HC Deb 09 June 1898 vol 58 cc1178-9
MR. LEWIS (Flint Burghs)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, after repeated applications made by British engineers and capitalists for permission to build a railway between Pekin and Hankow, a concession for the making of the railway was granted two years ago on condition that Chinese capital and native labour only should be employed in its construction; whether a concession has now been granted by the Chinese Government for the making of a railway between Pekin and Hankow under Russian supervision and with capital ostensibly provided by the Russo-Chinese Bank, which supplied the capital for the building of the Manchurian Railway; whether the Russo-Chinese Bank is the property of the Russian Government or a private enterprise; whether the construction of this railway will enable the Russian Government to carry troops to the valley of the Yang-tsze; and what steps the Government are taking, in view of these circumstances, for the protection of British trading interests in the valley of the Yang-tsze?


The statements contained in the first paragraph of the honourable Member's Question are not borne out by the information in our possession. Though I believe that the Hankow-Pekin line has excited the interest of some British capitalists, I am not aware that any bonâ-fideBritish proposal has ever been submitted to the Chinese Government for its construction. The concession granted to the Belgian Syndicate in 1897 did not contain the condition referred to, but, on the contrary, provided for the employment of foreign as well as of Chinese capital and labour. The Chinese Government state that the syndicate will still carry out the original agreement, and that the control remains with the Chinese Director General of Railways. The Russo-Chinese Bank, so far as Her Majesty's Government are aware, is a private enterprise, but it is in close connection with the Russian Government. It will be a long time before the Pekin-Hankow line, if ever constructed, will reach the Yang-tsze Valley, and it is perhaps premature to answer the last two Questions of the honourable Member. But I may point out to him that the sending of Russian troops into the Yang-tszo Valley by a railway or otherwise, unless with the assent of China, would be an act of war. In such an event Her Majesty's Government would take the requisite steps for the protection of British interests.