MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgent public importance, viz.,That Her Majesty's Representative at Pekin is now supporting the demands of Italy for a sphere of interest in Chinese territory with Sammun Bay as a naval base, notwithstanding the Resolution passed by this House on the 1st March 1898, 'that it is of vital importance for British commerce and influence that the independence of Chinese territory should be maintained.'
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Pritchard Morgan.)
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
Mr. Speaker, in rising to make a few observations in regard to what I consider to 540 be a matter of urgent, public importance, desire to say that I do not do so from any Party feeling, nor with any desire whatever to embarrass Her Majesty's Government. I have for a period of three years taken an interest in the development of this great empire, and, until this week, I have never even pronounced the name of China in this House, so that no one, I think, can charge me with any desire either to embarrass the Government or in any way make it a Party matter. I look upon this Question, Sir, from a purely commercial point of view. I think it is due to the House that it should have at least a knowledge of some of the facts which have come to my notice during the last two and a half years. England has had a first-rate opportunity during the last three years to build the Pekin-Hankow Railway. That opportunity was allowed to slip. I do not know whether it was in consequence of our having, as the noble Lord the Member for York (Lord Charles Beresford) said in China, a bad horse or a bad rider; still the fact remains that in this race in China we have been left far behind. The next opportunity which England had, and it was, to my mind, the greatest, to increase our trade and commerce in China, was when the Chinese Government requested the English Government to assist them with regard to a loan of 16 millions, intended, as the House well knows, for the purpose of paying off the Japanese indemnity. If England had taken this opportunity, China would have been saved an immense sum in interest, and England would not have run the least possible risk.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
Of course, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling, and I will not attempt to travel outside the four corners of the Resolution. I only desired to show the House that an opportunity has been lost, and that the time has arrived when we should certainly not throw away any more opportunities for our protection in that great Empire. Now, Sir, I will at once, under your ruling, come to the question of Italy. Italy is claiming to- 541 day a sphere of interest, or influence, or whatever it may be called—because I really do not know what either term means—and if we are going to support Italy in her demand, then Belgium, Austria, and other countries will necessarily claim to be entitled to spheres of interest or influence also. And where is this partitioning of this great Empire to stop? What is the use of this House passing a Resolution that we should maintain the integrity of China if, within twelve months, we support the claims of another country for a special sphere of influence? I submit that we are not only acting in violation of that Resolution, but that we are acting in a most dangerous manner, because if we have all the Powers of Europe occupying various parts of China, and we become, as it were, next-door neighbours, irritation must necessarily be created, jealousies must necessarily exist, with the one and only result that the occupying Powers will ultimately be at war with regard to this broken-up China. Now, Sir, I submit that it is the duty of this House to be bound by the Resolution passed last year, and to see that we do not allow any further Power to acquire any interest in China. What, I ask, does a naval base mean if it does not mean that it will entitle those on the coast to the Hinterland, and thus inevitably, in the opinion of those who have studied the question, prove dangerous to peace. I am not going, Mr. Speaker, to take up a great deal of the time of the House by referring to authorities, but the Blackburn Commission has definitely and distinctly laid down the opinion that this sphere of interest, or influence, or whatever it may be called, ought not to exist, but that the policy of the "open-door" should be fully observed in this great Empire. I would like to explain to the House the effect of one incident which has lately transpired. A great bar which existed in China has been removed by the admission of foreigners of all nationalities, and, that being so, the reason is far greater why the integrity of China should be maintained, now that those in authority, and especially the present Powers, have made up their minds that the time has arrived for this great, this vast, this enormously rich, Empire to be broken up for the development of the trade of 542 the world. Now, Sir, what does America desire with regard to China? What does Japan desire with regard to China? What does England profess to desire with regard to China? Expansion of trade and commerce. That seems to be the universal desire of the world, and if that can be accomplished by the simple means of preserving the integrity of this country, instead of allowing this policy of partitioning to go on, then, Sir, I say we shall have all we desire. Now, Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to travel outside the terms of the Resolution in any way, but I should like to explain to the House that it is my opinion that so far as Russia is concerned we have in Russia a friend. We ought not to look upon her in any way as an enemy. Russia has in Manchuria—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must again remind the honourable Member that he is branching into a general question, which is not open to discussion. He must keep, within the four corners of his Notice.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
I was endeavouring to point out to the House the benefit to be derived from the policy of the "open-door" as distinguished from the policy of partition. I say that this House should again necessarily express an opinion as to what that policy should be.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! That is not the question before the House. What the honourable Member has proposed to discuss is not the policy of the "open-door," but the policy of the Government in supporting Italy.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
Now, Sir, I will not further detain the House, I would, however, venture to submit that we could not possibly make a greater mistake than by continuing to support Italy or any other country in taking possession of this vast Empire. Our opportunities for trade there, with the "open-door" will more than counterbalance the advantages which the Govment may think they are going to derive from having Italy as a friendly neighbour in proximity to the Yang-tsze-kiang. It is nothing but the nervousness, the weakness, and the short-sight- 543 edness of Her Majesty's Government which justifies them in allowing Italy to come anywhere near our sphere of influence. All we had to do was to deal with Russia with a firm hand, and at the same time in the most friendly way, by saying "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther," instead of allowing, as the Government did, British ships to leave Port Arthur. Mr. Speaker, I beg to move the Resolution standing in my name.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Sir, although I do not agree with the honourable Gentleman who has just spoken in the conclusion at which he has arrived with regard to the support by this country of the interposition of Italy in China, I do agree with a good deal that he has said upon China. If the honourable Gentleman had made this Motion two years ago, or even a year ago, before these incursions upon the Chinese Coast had taken place on the part of Russia and Germany, a great deal might have been said for his Motion. But the position we are now in with regard to—
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
will second pro forma, although it is not a Motion I would have made myself. It is, however, by no means unusual for a Motion of this kind to be seconded pro forma. Had it not been for the fact that Russia has not only obtained a great naval port and arsenal on the Yellow Sea, but a great hold upon Chinese territory, and that Germany has got Kiao-Chau, and that we have occupied Wei-hai-Wei, I should have supported the Motion of the honourable Gentleman with regard to Italy. But we are in the presence of accomplished facts. Three great countries, including our own, have already established positions on the Chinese Coast, with certain spheres of influence or interest, and the question which the Government have to deal with now is, Will the arrival of Italy upon the scene of operations in China be of advantage or disadvantage to this country? Italy is well-known to be one of our oldest and most reliable friends in Europe. 544 Indeed, I doubt if any other country in Europe can be said to be bound to England by such strong historical and traditional ties, as well as by ties of national interest and naval necessity, as the Italian nation. Therefore, assuming that the objects of Italy in China are the same as our own, namely, opposition to the acquisition and seizure of territory, I should be disposed rather to welcome the arrival of Italy. If difficulties should arise we should find Italy our friend rather than our enemy. Italian interests are not really opposed to ours, and the Italian fleet is likely to be of decided advantage to the fleet of Great Britain should active operations ever become necessary. I think my honourable Friend opposite has been rather misled by what he himself publicly said was his want of information upon the meaning of the words "sphere of interest" and "sphere of influence." I admit that a great deal does depend upon the meaning of those words. Now, Sir, we have had various meanings attached to those words, and it would be well to have some definition arrived at. In a previous Debate, two honourable Friends of mine on this side of the House, the Member for Chester and another, treated "spheres of influence" as if they had practically meant the "partition" of China. They assumed to speak on behalf of a Committee which I believe is known as the Chinese Committee, though I very much doubt whether they represented that Committee in this particular view, because I do not believe that that organisation is pledged to the partitioning of China in the sense that they represented it to be. Now, Sir, as the honourable Member opposite very correctly said, the only policy with regard to China, is the policy of maintaining its territorial integrity. In that I thoroughly agree with him. If the arrival of Italy upon the scene of operations, or of any other Power, meant the partitioning of China, I should most strongly oppose it. The partitioning of China, as the honourable Gentleman said, is the most deadly policy which this country could follow, because it may mean not only the breaking up of that great Empire, with all the attendant disasters both to the people of China and to ourselves, but that other Powers rather than 545 Great Britain will get control of the greater part of that Empire. I do not, however, think that Italy's interposition will tend to partition. In a previous Debate my honourable Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles) and the right honourable Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs defined the sense in which this House might accept the meaning of "sphere of influence," or, at all events, "sphere of interest." I am not misinterpreting my right honourable Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when I say that he told the House that by "sphere of interest," i.e., the policy which Her Majesty's Government have been pursuing in China, they meant, not the acquisition of any political or military control, but the establishment of certain spheres, as to which the Powers possessing them had a primary claim to commercial concessions. Commercial concessions are very different things from political interests or political or military control. That is a policy to which no one, however much he may desire the territorial integrity of China, should take exception, and I doubt whether the honourable Gentleman opposite who moved this Resolution would object to certain spheres being assigned to the great Powers, if those Powers merely had the first claim on the commercial advantages of the territory in question.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
I regard anything in the shape of spheres of interest and naval bases as an interference with the integrity of China.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
There are already three naval bases existing belonging to Russia, Germany, and England, and I do not think the establishment of a fourth will do any serous harm to China.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
I should like to ask the honourable Gentleman whether he thinks two or three robberies justify a fourth?
§ *SIR. E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
Well, Sir, that is rather a bald way of putting it. Does not the honourable Gentleman think that, as there are already three Powers established in China, the es- 546 tablishment of a fourth may be a balance to the others, and may help to prevent any one of the others from getting possession of Chinese territory? I cannot believe for one moment that the Government would either advocate a policy of partition in China, which the honourable Gentleman seems to fear, or that they would refuse to give their friendly support to a country which is so well established and so useful an ally of Great Britain as Italy. I sincerely hope that nothing will be done tending to the partition of China, which I should regard not only as a great crime but as a blunder, as it would cause the loss by us of the support of the United States and of Japan in our Eastern policy. On the other hand, I regard the approach of Italy to Chinese waters, and the acquisition by her of a base there as not likely to injure China, and as certainly likely to be of advantage to this country.
§ *THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. BRODRICK,) Surrey, Guildford
I fear I am in rather a peculiar position in replying to this Motion, for up to the present the Debate has consisted of disputes between the proposer and the seconder, and the seconder has not left me much to say in reply to the proposer. I do not object to the demands for information, but I think it is an inconvenient course to attempt, on a Motion of this kind, to raise all the questions incidental to China which have occupied us during the last few years. To the issues specially raised in the Motion the honourable Member devoted only two or three sentences, which carried with them their own refutation. He is never tired of urging publicly and privately that the British Government should assume as much authority as possible in China, and should create spheres of interest or influence over the provinces in which he himself takes an interest. But now he demands from us not only that we shall safeguard our Interests, but that we shall take care that no other Power safeguards hers.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
I beg the right honourable Gentleman's pardon. Does he represent me as saying that England should assume responsibility throughout China?
§ MR. BRODRICK
The remark made by the honourable Member—it was, perhaps, entirely haphazard, as most of his remarks were—the remark made by him with some emphasis was that we should not allow any Power whatever to have any interest in China. We are to declare, according to the honourable Member, that we alone have any right in China; and it is our business to prevent any other Power from establishing any interest there. These observations are really too crude for it to be necessary for me to reply to them. In this particular case, as regards Italy, I can make this statement to the House. The position which Italy has taken in this matter has been entirely taken on her own initiative. The Italian Government has desired to secure a sphere of interest or influence in China. The honourable Member says that we ought to have met that step with a negative. I do not know what title we have to negative any negotiations.
§ MR. BRODRICK
The honourable Member, by several sentences in his speech, showed that he wished Italy to be practically elbowed out altogether. That was the gist of his speech. The position which the Government has taken is the only proper position under the circumstances. Italy is a friendly Power. For many years she has been an ally of Great Britain. She is anxious for certain advantages in China. In regard to that desire we have shown a friendly attitude, but our attitude has been strictly limited—and our approval, as far as given, has been strictly limited—to diplomatic negotiations. As far as we are concerned, if the Italian Government by diplomatic negotiations can get China to make concessions to her, we shall welcome her success. I do not think it is necessary that I should advert to what has fallen from the honourable Member as to this attitude having been taken from nervousness or shortsightedness. In these matters there is nothing which is more unwise than to go beyond what is your proper province, and our proper province at present is to safeguard our own interests. As far as these are not threatened we do not 548 assist them by standing in the way of other friendly Powers who wish to safeguard their interests. That is the whole case of the Government; and in the case of Italy we wish well to her negotiations, and, as far as we are concerned, by diplomatic means we are willing to support them.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
In interposing for a few moments in this Debate I feel compelled to say that the speech of the Under Secretary has a little disappointed me. I had hoped that the right honourable Gentleman was going to say that the attitude of this country had been misunderstood, and that, in respect of the Italian application we maintained a strict neutrality, neither favouring it nor doing anything against it. The right honourable Gentleman said that we had done nothing against it, and, so far, the Government will have the support of the House and the country. But the right honourable Gentleman also said that we are giving our diplomatic support to the action of Italy. Well, Sir, in the interests of Italy itself, as well as of this country, I confess that that action is most unfortunate. The honourable Member for Sheffield has spoken of Italy as our ancient and traditional friend—as the friend, not only of years, but of generations—
§ MR. COURTNEY
The word "traditional" does not mean much if it does not cover more than a generation. I am old enough to remember quite well the beginning of the Italian nation, and how it was regarded at the time. And there are those now who are doing their best to lure Italy to her destruction. Italy first was to go to Africa, and we all know what came of it. Now, she is to have our diplomatic support in establishing a naval base or sphere of influence in China. It is urged that the step will be in our interests. But in the interests of Italy herself, every one who knows her condition must desire that Italian ambition and energies shall be restricted to affairs at home, and that these foreign ambitions ought not to be encouraged. If the Italian Government take this action, we cannot restrain 549 them. But in advising them to do it, in countenancing it, in saying something to the Chinese Government in support of it, we' are not acting in the interests of Italy. Sir, I submit this act cannot stand alone. Italy is following the lead of England, Germany, and Russia, and Austria-Hungary and Holland may follow the example of Italy. In the interest of ourselves, as well as in the interests of China, I altogether deprecate the action which Her Majesty's Government seem to have taken. No well-wisher of Italy can desire her to embark upon these adventures, and it is not for us to encourage the dream of the recovery of the ancient Roman Empire for Italy which is exemplified in the Italian Chamber of Deputies by a display of a map showing what that empire once was. I sincerely regret that the action of Her Majesty's Government has not been one of the strictest neutrality.
§ SIR E. GREY (Berwick-on-Tweed)
I should not have intervened in the Debate, but I think the speech to which we have just listened may leave a rather false impression as to the position in which the House has been left by the speech of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Sir, the questions which have been causing us anxiety with regard to China, and about which we should most like to speak, or about which I should most like to speak, would not be in order on this Resolution. But I listened to the speech of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and did not receive from it the impression which it seems to have conveyed to my honourable Friend the Member for Bodmin. I understood the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs to say that the attitude of the Government with regard to Italy had not been one of spurring her on or encouraging or instigating her But, Sir, I think the impression we shall get by reading the speech of the right honourable Member for Bodmin is that the Government have taken a more active part in this matter than has been the case. Well, Sir, I am not surprised that this Motion should have been raised, because the Government did accept last year a definition of what they meant by protecting our own interests in China which went far beyond the scope of the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Under Secretary. When they 550 accepted the Resolution of an honourable Member last year, they undoubtedly were understood to pledge themselves to maintain the integrity of China, and they are undoubtedly open to the charge of inconsistency, not merely in supporting this demand which Italy has put forward, but also in not resenting it. But we on this side of the House have always maintained that the Government undertook far too much in that Resolution. It was not intended to be taken too literally. In any case, a great deal has happened since. Matters have gone very far. Spheres of interest have matured in China—more than one—and I do say that the Government would be placed in a great difficulty if Italy came forward on her own motive and impulse, acting in accordance with what she believed to be her own interests, and demanded that she should have something like that sphere of interest which has been gained by other Powers. I do not see how the Government could possibly have resented that after what has passed. Then the right honourable Member for Bodmin would say that the Government should have stood entirely on one side. I am sure even he would feel that the Government could not offer to Italy the advice he has offered to her this evening.
§ SIR E. GREY
Yes, Sir; and there are many kinds of advice. I think it would tax all the resources of diplomatic ingenuity for one Government to put into a friendly form, or a form which would be received as friendly by another, the advice my right honourable Friend has offered.
§ SIR E. GREY
I did not say it would be written. But I should be very sorry to be charged with the delicate task of conveying it, because if conveyed verbally it would still be placed on record; but, to return to my point—whether the Government ought to have left the matter entirely alone. If they had, would other Powers have left it alone? Would there have been no intervention from anyone? The moral to be drawn from what has happened in China is that it 551 is impossible for us to stand aside from what is taking place and confine our actions solely to representations to the Chinese Government without communicating with other European Powers. Isolation is becoming more and more impossible, and what we wish to see is constant communication and constant touch between Her Majesty's Government, and, not merely Italy, but also the other European Governments interested in the matter; because we know that if constant touch is not maintained we and other Powers run a risk of drifting apart, and we believe, therefore, it is necessary there should be constant communication and touch in order that friendly relations may be preserved in this matter with Italy and the other Powers interested.
MR. BEYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
In reply to the remarks by the honourable Baronet the Member for Berwick, that there is no diplomatic method by which the Government could have tendered to the Government of Italy advice of the nature suggested by the right honourable Member for Bodmin, I would venture to point out that the right honourable Baronet has himself furnished a precedent showing how informal but important communications from one Government to another can be made on the floor of this House when he made his unfortunate "unfriendly act" speech, which had such important results. A Member of Her Majesty's Government can, therefore, in a speech at the Table, give to another Power advice which cannot diplomatically be given direct.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, W.R., Holderness)
Though last year I argued that it was not a disadvantage to have several great Powers in China, I doubt whether we ought, even diplomatically, to assist Italy in gaining what? she requires. I think it would be better if, instead of assisting her, we stood entirely aside and let Italy fight her own battles in China for herself. I do not believe it is true or sound policy to make arrangements with other Powers of Europe for the partition of China.
§ *MR. MARKS (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
There is one aspect of this question to which I would venture, in a 552 word or two, to call the attention of the House. When we were discussing our position in China last year, and when accusations were brought against the Government that we had been left behind in the search for commercial and other advantages, it was stated in this House by the First Lord of the Treasury that amongst other advantages gained were very important mining and railway concessions in Shang-si which had been granted to an English syndicate; and a similar statement was made by the present Under Secretary of State for War at the same time. Well, Sir, it must not be forgotten that these concessions were granted largely in consequence of the influence brought to bear by the Italian Minister in Pekin. That fact was made manifest in the negotiations between Sir Claude Macdonald and the representative of the Chinese Government at the time. We have not had hitherto so many friends in China that we can afford to dispense even with one friend, and, considering the good turn which Italian diplomacy did us at the time when we were in need of assistance, and considering what has been said of the results of that diplomacy by one of the best authorities in this House, it does seem to me that if it be possible without detriment to our interests to make a good return for that service it is in the highest degree desirable and expedient that we should do so.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I desire in a very few words to point out that not only is Germany established in China, and Russia, and England, but also France. There are already four European Powers in China, and with what countenance can Her Majesty's Government protest against the arrival under similar circumstances of a fifth? It seems to me that that is an important consideration. The right honourable Member for Bodmin seems to think we ought to go to the Italian Government and tell them that what they want is all wrong, that their people are all wrong, and that we understand their interests better than they do themselves. On the 1st March of last year we were told that Her Majesty's Government would maintain, not merely the integrity but also 553 the independence of China. Meanwhile Italy has gone to China. I am sorry to see France, Germany, Russia, and now Italy gnawing coaling stations out of China, but since France, Germany, and Russia have done it, it is quite impossible for Her Majesty's Government to offer any resistance to its being done by Italy.
§ Motion negatived.