foreign Office Vote. That could not be done owing to the unfortunate illness of my right honourable Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. That was the sole reason for the arrangement breaking down.
§ MR. CONINGSBY DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)
May I ask if any further correspondence will be laid on the Table before the Debate upon the Foreign Office Vote is resumed?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
There has been, of course, some further correspondence with regard to our negotiations. I do not know whether that may be laid on the Table; it may be possible.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Will the right honourable Gentleman arrange that the Debate shall be resumed after the further Papers are laid?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I cannot give any promise, because I do not know about the further Papers that may be received.
§ House adjourned at 12.15.