HC Deb 29 February 1932 vol 262 cc913-20

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]


I desire to raise the question of Manchuria in the time left at our disposal and I shall be brief as I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing it on another occasion. I hope that any remarks that I do make will be made with that restraint which the situation demands. Manchuria, as the House knows, is a province of China nearly as large as France and Germany combined. There is a very large population of Chinese—some 20,000,000—and a very small population of Japanese subjects—under 1,000,000, and mostly Koreans—and owing to the climate I understand that Manchuria will never be an outlet for the surplus population of Japan. The diplomatic history of Manchuria is long and complicated and I do not intend to try to unravel it to-night.

The one document to which I call the attention of the House is the Nine-Power Treaty signed at Washington on 6th February, 1922, the signatories including ourselves, America, Japan and China. According to the first Clause the signatories agreed to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial and administrative integrity of China. Under Article 7 it was agreed that there should be full and frank communication between the contracting powers concerned whenever a situation arose which involved the application of the Treaty in the opinion of any one of them. How does the British Government regard these Clauses? On 13th July, 1928, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) then Foreign Secretary, said in this House: The Government regard Manchuria as being part of China; they do not recognise Japan as having any special interests in that territory, other than those conferred by Treaty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1928; col. 2637, Vol. 219.] On 30th July the same right hon. Gentleman said: We do not recognise Manchuria as anything but a part of China. We recognise that Japan has great interests in Manchuria. … But our interest is in a united China under one Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1928; col. 1835, Vol. 220.] On 28th November the right hon. Gentleman said: Relations between Great Britain and Japan. … are based on the obligations of full and frank communication specified in Article 7 of the Washington China Treaty, 1922. … In these circumstances the two Governments have agreed informally that the close contact which they desire to maintain can best be promoted and developed by constant communication and consultation between their respective Ministers at Peking."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1928; col. 395, Vol. 223.] I should like to know whether that constant communication has been carried on during the last nine months. I now wish to refer to the events of last autumn. After certain regrettable incidents during the summer, on 18th September, the Japanese military representative at Mukden stated that certain Chinese soldiers had destroyed a portion of the railway—a very small portion, only a matter of a few yards—close to Mukden. On the following day the Japanese military authorities seized Mukden, the capital of Manchuria, and other centres on the line. The operations were carried out with great precision, and seemed, in fact, to be the result of previous preparation. The Chinese troops, acting under orders, piled arms and put them back in store and made no resistance. The Chinese Government immediately appealed to the League of Nations and said that they were willing to do anything which the League suggested and agree to anything laid down by the League. I think it may be taken that ever since, the Chinese Government consistently carried out that policy and decided that they would agree to anything suggested by the League. A certain number of Treaties exist, or are alleged to exist, between China and Japan relating to Manchuria. Some of them date back to pre-War times, and some are secret Treaties. Others the Chinese Government say that they have not agreed to, but they have stated before the League that they are ready to submit all these Treaties to arbitration or judicial settlement. Consistently, the Japanese Government have said that in no circumstances whatever will they allow those Treaties to be settled by the League, by arbitration, or in any other way than by direct negotiations with China, without the intervention of any third party or neutral Power.

During the autumn, in spite of the appeals of the League and the action of certain Powers, the Japanese military authorities gradually got control of the whole of Manchuria, and at the same time threats were made that they did not intend to recognise any Chinese administration in Manchuria and that they did intend to set Manchuria up as an independent State.

A few days ago that independent State was set up at Mukden, and all relations were broken off with the Chinese Republican Government at Nanking, and it was stated that the new State would have as perpetual life President the ex-Emperor of China, formerly known as the boy Emperor. On 7th January, the United States of America sent a very important Note to Japan in which they stated: With the recent military operations about Chinchow the last remaining administration, authority, or Government of the Chinese Republic in Manchuria, as it existed prior to 18th September, 1931, has been destroyed. … In view of the present situation the United States Government deems it to be its duty to notify both the Imperial Japanese Government and the Government of the Chinese Republic that it cannot admit the legality of any situation de facto nor does it intend to recognise any treaty or agreement entered into between these Governments or their agents which may impair the Treaty rights of the United States. … including those which relate to the sovereignty or independence of the territorial and administrative integrity of the Republic of China. … The United States Government does not intend to recognise any situation or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the Covenants and obligations of the Pact of Paris. His Majesty's Government did not send a similar note, but issued a communique in which it stated that, as Japan had agreed to the principle of the open door, they did not consider it necessary to address any formal Note to the Japanese Government on the lines of the American Government's Note. I consider that that was regrettable. Not only does it give a false impression that we do not mind so much a treaty being broken as long as the open door is maintained, but that we should tolerate an injustice if we could get a share of the spoils. It undoubtedly gave encouragement to the militarist party in Japan, and I must say that I fear that the Government cannot altogether divest themselves of some responsibility for the increasingly aggressive attitude which was adopted by the Japanese Government of afterwards.

A few days ago a very important letter was published by Mr. Stimson, the American Secretary of State, and, after reviewing the circumstances of the signature of the Nine-Power Treaty and the Kellogg Pact, he stated: It is clear beyond a peradventure that a situation has developed which cannot under any circumstance be reconciled with the obligations of the Covenants of these two Treaties and that if the Treaties had been faithfully observed such a situation could not have arisen. He goes on to suggest that unless these Treaties are kept, there will have to be a reconsideration of the Three Power Naval Treaty, particularly in respect to battleship construction and the fortification of Guam and the Philippines. He also suggests that if the Governments of the world would act along the lines of his Note of 7th January a caveat will be placed upon such action"— that is, the violation of Treaties and Covenants— which we believe will effectively bar the legality hereafter of any title or right sought to be obtained by pressure or Treaty violation. It is clear that there has been violation of three different Treaties, the Nine Power Treaty, the Kellogg Pact, and the Covenant of the League of Nations, and I trust that His Majesty's Government will do their best to influence such other Powers as they can to adhere to the position adopted by the United States. I hope that we shall inform as many Powers as possible that we shall refuse to recognise any agreement brought about by violence or the breaking of the Treaty. I hope there will be no attempt to recognise the situation in Manchuria as a price in return for a settlement at Shanghai. I think that that is very important. The Government has a great responsibility and a great deal depends upon its decisions. There is the question of disarmament, especially as applied to the Pacific. There is the question of the sanctity of international obligations, the question of the peace of the world and the security of the British Empire. All those things are involved to a certain extent in what is happening at the present time. I know that action may be troublesome, but as Hamlet found, the conse- quences of inaction and hesitation lead to greater catastrophies.


I certainly make no complaint that the hon. Member wishes to discuss the important matter of the position of Manchuria. I do not think I can do better than briefly state the position as it is now, for as to that there seems to be some confusion. It is true that an independent administrative council has been formed in Manchuria and that the council consists entirely of Chinese and numbers actually amongst its members two Mongolian princes. This Council is to formulate details as to the organisation and constitution of the new Government. The hon. Member said that he hoped we should not recognise that Government. No application whatever has been made to us to recognise it so that that matter has not even been considered. As to the attitude of Japan to the new Government, the hon. Member rather seems to belie his own criticisms. My right hon. Friend told the House that His Majesty's Ambassador in Tokio reported that he had been officially informed by the Japanese Government that if, what we now know to be the case, an independent State be proclaimed by the Chinese in Manchuria the Japanese Government are no more likely to recognise that new State than any other Government. I would remind the House—and this is what is relevant to the position of our own country in the matter—that Japan has stated categorically on several occasions that she has no territorial ambitions in Manchuria, and no intention of interfering either with the principle of the open door, or—as the hon. Gentleman laid such emphasis upon it—the provisions of the Nine Power Treaty. We should certainty not agree to seeing the terms of the Nine-Power Treaty flouted, but in face of the assurance given by the Japanese Government I can see no justification for our assuming that anything of the kind is likely to take place. On the 8th January, the Japanese Ambassador gave a definite and categorical assurance to my right hon. Friend, and similar assurances have been given both before and after that date. The hon. Member stated that the action of setting up the independent State in Manchuria seemed to offer some grounds for independent action by our own Government. He criticised us and reminded us that inaction might be more harmful than action. I cannot agree that this particular action of the setting up of a Chinese Government in Manchuria would be in itself a reason for action by His Majesty's Government.

This is not the first time independent Governments have been set up in China since the Washington Treaty. There have been many similar instances. As is to be expected in the disturbed conditions which have ruled in China in recent years, events such as this, the setting up of independent or quasi-independent Governments, of schismatic Governments claiming to be free from the central authority, has been of frequent occurrence. Hon. Members will recollect the setting up of such a Government at Canton not many years ago. As a further illustration of the consequences of the little control of the central authority in China for many years past, there has been the setting up of the present position in Outer Mongolia, which was described by one who, I am sure, will commend himself to the hon. Member—Mr. Henderson, the late Foreign Secretary—in these words: It has for many years enjoyed complete independence from its suzerain, China. Yet I do not remember Mr. Henderson making any representations about its independence, and I cannot even recollect the hon. Member rising in his place to suggest that such representations should be made.

There are much stronger reasons than this precedent, or the series of precedents which I have cited, why His Majesty's Government, would, in our view, be wrong to take any independent action in respect of Manchuria. The events there are at present, as the house knows, definitely sub judice by the League of Nations. A commission appointed by that body, with the full consent, be it remembered, of the Chinese and Japanese Governments, will very shortly arrive in Manchuria, and it will be the task of that commission to hear evidence and investigate the situation on the spot. It would be wholly improper for the Government of this country, which is a member of the League of Nations, to express by action on its own account independent of the League its judgment upon a matter which is now under investiga- tion. There is all the less justification for such a course in the fact that the Assembly of the League has been summoned to meet on 3rd March. I would ask the House to remember that this country, in this respect, unlike the United States, which the hon. Member quoted, has a double duty to discharge—its duty as a signatory to the Nine Power Treaty, which we admit and intend to fulfil, and its duty as a member of the League of Nations. We are fully conscious of the former responsibility, and we could not be excused were we to neglect the latter. It has been our policy throughout the long course of this anxious business to collaborate fully, frankly and faithfully with the League of Nations and with the Government of the United States.

We shall continue in that policy. We will continue to seek for that dual co- operation until this quarrel is settled and tranquillity is restored. I think I can promise that success in the achievement of a solution of this problem is definitely nearer than it was a few days ago. I think the justification of the policy that has been pursued is even stronger than ever it was. It is not our intention to depart from that policy in any instance. I am confident that in seeking to co-operate at once with the League and the United States, and to find a peaceful solution of the problem, we are interpreting the wishes of the House and of the country, and in that policy we shall persist.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'Clock.

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