HC Deb 09 May 1927 vol 206 cc19-25
39. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether any decision has yet been come to as to the next step to be taken with regard to the reply to our note to Mr. Chen on he outrages at Nanking; and, if so, if he will state what is the next step to be taken?


The statement I have to make is an important one, and I hope that its importance will be felt by the House to justify the unavoidable length of my answer.

The Nanking outrages took place on 23rd and 24th March, and on 11th April a Note, identic in terms, was delivered by the representatives of Great Britain, the United States of America, Japan, France and Italy to Mr. Eugene Chen, as Foreign Minister of the Nationalist Government, and to the Shanghai representative of the generalissimo of the Nationalist armies. This Note demanded punishment of offenders, apology and compensation. On 14th April Mr. Chen returned replies to the Notes. The reply to His Majesty's Government was given to the House in answer to a question from the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull on 16th April. The replies to the other Governments followed the same lines, with variations in each case. The Notes were unsatisfactory in substance and in detail. The serious and immediate issues of the Nanking outrages were shirked, and irrelevant matter and the usual Nationalist propaganda were introduced.

The five Governments were already discussing the further action to be taken in view of the unsatisfactory nature of Mr. Chen's reply, when events took place in the Yangtse region which have entirely changed the position.

When the outrages occurred and even when the Powers' Notes were presented China south of the Yangtse was apparently united under the Nationalist Government, whose seat was in the Wuhan cities, commonly known as Hankow. There was, therefore, a Government which was responsible for the outrages and which could be made responsible for reparations. Within four days after the date of Mr. Chen's reply, that united Government in South China no longer existed, and Mr. Chen and his Notes represented little more than himself and his personal opinions. He no longer spoke for Nationalist China or for the Kuomintang party.

The Nanking affair had precipitated a long impending split within the Nationalist ranks. The looting of foreign property at Nanking and the shooting of foreigners were the culmination of a continued policy of agitation, rapine, terrorism and murder; the tools of this policy were the unpaid soldiery of the Nationalist armies and the mobs of the great cities, but its organisation and driving force were borrowed, directly or indirectly, from the Third International. This policy had failed to create an anti-British incident at Hankow in January. It had been unable to seize Shanghai owing to the protective presence of the Defence Force. By March, it was becoming directed against the Nationalist generalissimo, Chiang Kai-shek, of whose power the Communists were jealous. The organised side of the Nanking outrages appears to have been an attempt to embroil Chiang Kai-shek with the foreign Powers.

The outrages at Nanking have already re-acted in China in a dramatic and, to their authors, an unwelcome manner. Not two months ago, it seemed as if the Southern party and the Nationalist armies would sweep China from South to North. Nanking has already checked this victorious career, if it has not wrecked it altogether. It has split the Communist wing from the Kuomintang party, and—most important of all—it has deeply discredited the Communists and their foreign advisers in the eyes of all China.

In view of this momentous development, the question of punishment for the Nanking outrages has assumed an entirely new aspect. The Hankow Government which was responsible for the outrages no longer controls Nanking. The real offenders—the Communist agitators—have been punished by the Chinese Nationalists themselves with a severity and effectiveness of which no foreign Power was capable. In Shanghai, Canton and other towns the Extremist organisations have been broken up and their leaders executed. The Nationalist Government at Hankow has lost its dominating position and is at present little more than the shadow of a name. Mr. Chen's notes have received their answer in the practical disappearance of the power which he affected to represent; he has been left, cut off by the tide of events, in ruined and terror-stricken Hankow—the Minister for Foreign Affairs of a Government which exists only in name.

So far as punishment is concerned, those in high places responsible for the Nanking outrages, have been punished with a promptitude and a completeness unusual in human affairs. The questions of responsibility and reparation are on a different footing. Whatever Government emerges from the present confusion North and South of the Yangtse will be held responsible for outrages on British subjects resulting from the civil war, and compensation and reparation will be demanded. His Majesty's Government's one desire is that such a Government should arise; that it should renounce the policy of anti-foreign agitation and misrepresentation, which brought its predecessor to ruin; that it should shoulder its responsibilities fairly and squarely, liquidating the past and building up a better future on a reasonable basis of Treaty revision such as all foreign Powers have expressed a willingness to accept and for which His Majesty's Government have already suggested a practical programme. A new Nationalist Government appears to be now being formed at Nanking. It is too early to predict either its strength or its policy, but I have no hesitation in saying at once that the moderation of the Powers in dealing with the Nanking incident is largely inspired by a desire not to embarrass this or any other new Government in their task of introducing order in the territory under their control.

The question of a re-occupation of the former British concession at Hankow has been most carefully considered by the Government. The logic and justice of such a step at first strongly appealed to us. The signing of the Hankow Agreement had been an unquestionable sign of the friendly attitude of this country towards the Nationalist aspirations of China. It had been deliberately designed as such. We decided in its favour, instead of refusing to negotiate and waiting till it was convenient to us to make the effort required to re-occupy the Concession which was ours by Treaty right. Had we wished now to re-occupy the Concession, we have ample justification. The Nationalist Government have neither observed the spirit of the agreement signed at Hankow, nor have they made any attempt to reciprocate the friendly attitude which we have displayed towards them. I need only refer to the recent occupation of the British Concession and Consulate at Chinkiang by Nationalist troops, to the events at Nanking and to the fact that all British subjects have had to be evacuated from up-country districts and from many of the towns of the Yangtse and that our Consulates at Chengtu, Chungking, Ichang and Changsha have had to close.

We have, therefore, ample justification for re-occupying the Concession and for regarding the agreement as cancelled by the Nationalist Government's own acts, and we have the means at hand to do so. But, on full consideration, His Majesty's Government have decided not to take this step now, and they hope that it may not be forced upon them. As I have explained, the Hankow Agreement was signed, not for the exigencies of the moment, but with a view to our whole future policy in China. It was the earnest of our sincerity in placing before the Northern and Southern Governments our readiness to revise the treaties in a broad and liberal spirit as soon as Chinese conditions which are outside our control make the execution of this liberal policy possible. It offered tangible proof of our sincerity, and has been so judged by the world in general and by all those Chinese who have been in a position to appreciate its significance and generosity. His Majesty's Government are unwilling, even under such provocation as they have received, to abandon their hope that this friendly policy will presently evoke an equally friendly response from a Chinese Government freed from foreign domination and thus enabled to devote itself to the single-minded service of the interests of the Chinese.

I invite the House to consider this problem in its widest and most permanent aspect, as His Majesty's Government have done. Reviewing all the facts, taking into our consideration the future no less than the present, we have decided that the present application of sanctions for the outrages at Nanking or the failure to observe the conditions of the Hankow Agreement, is inexpedient, however fully justified. I believe that similar reasoning has led the other interested Governments to a like conclusion. In these circumstances, His Majesty's Government do not propose to address any further Note to Mr. Chen. We have so informed the other Powers. We have added that His Majesty's Government reserve to themselves full liberty of action as to the future, and in particular in respect of any further outrages which may be perpetrated on the British flag, British nationals and British property.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The House, I am sure, is very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his very full statement. May I put this one question to him? I take it that his statement means that the question of reparation for nationals who have suffered is held over until a more stable Government is in existence in China. In the meantime, will the right hon. Gentleman consider paying some compensation ourselves to those people who have suffered—to these British sufferers?


I am loth to ask the British taxpayer, who is heavily burdened, to pay for the wrongs which others do to other British subjects.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

But in the meantime?


Is it perfectly clear that if His Majesty's Government's hopes of a stable Government in China are not realised within the near future, they are perfectly free to re-open the question of re-occupying Hankow, and that the door is not shut to that possibility?


Yes, Sir. But, as I have said, His Majesty's Government earnestly trust that that course may not be forced upon them.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that the somewhat flamboyant and melodramatic early part of his reply is really in keeping with that hope?


In view of the fact of so many nationals being involved in the question of reparations and in view of the right hon. Gentleman's excellent suggestion some weeks ago to in the League of Nations if he found it expedient or advisable, will he consider referring this particular question of reparations to the League of Nations?


I think the objections to bringing in the League of Nations and to the possibility of their usefully acting in this matter remain as stated some time ago by Professor Gilbert Murray in a letter to the "Times," and by me and, I think, by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in answers in this House.

Colonel DAY

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether all British subjects have now been evacuated from the up-country districts?


That is quite another matter and that question ought to be put down on the Paper.

Lieut.-Colonel JAMES

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly as stating that the Third international are largely responsible in this matter; and, if so, have any representations been made to the Soviet Government with regard to obtaining reparations from them for damage caused by the action of their dupes?


Further questions on these foreign affairs had better be put on the Paper.


What is going to happen to British nationals in the meantime? Will they receive compensation from the Chinese Government?


That question also should be put on the Paper.

40. Kr. LOOKER

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he has any information as to any outrages which were perpetrated on women or girls of foreign nationality by the Nationalist troops at Nanking; and the nature of such information?


I gave the substance of all the information in my possession in my answer to my Noble Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine) on 30th March.