§ * MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)
Mr. Speaker, I desire 849 to call the attention of the House to the failure of Her Majesty's Government to uphold British commercial and political interests in China. Though I have recently made extensive journeys in that country, I do not claim to pose as an authority on Chinese affairs, but I rather propose to make a statement as to the present situation, based on information obtained from the best-informed men upon the spot. I make no apology for recalling the attention of the House to the necessity for the initiation by Her Majesty's Government of a more definite and vigorous policy in the Far East, if our commercial and political interests are to be maintained. I am aware how entirely absorbed the public mind is by what has been transpiring in South Africa for some time past, but I venture to submit that we would be unworthy of the great Imperial responsibilities which rest upon our shoulders were we to allow the affairs, however important, of any one part of our Empire to monopolise our attention to the serious neglect of vital interests in other parts of the world. Nor is it unsuitable, Mr. Speaker, to review the situation in China, because of the agreeable way in which public attention has again been directed to the affairs of that Empire by the signal success of American diplomacy, which has resulted in the assent of England, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, and Italy to the principle of equality of customs tariff and of harbour dues and equality of railway rates being maintained in China. The advantages conferred by this undertaking are to be common to all States and all peoples, and our kinsmen across the Atlantic are to be warmly congratulated on the success which has attended their efforts. The commercial community in this country are deeply indebted to the United States Government for having thus ensured equality of opportunity for British trade as well as their own. How far Her Majesty's Government ought to be congratulated on the part they have played in this matter has not yet been fully disclosed, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs will be able to tell us to-night that not only was Her Majesty's Government the first to give assent to the proposals, but they, so far as it was judicious, gave their active co-operation in the endeavour to secure the carrying through of the arrangement. I 850 am aware that, in view of the jealousy recently exhibited towards us by foreign Powers, the United States Government were probably able to succeed where we would have failed; and, indeed, any interference on our part might have defeated our object. It is with great satisfaction I notice that not only is there to be equality in the matter of customs tariff and harbour dues, but equality also of railway rates. The assurance in regard to the latter is of the utmost value, and it was one which the British Government failed to secure in the Anglo-Russian Agreement. I will now turn to what I found to be the position of affairs in North China. The seizure of Port Arthur by Russia is somewhat ancient history, and I will not refer further to that subject than to say that the people in the East most likely to know unanimously state that no one was so much surprised as were the Russians themselves at their being allowed to take Port Arthur. Russia has already made Port Arthur impregnable by new forts practically encircling it, and in August last she had no fewer than 40,000 troops at Port Arthur and Talienwan. There were also Russian soldiers at the railway stations on her Manchurian lines. She is in military occupation of that huge country of Manchuria, rich agriculturally, in minerals, and fisheries, with emphatically a white man's climate. Even at Niuchwang, the only treaty port through which we can now trade, Russian cossacks had been policing the town on the invitation, forsooth, of the British Consul. On the north bank of the river at Niuchwang there is a Russian concession of several square miles, on which one terminus of her railway is being built, and over which she enjoys sovereign rights. Not content with this acquisition, Russia is negotiating for a further concession on the south side of the river, opposite Niuchwang and adjacent to the terminus of the Niuchwang Extension Line from Shanghaikwan, obviously with the intention of bridging the river and linking up her Manchurian railways, including that from Port Arthur, where her troops are concentrated, with the line leading viâ Tien-tsin to Pekin, which no doubt she will ultimately acquire by advancing to the Chinese Government the money to pay off the British bondholders, unless much greater determination be shown by the 851 British Government in resisting aggressions certain to strangle British trade in the future. On this Niuchwang Extension Line is the treaty port of Chinwangtao, the opening of which was announced by Her Majesty's Government as a diplomatic triumph. This port I visited, and to my surprise I found there was no natural harbour, but only an open bay surrounded by sand hills; no sign of population, except a few fishermen's cottages, and no trade. All the best-informed commercial men agree that it is an act of folly to spend money on Chinwangtao, and that the improvement of the approaches to the ports of Tien-tsin and Niuchwang at each end of the line ought rather to have been sought. Perhaps the most unaccountable action on the part of the British Government, so far as Russia is concerned, was the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Agreement in the form in which it was finally signed. The negotiations for months proceeded with the expressed intention that what was to be conceded to Russia was the exclusive right of railway construction in Manchuria, we having been conceded a similiar right in the Yang-tsze basin. But, as far as Russia was concerned, being at the back of the Pekin and Hankow Railway, as she undoubtedly is, through the medium of the Russo-Chinese Bank—which Lord Salisbury has told us is a Russian State bank—the Agreement with Russia as to our exclusive rights in the Yang-tsze basin was broken before the Agreement itself was signed; whilst on our part, without a word of explanation, not only did we concede to Russia exclusive rights in Manchuria, but north of the Great Wall of China, which will in the long run be found also to embrace a large slice of the province of Chi-li, the whole of the great horse-breeding country of Mongolia and the province of Sin Kiang. I have had a large map prepared, which I should have liked to have seen hung in this House in order that our remarks on this subject might be made more intelligible. That map shows exactly what it is that Russia obtains under this Anglo-Russian agreement, and gives other information which may be interesting to Members. If desired, I propose to place this map in the Tea Room for a short time. The fact is that, so far as the Blue-books disclose it, Russia has the whole of these enormous territories in North China and 852 stretching westward across Asia to territories previously in the possession of Russia, and giving to her just what she requires to enable her to take possession, not only of North China but also of Central China. Without a map it is, perhaps, difficult to make clear to the House the exact position of affairs, but hon. Members may be able to follow me if I say that, stopping for the time being the construction of the Russian Siberian Railway to Vladivostock, she has already commenced the laying of a line branching off from her Siberian Railway right down through Mongolia direct to Pekin. A further concession in connection with the Pekin-Hankow Railway has been got for a branch from Kai-feng-fu to Honan-fu, with the option of extending to Singan-fu, a place within only two hundred miles north of the Yang-tsze River, and from which the immemorial trade route into Central Asia runs. But this is only part of the Russian programme for the conquest of Asia by railways. There is another Russian main line rapidly advancing through Central Asia which seems to have escaped public notice. I mean the Russian Trans-Caspian Railway, which, proceeding north-east from Merv, is already constructed to Adijan, on the borders of the Chinese province of Sin Kiang, which has recently been accorded by us to Russia, and is, as a matter of fact, under Russian domination. From the point to which this Russian Trans-Caspian line has already been constructed there is a perfectly practicable route turning the flank of the mountainous country of Thibet for a railway down through Sin Kiang to Singan-fu. Hon. Members will see that with the completion of this line Russia not only has her Siberian railway tapping North China, but she will have her Trans-Caspian line penetrating into the very heart of Central China and dominating the Yang-tsze valley. The Government do not appear to have even sought from Russia the recognition of similar preferential rights in our favour in Thibet, the only territory now left between India and the Russian sphere. While a comparatively poor country like Russia is not hesitating to spend over £100,000,000 sterling on these projects, which will enable her finally to reap a rich harvest as regards both her commercial and political interests, what, I ask, is England doing? The British Government, so far, appear to have lost those qualities of enterprise, 853 courage, and foresight which characterised our forefathers, and by virtue of which our world-wide British Empire has been built up. Not only have they refused, as a matter of high imperial policy, to give any encouragement or guarantee to a railway from British Burma to the Upper Yang-tsze as a counterpoise to the Russian railways, but they have actually stopped the construction of the railway to Kunlon Ferry, in British Burma; and this at a time when France is vigorously pushing on with the construction of her railway from Tonkin through Hunan to Szechuan, by which she will draw the trade of south-west China through French territories with the aid of protective tariffs, instead of our being able to carry on a free and unrestricted trade through British Burma. British capitalists at Tien-tsin were perfectly prepared to construct a railway from Tien-tsin to Kalgan, which is the trade route into Mongolia, but were informed by the Foreign Office that they could not support such an application, as Kalgan was in the sphere conceded to Russia under the Anglo-Russian Agreement, though it is far away from Manchuria. This line of railway, being an extension of the Pekin-Tien-tsin line to Kalgan, would have been the most powerful barrier against Russian advance southwards. An important factor in considering the course of events in north China, and an important and powerful influence in the direction of keeping it open to trade is the fact that the interests of Japan are identical with our own, and that Japan is prepared to resolutely uphold her rights when assailed by Russia. Japan having a population increasing at the rate of half a million a year, and her cultivable area being comparatively small, it is absolutely essential that she should have room for expansion. The natural expansion of Japan, whether as regards climate, fertility of soil, fisheries or mineral wealth, is into Corea. From my interviews with Japanese statesmen, I gathered that, even at the risk of war, they would prevent any Russian interference with what they consider their priority of right in Corea. Moreover, the active co-operation of Japan could be counted on in any effort to uphold throughout China the treaty rights of all nations. With regard to Kiau-chau, the Germans know their own minds, and I saw not fewer than ten thousand Chinamen at work constructing the harbour works and 854 building the railway into the interior of Shantung, whilst palatial buildings were springing up on all sides. The contrast between the activity of the Russians at Port Arthur and of the Germans at Kiau-chau and our do-nothing policy at Wei-hai-wei, after our having somewhat ostentatiously announced to the world that we had taken that place as a counterpoise to Port Arthur, is most humiliating. At Wei-hai-wei not a single fort has been constructed, not one gun mounted; practically no buildings have been erected, and even the pier, with 30 feet of water at the end, which had been damaged by the blowing-up of a Chinese man-of-war, has not yet been repaired, though the uprights were ready to receive the superstructure. Beyond a little dredging, the construction of water-condensing apparatus and the drilling of a few Chinese soldiers, nothing seems to have been done. When I went to the top of the island at Wei-hai-wei, I wished the First Lord of the Treasury had been there with me, for when I condemned the right hon. Gentleman's action in having, unasked by Germany, precluded us from connecting Wei-hai-wei with the interior of Shangtung by railway, he interposed the remark that it was physically impossible. I could look across the country towards Chefoo without being able to see a hill a hundred feet high. And when again, from the top of the pinnacle at Chefoo, I looked across towards Wei-hai-wei, the experience was the same. The fact is that few railways in the world would be so easy of construction as one from Wei-hai-wei to Chefoo, and in at least two other directions leading from the territory appertaining to Wei-hai-wei through rich valleys into the interior of Shangtung, the same is true. Wei-hai-wei might have been made a great success as a commercial port, had we not thus tied our hands. The roadstead at Chefoo is most exposed, and for days together in the winter ships can neither land nor discharge. With proper facilities a large portion of the trade done through Chefoo would have been transferred to Wei-hai-wei. As, however, the situation is to-day, Russia having succeeded in converting the question in North China from a sea to a land question, it is very doubtful whether money ought to be spent on Wei-hai-wei. In all probability the best course would be to hand Wei-hai-wei over to Germany, if 855 she, in return, would support our taking another naval base at or near the mouth of the Yang-tsze River. The Government announced in this House that concessions had been got for British subjects for 2,800 miles of railways in China. But terms and conditions enabling the carrying out of the projects have not yet been arranged in connection with a single concession. The Shanghai to Nankin, and several other concessions, were given as reparation for the breach of faith on the part of the Chinese Government in giving the Pekin-Hankow concession to foreign Powers over our heads. Therefore, in regard to these our Government should stand no nonsense as to the terms and conditions upon which they should be built. Under the Treaty of Tien-tsin we are entitled to equally favourable terms and conditions to those granted by the Chinese Government to Russia, France, and Germany; but we find that the Chinese Government are insisting upon a mixed Chinese and European control, which has proved, in the case of the Niuchwang Extension Railway, to be surrounded by difficulties. Our Government should insist on the British concessionnaires having complete control of the security, that is, to pay interest and repay principal, with a guarantee of non-interference and the maintenance of our rights, giving only the Chinese Government an option of taking over the railways on certain terms and conditions. The Russians, Germans, and French will enjoy this control; why not the British? The confidence of the British investor was disturbed by the way in which the Government allowed Russia to dictate the terms and conditions upon which the Niuchwang Extension Loan should be concluded, and by the unsatisfactory way in which the mixed control has since operated; for though they offered £12,000,000 sterling against £2,300,000 required when that loan was floated, it is questionable whether the money would now be forthcoming for even the cream of the railway concessions, unless obtained on the terms and conditions I have mentioned. With regard to the terms and conditions upon which the concessions for these—what we may term—reparation railways, I find that on the 4th of September, 1898, Sir Claude MacDonald stated in a dispatch that the terms accorded for the construction of these lines will not be in- 856 ferior to the terms granted for the construction of any railways in China proper, and that they had agreed to send him a confidential note to that effect. This would have secured terms and conditions equal to those granted to Germany for the railways she is constructing in Shantung; but, within a few days, under instructions from the First Lord of the Treasury, Sir Claude MacDonald accepted these concessions on not less favourable conditions than those granted to the concessionnaires for the Pekin and Hankow Railway. Those terms and conditions are workable when in the hands of concessionnaires having at their back the Governments of Russia and France, but are useless to British concessionnaires so long as they do not receive the proper support from the British Government. An American syndicate entered into a preliminary contract with the Chinese Government for the building of a railway from Hankow to Canton, and also made a provisional agreement with an English syndicate, with the object of having this railway constructed jointly by an Anglo-American company. The Chinese Government, however, have thrown every obstacle in the way of the ratification of this concession on terms and conditions not less favourable to those granted to other Powers, whilst the French Government have actively intervened to prevent the carrying through of the concession, and claimed that unless the American syndicate is prepared to construct the line on the terms and conditions of the Pekin and Hankow Concession, the right to construct the railway falls into their hands. The question of by whom this important railway is to be constructed is one vitally affecting the future of the Chinese Empire; for, if the concessionnaires of the Pekin and Hankow Railway are allowed to secure this concession, it will give to Russia and France a railway system through the heart of the Chinese Empire from the extreme north to the extreme south, and will place them practically in military occupation of it. I hope, therefore, to hear from the Under Secretary that Her Majesty's Government are vigorously supporting the United States Government in insisting that this railway, penetrating as it does from the south right into the heart of our supposed sphere of interest, the Yang-tsze basin, shall not be given to foreign Powers. 857 To show how absolutely Her Majesty's Government appears to fail to sustain British rights in China, I may instance the Pekin Syndicate. This corporation was promised a concession for a railway to connect its mineral properties in Shan-si with the navigable limits of the Yang-tsze river. But, whilst the application for such communication has been flatly refused to the British company, there has been secured by the concessionnaires of the Pekin-Hankow Railway the right to construct a railway from Kai-feng-fu to Honan-fu, with the option of extending it to Singan-fu; thus barring the road for the construction of the railway promised to the Pekin syndicate. Another great achievement of Her Majesty's Government was the Yang-tsze Valley Agreement, which, even now, many people in this country imagine secures to us the Yang-tsze basin as a special sphere of influence, in which we have priority of rights. This, however, is an absolute myth. Russia, France, Germany, and Japan are all to-day more actively engaged in advancing their commercial and political interests in the rich Yang-tsze basin than we are ours. They have sovereign rights over various areas at Shanghai, Hankow and elsewhere, whilst we have none. A further surrender on the part of Her Majesty's Government is in regard to the extension of the French settlement at Shanghai. A firm stand was originally taken against this demand by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and backed up as it was at the time by the United States of America, it was understood that the demand would not be granted. How little needed such a concession was will be made very clear when I state that in the French concession already in existence there are only seventeen Frenchmen resident; and yet, notwithstanding this, our diplomatists have again given way. France has got the extension of her concession, and British prestige has once more been lowered in the eyes of the Chinese Government. In one debate in this House we heard with great satisfaction that Her Majesty's Government had at length determined to do something to uphold British commercial interests by the placing of gunboats on the inland waterways of China for the protection of British trade. Two gunboats were sent out to patrol the Upper Yang-tsze more than twelve 858 months ago; but, though their crews have been paid by the British taxpayer and they have been on the spot all this time, they have yet to make the first ascent of that portion of the river which they were intended to patrol; and the Under Secretary informed us the other day that they were going to attempt this next month. The fact is that these two boats, the "Woodcock" and the "Woodlark," are unsuitable for the purpose, both as regards construction and steaming power. As they have to go up rapids sometimes running thirteen and fourteen knots an hour and steam only twelve knots, it is obvious they can only mount the rapids with assistance from shore, and they would be useless, therefore, if a hostile attitude were assumed by the inhabitants of the district. The whirlpools and cross-currents of the river are in places so strong that the gunboats ought to have paddle-wheels instead of screws, and it is ridiculous to send out boats constructed of plates under one-eighth of an inch thick instead of being at least three-sixteenths for a river of the character of the Upper Yang-tsze. Apparently without any inquiry whatever, when gunboats were needed for the Upper Yang-tsze, the Admiralty decided to send out two Nile gunboats. This is a serious matter, so far as the commercial interests of this country are concerned, because a British cargo-steamer is expected to be plying on the Upper Yang-tsze within the next month or two; and in all probability the half million Chinamen now carrying on the trade on the river will regard this innovation as a menace to their livelihood, trouble will arise. It is imperative that gunboats, capable of going wherever they may be required, without shore assistance and without regard to the state of the river, should be placed on the Upper Yang-tsze immediately. The "Woodcock" and "Woodlark" now there should be transferred to the West River, as on that river the old "Tweed" can steam only two knots against the current and the "Sandpiper" four knots, which, all will agree, renders them quite unable to cope effectually with the pirates who infest that district. The pirates on the West River have more than once seized British-owned steamers, ransacked them, and then used them for capturing richly-laden native junks. But up to the present time no punishment 859 whatever has been inflicted on the perpetrators of these outrages. It is true we are told that the Admiral is now considering the question of how best to repress the piracy. But why now? Why not twelve months ago? Why were the gunboats in the district prevented for so long a time from taking any effective measures for the repression of the piracy which has been so rife? Then with regard to the opening up of all the inland waterways of China, the agreement with the Chinese Government was announced in this House as one which would make it possible 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 interior of China. On the strength of this agreement leading British shipping firms in China expended £60,000 in building steamers to trade from Hong Kong and Canton up the West River. So far, however, from these steamers being allowed to take British goods to every riverside town and station, they have not been permitted to load or discharge cargo at intervening places between the treaty ports. They have consequently been working at a considerable loss, and several have been taken off altogether. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in answer to a question I put to him the other day* on this subject, said this was not within the knowledge of the Foreign Office. In view, however, of the lengthy correspondence between the shipping firms in China and the British Legation in Pekin on this question, it seems extraordinary that the Foreign Office should not have received this important information. In reply to a further question, the right hon. Gentleman said the agreement with the Chinese Government permitted foreigners to trade in steamers where native boats had been permitted, but this did not include every riverside town and station. I must, however, refer the right hon. Gentleman to the express declaration made in this House by his predecessor, Mr. Curzon, to which I have already alluded. I am informed by those engaged in trading on the Chinese inland waterways that native boats are permitted to trade with every riverside town and station and also escape with lower duties. This being so,* See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxx., page 1180.860 it is obviously impossible for British steamers to compete, when they are required to have one steamer to trade between treaty ports and a second with the other riverside towns and stations, both boats running probably half empty; whereas, if, according to the agreement, they were allowed to load and discharge cargo at every riverside town and station, whether treaty ports or otherwise, one steamer would do where two are now employed, and a profitable trade would be carried on. I have repeatedly pressed the Government to insist upon the carrying out in its entirety of this agreement with the Chinese Government, and I should be glad to learn from the right hon. Gentleman to-night that the Government are determined to insist on this. With regard to South China and Western China, in the course of my journey I penetrated through the Yang-tsze gorges 1,600 miles up the Yang-tsze river. I travelled some distance into the rich province of Szechuan, with its 50,000,000 of industrious and prosperous inhabitants. I found this province covered by French Jesuit priests, who, in addition to the work of a religious propaganda, gather and transmit to the French Government information as to the mineral wealth and the commercial possibilities of the country. They have practically completed a geological survey of the great province, and now the French are pressing for exclusive rights to work minerals in six districts which they believe to be rich in mineral wealth. They have also prepared a chart of the Yang-tsze river, which was to me of invaluable service. As in South Africa it has been found that we actually had no knowledge of the country around Ladysmith, though it had been our military headquarters for years, so in China our charts are out of date, and therefore useless. An Admiralty chart of the Yang-tsze was prepared in 1861, and some slight corrections have been made since, but it is at the present time no guide to the navigation of a river of the changing character of the Yang-tsze. I have again and again drawn the attention of the Government to the agreement of January, 1896, between the British Government and the French Government, under which each nation bound itself to the other to use its best offices with the Chinese Government to secure each for the other similar and increased opportunities and facilities for trading with 861 Yunnan and Szechuan. This agreement has been entirely disregarded by the French Government without calling forth any remonstrance from Her Majesty's Government. Nanning-fu, the treaty port on the West River, which was declared to be open more than a year ago (as was admitted the other night by the right hon. Gentleman) still remains unopened. And remembering the violent opposition on the part of the French to the opening of Nanning-fu, one cannot but feel that in all probability the delay in the opening is due to French influence. I hope to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty's Government will not allow further delay, as we have a right to expect that the state of affairs under which British goods have to be transhipped from Hong Kong, sent through Tonkin up to South-West China, and are subjected to a differential duty of 10 per cent. when passing through French territory, shall be ended without delay. The French are busily engaged in constructing a railway from Tonkin towards Yunnan, with the intention of ultimately carrying it forward into Szechuan, and of drawing the trade of South-West China down to the sea through French Indo-China, and with the declared expectation that sooner or later France will be able to annex Szechuan, Yunnan, Kwang-si, and Kwang-tung—the four great Chinese provinces to the north of her Indo-China possessions. When we have regard to the fact that seven-eighths of the imports into French Indo-China in 1885 went from England, Germany, and Switzerland, and that to-day, owing to differential duties in favour of French goods, amounting in some cases to 50 per cent., that three-fourths of the imports go from France, and only one-fourth from the rest of the world, we have an object lesson of the vital importance of resolutely upholding our just commercial rights in South and South-west China, if in the future we are not to see British trade strangled by differential tariffs in those regions also. Her Majesty's Government took great credit for the Kau-lung extension opposite Hong Kong. But I find that the value of the extension was very much reduced by the obstinacy with which the home authorities, contrary to the strongly expressed opinion of both civil and military authorities out there, in accepting the present boundary, which forms no natural defence, as the river is easily fordable 862 in many places, and which is considerably south of the head of Mirs Bay, included in the concession, and besides contains no healthy camping ground, whereas they ought to have insisted that the boundary should be a natural line of mountains running slightly north of the head of Mirs Bay, and which would have given a healthy camping ground and a strong natural frontier. It will be in the recollection of the House that, owing to the opposition to the British when taking possession, we occupied Sam Chun, outside the boundary, where we had a most healthy camp. However, while I was at Hong Kong, instructions came from home that, under arrangements made with the Chinese Government, Sam Chun was to be evacuated. This, it was believed, had been done because the French had pointed out to the Chinese Government that we had been allowed to occupy a territory beyond the concession agreed upon, and that they were in consequence claiming further concessions around their newly acquired treaty port in the South. If this is so, the result at any rate was not creditable to British diplomacy, for within a week of our evacuation of Sam Chun the French demands were conceded in full by the Chinese Government. Again and again in this House declarations of policy have been made by Her Majesty's Government which, if carried out, would have given the greatest satisfaction to everybody interested in the upholding and the extending of our commercial interests in the Far East. But, unfortunately, whether in regard to Agreements such as the Anglo-Russian Agreement in the matter of railway concessions, the opening of the inland waterways, the patrolling by gunboats of the Yang-tsze and the West River, or the terms and conditions upon which the acquisition of Wei-hai-Wei and Kau-lung have been secured, all alike have proved delusive and unsatisfactory. And I do not hesitate to say that in China our prestige and influence, which were predominant five years ago, are non-existent to-day. The Blue-book issued yesterday is unfortunately largely a further record of failure, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to deal successfully with the Tsung-li-Yamen. This voluminous paper hardly contains one instance where a distinct diplomatic success has been achieved. What, then, ought Her Majesty's Govern- 863 ment to do, in view of accomplished facts in the Far East, in order to retrieve as far as possible the disastrous results of their neglect to pursue a firm and definite policy? The understanding arrived at between the United States Government and the other nations interested in the trade of China, securing, if faithfully observed, the maintenance of the open door, appears to afford another golden opportunity for seeking the further friendly co-operation of the great Powers in the promotion of administrative reforms, so greatly needed for the strengthening of the Imperial Government and for maintaining the integrity of China, the necessity for which the United States Government so fully recognise. All authorities in China agree that a serious mistake was made in allowing the deposition of the Emperor last year, and the assumption of the control of China by the reactionary Dowager Empress, who is a usurper and has no title whatever to occupy her present position. In view of the somewhat alarming news as to the disturbed condition and anti-foreign feeling in various parts of China, joint action ought, in my opinion, to be taken by the Powers to replace the Emperor on the throne; for it is undoubted that his sympathies are genuinely in favour of reform and the opening up of his country to trade. But, in addition to this, I would draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the fact that the Chinese Government would be powerless to resist the aggression, territorially and otherwise, of other Powers, unless she is enabled to have her naval and military forces re-organised. This she cannot do, unless her revenues are considerably increased. I would, therefore, strongly urge that the time has come for a revision of the customs tariff in China, and that at present the maritime customs import duty of 5 per cent., which is a maximum of 5 per cent., and in many cases really much less, should be substantially increased, on the condition that not only every riverside town and station, but also the interior of China is freely thrown open to foreign trade, and that some satisfactory rearrangement to secure the equitable levying of lik in would be included in the agreement. The proportion should be fixed that is to be paid into the provincial and imperial treasuries respectively. Some system of paying officials, so as to render it possible for them 864 to live without corruptly applying any portion of the revenues which pass through their hands, is essential. It would appear desirable that the increased revenues thus obtained by China should be allocated to specific purposes and should be given only on condition that an agreed amount be expended on the reorganisation of the military and naval forces of China, under officers to be jointly provided by those Powers who do not desire the partition of the country; that a further sum be applied to river conservancy with a view of improving the navigation of such great commercial arteries of the Chinese Empire as the Yang-tsze and West Rivers, under the control of international conservancy boards; and that there be a previous ratification, on satisfactory terms and conditions, of railway concessions promised to British con-cessionnaires. If joint action were taken by the United States of America, England, Japan, and Germany in support of the policy I have indicated, it would be difficult for Russia and France to hold aloof. I have always recognised the vast importance to British trade of the development of our Indian Empire. But the great Empire of China, with its four hundred millions of industrious trading people, its greater fertility of soil, and its enormous mineral resources, is in my opinion of still greater importance to the British nation, considered from a commercial point of view. I, therefore, earnestly hope that the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs may be able to assure the House to-night that this policy of preserving China for the Chinese, and developing her resources in the interests alike of the population of that country and of all nations, will receive the vigorous and determined support of Her Majesty's Government; for in this way, and in this way alone, can the just influence and commercial rights of the British nation be preserved in the Far East.
§ LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has referred to the policy of the British Government, and he wishes us to infer that in every department, geographical and political, in China we ought to exercise exclusive control. There can be no greater mistake than to imagine that this country is capable of doing any such thing.
§ * MR. JOSEPH WALTON
Excuse me; I did not say so. What I said was that we should act in concert with the other Powers in regard to the open door. I say that, starting from that, we should seek in concert with the other Powers to bring about administrative reforms.
§ LORD BALCARRES
I do not think that we can act in concert with the other Powers, because I am quite convinced that the key of our position in China lies exclusively in the south. Russia holds control over China, and nothing we can do in concert with the other Powers can shake the power Russia has already grasped. I do not think the Foreign Office has been successful in combating the advance of Russia. I am sorry to say so, but that, I am convinced, is the present position. Russia from every point of view dominates everything north of the Yang-tsze valley. We hold a miserable little station at Wei-hai-wei which is perfectly worthless strategically, economically, politically, socially, and commercially. I really think that the position has become so acute that by far the most statesmanlike thing we can do is to abandon our position in the north, and make an agreement by which we shall have exclusive control, at any rate without the interference of Russia, in the Yang-tsze valley. What is the exact position of Russia in this matter? The hon. Member said Russia has the Pekin railway from the centre of Siberia across the Mongolian desert to Pekin. At the present moment you can do that journey in eleven days by camels. After about 100 miles of hills and mountains the country is perfectly flat. A railway along that route would undoubtedly enable travellers to reach Pekin in an extraordinarily short time. Plans have not yet been drawn out, and I do not believe the Russian Government has got the money or the engineering skill to make the railway. The hon. Member spoke of the Russian railway as a magnificent railway. I think the hon Member for North Paddington will agree with me in saying that it is not a magnificent railway. They have no engineering skill in Russia. There is only one railway tunnel in Russia, and it was made by a Frenchman. If they have to get over a mountain they climb over it, whereas our engineers would penetrate the mountain, at a saving of thirty, forty, or fifty miles. They 866 refuse to put a station between two points which would naturally be served by the railway. The reason for that is that the Siberian, not appreciating anything emanating from Russia, refuses to pay blackmail to the engineers of the line, who consequently say, "If you don't pay us you will not have a railway station." The line is single. The engines only burn wood, and the tenders of the engines get on fire about once in three days. The ballasting of the line is extremely bad. Where the railway has to cross a gully a great fall of rain or a flood carries away the line. Of course the trains stop at all the stations, and the result is that about nine miles is about the average distance you can cover in an hour. I was told by the Government Prosecutor that the object of his journey was to prosecute certain unknown individuals for stealing a train. These men stopped a train by the use of false lights; they unhooked nine wagons, and then removed the light. The train proceeded and the wagons were left. In order to prevent a subsequent accident the wagons were rolled over an embankment. This is not a line which is going to have the great commercial importance attributed to it by the hon. Member. The line must be substantially reformed if it is to be of much value. But there is one point connected with the line, slow and bad as it is, which must receive the attention of the Government. I frankly admit that I think the Government has not been successful in combating the influence, not of Russia in Russia, but of Russia engaged in the north of China. What is the position on the Pacific Ocean? There is Vladivostok, with at least 35,000 troops in it. I remember counting fifty-six military buildings in process of construction during last October, varying from 50 to 350 feet in frontage. There is Port Arthur, where the hon. Member has been, but where I was not allowed by the police to go. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman possesses a better reputation than I do in the Far East. At Port Arthur there are from 30,000 to 35,000 men. Most people would say that 70,000 men to guard an Empire of that size is not an unreasonable number, especially in view of the very threatening attitude adopted by Japan. But these two places do not represent in the smallest degree the 867 military enterprise of Russia. The most striking thing that one notices when travelling through Eastern Siberia is the fact that everywhere you see new towns occupied exclusively by the military. I remember going through one place which, five years ago, was a little town with one little wooden church, and perhaps three or four hundred inhabitants. It is now a town with a magnificent cathedral and at least 10,000 troops. These towns are built by the soldiers. There are thousands and thousands of soldiers in the Far East who have never had a rifle in their hands. There is a little stretch of line leading down to the Pacific from Vladivostok, about 500 versts in length. That line is managed exclusively by soldiers. The man who collects the tickets, the stoker, the driver—in fact, all connected with the line—are military men. Whether or not these men are very formidable as soldiers, I cannot say, but I suppose they are put there because there is no population either capable of carrying out these railway works or willing to do so, the men employed in that part being capable of only manual labour. But here is the situation in a nutshell. China at the present moment is dominated by Russian influence. British influence in China—I am not speaking of our influence with the Tsung-li-Yamen, but in China generally—is absolutely and, in my opinion, almost hopelessly subordinated to the immense power which has been gained by Russia. That power is not of so modern a growth as many people, and especially the critics of the Government, are inclined to suppose. It has been growing steadily, persistently, and silently for five-and-twenty years; but this startling development began five years ago, and during the last three years that Power has become regularly established. In a short time they will have linked up the railway joining the central station of Siberia with Vladivostok. There are immense engineering difficulties, and I am sure the railway will take very many more years to complete than the Russians say. They hope, at the present moment, to have a through service from St. Petersburg to the Pacific in fifteen months time, but they will have to greatly reform their methods if that is to be done. Just a word with regard to the policy largely the result of this enterprise in the north of China. The hon. Member desires us, in concert with other Powers, 868 as he said, to put a finger into every Chinese pie. I most devoutly hope the Government will strenuously refrain from interfering with anything connected with Manchuria. I hope also that the Government will refrain from doing anything to uphold the Chinese dynasty. It may sound a radical change to suggest to any Government, but the result of interference in any dynastic question will, I am convinced, lead to a further increase of Russian power. I hope the Government will not take such small advantages as it can take in the north of China in order to secure a Parliamentary case. Wei-hai-Wei has been quoted as a triumph. It is not a triumph. It has led us into the very gravest peril. If we had been content a few years ago to limit ourselves strictly to one field or area, which had a population far greater than this country can ever hope to supply, we should have avoided a most critical state of affairs with Russia, we should have preserved our prestige in China, which is now almost irretrievably lost, and the Government would not have suffered the loss of reputation resulting from that which has occurred all over the world. I hope, therefore, the Government will strictly limit itself to the sphere of influence which it has chosen for its own efforts.
§ MR. MOON (St. Pancras, N.)
I cannot join in the condemnation pronounced by the hon. Member opposite of what he calls the "humiliating inactivity" of the Government. I think he has lost sight of the fact that the reason why our progress appears not to have been so rapid in the Far East is because he compares our present progress with that of Powers which have only just entered the field. Take, for instance, a comparison of Wei-hai-Wei with German activity or with Russian activity at Port Arthur. A fairer comparison would be that of Hong Kong with Port Arthur and with Kiau-chau. We have a splendid military base and a splendid commercial harbour there, and I have all along understood that Wei-hai-wei was only to be a second military base.
§ MR. MOON
But there is a point in regard to which I certainly think the onus lies on the Government to show 869 that they have not lost a great opportunity. I refer to supporting the cause of reform in China. By doing so in the future, or by having done so in the past, we should strengthen China against adverse enemies, we should further the cause of civilisation, and we should secure and maintain our reputation in the Far East. As a great civilising power, I think we should seize the opportunity of promoting Western reforms. China is not like India, where the educated people are rather a dreamy people; the educated people in China, apart from all their mandarin culture, are a very hard-headed shrewd folk. To such people Western civilisation would, I am quite sure, have been acceptable. By promoting these reforms we should have created a solidarity in China which would have enabled her to continue to exist as a buffer between ourselves and that great Power in the North-east of Asia, whose methods and ideas, whose character and government, are so different from our own as to be, in fact, antagonistic. That result, I think, we might have secured. At least, I suggest that it lies on the Government to show that they had reasons for not interposing, instead of allowing the Empress to initiate a sanguinary coup d'état. The young Emperor had a project of reform for every branch of administration, and his ambition was to play in China the part played by Peter the Great in Russia. He wished to emulate that great man, who by his own initiative changed the character and position of a European nation. I have on previous occasions ventured to give statistics showing that in various parts of China there was an immense demand for Western literature and Western instruction. That, I hear, has now come to an end. The coup d'état of the Dowager Empress was regarded by certain persons as merely an attempt to moderate in Oriental ways precipitate and subversive measures of reform. That view, perhaps, had some plausibility for a few months, but during the last twelve months we have seen the results but too clearly. I have recently had a communication from Mr. Timothy Richards, an American in Pekin, and a well-known authority in these matters. He points out that the old curriculum has been restored in the place of modern Western education; the Pekin University, which used to have 1,000 students, now has no more than 200; a similar institution 870 started in Nankin has been closed; many Anglo-Chinese schools supported by Chinese reformers in different parts of the country are closed; and then he refers to newspapers and other reform measures which are entirely suspended. On that point it is necessary to add one more item of evidence. I would mention the edict published by the Empress at the beginning of February, which demands a return to the old manner of study according to Confucius for examinations for official rank, and the abolition of studies in what are called the new and depraved subjects. It is over fifty years since we intervened in China. It may be urged that the circumstances have changed, and that by supporting the reform movement we would force Russia to support reaction. If that is so one would like to hear it stated by the Government. There is only one other point to which I would refer. The hon. Member for Barnsley as well as my noble friend has lost sight of the commanding position of Russia by reason of her geographical position. That was particularly pointed out in the other House last session when a noble Lord dwelt on the thousands of miles of frontier for which Russia was coterminous with China. When we consider our immense expansion in every part of the world, and when we look at Russia and know that Russia can only expand on her own frontiers, can we be surprised if she develops in the direction of Persia and the Trans-Caspian Railway and in the North-east? I think the co-operation of the Great Powers interested in the Far East in matters commercial is a very hopeful sign, but I do not think we can look to such a combination as being permanent I hope that if the Government have lost an opportunity in the past they will not fail to be vigilant in order to seize any opportunity that may present itself hereafter of advancing our commercial interests.
§ * MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
Although I have not the personal acquaintance with China possessed by hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, I have endeavoured to follow the Parliamentary experience of the question. I have also endeavoured, in the very short time which has been at our disposal, to look into the Blue book just published. With some of the observations of the noble Lord opposite and of my hon. friend below me I 871 entirely agree. I entirely agree with the noble Lord's remarks in reference to Manchuria. Manchuria, it seems to me, is a part of Russia, and should have been recognised by Her Majesty's Government as being absolutely within the control of Russia as soon as she began to expand. If that had been done frankly at the beginning this country would have been spared a good deal of useless negotiation, humiliation, and expenditure. But we know that that was not the attitude adopted in the early stages of this Chinese question. The Government embarked on a course of policy which was apparently prompted solely by the desire to enter into political rivalry with Russia in China, and to give China, or to lead her to expect that she would get, active support in withstanding the demands of Russia. So far as Manchuria is concerned that failed, and Manchuria now practically belongs to the Russian Empire. I agree with what was said by one hon. Gentleman opposite when he suggested we had better give up any attempts to press forward the British claim, commercial or otherwise, north of Pekin, and devote ourselves to our interests in other parts of China. The hon. Member for Barnsley in the course of his remarks stated that there had been "a humiliating inactivity on the part of the British Government." I cannot agree with him on that point. My personal survey of this last Blue-book, as well as of previous ones, leads me to the conclusion that if there is humiliation that humiliation is rather because of the activity of the Government than in consequence of their inactivity. Certainly you cannot fairly accuse them of humiliating inactivity. It is unfortunate that this book should not have been produced before. The last despatches contained in it are nearly three months old, and there can be no reason why it should not have been placed in our hands at an earlier period. Hon. Members have not had an opportunity of fully examining the many interesting documents contained in the volume, which is really a history of what Her Majesty's Government have been doing or attemping to do in China during the last year. I may be singular, but it does seem to me that a good deal of that record is anything but pleasant reading for the nation and the public. Nine-tenths of this Blue-book is composed of negotiations between the Foreign Office 872 here and the British Embassy at Pekin endeavouring to force upon the Tsung-li-Yamen the claims of various British con-cessionnaires. There are a number of syndicates mentioned which have apparently gone out to China, obtained an introduction to the British Embassy there, and practically asked them to enforce their demands upon the Tsung-li-Yamen for the rights of mining, or railways, or whatever it might be. Lord Salisbury, last year, in a speech on the subject succinctly stated that the policy in regard to China was a policy of railways and concessions. It is not pleasant to read of this constant pressure being put upon the Chinese Government to make concessions. I cannot express this point more forcibly than did the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in a debate in this House a year ago.* Protesting against this constant concession hunting on the part of British subjects, and the way in which they endeavour to put on the screw on the British Embassy to obtain concessions, he used these words—We cannot go there and, as an act of pure piracy, insist that over a large extent of country, every mine, every line of railway, every public improvement for which money is provided shall be handed over to any concessionaire, but we have, of course, used our diplomatic influence to see that Great Britain received a due share of this development.I should like to give one other instance of what has taken place during the last year. There is one despatch which is a particularly humiliating one to read. It is to be found on page 149 of the Blue-book.† Lord Salisbury telegraphs in the month of June last as to interest due to the British and Chinese Carporation; I do not know who they are, but I suppose they are one of these syndicates—I am informed by the British and Chinese Corporation that one month's interest on the Northern Railways Loan is outstanding which must be provided by the 16th July, with a further month's interest, in order that they may meet the first coupon which is due on the 1st August.You should press the Chinese Government officially to make good the balance required in pursuance of the guarantee given by them.* See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxvi., page 227 (8th February, 1899).† See "Further Correspondence respecting, the Affairs of China" (Command Paper, No. 93, 1900)873At the same time you may intimate to the Chinese Government that the regard paid by them to our representations in the question of the Northern Railways and other matters, recently the subjects of discussion with them, will greatly affect our attitude in regard to the territory now held by us outside the Conventional extension of Hong Kong.What is that? Shortly put, it is that on behalf of this corporation who are afraid that their interest would be in arrear, Lord Salisbury telegraphs out to the British Embassy to put pressure on the Chinese Government who had given some guarantee to pay this money, and if they do not do so the British Embassy is to make itself politically nasty in the south of China, thousands of miles from where this railway exists. I suppose that this is the corporation to whose prospectus the British Government last year unfortunately gave to a certain degree its imprimatur. I do not think the British Government ought to have allowed its name to appear in that way upon the prospectus of a financial company, and this is one of the humiliating results of that conduct. I do hope, for the sake of our good name, that these constant communications between our Foreign Office here and the British Embassy in China for the purpose of endeavouring to obtain concessions for financial enterprises will soon come to an end. We have heard a good deal about the "trail of finance" in other parts of the world. To my mind there is a great deal too much of the trail of finance over this Blue-book in regard to our affairs in China. A year ago, in answer to a question, the right hon. Gentleman told us that already over 2,800 miles of railway concessions had been made. Not upon a single mile of territory has a single step been taken to put into operation any one of these railway concessions. When pressure is put upon authorities in China I understand that a good deal of money must pass to obtain these concessions. I hope the Government do not devote any secret service money in China for this purpose, and that whatever the syndicates may do, our hands are absolutely free from anything of that sort. We have had in the course of the past few years a constant change in the policy of the Government in regard to China, and apparently we are going to have another change now. My hon. friend has under-rated the change of policy he has in view. He has embarked 874 upon a very wide policy which he has described as not one of aggression. I should like from the Government some information as to what they propose to do in reference to the suggestion that we are to undertake the drilling of the Chinese army. If we begin to undertake responsibilities for providing China with a military force, we shall be embarking upon a work of which we do not know the end. We have already assumed important additional responsibilities there since the present Government came into, office. We have Wei-hai-Wei leased to us as long as the Russians hold Port Arthur; we have undertaken the policing of the Yang-tsze River, and the West River, and these are very serious political responsibilities entailing considerable expenditure, which will probably be increased in the future. We desire to know what the Government is going to do with Wei-hai-wei. It is quite clear that the original intention for which Wei-hai-wei was acquired has been abandoned, and that policy has been practically given up. I gather from a statement in the Navy Estimates that the number of our naval force on the Yang-tsze River and the West River is to be increased, and that we are building one or two gunboats for those rivers. When a foreign Power undertakes the control of a thousand miles of a river like the Yang-tsze and its rapids and the West River, it is a policy which entails considerable political responsibility and may possibly lead us into serious trouble. We should like to get some definition of the responsibility which Her Majesty's Government consider they are undertaking when they state that they are policing these rivers. Another important matter is the correspondence with the United States, and it is greatly to the credit of the American Secretary of State that he has got some tangible results. We have assented to the policy of the open door, and this course has also been followed by Germany and Japan. I should just like to call attention to a statement in Mr. Choate's letter.* He says that what he asks is that the various Powers within their spheres of influence shall seek to maintain the open-door policy, but he goes on to say that the United States Government will not in any way commit itself to any recognition of exclusive rights of any Power within spheres of*See Paper last referred to, page 303.875 influence. When we get a statement like that from a first-class Power like the United States, with a large and increasing trade with China, in which it declares categorically that it will not recognise these exclusive spheres of interest or influence, it ought to make us pause and consider whether we are going to extend these spheres of influence, and what is the exact weight we put upon our position in the sphere of influence or interest which I understand we claim in the Yang-tsze valley. Lord Salisbury is exceedingly cautious in his statement upon this question, for he does not name a single one of the spheres of influence which he claims that Great Britain possesses. We should like to know from the hon. Gentleman if the Government in the future are going to proceed further in this policy of spheres of interest or influence in China They indicated definitely last year that this would be their policy, and in that they had the approval of my hon. friend the Member for Berwickshire. Do the Government intend to proceed further in that direction? After the statement which has been made by the American Government that does not seem likely to turn out a profitable line of policy, for it is one in which we shall not have the co-operation of the United States, and I doubt whether we shall have the co-operation of Japan. I think it is about time that Her Majesty's Government declared their general lines of policy in regard to China.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR (Forfarshire)
It was not my intention to take part in this debate, because I have not yet been able to master the Papers recently laid before the House on this subject, and in the few remarks I intend to make I shall be as brief as possible. The fact that my hon. friend the Member for the Barnsley Division and other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have recently been in China has no doubt added very considerably to the interest of the discussion. There is no doubt whatever that the spirit of adventure which leads men of our race and blood to seek fresh fields for effort and enterprise is as strong as ever in this country. At the same time I think we are apt to lose sight of the fact that we are busy in other parts of the world, and to blame the Government for a vacillating and hesitating policy in China, whereas we had been more fair to them 876 if we recognised, as the noble Lord to night recognised, that the development of which we now see the fruit in China in the great advance made by Russia ought to be dated at least a generation back. Not for five years, but for twenty-five years at least, has that movement been going on. It is quite true that we have lost ground, and that, as compared with ourselves, Russia has now a position of greater influence than it had twenty five years ago, but that period has not been all loss to us. We have been busy developing South Africa, Canada, and other parts of the world, and I am not disposed to look at a question of this kind without remembering that we have been busy in effort and enterprise elsewhere. At the same time, if we look at the conduct of the Government for the last five years, and at what has been done by them in China, we must confess to a considerable sense of disappointment. The noble Lord reminds us of Wei-hai-wei, and many hon. Members have expressed grave doubts as to the wisdom of the action of the Government in regard to it, but it has never been so boldly stated as it was to-night that the action of the Government was a concession to the force of public and Parliamentary opinion in this country. The discussion does not seem to me to show that we have got very much further in the adoption of a definite policy with regard to our position in China and our relations with the Chinese Empire. It may be very difficult—I have no doubt it is very difficult. The very fact that our efforts are not concentrated in development in any one direction, and that we have other irons in the fire, other matters of interest and great importance to attend to, makes it more difficult for us to have a single eye and a single aim in the prosecution of a policy in regard to China; but if this debate does nothing else than to clear our minds a little as to the possibilities of the future with regard to China, I think it will have done a great deal of good. My hon. friend the Member for the Barnsley Division said that the great object of his policy was China for the Chinese, and if that could only be recognised by the Chinese and by other Powers interested in the development of China it might smooth matters; but we cannot leave out of sight the inevitable accompaniment of the development of a new country, and without going 877 into details I think the Blue-book shows that while there is much of "China for the Chinese," possibly in the future, there is a great deal of "concessions for concessionnaires" in the present. There are, it seems to me, three conflicting policies and principles which are laid down with regard to our position in China—we have the open door, the treaty of Tien-tsin, and the principle of spheres of interest or influence—and it is very desirable that we should know how far and in what respects these three policies overlap and conflict. The open door as referred to in the despatches in the Blue-book is perfectly clear. It only concerns the Powers who are parties to the agreement, and is satisfactory as far as it goes. But it must be admitted it gives us nothing we have not had before. It may improve our position in the future, it may be a safeguard for the future, but we had the privileges it proposes to confer on us for all practical purposes in the past. In June last the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs gave a most explicit statement as to our policy in China.* He said it was an essential part of the policy of the Government that special protection for our trade in the Yang-tsze valley should be assured. Then he said that by means of transit facilities we should endeavour to provide that our trade should be free from undue taxation, and, thirdly, he looked forward to the opening of further inland waterways. My hon. friend speaks with so much knowledge and information that it is not necessary for me to add anything to the questions he suggests to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs in regard to the further opening of inland waterways, but with regard to spheres of influence I think a word may usefully be said. The noble Lord who was Member for York last year… solemnly warned the House of the danger of our drifting into the sphere of influence policy. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs himself pointed out that though our privileges in the Yang-tsze region were to be special privileges, they were not to be exclusive privileges in the same sense as German privileges in Shangtung or French privileges in the southern provinces of China. That suggests the question, are our*9th June, 1899 (See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxii., page 800).…Ibid., page 784 (Speech of Lord Charles Beresford).878 Yang-tsze Valley privileges really strong, valid, and potent for the purpose for which my hon. friend the Member for the Barnsley Division asks? It seems to me that his criticism is amply justified if we cannot regard our privileges in the Yang-tsze Valley as in any way a counterweight to the privileges of the Germans in Shangtung or the French in the southern provinces of China. My hon. friend has put some questions to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs which he may find it difficult to answer. For my part, having in my recollection the remarks of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs last year, and also the remarks of the noble Lord the then Member for York, I am inclined to think that my hon. friend the Member for the Barnsley Division wishes to push us too far in regard to this sphere of influence policy. What may be the inevitable result if we adopt for ourselves such a large region as the Yang-tsze Valley?
§ * MR. JOSEPH WALTON
I am entirely opposed to spheres of influence, and entirely in favour of the open door and equal privileges for all nations.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR
I understood my hon. friend to suggest, at the end of his speech, some sweeping reforms which he hoped this country, in concert with other nations, might later endeavour to carry out. Practically, they would amount to the international control of a population of 400 millions of people, leading to as many difficulties in the future as the quasi-international control of South Africa and Egypt may do. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has not committed himself to any policy of that kind. He said last year that we could not make the Yang-tsze valley a province like Shangtung, because we were not prepared to take the responsibility of governing what is practically a third of China. That is a much safer limit of policy than the sweeping suggestions of my hon. friend, who, no doubt, is an idealist and looks far into the future. But, as my hon. friend will remember, one of the great schemes of the noble Lord who was Member for York was that we should undertake the reorganisation of the Chinese army and so strengthen it that the Chinese Empire would be able to stand against all comers. The noble Lord who spoke to-night warned us 879 against that policy. I would like a little light as to what is being done in the Yang-tsze valley. My hon. friend described it as having a population of fifty millions of peaceful, industrial people; and he went on to say that there were 500,000 stalwart sailors engaged in the carrying trade in that region, who would view with grave concern the arrival of steamers carrying the British flag. Well, it would be a melancholy thing if, in our endeavours to maintain China for the Chinese, we should have a repetition of the circumstances that occurred in China a generation or two ago. I hope that we may have, before the debate closes, some light as to how this theory of the open door does not conflict with the Treaty of Tien-tsin and the spheres of influence policy. It was said last year that not one of our privileges under the Treaty of Tien-tsin have been taken from us, and that we hold the Chinese Government to that treaty. I should like to remind the House that the relative proportion of our total trade to that with China is only three per cent. I hope, with the hon. Member for Barnsley, that that trade may be extended. I believe that the Chinese have no better friends in developing their country than the British people, but my sympathies are rather with a policy of caution and concentration, not only in China, but in other parts of the world. We are too apt to forget that the policy of expansion has its drawbacks, because it multiplies the points that are vulnerable. The noble Lord the late Member for York, who could not be accused of a desire to curb the reasonable development of the Empire, told the Committee last year that he did not believe anyone in this country wanted to see a single acre added to the British Empire. He said that the British Empire was too big already; and in almost prophetic words the noble Lord pointed out that if we had disturbances at the Cape, or in India, the problem would he not naval but military, and difficult of solution, even with conscription. I hope that nothing will be said to-night which will encourage the belief that we do not adhere to the policy of caution and concentration.
§ * THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. BRODRICK,) Surrey, Guildford
Although 880 the hon. Member who moved this motion, which seems to be a severe condemnation of the policy of the Government, or of the conduct of the Government during the past year, introduced his motion with a knowledge of his subject which we all admired, and with a command of the Chinese nomenclature which we might envy; and although the House has listened to him with great pleasure, I cannot help feeling that the condition of the House during a considerable part of the discussion is, perhaps, the best answer to the motion which he has put down on the Paper. Those of us who recollect the character of the discussions on China two years ago, and the full House which was attracted when we discussed this question twelve months ago, must feel that there is something besides the absorbing interest we feel in the military operations in South Africa to account for the comparative slackness of the discussion to-night. I do not say that in order to detract from the importance of the subject, but to indicate that it is the feeling of the House, this is not the occasion for a vigorous censure of the Government, or for giving the acute stimulus to their exertions which the hon. Member for Barnsley believes is necessary. The hon. Members who followed the hon. Member for Barnsley have, to a large extent, devoted themselves to answering him and, to some extent, to answering each other. My noble friend the Member for the Chorley Division, who, I venture to say, is heard too infrequently in this House, delivered an admirable and interesting discourse to-night. Although he agreed with the conclusions of the hon. Gentleman opposite, he disagreed in toto with most of his premises, and his particular statement of policy, with which he concluded his speech, has also attracted the censure of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire and the hon. and gallant Member for Forfarshire, who has just sat down. And, therefore, I may stand upon this—that the Government, although no Member has spoken immediately in defence of it, has not been without defenders. One other point which has struck me very much during this discussion is that, although we were discussing the Blue-book which dealt with the affairs of last year—a document which I regret could not be put in the hands of hon. Members earlier, but the dis- 881 cussion came on rather unexpectedly, and, in addition to that, the despatches come up to the end of last year, and it is never possible to bring out a Chinese Blue-book except after a considerable interval—although we have been dealing with the affairs of last year, practically hardly any of the criticisms which have been presented against the Government had to do with their conduct during the past year. We have had a strong impeachment of the original character of our negotiations with regard to Port Arthur, and with regard to the taking of Wei-hai-wei. We have had a great deal said about the advantages gained by other nations in regard to concessions, and the comparative inefficiency of the advantages obtained by our Government in the same direction. We have also heard a good deal about the state of affairs in Manchuria. But nearly all of these points refer to matters which were antecedent to the period which we are now discussing, and I think you will search the Blue-book in vain, bulky as it is, for any proof of those diplomatic and commercial defeats which the hon. Member for Barnsley declares had illustrated the whole of the efforts of Her Majesty's Government during the past year. I will take one point alone. The hon. Member points out how little we have gained from the Yamen during the past year. But he does not, I think, suppose for a moment that we can deal with these matters precisely as we please. His complaint is that we have too little influence with the Yamen, that the Yamen keeps us at arm's length, that what we might achieve in a better governed country we ought to achieve in China if only we had not lost the whole of our prestige. Have foreign Powers met with no difficulties from the Yamen? Is there not evidence even in that Blue-book that every foreign Power which has been dealing with the Yamen has found sometimes an obstructive spirit, and in almost every case a difficulty in its dealings which could not be overcome? I do not wish to emphasise this too strongly; I do not wish to put my finger on every case, because possibly it might produce a certain amount of feeling in other quarters. But in all the more important cases the hon. Gentleman will find either that there has been a direct refusal by the Yamen, as is shown in the case of that railway to Pekin, on 882 which he said a few words, or that there has been a refusal based on an objection taken by this Government. I saw it was stated the other day that the organisation of the French concession at Shanghai had been entirely stopped by the Yamen because Her Majesty's Ministers would not assent to it. That is only one illustration; and I am quite certain of this, that for every illustration which he gave us of the impotence of Sir Claude MacDonald in these negotiations he would find that we were able to give him similar instances in respect to other Powers. Now, I should like to say at once that I do not propose this evening to trouble the House with any detailed argument with regard to Manchuria. I know perfectly well that it is possible to reckon up the large number of troops and the great works which are being carried out by the Russian Government in Manchuria; but when I hear these arguments I am very much inclined to wonder at the temerity of the hon. Gentleman opposite. Knowing that we are a maritime Power, and that Russia has a land frontier of some 3,000 or 4,000 miles with China, I am somewhat surprised at the spirit with which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnsley attacks the question, as if it were the business of Her Majesty's Government to challenge the Government of Russia for possession of a province which we do not desire to possess ourselves and which China, unfortunately, is not able to retain without the vigorous support of Her Majesty's Government or of some other Power. But, leaving that, the hon. Member says that there are other matters in regard to which there have been grave failures on our part. He specially alluded to the Kau-lung extension. The hon. Gentleman has been to Kau-lung and I have not, and he has heard there opinions which, no doubt, he has repeated in this House, as to the large extent of territory which it was desirable to take in order to secure what he considered an effective boundary. But let us look into the question a little more closely. What is it we asked for at Kau-lung and obtained? We obtained 200 square miles addition to the colony of Hong Kong. That, in itself, is a not inconsiderable extension. In taking possession of that it is quite true that we were forced, owing to the opposition which was threatened to us by disorganised Chinese troops, to take this 883 territory of Sam Chun, which the hon. Member seems to regret so much that we have given up.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
Yes, but when the cause of offence has passed, I ask the House whether the punishment which we were forced to inflict for that cause of offence should not be withdrawn too? It really amounts to this—that, according to the hon. Gentleman, we were to do an act not justified, at all events, by any legal convention or agreement; we were to take a considerable further tract of country because we were temporarily obstructed in taking the extension at Hong Kong to which we were entitled. I think that, as a matter of public right and justice, in restoring that territory to the Chinese we were not acting amiss.
§ * MR. JOSEPH WALTON
I said we ought to have taken a further tract of country in the first instance, and thus have secured a proper frontier.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
I quite grant that he wants a more effective boundary, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he and his friends ever considered, in their desire to have this extended boundary, the probable number of troops which would be required to maintain that boundary? Let me say one word about concessions. I do not think it has been seriously advanced by anybody except the hon. Member that Her Majesty's Government have been backward in obtaining concessions during the past year. Of this large volume (the Blue-book) an enormous amount is due to the correspondence in connection with concessions which were desired by various persons, for whom Her Majesty's Government did their best. But we cannot force these concessions from the Chinese Government. They are concessions, let us remember, for mining, for railways, and for other advantages for which absolutely no payment is to be made in most cases—or at all events, no payment of which we are aware. Therefore we cannot, as a matter of right and justice, insist in every case where a British subject, sometimes without any serious capital at his back, comes forward and states that he desires to have the whole mining concessions throughout an entire province. That has been the case in some instances. We cannot in those 884 cases declare to the Yamen that unless the concessions are granted we shall use force in order to compel them to do so. But I notice that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire actually fell foul of us for doing too much. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!] He said that Lord Salisbury had been obliged to explain that our policy in regard to the restoration of the land at Sam Chun would be to some extent guided by the Chinese Government's performance of their undertaking in regard to the Northern Railway. The Newchang Railway was a special case. Her Majesty's Government allowed it to be stated on the prospectus that they had taken note of the agreement with the Chinese Government under which the railway was to be constructed. Therefore we were perfectly justified in putting pressure on the Chinese Government to see that their engagements were carried out. One hon. Member stated, and stated very truly, that we heard very little about the construction of these railways, or about the development of these mining enterprises for which concessions were granted. Well, if it is the fact, as indeed it is, that in too many of these cases concessions have been obtained and no work been done, then I think the Chinese Government is justified in declaring that, until some substantial progress has been made with these schemes, they will not give concessions for other railways; and Her Majesty's Government have, I submit to the House, in accepting to a large extent their declaration, only taken a wise and prudent course—a course which any business man would have been inclined to take in similar circumstances. Once it is found that these concessions, like those, for instance, which are being worked by the Pekin Syndicate, are being undertaken seriously and pushed forward, the Government will not be found wanting in pressing the Chinese Government to grant further concessions. Then the hon. Member touched upon a very proper question when he came to the difficulties with regard to the internal navigation of China. My predecessor, Lord Curzon, made a very definite declaration on that subject on 25th February, 1898.* It is quite true that some difficulties have been found in working out that pledge, seeing that there are two quite distinct customs duties. The Chinese Govern-* See The Paliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. liv., page 31.885 ment have thought it necessary, up to the present time, to insist that one class of steamers should deal with the Treaty ports, and another class of steamers with the intervening ports. If it could be shown that Her Majesty's Government had sat down and allowed British trade to lose its position in consequence of any want of effort on their part, then I think the hon. Member's strictures might be to some extent justified. But that is not the case at all. In the first place, there is no man in China, either now or in the past, who has done so much for obtaining proper treatment with regard to likin and the system of transit passes, both on the West River and the Yang-tsze, as Sir Claude Macdonald. In the same way at this moment, and for some months past, Sir Claude MacDonald, aided by the very active consuls in the various ports, on the West river and the Yang-tsze, has been pressing strongly for the simplification of the regulations with regard to internal navigation. I have myself, within the last few days, conferred with a gentleman who has recently come home from China, and I believe I may say that the suggestions he has made will be pressed by Her Majesty's Government on the Chinese Government. I will only say that a complete change of the whole national idea of throwing their close trade in small junks into open competition is one which we cannot expect to achieve in a very few weeks. At the same time, the reasonableness of it is, on the face of it, so great that I look forward to our continuing to press for it with some good hopes of success. There is one more point with regard to the waterways. The hon. Gentleman made some excellent suggestions with regard to what class of steamers should ply on the Yang-tsze and the West river. Those points I will certainly bring before the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is most anxious to ascertain the class of steamer most likely to he useful. In pursuance of the pledge given to the House last year, attempts were made by two gunboats to ascend the rapids in order to see whether it is possible not only to improve the navigation, but to place boats on the upper Yang-tsze. Those attempts are to be renewed at the proper state of the water, which is, I think, in April or May, and I hold to the full the pledge given last year that the Government will take up that question with the full 886 intention both of seeing that our trade is properly protected, and also, as far as we can, the conduct of that trade by British steamers. These are really the main points which it is attempted to make against us. I should like, however, to refer to one or two other more general matters before I sit down. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that in all these questions one nation should be able to impress the Yamen with the reasonableness of the proposal; and, failing that, that the reforms desired would be reached if only there was a concert of the Powers. He thinks it could be done if the nations arrived at a general resolution to press these reforms on the Chinese Government. Has the hon. Gentleman considered this question from the point of view taken by my noble friend? The policy which he foreshadowed involves not one question, but a collection of difficulties. There is the question of the dynasty, there is the question affecting the collection of taxation, there is the question of the customs, the likin; there is the question of payment of officials—all these and more are questions which he proposed should be dealt with by one Power or the concert of the Powers. But these questions taken together simply mean the government of China—that is the government of an empire of 400,000,000 people; governed with difficulty and to some extent not governed at all, or misgoverned under the name of an Emperor whose edicts they revere. If that is a great undertaking for one Power to face alone, what is the prospect opened to us of the combined action of foreign Powers? We have already had some experience of the concerted action of the Great Powers. We had quite recently the experience with regard to Crete. There we had the case of a small island—not the object of ambition probably to any of the Powers which were engaged for some considerable time in an endeavour to settle it. What was our experience of our endeavours in regard to Crete in concert with other Powers? Why, it took weeks and months, it almost took years, to carry out the smallest reforms or a settlement with regard to questions which some of us certainly thought capable of prompt settlement in a very short time. Then if we want to have another illustration in the same direction we may take the case of Samoa, where Germany, ourselves, and the United 887 States of America were concerned. There we had small islands and a meagre population—certainly no large number of inhabitants. Those difficulties certainly have been solved so that each Power now knows what its responsibilities and duties are.
§ * MR. JOSEPH WALTON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether Her Majesty's Government has not already agreed to act in concert with the United States and other Powers in bringing forward reforms in the administration of China, to strengthen the Imperial Government and preserve the integrity of China. Those were the special points which the British Government assented to most cordially.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
There is a great difference between what was agreed upon between the British Government and the United States Government as to the open door and dealing with the Chinese Government.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
The wording will not cover the government of China. No one can be more anxious than we are to bring united pressure to bear in the proper direction, but when it comes to the government of the country, then I think, and perhaps the House will agree with me, that the matter does not appear so simple to all of us as it seems to appear to the hon. Gentleman.
§ * MR. BRODRICK
Let me say one further word as to the charge against Her Majesty's Government of having throughout this year indulged in what is called "a do nothing policy." What does the hon. Member say to-night? He says we had five years ago a prestige and a para mount influence which has now vanished into nothing through a policy of drift and surrender. Well, I am not quite clear that our influence was paramount five years ago. The noble Lord who has just come back from China denied that altogether; but without going into all that, what grounds does the hon. Member find for saying that our influence now is 888 non-existent? What is there in the papers which justifies him in saying that our influence and interest in Pekin come to nothing? The House will find that in the last five years, like other Powers, we have been able to protect the interests of those of our nationality in various places where there are murders or outrages in China. There were four cases in the past year, including the case of Mr. Brookes, who was murdered recently, and the Government in every case secured the exemplary punishment of the criminals and obtained compensation, and in the last case the magistrate at the scene of the murder was dismissed; the prompt action which the Government took in these cases and the response to it, showing that in these respects it is untrue to say that our prestige is non-existent at Pekin. If we are to regard our position as compared with that of foreign Governments, I would ask him to look at the Russian concession at Hankow and the French concession at Shanghai. We find in both cases that Her Majesty's Government secured from the Chinese Government fair treatment, and also from the French and Russian Governments. Of the many subjects which have been dealt with and concluded, mentioned in the Blue-books, the House will not find a single case where the British Government have been obliged to give way or give up the claims they put forward. I challenge the hon. Member to state any single diplomatic triumph by which Her Majesty's Government has been worsted in the course of the year. I have already alluded to what we have accomplished, and I can only say that, from information which has reached us, neither has British trade suffered in China nor has British prestige suffered in any respect. As I ventured to say last year, having regard to the great rapidity with which events followed one another in China during the previous year, it is desirable that we should now proceed with a policy of concentration. It is the policy of the Government, without creating further responsibilities necessitating the employment of a large number of troops, to keep open the waterways of China for our trade, and to secure to British subjects a full share of opportunities to open out China while securing from all countries the recognition of the principle of the open door. We shall also endeavour to obtain by 889 legitimate pressure from China all those reasonable facilities which it is as much in her interest to give as in ours to obtain. That is the policy of Her Majesty's Government, and it is one in which we shall not be found wanting.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
The right hon. Gentleman has dealt very fairly with the points raised in this debate. He has shown that desire felt by all of us to deal with the various questions and to explain to the House that the Government are alive to their importance, and desire to do something to procure practical results. I have no complaint to make of the object pursued or with the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with it. Where there is a little difference between us is, not as to the policy to be pursued or as to the energy which should be shown in keeping the objects in the front, but on the practical results that ensue. That was a difference which must have been seen throughout. It is seen that it is difficult to get practical results except on paper, but the knowledge which my hon. friend the Member for Barnsley and the noble Lord opposite have gained, and which they have placed before the House from their own personal experience, must be of value. Both the hon. Members who spoke in this debate dwelt on the decline of British influence at Pekin. I do not go so far as to say that British influence is non-existent—I think that would be overstating the case; but I think it is undoubtedly the fact that British influence has declined as compared with the influence gained by some other Powers, certainly Russia. Undoubtedly the shadow of Russian influence has been deepening over China. Russia has been pressing forward, and has come nearer; her communications are crossing the continent. As to the Russian railways, I think they ought to be studied from a strategical position—from the point of view of Russian political ambition, rather than from the point of view of trade competition. I do not believe that the railway trade across Siberia will ever be able to compete against Great Britain. I do not think goods will ever be carried to China by rail. Therefore the railway is a political matter, and so far Russia has gained. To a certain extent it is 890 inevitable, and I welcome the recognition of the right hon. Gentleman that Russia has a certain sphere of interest in Manchuria with which we should not think of interfering. Our complaint on this side of the House has always been, not that that has come about—because I think it was inevitable—but that a great opportunity was missed of having a good understanding with Russia while it has been coming. There was a moment when Russia's designs had not been fully declared, but when Russia was obliged to show her hand by making representations on the presence of British ships in Port Arthur. Lord Salisbury expressed surprise, and said that the ships would go on in due course; and they did go on; and that incident will remain in our memories as a great landmark of an opportunity lost. It is true that we have had an understanding with Russia since; but it is not as explicit or comprehensive as the understanding which might have been made, quite safely, before the ships were removed. With Lord Salisbury prepared to concede—as he would have been—what Russia wanted, it would have been the obvious occasion to explain that we were not a permanent obstacle to Russia's designs, but that to bring them about must be the result of an understanding with us. That belongs to past history, and I do not wish to dwell upon it; but our treaty rights, on which our position depends, have been by a slow process gradually eaten away—not altogether, but considerably eaten away. On paper we are entitled to much more than our trade secures. I admit that it is not under the present Government alone that this diminution of our treaty rights has been going on. Many of them are old treaties which in practice have been considerably impaired. But in August, 1897, Lord Salisbury wrote a despatch to say that Her Majesty's Government could not support British merchants in claiming any privileges which they had not enjoyed in the past. That has been construed to mean that treaty rights which exist on paper, if they have fallen into desuetude, will not be pressed by the Foreign Office. That is a direct sanction to the doctrine that we have more treaty rights on paper than we mean to enforce. With regard to internal navigation, I would raise the same point—what has been given on paper has not been realised in practice. 891 It was on March 1, 1898,* not February 25, that Lord Curzon made this statement—That the opening of the internal navigation on all rivers in China to British steamers from the ensuing summer 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.The right hon. Gentleman met this point very fairly by admitting that in practice great difficulties had been found which prevented this promise being as fully realised as was expected at the time the statement was made. But, of course, he will understand that, when that statement was made by Lord Curzon, there was very great anxiety as to whether we were not being worsted in the contest for commercial supremacy in China, and that statement undoubtedly went far not only in the House, but in the press, to disarm criticism. If it disarmed criticism, and has not been realised since, it is not unnatural that it should be the cause of renewed criticism. As to Wei-hai-wei, we on this side generally deprecated the occupation of Wei-hai-wei, doubting whether any good object would be secured. We were told then that it would not be in any case of commercial value, though it turns out that it is of commercial value. We were told that it was of value as giving moral courage to the Government of Pekin. I cannot say that the evidence of that moral courage has been apparent since the occupation of Wei-hai-wei. I have always been of opinion that for a second naval base we should have been in a stronger position if we had taken some place nearer to the month of the Yang-tsze, and what I fear is that the occupation of this second naval station may make us more reluctant, if the time comes, to take a station which may be necessary nearer to the centre of our commercial interests. It is more difficult to take a third base than to take a second. Now I come to the question of concessions. I have great sympathy with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman said about that. It is not so long ago that M. Delcassé, speaking in the French Chamber, gave a warning of the same kind—that concessions were being pressed and that advantages were being asked for; and that in*See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. liv., page 335.892 some cases it was well to bear in mind that there were parts of China which were conspicuous for their want of resources and the abundance of piracy. I am afraid that concessions have been pressed for which are not in themselves very desirable—which are a "try on," and which have no real backing behind them; and the Government ought not to be open to reproach because in every case it does not lend its influence to support them. I doubt whether at this moment the granting of more concessions will tend to the development of the trade of China. The danger is that they may prevent China from being developed. Given concessions limited in number and backed by capital, they will assist the development of China. But an over-great number of concessions, of which comparatively few are exploited, is likely to be a drawback. You may have the ground covered by paper concessions which positively block the way. Railway concessions may be obtained through large districts of China by people who may not be prepared to give effect to them; and they will prevent other people from, in the course of time, getting effective concessions. Therefore, I am not anxious to see this competition in concessions carried further; and the want of concessions is not the real obstacle to the development of trade in China. We all feel that there may be an enormous development of trade in China. With the population and resources of the country, its power to enter into exchange of commerce with Europe is far greater than has been realised in practice, though not, perhaps, in imagination. What are the real obstacles? Piracy is one obstacle. Brigands on land appear to be another; and I am not sure that the worst is not the leakage in the likin duties. If these could be removed there would be a tremendous expansion of trade between China and foreign nations. But I have no doubt that it is very difficult to effect this. The British Government and others certainly ought to lose no opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Government of Pekin cases of disorder, or breaches of Conventions, or tampering with the likin duty. But the difficulty is not to bring these things to the notice of the Government of Pekin, but to get them to give redress; and the problem is how to make China govern itself well, how to introduce Western methods 893 of government into China. Directly any progress is made in that direction, you will have a tremendous expansion of trade; but as long as the Government remains as it is now, however many concessions are granted, it will be impossible for trade to make those leaps and bounds which it could do with greater security. There are three stages in governing well. There is first the desire, second the capacity, and third the habit of governing well. I am afraid that China has not yet the desire to improve the methods of government. If she had, then the advice of the foreign nations might be useful in developing her capacity; and once capacity is developed then the habit will follow. Promises are given about internal navigation, about concessions, and so forth; but the Chinese Government in giving them is not really anxious that the trade of China should be developed; and whatever good intentions there may be seem to get lost in the local officials and the peculiar methods of Chinese government. The local officials take advantage of the weakness of the central Government; and the central Government takes advantage in turn of the divisions between the foreign nations. Sometimes it seems to be the shuttlecock between the diplomatists and the local officials; and I am not sure that it does not appreciate the situation. It is difficult in these circumstances to make progress; and the most satisfactory thing in the Blue-book is that some agreement has been made between the Powers as to a common line of action. I cordially endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said, that we ought to be careful not to be led into any course which would lead to the occupation of territory in China or the employment of troops on land. We must show the utmost energy in pressing things on the Government of Pekin, but we must always look upon those two things as essentially undesirable. I hope that other Powers will feel that. If that is so, more can be done if the Powers themselves concentrate their efforts on what is practicable. If they will concert to use pressure together, then the Yamen may be compelled to go, slowly, in the direction desired. But when one Power pushes by itself in one direction and another Power pushes in another direction, no progress is possible. We are all exceedingly gratified that the United States Government's circular to the Powers has met with a 894 favourable response—certainly from our own Government. The United States for a long time strictly adhered to the principle of not interfering in foreign affairs generally. This circular of the United States is a departure from their old practice, and I think that they are to be congratulated, having thus decided to take the initiative in a question of general policy, that that initiative has been shown in a step of this kind. I hope it will be a cause of some gratification, as the step is one which was well received by the Powers. If the Powers would agree on the "open door" they would be safe as regards themselves. But it is not only the United States which has expressed its strong opinion in this matter, M. Delcassé in the French Chamber said—The majority of these enterprises (French) are developed in regions other than those which, if the policy of zones of influence prevailed, might constitute the French zone. Is not this enough to caution us against the onerous vagaries of which I spoke just now, and to induce us, on the contrary, to keep China open to the free conflict of the intelligence and capital of the whole world?Our own opinion is declared to the world; and I think it is possible to look on the future commercial development of China with more equanimity than ever before, if foreign nations who are interested determine to preserve the "open door," I which is the best guarantee of the integrity of China. I hope they will go a little further, and agree gradually on a little concerted pressure. When breaches of regulations take place, when outrages occur, and difficulties about internal navigation arise, they might use their diplomatic influence all together at Pekin in the same direction. I admit that it is rather difficult to preserve the integrity of a country by a pressure from the outside, but at the same time I am sure that in the long run in dealing with the integrity of China there must be a considerable amount of administrative reform. I hope from what we have seen about the open door there is some prospect that there will be a free interchange of views between the foreign Governments concerned in Chinese trade and affairs, that they will be able to pull together to use all their influence and to exert it together at Pekin, a policy which is necessary to secure the growth of trade and better government in China, and to maintain the integrity of the country.
§ MR. YERBURGH (Chester)
With regard to the position to be taken up by the Powers, I think it has been shown that the position of China at the present time is entirely different from that in which it stood when we last discussed the question. We have this declaration of the French Minister, and we have had America declaring that we should, along with other countries, declare that the open door should be maintained throughout China. There are certain things on which the Government ought to be congratulated. The American Ambassador, writing to Lord Salisbury, says he believes it "to be the settled law of this country that no commercial advantage to be gained by us will conflict with the advantage to be gained by other countries." I think that is a point Lord Salisbury is to be congratulated upon. With regard to one point referred to by the hon. Member—the extent of our trade interests in China—I wish to deal with it for a moment, because he took a small view. He said that our trade with China was 3 per cent. of our total foreign trade. It appears to be forgotten, however, that our Empire as a whole is largely interested in the trade of China. The foreign trade of China at the present time amounts to only 2s. per head of the population, but if it is developed to the extent that the trade of Japan is developed, I believe the foreign trade of China will amount to something like two hundred millions per annum, of which sum our Empire will have by far the larger share. Therefore, I am justified in drawing attention to the remark of the hon. Gentleman with respect to the trade with China. It bears, as the hon. Baronet has said, upon the question of the reform of China. I have been one of those who have held that this country has ready at its hand a great duty to perform, and I have used the phrase in connection with it of "Egyptianising China." One does not wish to convey the impression that this country and America have large enterprises for the acquisition of territory in China. A great burden would be laid upon the shoulders of this country if we undertook the reform of all the departments of Chinese administration. The point I wish to deal with to-night is the question of the inland waterways and their development and use by this country. That is directly affected by the reform of the administration of China. 896 The great difficulty with regard to the development of the waterways is that you have two systems of finance in China. You have the provincial finance and the Imperial finance. The Imperial authorities make out the amount required for carrying on the Government, and it sends down requisitions to the provincial authorities, and they have to send enough to Pekin to meet the requirements of the central authority. The House will see that if you propose to introduce a new method in respect of the inland waterways, you run the danger of confusing your inland trade with your maritime trade, and it is the difficulty of distinguishing between the two systems of trade—the danger of their being mixed up—that has led to the opposition of the provincial authorities to the opening up of the inland waterways of China. In dealing with this matter, surely the simplest way of all, now that the Chinese are asking for a revision of the tariff at the treaty ports, would be to come to an arrangement by which the likin would be altogether abolished and another tariff introduced at our treaty ports. There is another point that bears on the same question. At the present time there is an enormous leakage in the revenues of China, and a very distinguished authority has pointed out that in the land tax alone there is a leakage of something like fourteen millions per annum. It is not conceivable how that amount disappears, but the figures are given by a distinguished authority, and there can be no doubt that you have an enormous margin to go upon with which you might develop another reform, and that is to undertake the proper payment of the officials throughout the length and breadth of China who are entrusted with the control of the various departments. What is the position of the ordinary official in China? An official has to pay a large sum for his post, and he is not certain how long he will hold it; he has a large crowd of needy relatives who feed upon him, and he must during his term of office do his best to recoup himself for his outlay. Here you have one of the root evils in China. If you had China properly administered, and its finances placed on a sound footing, you would have an ample margin to pay these officials proper salaries, and so deprive them of any excuse for resorting to the system of bleeding the revenue. I want to ask the House, what is there so extravagant 897 in this country asking, in conjunction with the other Powers, to undertake the reform of these various parts of the administration of China? Would there be anything very serious in retaining the services of some distinguished financier to preside over an Imperial Board of Revenue in Pekin? I cannot, for my own part, see where the extravagance comes in. I think those who have studied the subject must be convinced that one way to keep China upon its legs is to adopt some system of reform such as I have ventured to suggest I do not want to speak strongly upon the methods that have been pursued in the past. I think I have had the honour of saying before what the hon. Baronet said about the treatment of the affair of Port Arthur, and I think it would have been far better if an agreement had been arrived at at the time of a friendly nature. I am bound to say that the Government have undoubtedly done their best to deal in an effective manner with the different matters brought before them, but this is the complaint I should be rather inclined to make. My right hon. friend said that the remedies had been "prompt." That is a word I could not use, because it appears to me throughout the Blue-book that the remedy applied has not been prompt. Take the case of the murder of Mr. Fleming. He was murdered under circumstances of peculiar horror, and it has taken nearly a year to bring the criminal to justice. For a long time this criminal remained near his own home—something like four months—and although during the whole of that time he was known to be there, no attempt was made to arrest him. I take this as an example of the way in which our Government failed to act as promptly as they ought. Through the whole correspondence it appears that you must show an absolutely firm front to the Chinese Government. Supposing you have an official in China of high integrity and capacity, who is convinced that the safety of his country lies in furthering British interests in China, supposing that, in furthering these interests, he incurs the hostility of a neighbouring Power which is able to make its influence felt in various ways, supposing that man has assisted the British Government and British traders in obtaining something they desired to have, and after having done that, he is brought to trial on a charge 898 of having misappropriated funds—supposing all that done, if you find that man dismissed and disgraced, do you think that your Government, by allowing such treatment to take place to a high official of great integrity, is promoting your interests in China? Another example is this. The demand for the cession of Wei-hai-wei was received on a Thursday. It was put before the Yamen on Friday, and I think it was on the following Tuesday that Wei-hai-wei was handed over to this country. That shows you what you can do if you make up your minds to act. I give this illustration as showing my view of the position the Government ought to take up in China.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester shire, Forest of Dean)
When the Under Secretary of State says that it seems to him to be a sufficient answer to the severe condemnation contained in the terms of the notice placed on the Paper that the House was rather empty during the greater part of the evening, I think the House itself will hardly think the emptiness of the House—when there could be no division—is any answer to the charges my hon. friend has brought against the Government. The Under Secretary answered himself also in another phrase of his own speech. He said that the coming on of this subject for discussion had been rather unexpected. The debate to-night has established this fact: that in the opinion of the great majority on both sides of this House who take any interest in Chinese affairs, the weakest point in the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government has been the story of our dealings with China itself, and that was as fully admitted by the hon. Member for Chester as it was in the speech of my hon. friend who so much pleased the House. The Under Secretary has contended that the charges brought against the Government are old and stale, and he challenged Members who entertained doubts with regard to the policy of the Government to quote from the Blue Book any actual instance of the failure of the Government. Let us take one matter which is specially interesting to the commerce of this country—I mean the development of the trade upon the rivers. The hon. Baronet speaking from our front bench declared that that was the main ground for self-praise which the Government selected on previous occasions 899 in this House. They said, "At all events nothing could be more important for British trade. We have got this understanding for the complete development of the internal navigation of China and British steamers going over the waterways carrying our goods there." The late Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs—Mr. Curzon as he then was—made the statement on three occasions in the strongest note, in a song of triumph as to the policy of the Government in that respect. Everyone who knows anything of the trade of China will recognise the importance of developing the waterways of China. The words Mr. Curzon used in uttering that song of triumph were none too strong if the thing had really been brought about. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Berwick division of Northumberland and the hon. Member who last addressed the House have both alluded to it in general terms. What is the statement made on behalf of the Government their own agents in the Blue-book itself? There are three passages in communications from Government agents, a ml one from Sir Robert Hart. They are very short, and I will read them as they stand. In the report on the trade on the West River I find these words—were the inland waters open, and equality of treatment secured to both, a large increase, in which both Chinese and British vessels would participate, would inevitably occur.… Under the heading of internal trade comes the crux of the whole failure of the so-called opening of the inland waters.Acting-Consul Fox, writing from Wuchow on June 9th, 1899, says—Foreign steamers on the West River are now, to all intents and purposes, on precisely the same footing as were steamers on the. Yang-tsze before the opening of the inland waters of China.Sir Robert Hart wrote on Maw 12th, 1899—This privilege [the privilege of trading on the inland waterways], whether rightly or wrongly thought valuable, will require years of patient nursing before it can possibly answer any expectations.This is what has followed the great boast to the House of the success of your policy in China. This was the one thing that you were supposed really to have obtained, and this is the thing I have shown conclusively by the letters of your own agents these you have altogether failed to secure. I have only one 900 other thing to say in regard to what fell from the hon. Member for Chester in the last part of his speech. The note of hope that he struck in the last words of his speech concerned the action of the United States. That action has been minimised by the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He has twice spoken of it as if it had to do only with the open door. As I read the despatch of the United States, and as it has been understood in the United States, the open door is not the main point of United States policy in China. They put before the open door in writing to us the policy of promoting reforms in China. The Under Secretary of State altogether minimised the new departure in the policy of the United States. He puts forward the open door as the main portion of their policy, while the main portion of their policy as regards China is to develop China on the lines of the reformed Government, which is the first point referred to in the despatch. It was quite clear in what the hon. Member said about Egyptianising China that he did not mean we were to undertake that work ourselves. I am quite sure he was alluding only to European control in reforming the Government, and not to the undertaking of that work by any single Power. We should not minimise this new departure on the part of the United States as if it referred to the open door alone. As I understand the dispatch of the United States, what we are asked to do is to co-operate with the United States in this policy of developing China. The United States asked for united actionto promote the administrative reform so greatly needed for strengthening the Imperial Government and maintaining the integrity of China, in which the whole Western world is alike concerned.That is the main point of the American policy The open door only follows incidentally, as it were, from it. My hon. friend the Member for the Barnsley division, is not, I think, open to the charge made against him to-night of desiring that we by ourselves should undertake the reform of the Government of China, because he wishes us frankly to accept the American invitation with more exact knowledge of what it really means than the Government seem to possess. They have assented to it, but with special reference to the open door, and it was to that alone the Under Secretary for Foreign 901 Affairs devoted his speech to-night. The hon. Member for Chester referred to the forcible upsetting of the reform movement. Of course, we cannot expect the Government to know things they have not yet heard, but there are weighty reasons for believing that one of the leading reformers—Kung-ya-wei—has been kidnapped and carried off from British territory. It was long since known that this reformer had a price set on his head, and that a sum of 100,000 dols. had been offered for him dead or alive. He fled to British Columbia and returned to Hong Kong, where he was living under police protection, the police occupying the house in which he dwelt. If he has been kidnapped after this price had been set on his head, not only should prompt action be taken by this country, but it seems to me it might form an occasion in which we might properly ask the United States, in support of their own policy, to co-operate with us in any measures which it may be necessary to take. They are desirous of reform, and we are told that a would-be reformer has been carried off from a British colony. If that proves to be true it may provide a leverage for that joint action by the United States and ourselves which we should all like to see at the present moment.
§ * MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)
The right hon. Baronet has indicated that the gist of the United States despatch refers to the strengthening of the Imperial Government of China, and the maintenance of the integrity of China. But to me this passage seems only the exordium of the despatch. The real gravamen is contained under headings one, two, and three, on which the United States Government desires from Her Majesty's Government a declaration, and in them there is nothing about strengthening the Imperial Government.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
It believes such a result may be greatly aided and advanced by the declaration.
§ * MR. MALCOLM
Although the right hon. Baronet has great experience of despatches I think the greatest stress is laid on headings one, two, and three. I think we may congratulate Her Majesty's Government, that so little is now heard in the country about China, and that the House 902 is almost empty now when the question is being discussed. A year or two ago when the question was raised the House was always full, and we had what is called a full dress debate. Now there is no outcry, and I find myself in almost complete accord with my hon. friend the Member for Chester, who has been one of the most acute critics of the Government with reference to Chinese questions. I think the hon. Baronet the Member for the Berwick Division of Northumberland has put his finger on the chief difficulty of doing anything with the Government of China. In his observations on the philosophy of government he said they had neither the desire not the capacity for reform. I think there is a great danger in the House—which has been illustrated to some extent by the speech of the hon. Member for the Barnsley Division—of considering the Chinese question as rather a parochial question, as if this country by a sic volo, sic jubeo attitude could do whatever it liked with an enormous empire like that of China. Therefore I think that his observations that "we will stand no nonsense" about one thing and "insist" on something else, are completely out of place, because in my opinion we have absolutely no power to enforce such threats upon the Government of China. The hon. Member also said that he at last had come to the conclusion that owing to some Government management or mismanagement in this country, we had begun to treat the North China question not as a sea question, but as a land question. I have always thought that this problem of North China lay in a land question, not in a sea question. I have always felt, as the noble Lord said to-night, that we lay too much stress on the question of the cession of Port Arthur, and, if anything, not enough of stress on the action going on along the boundary between the south of the Russian dominions and Northern China. I have means of knowing from those who have travelled along that boundary that there are Russian camps along the whole distance within the boundary of China—not military camps, it is true, but trading camps, which get into the confidence of the Chinese, which lend them money, and which are preparing the way, no doubt, for the possible annexation of Northern China. Yet, upon the whole, I agree with the noble Lord who said to-night that we ought not to pay 903 so much attention to Northern China, but ought to confine our energies and attention to the Yang-tsze valley, which he said we should take within our sphere of influence. But I do not agree with him when he diminishes altogether the importance of our possession of Wei-hai-wei. It is possible that Wei-hai-wei is not the strategic base it was supposed to be, or that it does not possess the commercial advantages it was supposed to have, but at the time that possession was secured it was absolutely necessary that some make-weight should be obtained by England as against the acquisitions of Russia and Germany; and I do not know what better we could have done at that time than to secure Wei-hai-wei as a make-weight, and what better we can do now than improve it as a port under the direction of the Admiralty. The hon. Member for the Barnsley Division also referred to the question of the Yang-tsze valley. I am not sure he did not use the phrase "Yang-tsze myth," but he rather set on one side the value of our concessions in the Yang-tsze valley.
§ * MR. MALCOLM
That is a point to be subsequently discussed. It seems to me we have the Yang-tsze valley as a sphere of influence as against Russian influence in Northern China. If we advocate the confinement of our energies to the Yang-tsze valley, what we mean is, not that we are going to lose sight of British interests in other parts of China, but that we are prepared to concentrate our pressure in that particular portion of China.
§ * MR. JOSEPH WALTON
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? I did not speak of the Yang-tsze valley as a myth. What I said was that any agreement between the British and Chinese Governments giving us any priority of right in the Yang-tsze valley was a myth.
§ * MR. MALCOLM
Many hon. Members appear inclined to consider anything this country has got as a paper concession, and that everything other nations get is of very material importance. I consider myself that the Government have absolutely nothing to be blamed for in this matter. They have not been behind 904 other Governments. They have the interests of their country at heart, and are doing their work in as statesmanlike a way as other countries are doing their work. It does seem to me, noticing as I do in this House and in the country an utter absence of the excitement which prevailed a year or two ago with reference to the Chinese question, that the obvious deduction is that we are all infinitely more satisfied now than we were before with the action of the Government with regard to the Chinese question, and that we all observe the material concessions made to this country through the statesmanship of the Government by the Government of the Empire of China.
§ * SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
I think the Government are to be congratulated upon the firmness with which they appear to stand by the opinion that we should not incur territorial responsibilities in China. I only wish that that opinion had prevailed sooner, and that we had not increased our land responsibilities by taking Wei-hai-wei with a land frontier. I cannot but think that debates in this House on the question of China are very like getting up a discussion on the 8th or 9th chapter of a book without having read the previous chapters. It is said that this Government lost this chance or that, as if these matters were quite modern history. My own opinion is that the real chance this country lost was in 1855–6. The Crimean War is the original cause of Russia being at Port Arthur to-day. It was magnificent strategy of Russia, and it was our own want of information and our failure in military and naval action in the North Pacific that gave Russia the first grip on the sea coast. It was wonderful strategy on the part of Russia, and we then lost our chance of effective interference to stop the growth of Russian interference at Pekin which was inevitable when Russia got to the sea with a long frontier behind. My own belief is that the Government are taking a wise step in doing what is practicable in concert with other Powers to deal with China through her waterways, and in no other way whatever. Even granted that the British and United States Governments and all the Powers in Europe combine, I believe when young men now in this House are old that the Treasury Bench will still be charged with 905 not having sufficiently accelerated matters in China because any process of improvement must be of very long duration, so great is the inertia of the vast mass of human beings who inhabit the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.