§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)
The recent tragic events on the lower Yangtse have deeply stirred the British people. They resent, and they properly resent, what seems an uncalled-for and purposeless sacrifice. The original attack on the "Amethyst" at first sight appeared to be a foolish mistake by a local commander. We then heard with concern that the Communist authorities at Peiping, who had hitherto taken a not unfriendly attitude toward the British community, had refused the British Consul's protest. Communist Army headquarters similarly rejected the attempt, the very gallant attempt, of Mr. Youde, third secretary of the British Embassy, to reach a peaceful settlement. It is also significant that the Communist radio proceeded to pour out tendentious and provocative attacks on British imperialism, describing these unhappy incidents as a joint naval attack by the Kuomintang and British imperialist Navy, in an attempt to halt the crossing of the Yangtse by the People's Liberation Army. The British Navy may not have its full ancient strength and unchallenged position, but it 1225 is difficult to suppose that even the most purblind imperialist would attempt to hold up a large army with a frigate, a sloop a destroyer and a light cruiser.
Nevertheless, I am not persuaded that the initial attack was deliberately planned at a high level. It may be that the Chinese also support the man on the spot. If the British people have a right to resent, as they have, their cruel losses, it is because they do not understand how this incident has been allowed to happen. Up till now, the whole policy which we have followed in China, not without success, has been one of avoiding our becoming involved in Chinese internal affairs. This policy has been gravely jeopardised by what seems to have been a serious lack of judgment on the part of His Majesty's Government.
Two officers and 40 ratings have been killed, eight officers and 64 ratings have been wounded, and one of His Majesty's cruisers has been damaged. One of His Majesty's destroyers, and one sloop, the "Amethyst," is in a precarious position on the river, damaged, and now, I understand, marooned, for it is reported that a pontoon bridge has now been constructed across the Yangtse above her present position. If this is so, she is trapped. The splendid and moving gallantry and devotion to duty displayed by all concerned have filled every loyal British heart with a profound emotion, but that is an insufficient set-off against so great a loss. Moreover, British prestige has suffered a grievous wound in a country and among a people where prestige matters more than anything else in the world. We have lost face where face matters most of all.
This blow is all the more bitter because it might so easily have been avoided. It is really not good enough to talk about the decision of the man on the spot and about full support to the officer commanding. Whatever criticisms there may be of some of the decisions made, often at short notice and under great stress, all the trouble springs from certain initial mistakes and confusions, and indeed contradictions, of policy. For this His Majesty's Government, and His Majesty's Government alone, are responsible. It is from their faulty appreciation of the situation and from their mistakes of judgment and action that this grave disaster stems.
1226 Why was it decided to keep a warship at Nanking, and having decided to keep her there, why was it necessary to relieve her and to supply her in a routine way when there was such a narrow margin of time and there was so little purpose? It must be observed that even if the "Amethyst" could have got in before the expiry of the ultimatum, the "Consort" could scarcely have got out. That was the situation with regard to the very narrow timing on which the whole operation depended.
What about air cover? I do not press this as part of the initial operation, the "Amethyst's" journey. In any case who could expect the admiral to ask for air cover which could only come from Singapore? It would be like an officer in difficulties on the Rhine asking for air support from New York, and then with no base from which to operate. Even if suitable units—of course, I do not know the precise facts—were available at Hong Kong, why, that was nearly 800 miles away. However, the appropriate aero planes, especially rocket-carrying aircraft, might have been of use on the second and third expeditions, the rescue expeditions, which were undertaken by H.M.S. "Black Swan" and "London," for, as the Prime Minister observed, rather naïvely I thought, apparently without full realisation of the significance of his words:Warships are not designed to operate in rivers against massed artillery and infantry sheltered by reeds and mudbanks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 30.]But suitable air support with suitable bases was not available, and after the first attack on the "Amethyst" and after her plight had been reported to him, the admiral had really to decide either to abandon her or to take the risk and to face the hazards of a rescue attempt.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston) rose—
§ Mr. Macmillan
May I continue this argument? No one who knows the British Navy need be surprised at his inclinations. I must, however, ask this specific question, which the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt answer in due course: Did he report his intention to the Admiralty, and did the Admiralty and the First Lord know and approve his purpose, that is, of the relief expedition? We ought to be told that in due course in this Debate.
§ Mr. Macmillan
While I am speaking of air support, perhaps I may make a further point. I do not complain of the failure to use air support for if it was not there how could it be used? But the fact that air support was not available ought to have been taken into account in deciding upon the attempt to extricate the "Amethyst" at the risk of further loss of life and further damage. Nor was it by any means clear that this was the only way in which her officers and crew could be rescued. If it had been the only way, everyone would have said that it should have been taken, but we should observe that they were not rescued by naval means. The wounded officers and men returned to Shanghai by land. In the event they went by rail and road, and, therefore, it cannot be urged that this rescue attempt was a necessary humanitarian duty, for they were taken off by other means.
Whether there ought to be proper air power available wherever a fleet is stationed, especially where trouble is likely to occur, is another question, and I want to make some observations on that. Eighteen months ago there were two light aircraft carriers, the "Theseus" and the "Glory" on the China station. They were withdrawn in order to accelerate demobilisation. On 27th October, 1947, the Minister of Defence told us that there would be temporary reductions of naval strength in foreign stations but added:In each one of these stations where we have to make reductions I hope that, within reasonable time, with reorganisation of the personnel, we shall be able to restore, or at any rate, make some addition to the temporarily reduced strength at present."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 648.]His hopes have been disappointed but owing to the fantastic secrecy with which Ministers have cloaked all Defence matters in this Parliament, the absence of any aircraft carrier in the Far East has not been remarked or commented upon by Parliament or the public.
I come back to the main question, "Air support or no air support?" The root of all these troubles lies in the decision to keep a naval vessel at Nanking. More prudently and, I think, more wisely, the Americans withdrew their own. I have no doubt that in the early stages of this affair, before the Communist armies had 1228 reached the Yangtse in force and before they were known to be about to effect the crossing, a destroyer or a gunboat may have been of some moral and practical assistance to British interests in Nanking, although I am bound to say that the "gunboat" mentality seems to be rather out of date.
Tientsin and Peking were taken by the Communist armies without any serious threat to the considerable foreign interests there. A sort of local settlement seems to have been reached which was not altogether unsatisfactory. There was no reason to expect anything different in Nanking. However that may be, it must surely have been obvious to the Government that after a Communist occupation of Nanking a destroyer could only become an embarrassment rather than of assistance. She could only become a hostage and not a protection. She could not leave without Communist permission and she could not move down the river without Communist compliance.
What useful purpose was served in the decision to keep the ship in Nanking? Whose decision was it? Was it an Admiralty decision or a Foreign Office decision? We have observed a certain amount of "passing the buck" among official spokesmen of these Departments, and we ought to be told. Having decided to keep her there, why was it necessary to send these supplies by river, obviously the most dangerous route? We were not told by the Prime Minister the other day exactly what were the supplies of which he told us H.M.S. "Consort" was running short. From his statement the other day one would think that Nanking was a besieged or beleaguered city. Not at all. Any vital supplies to this ship, to His Majesty's Embassy or to the British community not obtainable locally could have gone, and did go and are still going, by road, rail or air. All those routes were open.
Of all the routes the river route was by far the most likely to he challenged for two reasons. First, because the crossing of the river on a large scale and in the face of presumed opposition was just about to be undertaken by one of the large contesting armies in the Chinese civil war. Whatever may be the legal rights of the matter—what the Prime Minister called "the lawful occasions" —there was an obvious risk in getting 1229 involved. After all, any neutral destroyer that happened to be sailing down the channel on the morning of "Overlord" might have run into a spot of bother. Secondly, the river route inevitably involved the memories and perhaps the traditions of Europeans in China when they held a position, quite apart from Communism, which belongs to the past.
The House will remember that up to 1943 Great Britain had treaty rights enabling her to patrol the Canton and the Yangtse rivers with gunboats, and enabling heavier warships to patrol within Chinese territorial waters. Those are tremendous rights applying to no other nation in the world, but they were formally abandoned by the Treaty of 1943. It is true that there is a phrase in the Treaty saying that "the high contracting parties will extend one another mutual courtesy in accordance with international usage," but that is merely a phrase that applies to any nation; that is to say, that visiting warships do not enter each other's ports without permission. It is also true that the Kuomintang Government acceded to our request to send H.M.S. "Consort" to Nanking. However it is also true—and that was revealed by the Foreign Office spokesman —that some time ago that government, which was more or less on the point of abandoning Nanking and has since gone to Canton, warned us that there would be difficulty in making that permission effective.
In spite of the agility of the Prime Minister in his statement the other day in skating over some very thin ice, if one takes this story as a whole in all its aspects, and all the responsibilities connected with it, it seems to me that it is an absolute gem, a little cameo of incompetence, a miniature masterpiece of mismanagement, a classical illustration, which I have no doubt will long be studied by the staff colleges of the world, of exactly how not to do it.
Now I pass to a further question on which I must admit that different views may be held. Apart from the presence of H.M.S. "Consort" at Nanking, was it really wise for His Majesty's Ambassador to remain? It was certainly wise for our consular and foreign service officers to remain at their posts throughout China. Great benefit may well follow to British interests. In the same way it has been wise for the British trading 1230 communities to remain—all honour to them. And I can understand that in so fluid a situation there was and may still be the possibility of the emergence of a government by some compromise or maœeuvre which could be regarded as de jure as well as de facto the Government of China. This was, after all, the purpose of the official Chinese Government in the later stages.
So I can understand that during all this time there were advantages in maintaining the Ambassador. Certainly during this time Great Britain ought to be represented effectively both in Canton, where some of the Ministers have gone, and in Nanking where some have stayed. Certainly from my knowledge of him. I can well understand the desire of the British Ambassador to remain at his post for, naturally, what he was asking others to do he would wish to do himself. And I know Sir Ralph Stevenson—a cool, intrepid, loyal and brave man. But an Ambassador is not a mere observer or a sort of political agent. He is not even a sort of Resident Minister, whose safety and dignity are of but small importance to anybody. He is the representative of the King. He should not be exposed to the possibility of humiliation. The normal, and I think the wiser, practice in the circumstances, and certainly one which all precedents would support, was for the Ambassador to be recalled for consultation or to go on leave, and to leave a chargé d'affaires who is not the King's representative and who is a more suitable officer to deal with a fluid and equivocal situation.
In any event, whether or not it was wise to instruct His Majesty's Ambassador to remain at Nanking, it was certainly not wise to allow one of His Majesty's ships to remain—
§ Mr. Ronald Chamberlain (Norwood)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the event of there having been some tragedy at Nanking, would he not have been the first to ask why there was not a warship kept there?
§ Mr. Macmillan
No, Sir. I am trying to explain the reason why I think it was unwise to have the warship there and, therefore, my whole argument proves the exact opposite. Whether it was wise or not for the Ambassador to remain, I believe it was unwise for a warship to remain there for, whatever else might 1231 happen, the warship must be cut off and become a hostage to fortune on the Communist occupation. And what could be its force, its power? It all belonged, like so much of the right hon. Gentleman's thoughts, to the past. What could be its balance of power with the immense volume of force and size of modern Communist armies?
§ Mr. Chamberlain
If eventually things had turned out differently, the position would have been different altogether.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I say that the decision to keep the ship there was the starting point of all the trouble but, supposing it had been decided to keep the ship there, why was it necessary to relieve her? Could she not have stayed on a few weeks longer unrelieved?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I am going through this whole catalogue of folly. Having decided to keep her there, why was it necessary to relieve her on that particular day to coincide with the crossing of the Yangtse by the Communist army? On the contrary, a routine—I think that was the expression of the Prime Minister—or normal relief was undertaken and persisted in, with these two expeditions following, under what was surely anything but routine or normal conditions, in the short and uncertain pause of a great civil war. Those are the comments which I venture to put before the Committee on this tragic and humiliating episode. It has for us all only one redeeming feature, the splendid bravery and endurance of our seamen. Among our enemies, and they are many, and our critics in the world, it will be hailed as a sign of declining judgment, prestige and power.
If the Committee will bear with me, there are some wider aspects of this Far Eastern problem to which I will refer. The situation in China, as in the East generally, requires at this time two separate qualities in those responsible if we are to avoid or overcome the dangers before us. It demands understanding and imagination on the one hand and firmness and determination on the other. To deal successfully with Orientals, especially with Communists, as I think the Foreign 1232 Secretary would agree, one must display both realism and courage. For many years there has been a stirring in the Far East. Since the first impact of the West upon China and Japan a great new page of world history has been unrolled. The tragic lessons of a crudely modernised Japan are there for all to read, and we can only too easily guess what troubles may follow from similar movements in China unless we can bring to bear the necessary diplomacy and resolution.
"There lies a sleeping giant," a great man said of China; "do not wake him." But the awakening has come. In China, as in all the East, there is a long tradition of xenophobia. Sometimes it lies dormant, but it is always ready to flare up under any Government and under any regime. There is a sense of inferiority—a complex, to use the modern jargon—which requires the occasional reassertion of nationalism and of national independence in the most truculent and offensive form. There is, of course, the memory of ancient glories and old civilisations, which act in these moods as an irritant rather than an inspiration. There is the fact, alas, which we must all admit, that the East, in imitating the West, has not always chosen the best to copy. There is the misrepresentation of the old relations of the West with the East, remembering only the special rights and privileges of the Western Powers and ignoring the corresponding benefits which they brought with them.
That is not to say that the privileges can be maintained. Indeed, as the Committee knows, the whole history of our recent relations with China under successive British Governments has been one of the voluntary renunciation of these rights. In 1927 we abandoned Hankow and Kukiang; in 1929 we abandoned Chinkiang; in 1930 we abandoned British settlements at Amoy and Wei-Hai-Wei; in 1943, apart from the extra-territorial rights, to which I have already referred, we abandoned the British concession at Tientsin and Canton, the international settlements at Amoy and Shanghai and various other privileges.
These privileges, like the capitulations in Egypt or Turkey, were the necessary instruments in their time and in their day for the development of Chinese trade and the raising of China's standards of living. They were equally beneficial to both 1233 parties. Nevertheless, as so often happens, the good is interred with them and the evil remains. They have been misrepresented in the West; I have heard them misrepresented in this House, and it is not to be surprising therefore, if they have been misrepresented in the East.
Now, in addition to all the ferment of rising Eastern nationalism—in China, as elsewhere in the East—comes the Communist movement, with all its reinforcements of malignant propaganda exploiting and fomenting these national, and not unnatural, sentiments. We do not know—we can only guess—the degree of the Kremlin's direct control over, or material assistance to, the Chinese Communist leaders. We are not—at least, I am not—informed in any detail of their precise relations. The Chinese leaders are certainly Communists—we know that —and in many cases they are Moscow-trained Communists. It is doubtful how many of the Chinese people are Communists. But in these matters it is not always, as we know, the people who decide; yet the Chinese enigma remains. Will Communism in the long run eat up China, or will China in the long run eat up Communism?
Towards these "long run" opportunities all our efforts and diplomacy should be devoted and I believe it is with the hope of many most able to judge that British trade, in its widest and best aspect, has still the possibility of playing a large and useful rôle equally beneficial to the people of China and the people of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Macmillan
For it must not be forgotten on what an immense scale are the investments and installations which Britain's ingenuity and initiative have built up in China. Certain hon. Members opposite may disregard this, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot, for he knows how important are our exports, visible and invisible, and how important they are to the standard of living of the British people as well as that of the Chinese.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Will the right hon. Gentleman excuse me? I agree with him that there is a big opportunity for trade between this country and China and I hope that advantage will be taken 1234 of it. There could have been trade for a long time with the liberated areas.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I am very glad to have that agreement, although I feel I may have said something very foolish if I have earned such clear support from the hon. Gentleman.
It is because of these considerations that we on this side of the Committee deplore this melancholy affair on the Yangtse, which has so gravely injured the long-term prospects. But if the "long run" problem requires understanding, objectivity, sympathy and, above all, a firm and consistent policy, so does the "short run" problem, for the short-term dangers are very serious, imminent and urgent. What is going to happen at Shanghai? We wait in a kind of uncertainty. It may be that an arrangement, as in other places, will be made without too much disorganisation. It may be that there will be a terrible situation in Shanghai—we cannot tell. What is the Government's policy? How do they see these events developing, and how, especially after this disastrous incident, can some advantage be plucked out of all this confusion?
What about Hong Kong? Last December the Government stated their intention to maintain their position in Hong Kong. A few weeks ago—in February, I think —the First Lord of the Admiralty repeated in another place this determination. He said:His Majesty's Government have constantly in mind the necessity for ensuring the defence of Hong Kong.I hope they have it now not only constantly but urgently in mind. We shall certainly support them in that decision. And, may I add—I think someone called attention to this at Question time yesterday—do not let us forget the importance of the radio for propaganda as a weapon in the defence of Hong Kong. Let the Chinese people know the truth, both on the mainland and in Hong Kong itself, because we must beware of a fifth column, of which there is a real danger. Hong Kong can best be defended if it is made clear beyond peradventure that any attack upon it will be regarded as an act of aggression with the necessary consequences. For Hong Kong is the Gibraltar of the East. It must be held.
We, of course, have no information about the military position, the present 1235 state of defences or the reserves available. On all this the fog of secrecy is impenetrable. I hope the Government are satisfied with the position. Will the Prime Minister or the Minister of Defence tell us that they are satisfied, for on them and their colleagues lies the responsibility, and on them will fall the retribution if disaster occurs. With Hong Kong—in this short run of events—are bound up our vital interests in Malaya, and especially Singapore. Has any strategy been devised on these grave issues in conjunction with Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Ceylon—aye, and Burma too? What steps have been taken to co-ordinate French Indo-China, Indonesia and Siam? Siam, now enjoying great prosperity, is, as we know from its geographical position, the absolute strategic key of South-East Asia. It would be tragic indeed if Siam should fall from the full sunlight of prosperity into the darkness of Communism, for with its fall, much else would be dragged down.
We must build up new loyalties. Above all we must breathe throughout South-East Asia a new spirit of confidence. We have many friends in these territories, but they need comfort and reassurance. Above all so small is the world today—the partnership created in the West, based upon the strength and power of the American people, must be extended to the East. As we have heard—and we are glad to have heard—the Grand Alliance has brought a temporary stability to the West. It must be extended to the East, for it may well be that the supreme Communist High Command in the Kremlin will for the moment accept a pause—a delay—in its expansion in the West in order to seek out more profitable and spectacular successes in the East. A Pacific Pact, therefore, must buttress and complete the Atlantic Pact.
Those are the grave and urgent problems that confront us all today. These are the supreme tasks of government. They require imagination and determination. I earnestly hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give this country some reassurance this evening, for the British people at home and abroad have been puzzled, offended and distressed by these events. They feel that there has been blundering and fumbling in the handling of this incident. But on 1236 the broader field let the Government, if it can, give some indication of its realisation of the gravity of the situation and of the efficacy of the steps with which they propose to meet it. For such a policy they can confidently rely upon the support of all parties in the State.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I have listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) with some regret at the manner in which it was projected. I appreciated the statement of the Leader of the Opposition, in regard to the matter announced after Questions, as to the need, as far as possible, for having a non-party attitude on matters where our great interests overseas are concerned. I must say it seems to me that apparently this Debate today has been asked for, and the speech made, in order to try to make as much party capital as possible.
§ Mr. Drayson (Skipton)
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, ought to be sacked for incompetence.
§ Mr. Alexander
Now we have heard it repeated. The suggestion I have to deal with is that His Majesty's Government have been guilty of gross incompetence, are responsible for the tragedy of the Yangtse and that all this has arisen from it—loss of prestige, and so forth. As far as possible I propose to keep to the factual position in dealing with a matter which is still of great anxiety to many people in this country and to large numbers of our people in China at present.
One would have thought from the way the speech was presented that His Majesty's Government have not at any time given proper consideration to, or taken all reasonable and proper precautions about, the situation in the Far East. On the contrary, His Majesty's Government have kept in the closest possible contact with the situation and, on the diplomatic side, have followed the clearest and fairest policy. As the House knows, under the new arrangements made by His Majesty's Government they have been assisted by an entirely new defence setup in the Far East under which we have 1237 a Defence Co-ordination Committee to advise us on the general situation in the Far East.
We have concentrated the commanders-in-chief of each of the three Services together, instead of their being separated, and they sit in council with local political representatives and with the Commissioner-General of the area in the chair. Through that Defence Committee at all stages of the developments in the Far East, the Government and their staffs have been in close touch with those authorities and have been getting the best possible advice on the matter. It was made perfectly clear last December, in a statement in the House by the Foreign Secretary, that the Communist armies had obtained control over a vast area of North China and were threatening Nanking. We had made known our policy; it was that our British subjects who had no particular purpose for remaining in the area of conflict should consider the advisability of leaving. Those who had useful jobs to perform could, of their own volition, stay, and we advised them to stay. In the months which have elapsed very few people of our community in China have taken the advice to leave China, and as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. British subjects have remained in several towns and districts overrun by the Communists, and notably Mukden, Peking, Tientsin and Nanking—
§ Mr. Alexander
There are Communists in Nanking today; perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not up-to-date. Those towns have been occupied by Communist forces without serious injury to our own nationals in those places. In this connection, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that a great error was being made in the policy of keeping our British Ambassador at Nanking. I think he would have understood from the statement of the Prime Minister last week that, if that was a serious error, it was one joined in by all the foreign representatives of countries interested in and represented in China, with the exception of the representatives of the U.S.S.R. and their satellite countries' representatives. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have taken into account that His Majesty's Government's 1238 representatives have constantly been in touch—as well as our own Foreign Office being in touch with the Foreign Offices of other countries—with the representatives of other countries on the spot, and in my view and that of the Government that decision has been a right one.
Although, at the time the matter was first discussed, the representatives of the Nationalist Government in Nanking went down to Canton, the Acting President of China and a considerable proportion of the Chinese Government remained at Nanking until the expiration of the Chinese Communist ultimatum, which led to the crossing of the Yangtse less than two weeks ago. Our Embassy and consulates in China have a duty to fulfil to British subjects resident there, and in accordance with international usage the attitude of the Government has been that, since the majority of British subjects were remaining, our Ambassador and consuls should not be withdrawn unless circumstances should render it necessary for that to be done. In our view those circumstances have not yet arisen. That is the answer to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
I am sorry to interrupt, but that is not what I said. I said I approved, and everyone must approve, the decision to leave the consuls and representatives and approved the decision to have representatives in Canton and Nanking. I only criticised having an Ambassador and not a chargé d'affaires. I merely referred to the fact that usually the procedure has been—and I think it a wise one, as the Ambassador's position as the King's representative is quite different from that of a chargé d'affaires—to keep a chargé d'affaires rather than an Ambassador.
§ Mr. Alexander
I could not write down every word the right hon. Gentleman was saying, but I believe he asked whether it was wise for the British Ambassador to remain. I appreciate that he is in favour of keeping foreign representatives throughout the occupied areas as far as possible, but the decision to keep the Ambassador there is also in line with the decision of the other Governments represented. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would not desire, in those circumstances, to arrange for a British representative there to be of a lower status than those of other countries.
§ Mr. Alexander
Of course, at present he is accredited to the actual government. The position is fluid. We have given recognition in the past to the Chinese Nationalist Government and at the present moment that Government is still recognised.
§ Mr. Alexander
It may not be, for the time being, but I say that the great majority of the Diplomatic Corps are at Nanking.
The right hon. Gentleman said something in the latter part of his speech about the very long friendship which our people have had with the Chinese nation, and that is true. It goes back a long time now, and it is as true today as in the past that we in Britain entertain the warmest feelings of friendship for China. For nearly two generations civil war has ravaged China, and it is no new thing that British subjects and British interests should find themselves caught in the struggle between warring factions. Now it is the Communists who are surging southwards in their conflict with the Nationalist Government of China, which, as I say, we recognise. But the fact that we recognise the Nationalist Government of China does not mean that we are a party to the conflict. In 1945 we subscribed to a declaration of non-intervention in the internal affairs of China, and that has to be kept strictly in mind when considering the actual events on the Yangtse which were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. We deplore the civil war, but we do not intend to become involved in it. Ultimately the Chinese people must decide their own destiny. The fact that the Communists in China declare themselves to be ideologically opposed to our way of thinking does not of itself justify our intervention.
Why then, in such a situation, do we have warships in Chinese territorial waters? As the Prime Minister explained last week, our ships have been in these waters with the consent of the Chinese National Government. It happens in the course of civil wars that there is frequently a breakdown in law and order, when neither side is in complete control of a 1240 particular area. In such times of stress or disaster it has happened on many occasions in the past that foreign warships have entered the territorial waters of a sovereign Power, not to engage in conflict, but in the event of a breakdown in law and order to render such assistance as they could to their nationals and, if the necessity arose and circumstances permitted, to evacuate them to a place of safety. I could quote numerous examples of that taking place, but I do not desire to take up the time of the House on the matter. But in relation to China it is perfectly well understood by every hon. Member.
For years the White Ensign has been well known and very highly respected on the China coast and the Yangtse. There are a great number of examples, right up to recent times, of the steadying effect on both Europeans and Chinese of the presence of a British warship. May I say that by going about their ordinary business calmly and with dignity the Royal Navy has frequently contributed very greatly indeed in such circumstances to the maintenance of law and order. It is quite clear in China now that this reputation, established by our predecessors, still stands. With this in mind the Commander-in-Chief continued the policy, which had been laid down and approved by us at home, that we should continue to pass up and down the Yangtse and keep a ship at Nanking with the permission of the only Chinese authority with which we were in touch. The Ambassador, to whom the right hon. Gentleman paid a great personal tribute, has frequently testified to the value of this
Before the incident on 20th April it was felt to be most important to keep the river open and to have the steadying influence of one of His Majesty's ships at Nanking
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Nationalist Government, which is recognised by His Majesty's Government, had given warning some time before that it was no longer safe for British ships to pass up the Yangtse?
§ Mr. Alexander
Not in those terms. The Chinese Government were proposing to move their centre from Nanking to Canton, but it was felt by the majority of the Diplomatic Corps over there that 1241 they would prefer to stay in Nanking, and at the time it was recognised by the Chinese that that was the view of the foreign representatives. The Chinese Government said, "You must remember it may become dangerous later." Ever since then, of course, we have taken precautions on all occasions to communicate with the Chinese Government before any specific movement of a ship on the river has taken place.
The periodical relief of ships and passage up and down the river, in those long weeks and months when the Communist forces were gathered to the North of the Yangtse, seemed to have had the desired effect. That must be remembered. The ship was also required to provide wireless communication for the Embassy as well as certain stores and supplies. There was no reason to expect a deliberate and organised resistance to the movement of His Majesty's ships so long as they did not enter a battle area. We submit that this was not a battle area when the "Amethyst" was on passage, any more than it had been in the weeks and months before when this regular process had been going on with the troops still there—
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last ultimatum about the crossing of the Yangtse was due to expire within about 18 hours of the passage of the "Amethyst" in the Yangtse?
§ Mr. Alexander
I shall be coming to that. There is no difficulty about dealing with that point. I say that at the time the ship sailed, and was passing the point where she was attacked, it was not a battle area. If hon. Members had seen the communiqués which have been made since by the Communist authorities, they would have seen that the Communist general attack did not open till midnight that night.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
The Minister of Defence speaks about the communiqués made by the Communists. But I have information that before this incident took place the Peking radio did announce that Nationalist warships were in action almost at this place on the Yangtse on about 13th April. Is the Minister of Defence aware of that?
§ Mr. Alexander
I have not personally seen the particular reference which the hon. Member makes. The only reference to any widespread action of that kind which I have seen was with regard to Chinese Nationalist ships concerned after the incident with the "Amethyst." I repeat that this was not a battle area at that moment. The view of those on the spot is that the firing started by accident and then spread. It was not a planned and deliberate trap.
We are being asked again today, as we were before, why transport aircraft were not used for making the necessary contacts or building up supplies at Nanking. It was not merely a question of providing supplies. As I have indicated, the ship was used for wireless communication and there was the fact of her calming influence at Nanking, regarded by the Ambassador as very valuable. She could, in case of need, have afforded refuge to the British community, even if she might not in such circumstances be able to pass down the river. Transport aircraft could have taken supplies to the Embassy, but it would still have remained necessary to relieve "Consort." She was beginning to need fuel and her crew required relief after the unusually long spell she had had there compared with previous experience. Moreover, I should point out that the airfield is Chinese property some miles out of the town and it would have been liable to interruption maybe just at the time when help was required. On the other hand, a ship is a mobile and self-contained unit, and, for the general purposes in view, very much better adapted to the kind of situation expected in Nanking.
§ Mr. Anthony Nutting (Melton)
The right hon. Gentleman keeps on referring to "Consort" being used as a wireless transmitting centre for the Embassy, but why, in a case of emergency like this, as in many other cases of emergency, did not the Embassy have its own wireless transmitter?
§ Mr. Alexander
It was exceedingly helpful to the Embassy, because, if the ship had not been there, there would have been a load of other general wireless traffic to be carried. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite will excuse me. I happen to know what is the view of the people on the spot about this.
§ Mr. Nutting
The right hon. Gentleman cannot ride off on that one. During the collapse of France we could hardly have had more wireless communication with London than we did from the Embassy which was then situated in Bordeaux, and what wireless communications we had to send from Bordeaux to London were carried on one wireless transmitter.
§ Mr. Alexander
I happened to be the First Lord of the Admiralty at that time and I was in Bordeaux. I would not accept that view of the situation.
§ Mr. Alexander
I know that in Bordeaux we had about one room in an hotel as the Embassy, and I also know the assistance the Royal Navy gave, with my personal observation on the spot, in carrying the traffic at that time. The comment of the hon. Member shows the kind of statement which can be made—
§ Mr. Macmillan
In the siege of Athens we did it from the roof of the Embassy during the whole time.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Yangtse, at the time when "Amethyst" was going up, was not a battle area. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman must know that it was a battle area with the Communists on one side of the Yangtse, quite close to it, and the Nationalists on the other side. It was obviously a battle area, but there was no battle taking place at that moment.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have already said that troops had been gathering on the north bank for many weeks, during which time our ships had been passing up and down the river. In my judgment, the naval authorities on the spot are entitled to our support for any decision they may have taken to move the ship or ships during a period when any ultimatum had not expired, for during that time this was not a battle area.
When the Prime Minister made his statement to the House last week, he replied to some questions on the problem of air cover for the ships concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley has renewed those questions today. I must reiterate that "Amethyst" 1244 was making a perfectly normal peacetime passage. There was no intention that she should force a passage.
§ Mr. Alexander
No, but it needs to be restated. There was no intention that she should force a passage. It was not an operation of war. Whereas the Chinese on both sides were used to seeing our warships, if we had sent a fighter escort it would certainly have been regarded as a provocation, and would have been likely to precipitate an immediate reaction. The moment chosen was felt to be clear of a possible crossing and it did, in fact, turn out to be so.
I agree that different considerations arose in relation to the question of air support for "London" and "Black Swan." The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we knew that the proposal was made. We certainly did know that it was proposed to go up the river with those ships. The situation was such that it was clear what the intention was. The main concern of the second-in-command was to bring succour to "Amethyst," particularly medical aid as soon as possible, and without further casualties. It is not any use to pass a "jobbing-back" kind of judgment on a decision taken in these circumstances, and to say —as the right hon. Gentleman was able truthfully to say—that these ships did not succeed in that mission and that many of the wounded and others got back by various other means to Shanghai. The flag officer took the view, and I support him in it, that his best chance of doing this was to go at the first possible moment, showing very clearly as he went his nationality and peaceful intent. With any good fortune he might have been expected to bring "Amethyst" out without resistance. He was entitled to feel that the incident which had occurred was most likely due to an accident or misunderstanding and, as far as we have been able to get with our inquiries so far, all the evidence goes to show this.
In any event, the naval officer in that position could not remain inactive without trying. The situation of the wounded in "Amethyst" was desperate, but the use of air support with "London" and "Black Swan" would have been a clear 1245 act of war—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—particularly after the "Amethyst" incident. It was the second-in-command's intention to do nothing to cause provocation or to indicate hostile action. He did, in fact, take every step to make his peaceful and neutral character clear. With these considerations in mind he decided that early action was his best chance, and he did not therefore raise the question of air support.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman make one point clear, because I believe it is important? Is it his view and contention that it would have been a more hostile act to use aircraft for reconnaissance and the machine-gunning of guns which were firing on "Amethyst" and "London" than to use heavy guns and anti-aircraft guns from the ships?
§ Mr. Alexander
In the case of a peaceful expedition going up in this way, especially for this purpose, it was obvious that the ships were entitled to reply to fire directed at them as targets—direct targets. They simply replied to fire. But if they had gone up with a whole cover of aircraft to attack the batteries on land which were firing at them, that would have been a different matter. In the circumstances, the very experienced naval officers on the spot—as experienced as, or more experienced than the hon. and gallant Member who asked the question —were right in taking their decision.
What has not yet been explained is what would have been the functions of aircraft in the circumstances. Fighters might have been of use only if there had been reason to expect air opposition. There was no reason to expect it and, in fact, there was none. If bombers had been sent, was it proposed that they should deal with batteries entrenched along the whole course of the river up to Nanking? Without previous photographic reconnaissance, and good air maps marked by that reconnaissance, it would have been difficult to put the aircraft on that type of target which is not easy to see from the air. Moreover, it is apparent that the Chinese stood by their guns in face of heavy fire, and air support would have had to be on a very large scale indeed to have had any prospect of being effective in reducing British casualties. The nearest rocket-firing 1246 Beaufighters were at Singapore, and only this type and weapon were likely to be useful. Unless the aircraft could remain active in the area during the whole of the two or three hours when the ships would be exposed to passing a great range of batteries down the river, they would be of little value.
The flag officer second-in-command must have felt that it could hardly be expected that aircraft could be available in the Yangtse area within a short time, and even then they would have to operate from an aerodrome belonging to the Nationalists, and thus, by using that aerodrome, would be participating in the civil war. Further, as is known to hon. Members, aeroplanes cannot operate without adequate installations and ground staff which could not have been provided in the area. It was not the business of the second-in-command at that moment to impose reprisals, but only to succour "Amethyst" with the minimum casualties. The possibility of action to secure redress for the insult to our flag was and is for later consideration. As the Prime Minister said last week, we reserve our position.
There has been criticism, arising out of the incident, of the degree of discretion left by His Majesty's Government to the responsible officers in the Far East. The speed of modern communications allows decisions to be taken and orders to be issued far away from the decisive spot. This is not necessarily an advantage, and we have always endeavoured to avoid the danger of intervention unsupported by that up-to-the-minute knowledge of local conditions that is vital to a true judgment. At the same time, we have always encouraged local officers to consult London whenever time permits, and of course to keep us informed of their decisions and the reasons for them. This allows the Government to intervene if at any time this seems desirable, but does not fetter the action of the responsible local commander nor rob him of initiative and independence.
It is only too easy in the present case to say, in the light of events, that the Government should have stepped in and stopped the sailing of the "Amethyst," but that kind of wisdom after the event gets us nowhere. It was the judgment of Admiral Madden that, balancing one risk against the other, and in full regard 1247 of the local circumstances as they were known to him, the relief of the "Consort" by the "Amethyst" should take place 24 hours before the expiration of the second ultimatum. I am not prepared to say, and nor is anyone else from the remote comfort of London entitled to say, that that decision was wrong at the time he took it. We support the decision which he took, and I reject the unworthy suggestion that was made last week that in doing that, we are merely sheltering behind the men on the spot. What we have done and are doing is to follow the time-honoured practice of successive Governments of giving to our representatives at the other side of the world the fullest support in carrying out a delicate and at times dangerous assignment.
I must remind myself—because I may overlook it in coming to deal with other matters later—that I would like on behalf of the Defence Services, as the Prime Minister spoke for everybody last week, to say how much we appreciate the grand behaviour, the loyal conduct and the splendid service which the men who were involved in the actions gave. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I turn now to the general situation as it is developing in China. The present position is that Communist forces have occupied Hangchow and are advancing towards Shanghai. It is not yet clear whether the Communists intend to take Shanghai immediately or whether they propose to by-pass it, but it is to be hoped that the opposing armies will recognise the undesirability, for humanitarian reasons, of creating a battleground of this densely-populated area, since whatever the outcome of the conflict, such action can only result in intense hardship and suffering for the civilian population and retard the process of recovery.
As regards our own community in Shanghai, they have been in the closest consultation with our Consul-General for several months past about the measures to be adopted in an emergency. These measures are designed to afford such protection to our nationals as may be possible in the circumstances, and to enable them to be evacuated should the situation render evacuation' desirable and should they desire to go. It is naturally a very anxious time for the British community, but they have faced the situation with 1248 admirable good sense and a sober appreciation of the difficulties which it presents. The civilian population there deserve, as much as any of those who have served us in the other Services, our thanks and our praise for the brave front that they have shown in the events which have been taking place.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton)
Is it not true that all the arrangements for evacuating people from Shanghai were based on the four or five ships which are now out of action?
§ Mr. Alexander
No, Sir, not entirely based upon them. They are there to give all the help and assistance they can, but other means for evacuation have been arranged between the various representatives of the foreign nations who are there.
Apart from the military situation, the economic and financial position in Shanghai gives cause for serious concern. It must not be supposed by the Chinese or anyone else that the final remedy lies in any but Chinese hands. Nevertheless, the situation is being studied by British interests in Shanghai in consultation with the Consul-General. The economic and financial situation in Shanghai is an additional reason why this area should not become the scene of a conflict between the opposing Chinese forces.
As to the attitude of the Communist authorities towards foreign nationals and interests in China, the Prime Minister stated last week that the Communist authorities have so far refused to establish any kind of working contact with our officials in the areas which they have overrun. In those circumstances, the only clue to their attitude is to be obtained from the pronouncements made by the Communist radio. On the one hand, the broadcasts put out by the Chinese Communist Party have an all-too-familiar ring in their abuse of alleged British and American imperialism, of the Atlantic Pact and so forth; but, on the other hand, it has been stated thatthe Chinese People's Revolutionary Military Committee and the People's Government are willing to protect all foreign nationals in China who engage in their normal vocations.As far as we are aware, there has been no molestation of British subjects in areas overrun by the Communists, who appear to maintain in the areas they have overtaken; effective law and order. There is, 1249 however, little evidence that normal trading conditions are being resumed in the occupied areas. There is a disquieting tendency to insist that industrial and business concerns should continue to pay the wages of their employees while either no facilities or inadequate facilities are provided to resume business. A system which demands expenditure without income is hardly likely to thrive. It is not at present possible to judge whether the eccentricities of the situation are due to the confusion resulting from the rapid advances of the Communist forces, and it would be premature to assume that trading conditions will not improve, but an indefinite continuance of the present dislocation cannot fail to have an adverse effect upon the economy of China as a whole, and more particularly upon the economy of big cities like Tientsin and Shanghai.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Does not the right hon. Gentleman's argument demonstrate the absolute necessity for opening up proper diplomatic relations with the Government of the liberated areas?
§ Mr. Alexander
I should have thought that the hon. Member would have listened to the Prime Minister last week when he stated in detail the attempts that had been made to get in touch with the representatives of the Communist authorities at Peking, Mukden and Tientsin. In every case the overtures have been rejected.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is it not the case that the Government have attempted to make contact through "messenger boys?" There has never been an attempt by the Foreign Secretary or by the Ambassador himself to make contact.
§ Mr. Alexander
I should have thought it was fairly obvious that in the time that has been spent in that onward march of the Communists, difficult circumstances have arisen from time to time, and that the Ambassador was perfectly right and correct in using his Consuls-General in the particular area where the Communists could be contacted, to make the necessary overtures and make contact; all these attempts have been turned down.
I must stress that the position is constantly changing, and it is neither profitable nor desirable to attempt to forecast the course of events. It has been our constant policy to secure the maxi- 1250 mum degree of harmony with other like-minded Governments in meeting the exigencies of a difficult situation. For the present, foreign diplomatic missions are remaining at Nanking, and His Majesty's Government will determine, in due course and in the light of events, what instructions to issue to His Majesty's Ambassador, after consultation with the other Governments. Similarly, our consular officers will remain at their posts. A branch office of the Embassy has been established at Canton and is in contact with those elements of the National Government which are established there. This creates no fresh precedent and is entirely without prejudice to any action which His Majesty's Government may desire to take in the future. It has already been stated that His Majesty's ships will be withdrawn when it is clear that there is no longer any need for their presence for humanitarian purposes.
I come now to a matter of great importance that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and that is the special problem of Hong Kong. While, as I have made clear, we have scrupulously endeavoured to avoid being involved in the war on the Chinese mainland, we are no less resolute in our attitude as regards territory for which we hold a direct responsibility. Hong Kong has long had a tradition of neutrality and noninterference in the politics of China, and supporters of the Kuomintang regime and the Communists alike have enjoyed the benefits which have thus been provided, subject to their obeying the law and doing nothing to damage relations between His Majesty's Government and the Government of China. His Majesty's Government have consistently maintained a policy of strict non-interference in the civil war in China, and, in pursuance of this policy, a very vigilant watch is being kept in Hong Kong, and steps have been, and are being, taken to deal with any breach of the conditions under which Chinese nationals, whether Kuomintang or Communist, are allowed to reside there and with disturbance of the peace, however caused. It would not be in the public interest to give details at this stage.
The Police Force has been considerably strengthened. As against 1,220 in 1941, its strength is now more than double this figure. The recruitment for the reorganised Hong Kong Volunteer 1251 Defence Force is being urgently proceeded with, but not yet with such good results as I would desire. We have been aware for some time of the possible dangers of the situation in Hong Kong, and the return of a Gurkha battalion to the territory in December last restored the garrison to its former strength. The Hong Kong Government have also concerted measures which would be taken should need arise to prevent any large influx of refugees, since Hong Kong would not be in a position to feed, control, or care for any large addition to its population. At the present time, the food situation in Hong Kong is, generally speaking, satisfactory. In particular, supplies of rice, which forms the staple diet of the Chinese, are fully adequate. Steps are already being taken to stock-pile supplies of certain foods which might run short in emergency.
The local Government are thus doing all they can with the resources available to them to prepare for any emergency. But the House will wish to know what further action His Majesty's Government propose to take to support the local authorities. I have to say to the House, on behalf of the Government, that His Majesty's Government have decided to take further measures for the protection of Hong Kong. It should be clearly Understood that in reaching this decision His Majesty's Government have been moved solely by the desire and determination to prevent the present unsettled conditions in China from endangering the welfare and safety of the people of Hong Kong, or hampering the peaceful pursuit of legitimate trade through Hong Kong with China. Towards this end, substantial reinforcements to the garrison are accordingly being sent and will include elements of all arms—land, sea and air. These reinforcements will bring our land forces in Hong Kong up to the strength of two brigade groups, each of three battalions, together with ancillary troops, and will include tanks, field guns, antiaircraft guns and anti-tank guns. Air Force reinforcements will consist of fighter aircraft. Our Far East Squadron will be augmented by an additional cruiser, and, should the need arise, by an aircraft carrier.
Therefore, I say that I think the right hon. Gentleman and his friends will, upon reflection and consideration of the facts I 1252 have given in reply to the points that have been raised, see that there is no real justification for the general charge of lack of thought, consideration or incompetence which has been levelled against the Government, and that all that has been done has been for the very right purpose of maintaining our interests in China on a peaceful and friendly basis, and to bring succour to our own nationals if any difficulties should arise. We shall pursue that policy of peace and of aid to our nationals on the best possible basis, and we reject entirely the suggestion that the situation has not been dealt with adequately and efficiently.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
Everyone will agree that the outcome of the decision to send the "Amethyst" to Nanking has been deplorable. What the Minister of Defence should have proved was that that decision, in spite of the ultimate outcome, was a sensible decision and a wise one to take in the circumstances, and that if there was a risk, it was a reasonable risk to take. For my part, I think that the Minister of Defence completely failed to make that case. He completely failed to make the case that the risk of sending the "Amethyst" up the Yangtse was a reasonable and necessary risk to take in the circumstances. I do not want to repeat many of the sound arguments which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) made in such an admirable speech and, with most of which I so much agree. But I believe the case is even worse than that which he made.
I want to examine what exactly is meant by the statement made by the Prime Minister, on 26th April, that the ultimatum ran out on 21st April. That is the statement which everyone thought he made, but in fact he did not make that statement, but a much more cautious one. His words were:Only on 18th April was it learned that the final expiry of the ultimatum might lead to the crossing of the Yangtse by Communist forces on 21st April."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 26th April, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 27.]My contention is that the ultimatum ran out on 20th April. It is perfectly consistent with what the Prime Minister said—it does not mean that there were 24 hours for the "Amethyst" to get through.
§ Mr. Roberts
I hope that the Minister will be more explicit on how he got that information. We have no representatives with the Communist forces. Did he get that information from the Peking radio, or from the Nationalists in Nanking? My information was that there was not an actual time-limit of that sort and that the negotiations in Pekin had reached this position: that the Communists said to the Nationalists, "Either you will sign the armistice before the 20th or the armistice is over. You must inform us before the 20th whether you will sign or not." The Nationalists did inform the Communists that they would not accept the terms of the armistice and there was no ultimatum, no time limit in that sense. The position simply was that if the Nationalists decided not to sign on or before the 20th, the armistice was over.
Whether this is so or not, I for my part think that the case against sending the "Amethyst" up the Yangtse is overwhelming, whether it was within a few hours or 24 hours of the end of the temporary truce. Is it realised that one of the chief reasons why the truce broke down was the issue of whether or not the Yangtse should be peacefully crossed? That was one of the two main reasons why the truce broke down. The Yangtse was the point of tension. Moreover, my information is that Pekin radio, as I said just now, reported that there had been naval action on the 18th—I was wrong in giving the date as the 13th. They reported that Nationalist ships of war had been in action. This was reported before the."Amethyst" incident took place, so it could not possibly be an explanation after the event. It was likely enough that there would be naval action on the Yangtse. Indeed, we had presented the Nationalist Government, in the last few months, with a number of warships, which it was no doubt intended that they should use in the civil war.
It is true that the most important of these warships—the cruiser "Chungking"—has not been of much use to the Nationalists, because its crew decided to join the Communists. The cruiser was then sunk by American bombs and aircraft used by the Nationalists. All that must have been known in Nanking or Hong Kong, or wherever these decisions 1254 are taken. With that as the immediate background I should have thought it was clear that Communists waiting to cross the Yangtse would have been a little "touchy" about British ships. This was the state of affairs within a few hours of the "Amethyst" being sent up the river, quite unnecessarily, as I believe. Supplies could have been sent by air or by train, by air much more quickly and by train in complete safety. Bui, as the right hon. Member for Bromley said, the matter was not thought out. The Prime Minister said that the Government wanted to replace the "Consort." How was the "Consort" to get back?
§ Mr. Alexander
I can explain that exactly. A time was fixed for the "Consort" to leave. It has always been the practice in such cases for ships to pass each other on the take-over. The "Consort" was signalled to by the second-in-command, and sailed nearly half an hour earlier to go to the assistance of the "Amethyst." That gave her ample time to get past the opposing batteries.
§ Mr. Roberts
I do not know a great deal about China but I should not have thought that the going up and down the Yangtse by two warships, within a few hours of a major operation involving the crossing of the Yangtse, which was regarded as the frontier to hold the Communists back, would have been sanctioned. I think it is disastrous that it was sanctioned. The immediate history was not likely to make the operation easier, but there is an even longer history. For more than 100 years British gunboats have been involved in events in China. and there is resentment on all sides there—rightly or wrongly—against the action of British gunboats in territorial waters against the Chinese.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
Surely the action of British gunboats has been against Chinese pirates, and has been welcomed by everybody except those pirates.
§ Mr. Roberts
The history of the British Navy in Chinese waters goes back a long way. For more than 100 years there have been events in respect of which the Chinese take a rather different view from that which we take. However, I do not want 1255 to go into all that except to say that the Nationalists take a view about it which is different from ours. That is why we agred, in 1943, as the Minister said, to operate in Chinese waters only with the permission of the Government. To take this decision, without having obtained consent or even having informed the de facto Government of the whole of the North of China—to take this action within a few miles of Nanking—was indeed most extraordinary.
If we are not going to intervene in this civil war we must be careful of what we do. One interpretation of nonintervention is that both sides must be treated equally. We have not done that; we have been represented only with the Nationalists, and until recently we have made no attempt whatever to get in touch with the Communists. On the 18th or whenever this decision was taken, the Communists were in possession of the ancient capital of China; they were within a mile or two of the modern capital of China, and yet we made no serious or important attempt to inform them of this naval operation. We already knew that we could not inform them by sending a consul to Pekin.
§ Mr. Alexander
Communist troops have been on the banks of the Yangtse for weeks. During that time we had failed to get into contact with Communist representatives in Pekin, although we had endeavoured to do so. We made our sailings up and down the river in the presence of those troops, without let or hindrance, and we had every right to expect that we could do the same before the expiration of the ultimatum.
§ Mr. Roberts
This is a most interesting and new point. Is the Minister alleging that British warships have passed up and down the Yangtse in the last few weeks without being molested? If so, could he say when and how many times?
§ Mr. Alexander
I could not say how many times, but I am sure that the river was kept open for that purpose.
§ Mr. Roberts
If that is so, this is a very important point. How is it that the "Consort" was not relieved if it was possible to get up and down the irver?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am speaking from memory as to the actual time when Com- 1256 munist troops got into the neighbourhood, but I believe it was nine or 10 weeks ago when they first got into that area. I would, however, like to check the date. It was certainly in the period when the "Consort" itself went up the river.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am very surprised to hear that any British warship went up and down the river. We know that an American destroyer went down the river, apparently without incident, but I thought the "Consort" had to be relieved because it had been so many weeks since any British warship had come up the river. Perhaps whoever replies to the Debate will clear up this point, as it seems to me to be one of substance.
So far as the other point is concerned, Communists, perhaps at first not in force but later in force, have been almost surrounding Nanking for weeks past It seems to me only to make the case much worse that when the crisis arose the third secretary of the Embassy was able, courageously and with an adventurous spirit, to establish contact with the commander in the area. He could have done so before the "Amethyst" went up the river, had it been regarded as necessary and desirable for him to do so. The fact that he did so afterwards, proves that he could have done so before. I do not want to press that point except to say that it is perfectly obvious that it has not yet been the intention of the British Government to establish contact at an important level with the Communists in China.
It seems to me that the very fact that our Ambassador has remained in Nanking proves that we recognise that we shall eventually have to establish contact with the Communists; otherwise, why leave all the Diplomatic Corps there, because everyone knew that the Communists would take Nanking either on the basis of a surrender or by force? Everyone has known for a long time that if these negotiations did not work out satisfactorily, the Communists would take the city.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
The hon. Member speaks about it having been known generally for a long time that the Communist forces would take Nanking. Will he give us some idea of what he means by "a long time"?
§ Mr. Roberts
I have not looked up the point, but I would say for several 1257 months. Certainly these negotiations have been going on for more than one month, and as the Minister of Defence has stated, the Communists have been on the Yangtse within a very short distance of Nanking.
That brings me to the next point. I believe that the mistake has been not to recognise that the Communists constitute an important Government, even if only a de facto Government, in China, and have done for a long time. I am not an expert on China. I have been there for a few weeks. When I came back I told everyone on the Government Front Bench who would listen to me that the best opinion I could get in China was that the Communists were about to win the civil war. I asked them to take note of that and to think about what their policy should be. At that time the Communists were most anxious to establish contact with this country. I believe that the realistic course would have been to have done so then for a variety of reasons. What are the precedents? In the Spanish civil war we did not hesitate to establish relations with the Franco regime at a very early stage.
§ Mr. Roberts
No, he was called an agent. If we send an ambassador in a civil war it means that we must cease to be in diplomatic relations with the side with which we previously had an ambassador. In Spain, the Ambassador withdrew, there was a chargé d'affaires left on one side and there was an agent on the other. Whether I approved of that arrangement or not, it was the view of the Foreign Office and of the then Government that both sides were of equal weight and importance, and that it was in the interests of Great Britain that we should have a representative with both.
It seems to me that there are even stronger reasons why in this civil war that action should have been taken, and taken some time ago. They are that incidents like this would not then have occurred. If we had had proper representation with the Communists at that time, this incident which we are discussing would not have occurred, and the deplorable results in prestige, and possibly in ill feeling which may arise as a result of it, would not have arisen. We 1258 have decided that it is wise for our nationals to remain behind in towns which are overrun, so that when it seemed certain that Pekin and Tientsin would be captured, or before then, was the time to establish some sort of relationship. The Government say that they have tried to do so through consuls. Was that the way to do it, and is that the way to do it now, in any event? Is it not perfectly clear that at this stage a revolutionary Government, wit' practically half of China within its grasp, and which will very soon have far more, will not be satisfied with consular representation? What I am advocating can, I am sure, be done, but it must be done in quite a different way from sending the local consul to the head of that Government.
The Chinese Communists have made it very clear, even in the last few days, that they want to deal reasonably with foreigners. In a broadcast within the last few days, after the launching of the crossing of the Yangtse, along with many other instructions to their advancing troops as to how to behave, the Communists gave, as their eighth and final point that the security of foreigners, their lives and property, were to be protected. There is no doubt that the Chinese Communists recognise that foreigners can be of assistance to their country in many ways in the future.
I shall go further than that. I believe that there is a chance of the Chinese Communists being prepared to establish special relations with this country. They are bitterly opposed to the Americans for having given so much war material to the Chinese Nationalists, though as a matter of fact, as that has supplied their own Communist armies almost completely, the bitterness may later be tempered. But the Chinese Communists feel that the Americans are their greatest opponents. So far as the Western Powers are concerned, I believe that there is a real traditional friendship between us and Chinese of all political persuasions. Moreover, the Chinese—their technicians, intellectuals and civil servants—have always looked to America or Great Britain for education and for guidance in many ways. English is a sort of second language in China; it is compulsory in all universities. Therefore, there can be a special link with us.
1259 Moreover, they believe that British imperialism, as they call it, is not now strong enough to interfere with them, but that we have the engineering capacity, the exports, etc., which are exactly complementary to their raw materials and exports which they are anxious to exchange. I believe that there is a possibility that we can establish relations with them. They are Chinese and Communists. We can speculate as to whether Chinese Communists are the same as Russian Communists or not. I do not intend to go into that matter at any great length—the right hon. Gentleman touched upon it—but in some ways they are obviously very different. Their special interest is in agrarian reform, which was never the original interest of the Russian Communists. Their strength is amongst the peasants rather than in the towns.
I, for one, believe that the Chinese Communists are sufficiently realist not to want to exclude Western assistance from the re-development of their country. I do not believe that they can get a great deal of assistance from the Russians; I do not believe that the Russians have much surplus machinery with which to supply them. The Russians have a big reconstruction problem in their own country and in Eastern Europe, and I believe that the Chinese Communists might establish good trading relations with us. Indeed, they have announced on their wireless that they are willing and ready to do so on two conditions. One is that we remove our military personnel, including our warships, from their territorial waters, and the second is that we no longer recognise the Nationalist Government. The time will come—indeed, I believe it has come—when that offer could be a basis for opening negotiations for proper representation. In fact, we have an Ambassador in a capital which is not held by the Government to whom he is accredited. What exactly that means at present I do not know. The Nationalist Government are scattered; some of them are in Canton and some of them have apparently gone to the island of Formosa. The position is totally illogical so far as our Ambassador and our relations with China are concerned.
I wish that someone from the Foreign Office would reply to this Debate tonight, and tell us something of the intentions of 1260 the British Government. I think it would be disastrous if, by muddling this situation and by allowing deplorable incidents such as that concerning the "Amethyst" to arise, and by misjudgment, we should force the Chinese Communists into a position in which they will become hostile to us and to the rest of the West. I think we should realistically recognise that, while we do not agree with them in any way and while we do not know what their policy will be, they are the de facto Government of a very great country with whom we have had relations for a great many years. We should do nothing on our side to prevent proper and reasonable representation from being established, so that the interests of our nationals and our trading and political interests would be properly safeguarded.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I agree with so much of what the hon. Member for West Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) has said that there is very little in his speech on which I can comment. I also agree with a very great deal of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), although I thought it was a pity that he did not go much further and follow up the logical consequences of his opening remarks.
It is quite clear that our policy in China up till now has been an excellent one, with certain limitations. We have not made the fatal error which the Americans made of endeavouring to bolster up the corrupt, rickety, ramshackle power of the Kuomintang, and thereby incurring the hostility of the Chinese Communists by doing so. That fact stands us in very good stead in China today. Mao Tse-tung has said that the Communists will not forget that Britain did nothing to extend the war in China, and it has been clear that the leaders of the Communist Party in China are not hostile to the British and have not been so at all.
I find, from information which I have had from British interests in Tientsin, the only major city so far to be occupied by the Communists, that the people there have been very well treated and given every facility to carry on business without the somewhat crippling disadvantage of having to bribe their way in order to get 1261 anything they want. The new dispensation requires less corruption for its manipulation than the previous one. I was rather surprised to hear the Minister of Defence suggest that our people were being hampered in any way in their trading arrangements. That is rather different from the representations which have been received by the big firms with headquarters in London from their branches out there, of which I have heard. I can only assume that this refers to some local difficulties arising out of the operations in train at the moment.
With this background, we must all agree, however much we are anxious to support the men on the spot, that the "Amethyst" incident has been a most unfortunate one for both sides; not merely for us, but for the Chinese Communists as well. It cannot have been in the interests of either side, because if one of our ships is fired upon we are bound to complain. We cannot stand idle and say that it does not matter. We are bound to go through all the process of making a protest and kicking up a fuss about it. Of course, the Communist authorities are bound to defend the action of their troops in firing upon these ships, and to claim that it was our fault and that we started it all.
One thing which is unfortunate in this country, and it was particularly noticeable in the comments and questions of hon. Members opposite a few days ago, is the assumption that China is like a part of Ealing or a suburb of London. In the opinion of some people, a ship like the "Amethyst" could not be fired upon without careful pre-arrangement by the Communist leaders in China, and we ought to demand an amount in compensation. I do not think there is a sufficient realisation of the level of ignorance among people like the Communist troops in China. They are fed upon their own party slogans and are told that Britain is an imperialist nation, and if, in the pursuit of an operation against the Nationalist armies, they saw a ship with the British flag they would naturally fire upon it.
All this points to the absolute necessity for political as well as military influence being exercised in decisions of this kind. It may be all very well at the level of military routine to carry out this relief but it is 1262 absolutely nonsensical when one considers the political dangers involved. Despite what the Minister of Defence said, it would be as well for the Committee to know whether the Commissioner-General in South-East Asia really knew about the decision to send this ship up the Yangtse at that time, whether he was given any possibility of suggesting that it should not be done, and whether he will be consulted in future about the disposition of our ships, and if necessary our troops, in China in order to avoid such incidents in future.
§ Mr. Alexander
In general, we keep in the closest touch with the authorities and I am sure that the Commissioner-General would trust the judgment of the commander on the spot with whom he was in the closest touch.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I must accept the Minister's statement but it is a curious thing that, with such great experience of the political situation there at that time, they should have done such a thing at such a time. Now that it has happened, we want to get out of the situation as best we can and avoid any such incidents in future. It is particularly important that we should avoid them in future, because we cannot use 19th century methods in China unless we back them up with 20th century weapons, and it is no good pretending that a frigate like the "Amethyst" is a 20th century ship.
It is also nonsensical to talk about air cover when that would require some hundreds of aircraft being maintained in the area. The main reason why that sort of thing will not work in these days is that in earlier times, when China lacked cohesion and we had a superiority in weapons it was possible to frighten the wits out of people in considerable areas with one gunboat; but one cannot do that any more and there is no reason why we should do it. The new tide and the new force that are moving through Asia make it quite certain that we shall not be able to do that in the future. I agree with the hon. Member for West Cumberland that this is a good time to suggest that we should now drop our remaining extra-territorial rights in China, apart from our interests in Hong Kong. They can only serve as an irritant and are not likely to safeguard our interests there.
1263 I do not think it can be doubted any longer by anybody that the Communists in China are going to win the day, and that they are going to be the absolute masters of China within a comparatively short period of time. That being so, our only possible policy with regard to them is to be as friendly as possible, even if at the same time we are going to be firm in maintaining our legitimate interests. I suggest that, if we are not going to be as friendly as possible with the Chinese Communists, we shall lose, first, our entire trade in China, secondly, we shall lose Hong Kong, and, thirdly, we shall lose Malaya, and that is just for a start.
The reasons why I suggest that are fairly clear. If the Chinese Communists are sufficiently annoyed—and anyone who has had experience of Communism in Asia knows that Communists are prepared to go a long way in blowing themselves up if they feel sufficiently angry with you to blow you up too—it does not worry them whether, in destroying your trading interest, they are destroying their own. In that case, they would not hesitate to make an attack on Hong Kong, and, however interesting it is to know that there are two brigade groups in Hong Kong, they are not likely to be able to maintain the defence of Hong Kong for any long period against some 300,000 Chinese troops.
Once we have lost Hong Kong, and once this sort of mood begins in China, there can be little doubt that there would then begin a wholesale infiltration of Chinese Communists into Malaya to assist the Communist bandits operating there today, and it would require a police force far larger than Malaya has got, and forces far larger than we have there in order to restore adequate law and order under those circumstances. Therefore, I think that our chief necessity today is to consider what is the possibility of friendship with the Chinese Communists at the moment.
The first point which I would stress is that it seems to me that the attitude of Mao Tse-tung and his party is quite different from that of the other Communists in Asia. It is quite different from that of the South-East Asian Communist parties as a whole. Throughout South-East Asia—in Burma, Malaya and 1264 Indonesia—the Communist parties are run by somewhat half-baked lunatics who hardly know what they mean by Communism anyway, who specialise in terrorist methods, and whose only aim is to throw all foreigners out of their country straightaway, however harmful it may be to their own country, as well as blindly following every manifesto and edict that comes from Moscow and believing implicitly in the great god Stalin. That does not seem to me to be—
§ Mr. Wyatt
We will leave the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) to discuss the merits of the Malayan Communist Party a little later. I was saying that Mao Tse-tung's party is altogether broader based; it has a much wider popular support, and has, in fact, received very little practical help from the Russians during its campaign.
As the hon. Member for North Cumberland pointed out, it has been primarily an agricultural party up to now, and now that its members are approaching the cities, they realise their own limitations in handling industrial affairs. They are, of course, the most experienced and practical Communists in the East, and, as such, they do not intend to throw away the advantages they have gained over the last 20 years by not co-operating with industrial enterprises already existing in China.
It is of very great interest to note that at the second plenary session of the Communist Party of China, held towards the end of March, a special point was made of instructing Communist members to co-operate wherever they could with private enterprise, to learn the art of management in business and banking, to co-operate with the bourgeoisie, and with other democratic parties which were not Communist, and, in fact, to do everything they could to make smooth the path of all, including foreigners, who might be 1265 useful to China in the future. I think that all the reports that have come out of China since then bear out that that is their policy.
I believe that their professions of loyalty to Moscow, in so far as they have been made—and there have not been very many—are nominal, and that some boldness from us and a swift approach by us to the top level leaders of the Communist Party in China might well mean that we could act as intermediaries between the Chinese Communists and the West. We should understand that the onus is upon us to make this approach because the Chinese Communists do not understand the niceties of diplomatic procedure. They do not know how to set about these things, whereas we have a great deal of experience in diplomatic relations. It is up to us to make the first step. I would go further and say that the time has also come to stop diplomatic relations altogether with the Kuomintang who, after all, deserve nothing from anybody, least of all from us or the Chinese, and that we should transfer our diplomatic relations to the Chinese Communists who are going to be the masters of China, whether we like it or not.
It is clear from the programme which the Communists have already implemented in China that it is not as Communistic as those in Eastern Europe or Russia. In many ways, it is not dissimilar from that followed in this country, and Mao Tse-tung himself is not in any way averse to good relations with us. The task of establishing good relations is a job which only we, and not the United States of America, can do.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
What solitary justification has the hon. Gentleman for this airy optimism, for saying that these people are not really Communists? Has he not read what they said in regard to their adherence to Moscow and their dislike of everything in the West, especially this country? Would he give chapter and verse for this optimism which he is now breathing forth?
§ Mr. Wyatt
Had the hon. Gentleman read the statement issued by the Chinese Communist Party after their second plenary session in March, he would find it there. I am sure that with his interest in China he must have read many accounts of interviews with Mao Tse-tung, which 1266 have indicated that he has certainly no hostility towards this country, and, indeed, a certain amount of sympathy with it. The hon. Gentleman must also be aware that it is possible for the Chinese to say one thing and to think another. The Chinese Communists are not fools; they want to continue trading with us—I am sure the hon. Gentleman has noticed that in recent weeks—and to maintain cooperation with us. It would be a great pity if we were to be put off by the extent of anti-Communism in the world today from making this attempt to win them over.
Friendship with the Chinese nation is already absolutely vital to us in South-East Asia. The overseas Chinese are one of the strongest elements in South-East Asia, but they are completely leaderless and rudderless, apart from the tiny section of Chinese Communists among them, and they always tend to go whichever way is popular, or whichever way they think the power has gone. This has been happening in Burma, Malaya, Borneo, and Indonesia. It is certainly up to us to see that we make the Chinese Communists as friendly towards us as possible, so that we do not tip the overseas Chinese against us. If, for instance, it is clear to the Chinese Communists operating against us in Malaya today that friendship exists between ourselves and the Chinese Communists in China, then their movement will undoubtedly lose much of its impetus, and will get no support from the remaining Chinese in Malaya. If this does not happen, it is extremely likely that the Chinese bandits in Malaya will oppose us with renewed vigour, and will be aided by infiltration from China.
I have spoken for rather longer than I intended, but I wish finally to say that we can by all means fortify Hong Kong and make it clear that we intend to defend it if attacked. But, unless we have the friendship of the Chinese Communists, who are, as I have said, going to be the masters of China whether we like it or not, we are going to be fighting something in Asia, and in South-East Asia, that is far too big for us to manage. In any case it will be hard enough for us to deal with Communism and the destruction caused by Communism in South-East Asia, outside China, even with the friendship of the new rulers of China. Unless we have that friendship it will be 1267 impossible, but with it our task will be much easier. I believe that that friendship is both possible and in the interests of world peace.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
I followed the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) physically around East Asia, or a good deal of Asia, two or three weeks ago and I hope he will excuse me, therefore, if I do not follow him in all his arguments, although I shall be touching on some of them a little later. I should like to go back to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence. I was really depressed by it. But first of all, I thank him for it; it eased the task of those of us on this side of the House, because if any speech could possibly have condemned the whole of the "Amethyst" incident it was that made by the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) talked about having the mentality of the gun-boat era. This was "the slow boat to China" mind with a vengeance. It was about 100 years behind the times.
We have heard a lot of talk, and some of it the other day from the Prime Minister, who was very embarrassed, about this most unfortunate incident having been on a peaceful and lawful occasion. I recommend the Minister of Defence to read Kipling's story, "Their Lawful Occasions"; it might rub up his mind a little on certain actions which were taken and which might be an example for the future. To talk of this being a peaceful occasion, and to regard that as being a justification for sending this gun-boat up the Yangtse, is the very height of unreality. It is just as though you had had a tip from the police that there was to be a street row between a race-course gang and somebody else on Saturday night at 10 o'clock; you take the "peaceful" precaution of walking along at two minutes to 10 and you are surprised, when you get a black eye, to find that the two parties have started. His Majesty's Government stuck out their neck on this occasion.
Everybody with the slightest knowledge, either by radio from Pekin or from any other source, knew perfectly well, weeks beforehand, that a heavily-armed force, about to cross the Yangtse from the north 1268 bank, was sitting on the north bank waiting for the moment to cross. There never was a justification for sending that gunboat up the Yangtse. During the war I was in Chungking. Extremely heavy wireless traffic was carried, with no gunboat within 500 miles. It was perfectly possible to carry an enormous number of messages for the whole campaign in China. It was equally possible to do that in Nanking on this occasion and this was no justification for sending the gunboat up the river. It is a flimsy excuse put forward by the right hon. Gentleman.
It is also true—and I hope the Prime Minister will deny this if I am wrong—that the plans for the evacuation of the whole population by other means, by vessels belonging to the ordinary commercial lines out there and by planes, had already been worked out. It is equally true that planes going in the whole time could have carried everything necessary for the whole of the British population in Nanking. The right use of the air—and I agree that there may be some dispute on the question of air cover—was that of using peaceful, ordinary planes as a substitute for this gunboat.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that a gunboat flying the White Ensign and going up and down the Yangtse is impressing either side at the present time when they are in a life and death struggle. It may be called a peaceful occasion, but it is a late, perhaps final, phase of a war which has been going on for about two years and which has advanced, day to day, with everybody watching it from maps in the Press. It is, as I say, reaching the final phase, though in my opinion it may continue for some time. To describe it as a peaceful and lawful occasion is a travesty of the truth and is complete justification of the criticisms which we are making about this incident on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Harrison
Is the hon. Member aware that in this House on 17th November there was an announcement for everybody to hear that we were sending these warships up the Yangtse and that, on the occasion of that announcement, I think there were exclamations of approval from hon. Members opposite. Not one word of protest was made from that side by hon. Members who are making such protests now, after the event.
§ Mr. Fletcher
At that time the north bank of the Yangtse was not occupied by a Communist army about to cross it, and that makes some slight difference. I believe that this incident should never have been allowed to occur and that it creates a profoundly bad influence around the very difficult questions which face His Majesty's Government today. I have gone on record publicly as approving the general policy of His Majesty's Government in China. I might sum that policy up by calling it intelligent opportunism, which is a particularly Chinese form of policy and which, consisting as it does of waiting to see what is the right moment to do the right thing, has been wisely thought out by His Majesty's Government. When we are following a policy which may have to vary from day to day, however, why deliberately jeopardise it by not thinking out what we are doing.
I was in Singapore on the 15th of last month when a meeting of all the commanders-in-chief and chiefs of staff was being held in the office of the Commissioner-General, whom I was waiting to see. I saw these high officers coming out. I had not the slightest idea of what they were discussing but the opportunity to discuss matters such as those affecting the whole of our policy in China, when tension was growing in China—as I knew coming back from Hong Kong—surely was provided there. I do not lay the blame on those officers; I put the blame squarely on His Majesty's Government.
Let us pass from this incident. I think it hardly calls for a great deal more discussion after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which so lamentably gave away the whole of the case. The right hon. Gentleman is left clinging, after the shipwreck, to one small piece of matchwood to save himself and saying that it was "a lawful and peaceful occasion." It was nothing of the sort. What is the real problem facing us in this Debate today? It is this: how are we to destroy, by legitimate and lawful methods, the existence of Communism in China and stop the spread of Communism to other Far East territories outside China? I do not agree with the policy of the hon. Member for Aston that Communism is there at the present moment and that we must accept it as there is no alternative. Most certainly there is an alternative. It is quite possible, I think, that Communist policy is one of calling in 1270 the old, old world to upset the balance of the new. Having seen the fact that in the West the non-Communist Powers are succeeding, they feel there is a better opportunity for them in this area of the Far East.
They may very well use different methods there, but what we have to study and examine first of all is what Communism is likely to be in the Far East. I do not talk as an expert; in the land of the blind a one-eyed man is king, and in the House of Commons that holds particularly true. Everybody who has been in China, as I have on a few occasions—and I lived there for a little while during the war—is looked upon as being a complete expert. I do not pretend to be a complete expert, but only, during the war, to have had a worm's eye view of certain phases of Chinese life. I should like to point out certain factors, showing why it is possible to use a policy of gradually weaning the Chinese away from Communism—not giving in to Communism.
Communism can only succeed in an enclave, behind an iron curtain, where there is no contact with the outside world and no basis of comparison with the outside world. I do not think that can be done in China, because one cannot put down an Iron Curtain along coasts many thousands of miles long, along which there are small ports every few miles, out of which junks, sampans and every single form of marine transport sail the whole time on their "lawful occasions." I think nothing in the world can ever stop that. I think the wandering tendencies of many of the Chinese make it quite certain that one cannot seal them off from the rest of the world, and, if that is so, they would always be provided with a basis of comparison between the life which might be introduced under the iron heal of Communism and what is going on in the rest of the world. Incidentally, that is one of the greatest possible justifications for Hong Kong, the lung of China.
Having that as a thesis, one might find that the Chinese form of Communism is more Chinese than Communistic for one small reason. However dyed-in-the-wool, direct-from-Moscow, the top level people in China may be, history shows that the central government of China has only been negative in its power and that the unit of power in China has 1271 been the provinces, which run to 50 million people. The really positive power and the ability to get things done has always been in the hands of the provinces and not the central Government. Therefore, a central government, 100 per cent. even though it may prove to be, would not necessarily have sufficient power to communise China. I am not saying that this is a certainty, by any manner of means; but the doubt that does exist provides an opportunity for intelligent use of the possibility that we may be able to detach the people of China from this new regime.
Why have the people of China gone over so conspicuously to the new Government? The essence of the Chinese attitude to affairs is disbelief in any form of government—which is shared to a limited extent by those of us who sit on this side of this House at the present moment. It is based on something quite realistic. They left Sun Yat Sen's regime, which had an original programme similar to that recently put forward by the Communist Government, and they are prepared to turn again now, for two very good reasons—or for the repetition of one very good reason.
Twice in the last 10 years the currency of China has become completely valueless, and has done irreparable damage to everybody in the country from the highest to the lowest. The people have gone over, not inflamed by any enormous enthusiasm for pure Marxism, or in a mood of great reverence for Lenin or even Stalin. They have gone over because they think the last lot that governed them were a pretty rotten lot, and that this lot may be a little better; and they have at the moment some reason for thinking that because agrarian reform has been adopted, to which the hon. Member for Aston referred, it has given them a rather better lot.
However, we must look deeper than that. This regime has now passed from the basis of agrarian reform and become industrial, at any rate in North China, and it has gone into the cities. It has now to start trading with the outside world. It can no longer work on the barter basis, as it has done up to now, and will have to adopt a policy of currency stabilisation. Communism's future in China will depend upon the 1272 success or failure of that currency and upon its ability to retain its value, so that the day-to-day earnings of men are stabilised. Upon that will depend the amount of support it receives from its present adherents. I would venture to say that between 50 per cent. and 75 per cent. of the people who appear to have easily and unthinkingly adopted Communism have done nothing of the sort, but that they are working under a reaction from a Government which twice let them down very badly and ruined them.
So the object of our policy must be in the long term to assist events to prove that Communism, even in the different form it may take in China, is not in the long run going to improve the lot of those people. We must give an opportunity, a revival of the Kuomintang not being unthinkable, for a new regime to break up. China may do what it has done before, and that is break up into two parts, one the north and centre, and the other, the south-west. The south-west region based on Kwang-si is very big. Events must be allowed to develop in such a way that a revulsion from Communism is likely to occur. The pressure of events, of financial and economic events, is just as strong on Communists as on everybody else, and events must be allowed to develop in such a way as to prove up to the hilt that the people are no better off, and are probably worse off, in supporting the new Communist Government.
Therefore, I believe our policy has to be along those lines. We must think of it in terms of what is happening to an enormous number of expatriate Chinese in Malaya and other countries, which I have been studying quite recently on the spot. We must remember that the so-called Communists who are causing all the trouble in Malaya at the present moment number only 2,000 to 3,000. That is not a very great number in a country where there are over 2,500,000 Chinese, most of whom, I believe, will not be very greatly affected by what goes on in China, except moved to thank their lucky stars that they live under the British flag in Malaya, and to determine never to go back to China at all. I think the hon. Member for Aston rather exaggerated the probability that the Chinese may again try to infiltrate into Malaya to revive a movement which is slowly, painfully, and 1273 at great expense being crushed at the present moment.
The danger is over the Siamese border. There again, there has been very great progress, and I believe that the policy of the Government to Siam, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said, should certainly be followed up, and that we should spare no effort at all to see that our friendship with and respect for the Siamese are renewed. Siam is coming out of great difficulties better than most of those countries, and has, I believe, already shown most practical co-operation.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Bowles)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the Committee is bound by the actual wording of the Vote, namely, "services connected with the situation in China." Therefore, hon. Members may refer at no particular length to Siam or Malaya or anywhere else but China.
§ Mr. Fletcher
No, I would not agree with that, because it is a policy of appeasement of those people who do not believe that the Chinese Communists are to be permanently there. I deeply regret having offended against the Rules of Order, Mr. Bowles, but the Rules of Order offend against the rules of common sense here.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We shall be in some difficulty, Mr. Bowles, if we are not to follow the line of the Minister of Defence in talking about the global strategy which must be adopted in the Far East, and in debating China at all, unless some passing references, at least, to those other countries are permitted. Of course, we shall be ready to obey your Ruling.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
There may be passing references, yes. I wanted to warn the Committee that no kind of long speech about Malaya or Siam would be in Order. It would be out of Order. I have warned one or two hon. Members in this sense, who came to see me earlier.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I shall, therefore, pass as slowly as I dare from those adjacent 1274 countries. I would point out that if we are debarred from talking about Formosa, to which the Kuomintang has fled, and which could be considered to be the seat of Government by certain people, we shall be, as it were, discussing King Charles without his head.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman must understand that I am bound by the Rules of Order as much as anyone. Formosa, I realise, is the seat of the present Nationalist Government of China. But it is not China. I think it was part of Japan.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Then dare we mention Hong Kong? It is a British Colony, and not China; and yet the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence have discussed it at great length. Would you please give us a Ruling, whether by some special dispensation of Providence we are allowed to discuss Hong Kong but cannot discuss Indo-China and Formosa.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Yes. I really do not think it matters very much whether a particular part of the country is governed by one nation or another. My geography may be weak, but surely Hong Kong, although ruled by the Colonial Office here, is really geographically part of China. Formosa is a part of Japan, and is not really China, though the Chinese Government may be there.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
I understand that the following Votes have been put down by the Opposition, namely Class II, Vote I, Foreign Office; Class II, Vote 9, Colonial Office; Ministry of Defence Estimate; Navy Estimates; Army Estimates; and Air Estimates. That was done so that we could have a Debate to cover the subject adequately.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I must draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Motion, which is,That a further sum, not exceeding £60, be granted to His Majesty towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with the situation in China and attacks on His Majesty's ships…
§ Mr. Butler
I understood that the £60 was made up of sums of £10, £10 for each of the Departments concerned that I have mentioned. A sum of £10 relates to the Foreign Office, and my hon. Friend was having his £10 worth of Foreign Office discussion.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am always confused by points of Order. I think that I shall have to rely on Nelsonic eyesight in order to help me to make an extended discussion on a matter which does affect China itself. The absurdity that is brought out is that Hong Kong is not China and cannot be considered to be China in any way at all.
Let me come to the incidents raised by the hon. Member for Aston on the necessity of opening up trade with China. I am speaking as a China merchant at present and I speak with a great feeling of superiority to those who surround me. In the hierarchy of China, I am glad to say, the merchant takes a much higher place than the politician, and rightly so. The Chinese attitude to trade and devotion to self-interest are possible sheet anchors on which we may rely in this crisis. It is, however, certainly unsafe to think that the pattern which is working itself out in the North will necessarily follow to other places, because, as Communism sweeps through China, it makes the local influence stronger and stronger and the central government weaker.
When I was in Hong Kong recently, there came through, the suggestion—and let it be remembered that China is a country where de facto works, and de jure comes in afterwards—that it would be a good thing if two or three vessels could be sent with goods from Hong Kong into the Tientsin area. All this was impelled I have no doubt by the need in the back of the minds of the Communists, that they would have to reinforce their currency, if they were to increase their influence, by something like real trade. The boats were filled up with things which were thought best for opening up trade.
It is a commentary on Chinese methods that a request was received that there should be sent port, sherry and whisky. That again may be a sign of Leninism in a slightly new form. It shows that in the pattern of Chinese trade there is not a sufficient realisation that things must be done in the Eastern way in the East, and unless that is realised there may not be the most practical approach between the people of China—I do not say the Communists, but the people of China—and other countries who wish to trade with them. That trade is continuing at a fairly satisfactory pace. I believe it is over-optimistic of the hon. Member for Aston to believe 1276 that it is being done without the normal methods of lubricating trade which are so well-established in Chinese minds and hands. It is a pointer and nothing else.
It is also to be hoped that when, as we fear, the occupation of Shanghai does take place, the same methods of working out a practical and commonsense, and therefore a not too harmful system of trade, will be allowed to have full range. The real tragedy of the incident of the Yangtse is that it will probably go quite a long way to militate against that, because in a country where face is of great importance, it may well be that the Communists will, as part of their deliberate policy, have to go in for the destruction of life and property in order to show some counter-balance for what has happened in the Yangtse. If that is so, the responsibility will be on the shoulders of those who, by their gross neglect and lack of forethought, brought about the Yangtse incident.
Let me turn to another question which I think is occupying our minds a great deal. That is the question of Hong Kong. There is one thing which is entirely common to everyone on both sides of the House, and that is the desire to retain Hong Kong in its present status in the British Empire.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The proof is the millions of people who have come to Hong Kong during the last few years from the mainland of China because they realise the better conditions of living under the British flag, which is obvious to anyone who has been out there and has seen it. I have not the slightest doubt that this lung of China and the well-established position held by Hong Kong in the life of China proper, is of just as great value to the average man in the street in that part of China as it is to the inhabitants of Hong Kong itself. Those who have wandered over a considerable portion of China, as I have, will know that Hong Kong, where law and order prevail, and where there is true protection, is the most valuable thing which has been provided by the British Empire for China.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Can the hon. Gentleman give us his view, from his experience in the Far East, which we all 1277 respect, as to whether it is possible to hold Hong Kong in the face of a hostile China?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am coming to that. I wish first of all to point out its extreme value before I discuss the methods which we shall have to adopt for its retention. The right hon. Gentleman has talked about sending two brigade groups. I should like to find out whether these are to be British brigade groups or not. I hope that the Prime Minister, when he replies, will tell us if that is so. I believe that the first thing that we must have, although I do not like the expression very much, is moral rearmament. We must have a firm determination in the minds of everyone concerned, not only that we wish to retain, but that we can retain Hong Kong. I believe that there is occasionally a weakening on that point which is entirely unjustified. It would be much more difficult to hold Hong Kong against a Power which had very great air power.
The danger in connection with Hong Kong as anybody knows, is not its actual defence but the feeding and watering of the enormous population, and the fact that much of the water and food comes in far from the mainland even beyond Kowloon. I believe that if His Majesty's Government have the desire, the will and the ability to plan, there is no reason why they should not extend the leased territories so that they may be able to get more air fields and other positions rather further away. It may be that that is an idea which has not yet entered into the "slow boat to China" mentality of the right hon. Gentleman, but others may take it up before the next two or three years are out.
§ Mr. Zilliacus (Gateshead)
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the last foreign affairs Debate in December, when he suggested that we should send troops to seize and hold Chinese ports and turn them into fresh treaty ports, or does he believe that- we can collect these fresh territories by peaceful means?
§ Mr. Fletcher
By peaceful means. The hon. Gentleman knows quite well the travesty that he has made of what I said, and I shall pass it over with the contempt which it deserves.
§ Mr. Fletcher
At least that is a new idea from the other side which is worth considering. It is the first one which has come out up to the moment. Whether it is practicable or not, I should not like to say. These transfers are not paper transfers, and they take a good deal of working out. This is an urgent matter and urgent means have to be adopted. There are quite a lot of things that can be done in Hong Kong. The police require further reinforcing. Hong Kong is fortunate in having a Chief of Police who is a most able man and trusted by all communities, the Chinese in particular. I believe that it would be well to reinforce him by sending even more police there. Then there is no vernacular newspaper in Chinese which puts the view of the Government and the European community before the Chinese. There are a great many Communist and Left Wing newspapers, but none to counter them, and I think it would be wise if His Majesty's Government were to study that aspect.
There is then the question of the radio, which has already been raised. I thought that the answer given about that yesterday showed a profound misunderstanding of the whole subject. The idea that a radio which is to have a big influence in China can be run from Malaya is totally wrong, and I hope the Prime Minister will devote a little time to the reasons I shall give for saying that. Hong Kong is so close to China, although it is not part of it, that the whole mentality, climate and atmosphere are truly Chinese. That is certainly not so in Malaya, and the expatriate Malayan Chinese do not think in the same terms as the inhabitants of China. To put a radio station about 2,000 miles away in order to broadcast over China may have some sense for South China; it will take about two years to come into being, and what is wanted now, and very urgently—and I think it of the very first priority of all defence measures, and of all the measures to swing the people of China away from Communism—is the development of the radio in Hong Kong.
Whatever the cost may be, and whatever other schemes might have to be sacrificed to it, I would put that as the first practical recommendation to deal with this situation. I believe that the Prime Minister knows from his own experience in India, as do many others in 1279 this House, the great value that radio was before the war, when in India there was the village set. I believe that to be equally true in China. It must be so for the Communists to rely so very greatly on their own wireless for a good deal of their propaganda. As a practical step I would urge that an enormous increase in the power and the staff of the Hong Kong radio station should be considered.
After that there are questions of air, on which, a reply given yesterday showed that progress is being made. But how can I bring home to the House and to the Prime Minister, who is to reply, the sense of urgency? About three weeks ago I was in Hong Kong. It is very prosperous; and the measure of its prosperity is the measure of its danger. The plum is ripening and there may be greedy hands that want to pluck it. We may be able to counter that—as I think we have to some extent—by persuading those hands that the plum would rot in them, and that they would be quite incapable of getting the best out of it.
Those who are living at Hong Kong, and who are determined that Hong Kong shall remain, after all that has happened, a British possession—for it is the wish of China as well as their wish—will want to feel and to see manifested, a new urgency and a new speed of action in bringing into practical use the various ideas that have been put forward. They have been shocked by the fumbling and bumbling over the Yangtse incident, and they want some very practical reassurance, not just by word of mouth. When they see new work on the aerodrome, when they see new help coming in, and when they see the extension of the perimeter, which I have just mentioned, they will then begin to believe that there is behind them that force which is so much more than words.
This is a crisis in China. In Chinese characters the word "crisis" is made up of two signs—danger and opportunity. Danger we have had, and passed through it if not ever it, on the Yangtse. Opportunity lies before us, and if His Majesty's Government really wish—and it is the wish of the Opposition too—to rehabilitate themselves in everybody's eyes and to retrieve the tragedy of the Yangtse, the opportunity lies in their handling of the Hong Kong question and 1280 in the protection of those countries which we are not allowed to discuss at length today, but where nevertheless Chinese inhabitants make it necessary that action should be taken.
I have agreed with much of the policy of His Majesty's Government, and I have backed it up. Now, I hope to hear later on this evening that we are to see that firmness and that determination in China, and in other countries affected by the events in China, which will lead in the end to the infinitely greater happiness of the Chinese when they are detached from Communism, and to increased prosperity in those countries inside the British Commonwealth of nations, where the Chinese can and do play a very useful rôle.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I do not propose this evening to discuss the responsibility for the events on the Yangtse. This is not because I think the Minister of Defence has given an adequate or satisfactory answer to the questions and criticisms of the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), or to the questions put to the Prime Minister by a large number of us when the subject was first referred to in this House. But at this moment I think it more profitable to discuss the future situation and certain problems of present policy. In particular, I should like to say something about the immediate diplomatic problem which confronts this country.
I feel some anxiety—and this anxiety has not been in any measure allayed by what the Minister of Defence said, particularly in his answer to the interjection of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), and has been increased by some of the speeches that followed later—that the Government, without deliberately intending to, may drift into a form of recognition of the Communist leaders as the Government of China, or something which in its consequences amounts to very much the same thing.
§ Sir A. Salter
I will attempt to say why not in a moment. I do not suggest that that is their policy, or that they intend to do it. But I think there is some danger that under the stress and pressure of dealing with the immediate 1281 difficulties which confront them they may drift to that result. The danger is greater because there are a number of forces and interests tending to press them in that direction—forces and interests which are coincidentally and perhaps unnaturally united in this matter.
First of all there are the people who always tend to be compliant with any Communist policy. In this particular matter their ranks are, I think, very greatly reinforced by a number of other people who take a very wishful thinking attitude about Communism in China: people like, for example, the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) who is not usually among those ranks, but who in this particular matter for quite different reasons, is advocating a course of policy which leads to the same danger. Secondly, there are all those who are thinking only, as all of us must think largely, of the immediate position and risk of the "Amethyst" and the other British interests and British people at risk at this moment.
Thirdly, there are a number of trading interests who, not unnaturally but I think on the whole unwisely, are prepared to shut their eyes to more distant and far-reaching consequences in order to buy a little favourable treatment, which may indeed a little ease their position for a few months but, as I shall suggest later, is not likely to have any substantially enduring results or advantage in the future. This danger, if it is a danger, is much greater, because it is perfectly clear that the Communist leaders are definitely, deliberately, and rather skilfully trying to impel us along that route. I think that many mistaken views are expressed in this House about both the attitude and the skill of these Communist leaders, and in relation to the problem I am now discussing I wish to put certain considerations before the House.
First, as to the attitude of the Communist leaders at this time. The right hon. Member for Bromley suggested that perhaps the original firing on the "Amethyst" was merely a local incident or accident, and I think the Minister of Defence was a little inclined to take the same view. That may be so as to the first shots, but if we consider the incident as a whole, not only the first stage but what happened afterwards and the treatment of our efforts, to get into some sort of relationship with the Communist 1282 forces, the time that has elapsed and the developments that have taken place since, it is I think the reasonable view that the attack reflects quite definitely a deliberately hostile attitude by the Communist leaders towards us and our ships. I should myself think, taking the incident as a whole, that it is properly to be regarded as a deliberate attack and a deliberate attempt to put us into a weak, bargaining position through the fact of the marooning of the "Amethyst," rather than a mere unintended incident in the struggle taking place between the two rival forces on the Yangtse River.
I am surprised at the confident dogmatism expressed by certain Members of this House as to the essential difference of the Communism of the present Communist leaders in China and Communism as we see it elsewhere in the world. I do not speak as a great authority on China, but twice at different periods I have been advisor to the Chinese Government. I recognise that amongst the origins of the forces which have given strength to the Communists in China have been agricultural distress and many abuses by landowners. However, whatever be these original causes we cannot infer from them what is the character of the present Communist leaders who now hold the power in their hands. We have astonishingly little reason from what they have said or have done to come to any other conclusion than that if they should secure a complete mastery of China, as the Soviet Government have a mastery of Russia, it would be anything but an extremely adverse factor in the general issue that confronts us and the rest of the free world at the moment.
The second comment I should like to make is that, having regard to the far-reaching consequences, it would be a great mistake if we let ourselves drift into any form of recognition that would have an important effect upon political developments in China, because of considerations of momentary trade interests in the areas surrounded at this moment by the Communist forces. It may be that for a few months, if we are compliant in every respect, the situation will be a little easier. But I suggest that in the longer run, on the assumption that the Communist forces will have established and maintained their hold on the areas in question, our trading relations will depend on their view at that moment 1283 whether on balance it will be to their advantage that these relations should continue or not. It will not depend on what we have done at this moment in the way of compliance when their fate is uncertain. Their policy, whatever it is, will be based upon their estimate, as indeed it should be, of their interests, and will not be determined by resentment or gratitude for what is done at this moment in regard to such a matter as recognition.
The advantages that the Communist leaders would get from anything that amounts to practical recognition by us at this moment—and, of course, the immensely greater advantages if what we do is followed by other countries—would be of very great importance to them, and might profoundly affect later developments in China. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) emphasise the character of the forces and distribution of power in China. The organisation of China is essentially provincial. It is to the provinces that loyalties are attached. It is along the lines of provincial organisations that forces develop.
I have twice been in contact with the Chinese Government in their attempts to impose and expand the authority of the central Government over the whole of the vast area of the many provinces of China. It is quite clear that any central Government will have extreme difficulty in converting China into a centrally managed country. There are countries where strong centripetal tendencies are a danger to us. But in China the whole of the tendencies and developments are centrifugal, not centripetal. That will be the problem facing the Communist leaders in the months to come. If, in these circumstances, they got something which amounts to diplomatic representation from us and the other foreign Powers, it would be an enormous help to them, because in China above all places prestige is a big factor in what happens. This is particularly so at present when there is uncertainty as to the permanent hold and mastery of the present Communist activities even over areas where their forces are now in control.
In these circumstances I suggest that it is of extreme importance that we should not, in proceeding with arrangements to 1284 deal with local difficulties as we find them, drift into a form of recognition that will tend to affect the general political development in China to our disadvantage. It is, of course, a very notable and regrettable thing that after an incident like that of the attack on the "Amethyst," instead of there being a question of diplomatic satisfaction from those committing that outrage, the real question is how much diplomatic advantage they will get from the fact that they did attack that ship and that they have that ship in their power.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how we could get diplomatic satisfaction from a regime that we do not recognise?
§ Sir A. Salter
I was not suggesting that we should ask for diplomatic satisfaction. I said it is very regrettable that the people who are responsible for the attack should get a diplomatic advantage from the fact of that attack in regard to other matters.
That brings me to the question of the retention of our Ambassador at Nanking. The Minister of Defence told us that other countries, with the exception of Russia and the satellite States, had taken the same action. I thought that the American Government had withdrawn their Ambassador for consultation. That was perhaps a mistake in Press reports. Obviously our position is a little different if and while other countries are retaining their Ambassadors. I should like, however, to suggest a doubt of the wisdom of all of us in continuing with that action. I fully recognise that we must have diplomatic representatives to deal with the Communist forces. But there is all the difference between subordinate diplomatic or local consular and other officers and the Ambassador, who by his position represents the relations of his country as a whole to the country to which he is accredited.
There should, I suggest, be a strong presumption against an Ambassador, as distinct from other diplomatic officers, who is credited to one Government, being retained in a place which is physically under the control of forces which are hostile to that Government. There may now and then be exceptional reasons which would offset that presumption, but I think it is, to start with, a very strong 1285 presumption. I would certainly now like to see all the ambassadors withdrawn from Nanking and replaced by subordinate officers, and transactions left to local consular people elsewhere.
In conclusion, I would say that recognition, or something amounting to it, by us and the other countries may, in the circumstances which have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, have a very considerable effect upon the extent to which the present Communist leaders establish and maintain their hold and mastery over North China, and still more upon the fate of South China, where the position is much more fluid and uncertain. What happens there as the result of our policy in regard to China itself may also have profound effects upon the future of Indo-China, Indonesia and the whole of that part of the world. Recognition, I need hardly remind the Committee, has very considerable and definite consequences. It gives immense prestige to one side while the civil war is still in progress. It involves such consequences as the right of the Government to which recognition is given to appoint members to international organisations like U.N.O., to dispose of Chinese Government assets abroad, and to appoint their Ambassadors here and elsewhere in the capitals of the world.
We have, I agree, to recognise facts. It may ultimately be that the situation will so develop that we shall in the end have to recognise another Government instead of the Government which we recognise at this moment. But the situation is now still fluid. The settlement has not yet been reached. We must be extremely careful that by our action now in regard to the Communist authorities we do not prejudice the result of what is happening between them and either the existing recognised Government or other possible Governments in China. That is the anxiety which I wish to express and which has been rather increased than allayed by what has been said both by Ministers and by private Members in this discussion.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
Like all other hon. Members of the Committee I deplore the tragic loss of valuable lives on the Yangtse and I recognise that it is one of the most important functions of responsible Members of this House to probe any responsibility the Government 1286 may have in regard to incidents of this kind, at any time that they occur. Having heard the explanation given by the Prime Minister last week, and by the Minister of Defence today, largely covering the same ground, I am satisfied that there is little advantage now in our devoting further time to it. I welcome therefore the fact that the course of the Debate for the last hour or two has turned much more to matters of the very highest importance, regarding what are to be the short-term and the ultimate consequences of the great eruption that has taken place in China through the forcing of the Yangtse by the troops of the Communist Armies.
I listened with great interest to my two predecessors in the Debate, the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher), who, as we all recognise, speaks with special authority on China—I am sorry that he has left the Committee at the moment—and secondly the speech by the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). At a later stage of my speech I shall come to a part of his argument. The hon. Member for Bury rather disappointed me in one respect. In his opening remarks he conveyed to the Committee, that he proposed to indicate a policy that would wean the Chinese from Communism. There was on this side some rather cynical laughter when that statement was made. I am sorry to say that no indication emerged subsequently in his speech of a policy of that description. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bury himself would be the first to recognise that if the Chinese are at some time or other to be weaned from Communism they will be weaned from it by policies arising in China itself and put across to the Chinese people by Chinese, and not by any possible intervention from outside.
I was very struck by two things which the hon. Member for Bury said and with which I agree thoroughly. One of them was his statement that the difficulties of the Communist leadership in China may only now be 'beginning. I think that is profoundly true. The armies are now moving into parts of central, west and south China, which form a great continental area as big as the Continent of Europe, where the population is far denser, where there are far greater aggregations of populations in ancient towns 1287 and where the population is more volatile and relatively much better educated. They are a different proposition in the main from the territories that the armies have already overrun and from the peoples that have been subdued in the North. I think that the hon. Member for Bury—and in this point he was followed by the right hon. Member for Oxford University—places too much stress on the difficulties that may face the Communist rulers because of the old traditions of China and the older forms of centralised Government which, as the hon. Member for Bury said, was largely government of a negative kind. The real centres of government have been in the provincial administration.
Both hon. Members must realise that Russia was a country of very similar traditions. Mao Tse-tung and his followers have studied in Moscow. They are familiar with the Russian traditions and experiences. They know how the Russians, with an exactly similar problem, evolved machinery that gives an extremely effective administration of the Communist pattern over a great continental land area, bigger than China itself. It is possible to overstress the traditional force of systems of government like those which have been for so many centuries operating in China.
The second thing that the hon. Member for Bury stressed, and here again I agree with him, was that we have in China financial and other interests of enormous importance. One of the main things with which we ought to be concerning ourselves is how best we can properly safeguard those interests. That, I assume, to be the real objective underlying all the policies pursued by His Majesty's Government in China during the last few years. How are we, in this situation in China, to take a wise step in proper friendliness to the Chinese people, to safeguard those great, legitimate trading interests that we have built up in China over the last 100 years. It is an extraordinarily difficult and, at the same time, extremely important problem. We have not yet found the answer but to that we ought to be directing our minds.
It is said that the Chinese Communists speak with various voices. I agree that there has been a very great confusion of utterances, but I wholly disagree with my 1288 hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) when he tells us that they are friendly to us and that they are some kind of heretical Communists different from Kremlin Communists. That is a complete illusion. Mao Tse-tung in utterance after utterance, in publication after publication, has shown himself not only to be a follower of Moscow but an extraordinarily learned and competent exponent of the Marxist doctrine. He does not need to turn to Moscow for mentors. He is a man who has proved that in the application of Communist and Marxist teachings he is perfectly able to stand on his own feet.
It is so easy to be misled by appearances in China. It is true that Mao Tse-tung, who is a realist, has with great skill adapted his Communist ideas and policies in an extremely subtle and clever way to the needs of the situation in Northern China, and, therefore, for a time and in order to accomplish immediate purposes, there has been a deviation from the strict Moscow pattern; but nevertheless the goal is always and eternally the Communist State. That is one cause of the confusion, but in this matter of the difficulty of contacts I have a strong suspicion that those difficulties have arisen because Mao Tse-tung does not at the moment want contacts. I am sure that behind it all lies the fact that at the moment he prefers to maintain uncertainty and to keep the position fluid, as the senior Burgess for Oxford University said, because he feels that to be to his advantage.
A further point I want to make on the question of Mao Tse-tung is that we must not too readily assume that the Communist movement which we see operating in China is an extension of Moscow rule in a way that we could properly ascribe to the inclusion of Bulgaria among the Soviet satellites. It is inconceivable to me that if Communist power is finally consolidated in the great continental area of China with 400 million people it will become a mere minor planet in the Soviet constellation. So far from that, knowing what we do about China, its power of absorption of strange philosophies, its tenacity of tradition, the practical as opposed to the theoretical nature of its people, and knowing all that its history has taught us, it is extremely likely that the Kremlin may soon find that it has a tiger by the tail and that in China there 1289 has arisen a new and greater Yugoslavia with a much more stubborn, subtle and scientific Tito in command. No one can dogmatise about things like that but these things seem to me to be possible and even seem, in some degree, to be rather probable. We must not make easy assumptions that we are dealing with just an ordinary extension of Kremlin power. There are possibilities of a far different character in this situation.
I want to say a few words about the special problem of Hong Kong which is central in the problems in the Far East with which we are dealing. I say with the greatest earnestness that everybody who knows the problem of Hong Kong must realise that bellicose speeches and war-like actions are most criminal folly as any kind of defence against Communist penetration and for the maintenance of the position in Hong Kong. It is all very well to talk as some hon. Members have done about extending our Armed Forces in the area. In their responsibilities at the moment the Government must do so. We all realise that the Government must take all the defence measures it can in its operation as a Government. Nobody challenges that, but do not let any hon. Member imagine for a moment that we can maintain our position in Hong Kong indefinitely against an actively hostile Communist China. If we begin to think in those terms we shall inevitably lose Hong Kong and we shall inevitably be driven out of Asia. That kind of approach is sheer folly.
Hong Kong island is completely useless to us unless we maintain the deep water harbours in Kowloon. Does anyone imagine that we are in a position to do so or that any other country, even America, is prepared to make the effort today to maintain positions of that kind by force of arms? Of course not. No Government in the world would face up to it. We have therefore to think in terms of really effective protection of our interests in China and of our legitimate interests in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was built by British effort, money and brain; it would not have been except for our people; and we therefore have a right to, try to preserve it as a legitimate creation and interest of the British people.
However, do not let us imagine that in these days, faced with the conditions 1290 which exist in China, we can apply to that problem the kind of action we took 100 years ago when we bombarded the Chinese forts and blew them to pieces with the greatest of ease and in perfect safety. We can no longer do that and we must think in quite different terms. What kind of approach must we make? I suggest an adaptation of the practical policies already being applied by the Foreign Secretary in the West, to try to create in the East the same idea of agreement to differ on ideology but pursuing so far as it is possible to do so, trade relations mutually advantageous to the Powers which are willing to agree.
That seems to be the basis of any sound policy of ours in China. That must be the starting-point of our policy. I do not believe that we can expect friendship from the Communist leaders in China because they detest our policies and nourish very bitter memories of the history of the relations between Britain and China over the last century. However, we may hope to do as far as possible what we are doing in Eastern Europe—trading with nations who have different political systems from ours, in so far as they will trade to our mutual advantage.
When we talk about trade, we must bear this in mind. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) seemed to be altogether too optimistic about the possibilities of immediate trade in China. What the Communists need is something which we find it most difficult to supply. Their greatest need is for the capital goods which we find it very difficult to supply to countries from whom we can receive exports which are of value to us. We must be realists about the possibility of trade in China and must appreciate that there is not a great deal that China can afford to export, even when her communications are restored, which could be considered vitally important to us in our present world trade position.
So there are obvious limitations to the extent of mutual trading of an ordinary kind in the immediate future. However, we have other things to offer of importance and not least of these are the facilities that can be extended through the two great Western controlled banks already in the country which Mao has asked to continue their operations. The financial facilities possessed by a bank 1291 like the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the skill and knowledge they have of the peculiarities of Chinese trade, could be of first-class importance in the consolidation of the position of Communist leadership in China. That is no mean asset.
There is one other way in which we could give practical help which might be recognised to be of value by the Chinese leaders, and that is in providing technical, engineering, agricultural and scientific advisers and helpers. There, again, is an opportunity for opening up the kind of contacts that will be most fruitful. Here, however I come to grips with the central point of the speech made by the senior Burgess for Oxford University for something else has to be done. At the earliest possible moment we ought to enter into negotiations with the leaders of the Chinese Communist movement for a de facto recognition of the reality of their power in the territories they now control. The senior Burgess for Oxford University deplored this idea. He hoped that in no circumstances would the Government drift into any kind of official recognition of the leadership of the Communist movement in China. It may have been noted by hon. Members who listened to his speech that in all the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman adduced to show how much he disliked the idea of this drift into recognition, not at any point did he put forward an alternative to making these contacts that I want to see made.
Let hon. Members mark the position. If we stand aloof, if we keep ourselves in isolation from the Chinese Communist leaders, refusing to touch the evil thing, almost certainly the result will be that all our trade and influence in China will be destroyed. Our trade contacts will be cut, the trading friendship which Mao obviously is willing to exploit, would be destroyed. We should find, if we took the line advocated by the senior Burgess for Oxford University, that we would be taking the most effective way of cutting our own throats.
So I suggest that we ought to exploit the logic of the position, understand where the reality of power in China lies now, and give legal effect to the position we have already established. We have, as everybody knows, ordered our consular officials to remain at their posts 1292 throughout the whole of the area occupied by the Communist armies. We have done that because we wish to maintain contact with them. The Ambassador is still in Nanking. The sensible and obvious thing is to put the seal on that by de facto recognition, and it is only through that gesture that we shall get the kind of official contact we need with Mao and, having that contact, will be able to establish relations that at least for a time will be on a basis of mutual toleration which will allow us to develop our trading interests.
In addition to the problem within China, in addition to the problem facing us in Hong Kong, we must realise that if we want to put bounds to the onward sweep of Communism in South-East Asia, Burma is now a point of absolutely central importance. Siam has been mentioned today and the Malay Peninsula, and rightly, but Burma is the most critical point of all and nobody so far has said a word about it.
§ Mr. Paton
It has not been ruled out of of Order to refer to it, and I am only referring to Burma in a word or two because other hon. Members, including the Minister for Defence, have referred to South-East Asia. I was merely bringing to the notice of the Government what I believe to be the most critical point of all in this matter of the countries that are contiguous to China. Now I come back to China. When the Communist armies come down into the South of China, as they will do eventually, they will be able to establish direct contact with Burma. Here therefore is a matter that deserves the most urgent consideration and through the good offices, perhaps, of India it ought to be possible for us to do something to stabilise the position there.
I conclude by saying that in the great urgency of this situation in China I hope our Government will do as I have suggested, namely, apply to China exactly the policies that the Foreign Secretary has been applying in Western Europe—the agreement to differ, mutual toleration of each other's differences, mutual trading to each other's advantage. It is on that basis that we have the best chance of peace and the preservation of our interests.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I found it difficult to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton), who started by saying that the only assumption we could make about Chinese Communism was that it was the ordinary brand, and that we should expect to see in China the same things happen as have happened in every other country dominated by Communists. If that is true, then all British interests will be expropriated. The hon. Gentleman then went on to say that he thought the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank ought to help them.
§ Mr. Gammans
I wish the hon. Gentleman had made that clear because I had a wrong idea of what he said. I thought he went on to say that we must not be bellicose in any way in our resistance to Communism in China. If he means that, then he cannot support the Government's policy in defending Hong Kong, because if we are to defend Hong Kong with strength and vigour, as I hope we are, we certainly have to be bellicose, and the more bellicose we are in Hong Kong the less chance there will be of that Colony being attacked. As I say, I found it difficult to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument. On the one side he said, "They are just ordinary Communists, do not imagine that they will be a bunch of celestial Titos," and on the other side he said, "What we must do is to try to make contact with them and recognise their government."
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Aston is not here. He has just been out to the Far East, and the House always pays some attention to people who have just come back from the ends of the earth. The hon. Member for Aston first disagreed entirely with the Government's policy over the affair of the "Amethyst"; he thought that the ship should never have been sent, but he went on to say that the Communist Government of China was slightly to be chided—not 1294 much more than that—for firing on the "London" and the other ships. On the whole, however, he indicated they were not bad fellows, we ought to make immediate contact with them, recognise their Government and, above all, we should do nothing to annoy them. Where does that lead us? Does he agree about sending extra troops to Hong Kong, because that certainly would annoy them? Does he agree with our defence of Malaya? That, also, certainly would annoy them. In this direction, as in so many other directions, of foreign affairs, the hon. Member for Aston had better make it quite clear on which side of the fence he stands. Is he going to support the Government or the ordinary "crypto" line which he has followed to a large extent in this Parliament?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
May I ask the hon. Member a question? Can he explain at this point whether he agrees with the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher), who in last week's "Sunday Times" said that the use of force was to be ruled out?
§ Mr. Gammans
It all depends on where it is to be ruled out. If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) wants to know whether I am advocating a war against China, I am not. If he wants to know whether I advocate the use of force to defend Hong Kong, the answer is an emphatic "Yes."
The Minister of Defence really did not answer any one of the points which the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) put to him, I think, quite fairly. Those points are only the questions which are being asked by the country as a whole. The Minister did not tell us why H.M.S. "Consort" was kept at Nanking after the Americans and others had left. The only two excuses he put forward were, first, that it might be a refuge for the British community. Well, I should not like to be a member of a British community that had to take refuge on a destroyer in the middle of the Yangtse, the banks of which were lined by Communist artillery. I can think of many other places in which I might take refuge, but I should put that one right at the bottom of the list.
§ Mr. Crawley (Buckingham)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that in the Boxer troubles in China, when 1295 guns were lining the river banks in exactly the same way, people did take refuge in gunboats and many hundreds were saved?
§ Mr. Gammans
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, who has just come into the Chamber, need have shot that one out. That was a slightly different sort of war, with slightly different guns. The mere fact that an armoured cruiser was compelled to turn back after receiving heavy casualties, is surely the answer to whether or not a number of British civilians should take refuge in a destroyer anchored in the middle of the Yangtse. How wide does the hon. Gentleman think the Yangtse is at that point—as wide as the English Channel?
§ Mr. Gammans
The only other excuse of the Minister was the fantastic story about wireless. Do we understand that the Embassy in Nanking has no wireless? If not, the Foreign Secretary had better come to this House and explain why not and why it was impossible to improvise a field wireless set at very short notice. I do not know whether that excuse was in the right hon. Gentleman's brief or whether he made it up on the spot. If it was in a brief of mine, I should certainly go back to the Admiralty and tell somebody what I thought of him.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
This question of wireless has been thrown out by amateurs opposite, who talk of something about which they know nothing. If they will refer to their naval authorities, they will find that wireless is one of the reasons for which the presence of a ship is always requested. A further reason is that the ship may conduct wireless communication with the Navy, separate from that of the Embassy with the Foreign Office and other places. What happens to wireless when the electric power supply fails and it is necessary to be self-sufficient for long-distance transmissions—[Interruption.] I am intervening, not making a speech. This argument is all poppycock. I hope that if one of the hon. Gentlemen opposite with naval experience is called to speak he will deal with this question, for it is absolutely important. All down the ages, ever since it was introduced, wireless has been one of the main reasons why the presence of a ship has been requested.
§ Mr. Gammans
The only part of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) with which I agree was when he said he was intervening and not making a speech. Does he really suggest that the British Embassy in Nanking had no wireless? Is there any reason why it should not have had it. If it was without wireless before the trouble started, why should not a temporary field set have been put into operation? The suggestion that one of His Majesty's ships must be kept under dangerous and difficult circumstances to provide wireless, is utter nonsense. Incidentally, what happened when H.M.S. "Consort" left Nanking; how did the Embassy fare then for wireless?
The right hon. Gentleman had better put forward a much better explanation. He has not told us why it was necessary for the "Amethyst" to go up the river at that particular time, or what was the justification for providing the Embassy with relief food and other stores in that particular way. Neither has he told us how he expected the "Amethyst" or "Consort" to get out once the war had started, nor why there were no aircraft carriers on the China station. Generally speaking, the right hon. Gentleman has not answered any one of the points which my right hon. Friend put to him. It is quite ridiculous for him to suggest that they were put with any party bias or feeling.
Now about Hong Kong. The situation in China is difficult and confused. We do not know what will be the ultimate Government of China or whether the Nationalists may succeed in making a comeback. It is possible that they may succeed in holding some part of South China. We do not know what will be the policy of the United States towards China, or to what further extent Russia may put her finger in the pie more than at present. In all these uncertainties, however, there is one thing upon which, I hope, we can all agree: that is the absolute necessity of defending Hong Kong and seeing that it is not exposed to the risk it is facing today.
I wonder whether hon. Members realise how perilous is the situation for Hong King. There are two very good reasons why the forces of a Communist Government advancing southwards might attack Hong Kong. 1297 The first reason is loot; that has always appealed to armies and would make a great attraction to a Communist army. Hong Kong today is one of the richest cities in Asia. But there is another reason: the enormous prestige that its possession would give to a new Government of China. After all, from time immemorial the Chinese have on the whole disliked and despised foreigners. Nothing would give the new Government greater prestige than that they should overrun Hong Kong, as it were, in their stride and throw the British out of Asia. Some people, I know, do not think the advancing armies are likely to that—
§ Mr. Gammans
—but I cannot see any conceivable justification for that optimism. The Communist leaders have made it perfectly clear that they want to get rid of the British—and, in fact, all Europeans—from the whole of China. If they were to become lukewarm, they certainly would be gingered up by Moscow.
There is also the view which has been put forward from both sides of the Committee—a view with which I do not agree however—that merely because the Chinese are a race of traders they will want to do business with Hong Kong at all costs, and that the curtain which might surround China will be not an iron curtain, but a rubber curtain under which we can crawl, or perhaps a curtain of Chinese muslin through which we can do business and, if necessary, pass money. I do not subscribe to the view that the new Government will be Chinese first and Communist second. It may be so in the long run, but not in the short run. That suggestion ignores the very nature of Communism itself.
I believe that we may find that the presence of Communism is a new feature in our relations with China. It is no good to say, "You will never persuade me that 450 million people in China will go Communist." I do not suppose that in a really free election one would get 10 per cent. of the people in Poland, Czechoslovakia, or even Eastern Europe, to vote Communist. All one needs to do is to control the army, the navy and the police, and, with all the panoply of Communism, to drag the people of that country un- 1298 willingly to the other side of the iron curtain.
We have asked if the Government really glean business over the defence of Hong Kong and if the steps they are taking are adequate. There is great secrecy—I do not know why—about the size of the Hong Kong garrison. Why there should be secrecy in the House I cannot imagine, because it is possible for one to get information out of Hong Kong newspapers. The garrison three months ago, when I was there, consisted of a fairly weak battalion of the Buffs and two newly recruited battalions of Gurkhas, and a volunteer force was about to be formed. Now this is to be made up to two brigades. Is that going to be enough? If it is not to be enough, we are merely inviting the Communists to overrun Hong Kong. The only sound policy to adopt now is to put into Hong Kong such a garrison, not only of the Army, but of the Navy and the Air Force, with enough air strips, to make it perfectly clear that Hong Kong is not worth attacking from the Communist point of view. To put in an inadequate force is probably worse than to put in no force at all.
§ Mr. Gammans
Some hold the view that Hong Kong is not defendable. The argument they use is that it was not defendable in 1941; but at that time we had a war in Europe on our hands; had lost the control of the seas and were faced with an enemy well equipped with aircraft and tanks. I do not want to underestimate the size or strength of the Communist army. They have taken over a vast amount of equipment which the Americans provided for the other side and are likely to be quite formidable, but I do not believe they would be so formidable as all that and I am absolutely convinced that if we put in a sufficiently large and well-trained force, Hong Kong would be defendable.
§ Mr. Gammans
I am not prepared to give such an estimate and the Committee 1299 would regard me as very foolish if I did so without consultation with the chiefsof-staff. I am certain that Hong Kong can be defended, but I am extremely doubtful whether two brigades of troops are sufficient to create the impression in the minds of the Chinese Communists that Hong Kong cannot be over-run.
How is the activity of the fifth column in Hong Kong to be dealt with? I can best answer that by telling the Committee of a conversation I had just after Christmas with a number of prominent Chinese in Hong Kong. They said, "We certainly do not want to be absorbed in a Communist China. We were born British subjects and want to remain British subjects. We will co-operate with you if you mean to stay there and if you are going to be resolute in your defence of this colony, but if you are going to wobble we must make our peace with the other side." They went on to say "At the moment the British have a bad reputation in Asia for pandering to their enemies and letting down their friends," and asked, "Are you going to do in Hong Kong what you did in Burma, hand over the country to people who fought against you during the war and let down the people who fought for you?" That is the best answer with regard to any fifth column. The real acid test will be whether or not the Chinese citizens of that Colony have confidence in the intention of the British Government to stay and defend them.
I wish to ask the Government a question about this defence force. When we are defending Hong Kong we are not only defending our own interests, but holding up the spread of Communism in South-East Asia. In that objective other countries as well as the United Kingdom have a real interest. If Hong Kong goes, my conviction is that nothing whatever can save Siam or ultimately, Malaya. If the whole of China goes Communist in the ordinarily accepted sense of the word, I believe nothing can save India and Pakistan.
Has any approach been made to the other Dominions, if we are allowed to call them Dominions—the other partners in the Commonwealth—to share with us this vital task of holding up Communism in South-East Asia? Have Australia and New Zealand been invited to share in that 1300 task? What about India and Pakistan? Pandit Nehru is fighting Communism inside India with great vigour and ruthlessness, and I should imagine he would be interested in seeing that militant Communism does not get nearer to his borders. To my mind it would be very proper, arising out of the recent Commonwealth Conference, for such an approach to be made, as in South-East Asia we are faced with the spread of Communism, affecting as it does every part of that continent. Surely we should suggest that there should be co-operation in the vital task of defending Hong Kong. But the main point I wish to make is that the garrison should be large enough. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not suggest that he has not any more troops to bring forward, because nothing could be a greater indictment, four years after the war, with conscription to help him, than inability to provide an adequate garrison for Hong Kong.
As my right hon. Friend suggested, I do not think we can divorce Hong Kong from events in Asia as a whole. It is obvious that in Europe Russian expansionism has, for the time being, received a check. The Marshall Plan has been even more successful, I suppose, than the most optimistic of us imagined, and now we have the Atlantic Pact and the Union of Western Europe. It is, perhaps, the greatest event of the century that the United States did not go isolationist after the Second World War. No one in his right senses would imagine that this check in Europe means the end of Russia's plans to dominate the world. I am convinced that as the pressure lessens in Europe we shall see it increase in Asia. If the Kremlin succeeded in dragging 450 million people of China behind the iron curtain, this success would far outweigh any temporary reverses in Europe.
This leads to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend that in the long run the Atlantic Pact will be useless unless it is reinforced by a Pacific Pact. In Europe we have fixed a high-water mark beyond which we say Communism must not go, but, unless Communism is to engulf the whole of Asia, we have to fix a high-water mark there also. I know the difficulties and I know that one of the chief difficulties facing the Government is that the United States of America have no visible policy towards the continent of 1301 Asia. They are hanging on, very precariously, to half Korea, and they are occupying Japan. One of the reasons, I think, why the United States have no policy is because they have a feeling of disillusionment about their previous policy in China. They put too much money on General Chiang Kai-shek, and they had too much confidence in Madame Chiang Kai-shek. They poured money and munitions into Nanking only to see them frittered away by the Government in dishonest administration, inefficiency and graft. Those of us who were in America during the war tried to warn our American friends that they were attaching too much importance to General Chiang Kai-shek's Government and that it was neither efficient nor, in fact, was it democracy. But they had this starry-eyed idea of what China was supposed to be like, as a result of which, very largely due to American insistence, we gave up our rights in Shanghai, with disastrous results, not only to British trade but to the inhabitants of Shanghai.
The truth is, of course, that China never was a first rate Power, and should never have been included as one of the Big Five. It is not easy for a great country like the United States to readjust its ideas and to have to admit publicly that the previous policy had been a mistake. We must have a good bit of patience with them and not expect them to take any action in a hurry. It is obvious that if, we are to have a Pacific Pact line behind which we are going to prevent Communism from spreading, American co-operation will be necessary; but pending the re-orientation of American ideas on Asia I think that a great and inescapable responsibility rests upon us to collect together not only the countries of the Commonwealth, but all the countries of South-East Asia, like Siam and others, to try to see what can be done. Unless we do that we may find that Communism in Asia, which up to now, is controllable, may so spread that not only China may be engulfed, but the whole of Asia as well.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
I should like to say to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) that I thought he was particularly unfair when he dismissed, as a simple excuse, the reason given by the Minister for the British frigate being outside or anchored 1302 near Nanking at this time. He stated as a fact that this boat was there only for a flimsy reason and without justifiable excuse. I am sure he must have heard my right hon. Friend say that the boats were there at the special request of our representative in Nanking, that is, the Ambassador there, and on the advice of the naval authorities in charge of this operation. I think he was particularly unfair to attempt to dismiss as a flimsy excuse such a very good reason.
I suggest that the hon. Member should imagine what would have been the position in our Embassy in the centre of the City of Nanking if rioting and looting had broken out to any considerable extent, or if the city were held in the grip of a siege over long months—
§ Mr. Gammans
Is the hon. Member honestly and seriously suggesting that the crew of a destroyer, which is just a few hundreds, could in fact stop a riot in the City of Nanking?
§ Mr. Harrison
No, certainly not. I would not suggest that for a moment. What I was trying to suggest was that the ship could have been used as a refuge by our Ambassador who at the present time is situated right in the heart of the city. The Embassy, is particularly vulnerable to attack by any looting or murderous mob which might have been unleashed in the city during those turbulent times. Secondly, had the city been reduced by siege, I am quite sure that those ships would have been useful, not only to the Ambassador, but to the whole British community in the city as a place of refuge; and to dismiss the idea as being simply an excuse is to show a deliberate attempt to misjudge the state of affairs which surrounded that particular incident.
I should have been pleased had the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Walter Fletcher) been in his place at this juncture, because he gave us a very well informed speech on the position in the Far East. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise in the hon. Member an authority on the Far East. The point I wanted to put to him was this. In discussing the position in Hong Kong he chided us on this side as being completely lacking in any ideas. Then we were given the benefit of one of his 1303 own regarding the possibilities of defending Hong Kong. I should like to repeat what he said because it is in such strong contradiction of the speech to which we have just listened from the Conservative benches. He said that to defend Hong Kong we should require substantial air forces. He recognised also that there are very few facilities on the island or on the narrow strip, the Kowloon strip, to overcome that difficulty. As one of his ideas he suggested that we should take steps to obtain further leasehold land for the purpose of building greater and more widespread airfields. I wonder just exactly how the hon. Member for Bury expects us to obtain leaseholds to build airfields for the future defence of Hong Kong. How does he reconcile that suggestion with his previous statement that, unless we have those air facilities, Hong Kong is undefendable in the case of a major attack from the mainland?
What I am bound to adduce from the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bury is the fact that in his opinion Hong Kong cannot seriously be defended should the Chinese forces or the Chinese authorities attack with any substantial forces. The decision we must come to, if we accept that, is contained in the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton). If we cannot defend Hong Kong by force of arms the alternative is to do everything we possibly can to make our trading avenue through that island so valuable to any authority in China that they would be prepared, with us, to recognise the need for the continuance of the present status of the colony. But it seems that to defend it in the fullest sense of the term would be rather difficult to accomplish.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
The argument of the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Harrison) is clear to me, although I disagree with it. Does it follow logically from what he is saying that he would favour withdrawing the considerable number of troops which have gone to Hong Kong and leaving there a small token force of perhaps a battalion?
§ Mr. Harrison
Certainly not. That question has been put before during this Debate. An hon. Gentleman opposite accused my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) of usually sitting on 1304 the fence on these matters. It was in connection with this question that he made the accusation. I suggest that we should have substantial forces on and around the island, because the chief danger to which the island is open is the possibility of undisciplined mobs looting and murdering the people on the island proper and in the Kowloon mainland strip. We have great dangers to face and we shall require substantial troops to protect our people.
§ Major Beamish
Does the hon. Member make a difference between a looting mob which consists of people already living in Hong Kong, and a looting mob which might take the form of an advancing Chinese army?
§ Mr. Harrison
I see a substantial difference between an unorganised looting mob and a frontal attack by the Communist forces. There is a considerable difference between the two menaces.
§ Mr. Harrison
The point I wish to make is that to protect the island from the present dangers we require substantial forces there. Second, if we had to face a frontal attack organised by the central authority in China, we should not be able to sustain our position for long. I was particularly encouraged by the answer to a Question regarding conditions in Hong Kong. I asked the Colonial Secretary:…what steps are contemplated for controlling the settlement of non-British citizens in the Colony of Hong Kong. in view of the pressure of populations caused by the unsettled conditions in the Far East."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1949: Vol. 464, c. 47.]In his reply the Minister assured me that the Hong Kong Immigration Control Ordinance, 1949, was a provision to make it possible for the authorities in Hong Kong to control the influx of the population from the mainland into the Colony in order to ensure the continuance of the Colony's economy. I was pleased to receive that answer, because it shows that the Colonial Secretary and the Government understand something of the imminent threats facing that far-distant Colony.
The general opinion in this House toward problems in the Far East is considerably different from what it was a few 1305 years ago. It was often said then that it was the never-changing East. That was the usual premise from which we started our deliberations about countries like China, Siam, French Indo-China and Borneo. In this Debate today it has been revealed that everyone is aware that the changes taking place are not minor movements in world affairs but really lasting changes in what previously was an unchanging East.
I wish to remind the Committee that before the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, the chatter which it was reported took place around the "long bar" in Shanghai was to this effect, "Well, here we have the Japanese menace. Let us get it over quickly. It cannot be any worse than things are today." A similar attitude has been adopted by many people today. They suggest that the Communists are at the gates of Shanghai and say, "Let us get it over as quickly as possible, because things cannot be any worse." I suggest to our friends that conditions can be worse, considerably worse, than they are even at present. That should be drawn to the attention of a lot of people who think that conditions could not be worse, no matter what happens in Shanghai.
The Government should be responsible for giving advice and help to the many British communities scattered all over China. The communities are spread about the centre. I think that there is a British community of substance in Chunking, and there are others at Mukden, Peiping, Tientsin, Shanghai and elsewhere. It is the responsibility of the Government to give encouragement to these people and to provide help wherever possible. The best attitude they can adopt is to recognise that the Chinese Communist authorities, for the first time, are becoming responsible for feeding large populations of an urban and city character. They have never before in their development in China been responsible for large cities and the feeding of the people. In the past they have worked in a rural economy. Today they have to feed millions of people concentrated in cities.
There is only one way in which they can do that, and that is through the channels of industry and commerce. The Government would be best helping British communities if they recognised that this need for trade and industry is 1306 most important to the future of the people of China. It is most important to the Communist authorities who are now responsible for cities, and our Government should take every possible step to open up and develop these necessary trade relationships with Northern and Central China. In that way they could best help the scattered British communities. They could help them by permitting and encouraging these avenues of trade from which probably we should profit. I am sure that the Chinese Communists must develop this trade if they are to continue their present authority in the large tract of land which they now occupy.
We should tackle that side of the problem as the most practical line to follow. I am fully aware that the future of China generally will depend upon the ability of the Communists to organise city as well as rural populations. I should like to pay tribute to what has been attempted by the Kuomintang Government. I am not one who believes Chiang Kai-Shek was a man of no integrity at all. I believe that Chiang Kai-Shek, under great difficulties, attempted to do something for China but failed, and we are not at all sure that even the present Communist authority in Northern and Central China will be able to make a much better job immediately. I suggest to the Government that they should encourage trade when it is offered to us, for the security and future wellbeing of the many British communities which are spread all over that great country.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Brigadier Rayner (Totnes)
I hope the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Harrison) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. I have no doubt that other hon. Members who are waiting to speak will be glad to hear that I find that the speech which I have prepared would not be within the limits of this Debate and, therefore, I shall speak only for a very few minutes. Indeed, the speech which I have prepared was very good, so that I give notice that I shall make it on the Adjournment.
I feel that a few more words might well be said in this Debate about the question of prestige. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Yangtse incident, there is no question that foreign peoples from Chileans to Chinese, during the last four years have taken every possible 1307 opportunity of rubbing our nose in the muck. Not very long ago they would not have dared to do the things they do today, and this Yangtse incident is just another indication of the measure of the catastrophic fall in our prestige. In the old days before the First World War it was worth while to be British. As the Minister of Defence has said, the White Ensign took the Pax Britannica up the Yangtse, and the knowledge that one was British gave one a great deal of confidence in China and elsewhere. Indeed, there are many stories of bandits in China who let their prey go without ransom when they found that he was British.
§ Commander Pursey
Did not exactly the same thing happen to our warships and merchant ships in Spain during the Spanish civil war?
§ Brigadier Rayner
I do not think so. Our attitude to the Spanish civil conflict was very different from the attitude which we are adopting today. We finished the war with our prestige just as high as ever, but since then we have had one incident after another: first of all, British sailors murdered off Corfu by Albanians, of all people; then British officers murdered in Yugoslavia, British civilians shot down over Gatow aerodrome, and finally British Spitfires shot down—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Burden)
I must ask the hon. and gallant Member to return to the subject of the Vote.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
Does the hon. and gallant Member remember that a British Ambassador was machine-gunned in this area in about 1937 or 1938—I forget which? Does he include that in his list of incidents?
§ Brigadier Rayner
Yes, and they were very sorry afterwards when they realised that he was the British Ambassador.
§ Brigadier Rayner
Oh, yes. Now we come to this incident on the Yangtse. I 1308 must say that up to the other day I had felt that we in this country were taking all these various cracks at our prestige far too lightly, but I was delighted when in my own county of South Devon about 10 days ago, in Plymouth and in my own Division, the people showed Harry Pollitt and his gang exactly what they thought of those happenings on the Yangtse. I hope that in this country in due course we shall show all Communists where they get off, if they become too great a nuisance.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that in the area he was talking about the only hefty blow that was struck was struck by Peter Kerrigan, and the man who got it is feeling the effects of it still?
§ Brigadier Rayner
In the area which the hon. Member is talking about quite a lot of blows of various kinds were struck, and they were all struck by the people of Devon and particularly by the people of Plymouth and Dartmouth.
That is all I want to say, but I do feel that this question of prestige is one that we must consider much more anxiously, because just as a business depends on goodwill, so a country depends on prestige, particularly this country, overcrowded as it is and with so few natural resources. Our prestige, in the keeping of this Government, is nothing like what it used to be and could be in spite of all our difficulties.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Zilliacus (Gateshead)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) in his spirited imitation of Colonel Blimp. In fact, I am in a somewhat peculiar position in this Debate. I feel like the Irishman who for once found himself fighting on the side of the police, because I am—I break it gently to the Committee—in substantial agreement with the Government's case as put forward this afternoon. I find myself in somewhat strong disagreement with most of the arguments made against the Government. Indeed, in one delirious moment I found myself agreeing simultaneously with the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and the hon. Member for West Fyfe (Mr. Gallacher), and I thought that at that moment the millennium must have descended upon us.
1309 In particular, also somewhat surprisingly, I found myself in agreement with a good deal of the speech of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher), but I must say that when he took the Government to task for the Yangtse incident it seemed to me to be rather a case of Satan rebuking sin, if I may put it in that way, because I still have a vivid recollection of his speech last December when he recommended some very spirited action indeed in China. As he accused me of travestying what he said on that occasion, I have taken the trouble to look it up in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I should dislike very much to misrepresent the hon. Member for Bury. I am sorry he is not here, because he ought to be so that he could listen to what I am about to say; I should like to entertain the Committee with what he actually said. He called for the creation of new treaty ports, new areas in China with the agreement of the régime that still lingered on in Southern China—the remnant of the Nanking régime. He said that this was a practical remedy instead of the Government'sfeeble bleat of non-intervention under cover of which we get no action of any sort.He then went on to say:Let us for once take action and establish these bridgeheads against Communism…I am asking for bridgeheads to be established in China where we can offer a refuge to all those who will soon see that the Communist way of life which is being imposed upon them is disastrous, and who wish to return to the fold.At that point the hon. Member for Bury was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. SkeffingtonLodge) who said:The hon. Member has just condemned non-intervention. Having done so, will he answer this question? Would he, if necessary, go to war in China?To which the hon. Member for Bury replied:I am not suggesting that we should go to war in China. I am saying that we should establish and defend certain treaty ports which will be ports of refuge and strong centres there. Yes, go to war to that extent, but it would be a war of defence and not a war of attack."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 672.]I contend that I accurately represented what the hon. Member said, and I am very glad that Saul has seen the light on the road to Damascus and has turned into Paul on the road to China.
1310 I do not wish to enter into the tangled and tragic story of what happened on the Yangtse, because I think that the Government have made their case; that this matter was left to the discretion of the men on the spot who must be allowed a certain latitude to act in an emergency of that sort. In view of the severe loss of life and gallant behaviour of those involved in the incident, I do not wish to pursue the analysis any further. There is one point, however, in that situation touched upon by the Minister of Defence which demands further comment, and it is the starting point of the case I wish to make. He said that attempts had been made to get into touch with the Communist authorities and that these attempts had failed. A parallel arises in my mind with what happened after the planes were shot down by the forces of the State of Israel. Attempts were then made to get into touch with the Government of the State of Israel, which at that time we had not recognised. We attempted to get into touch with what we called "the Jewish Authorities" and our communications were returned.
I am wondering whether something similar has not been happening in China; that the Communist Government of a large part of China object to being dealt with on the basis of non-recognition. If we are to do business with them—and we have to do business with them eventually —we should extend de facto recognition on the very grounds so strongly and eloquently argued by Members opposite on 26th January as reasons for de facto recognition of the State of Israel. It was pointed out then that de facto recognition does not imply approval or disapproval and is not necessarily made contingent on the establishment of frontiers; it is merely convenient to recognise an accomplished fact so as to establish a medium of intercourse. On that basis, there is an overwhelming case for the de facto recognition of the Communist régime, now in control of Northern and Central China and rapidly advancing towards the control of the rest of China.
I agreed with the argument, and was slightly amused by it of those who put the case of when is a Communist not a Communist. The argument seems to be that when a Communist régime has licked the daylights out of an anti-Communist régime supported by us or by the Ameri- 1311 cans, the Communist régime suddenly acquires merit and is different from the Communists against whom we still believe a policy of intervention is useful. The Chinese Communists are Chinese but they are also Communists.
Perhaps Members will forgive me if I go back and remind them of the origin of this régime in China. When the Chinese Revolution occurred in 1911, there was a break after a few years between Yuan Shih Kai and Sun Yat-sen, who formed a more Left wing government in the South of China with its capital in Canton. He first went for advisers to the British and American Governments, but we at that time were naturally committed to the reactionary Right wing government in Pekin. And so we turned down Sun Yat-sen, who then went to the Russians. They sent Borodin. The Russians taught the infant Kuomintang Government to train their own generals and forces, instead of relying on temporary alliances with fickle war-lords. Chiang Kai-shek, who was a bank clerk, was sent to Japan to get his military training. They also taught them mass agitation and political indoctrination, and gave them a social and political programme, which was a Radical and not a Communist or Socialist programme. Borodin took the view that China was not ripe for Communism, and said that the real problem was to see that every Chinese coolie got his bowl of rice. That régime, the Kuomintang régime of those days, with the Communists as its Left wing, overran China and then broke up when Chiang Kai-shek turned on the Communists—the Communists then governed certain provinces of China, first in the South, and after they were driven out and undertook their long trek, in the North. In other words, the Communist régime in China is about 30 years old, and it is a régime that has stood up to every kind of assault, by the Japanese, by the Americans and by Chiang Kai-shek.
It is the régime that did most of the fighting against Japan; it was the Communist Eighth Route Army which did most of the fighting against the Japanese during the war. The Communists led and organised the guerrilla fighting against Japan. The Communists have 1312 won the adherence of the Chinese people because they have given a cleaner administration than any known in the past, because they have broken the power of the usurers and given the land to those who till the soil, and because they have encouraged light industries and co-operatives, educated the people and raised them to a new status of social and political consciousness. That régime has come to stay. It represents a new phase in the development of China. It is a tough régime, and a régime with a programme and outlook.
Having recognised it de facto in order to be able to do business with it, which will be to our advantage as well as to theirs, the next step is to try and bargain for a final settlement with that régime. An inducement we should offer is to stand by the policy, to which the Powers agreed in 1945, of non-intervention in the internal affairs of China, a policy which the Americans have disregarded by intervening heavily on the side that has gone down in defeat. We should then give de jure recognition to the present régime, which would carry with it the new China taking its place as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, which would change the whole set-up in world affairs. It would also mean that we must accept the new China and the Soviet Union as partners in settling the affairs of the Far East and can no longer conduct business in the Far East on an anti-Communist or anti-Soviet basis. As far as China and her ally, the U.S.S.R. are concerned, their partnership must be accepted and reckoned with. It is to the new China's interests as well as to ours to come to terms about respecting British interests in China and developing trade. We should also come to terms about Hong Kong, and here I hope the Government will resist the efforts of Members opposite to indulge in what I call a further display of Pharaonic statesmanship, the statesmanship of King Pharaoh, hardening his heart and resisting the dictates of common sense until visited by the seven plagues of Egypt on an ascending scale of frightfulness.
So long as China is disturbed and divided there is a very strong case, which is accepted by the majority of the population, for preserving the status quo in 1313 Hong Kong. I agree with the Government's policy of ensuring that Hong Kong shall not be a push-over. But neither can Hong Kong be made impregnable in case of a determined major assault. We should come to terms with the new China, within the framework of the policy I have suggested, on a policy respecting the status quo in Hong Kong for, say, 10 years, after which time the question could be examined. Hong Kong with its large Chinese population, and on the very doorstep of China, cannot indefinitely remain a British enclave on the flank of China, within the wider context of an independent India and Burma, and an impending end to Western imperialism in Indo-China and Indonesia. We cannot really maintain that position indefinitely. We can maintain it for ten years by mutual agreement, with the assurance, after that, of negotiating terms of transition that will take care of all the legitimate interests involved and will not do violence to the feelings of any part of the population of Hong Kong.
I also believe that there is a very strong case for reviving, on a larger scale and in a new context, a policy of technical co-operation, through the auxiliary organs of the United Nations, with the new Chinese Government on a programme of national reconstruction and development. That was the policy with regard to China that was undertaken by the technical organisations of the League of Nations in the late 20's and the early 30's. It was a policy that was built upon the policy of Sir Austen Chamberlain and the Conservative Government, and actually initiated by Arthur Henderson, as Foreign Secretary of the second Labour Government. I believe it is a policy which would fit in very well with President Truman's idea of international co-operation in the development of technically backward areas. I believe that that idea is already being explored through the machinery of the United Nations. It is a practical policy and should be examined with good will, because it would be to the interests of the new China, ourselves, the United States and Western countries generally.
These are the lines on which we could work out a new relationship, based on recognising the accomplished fact of the Chinese revolution, according equality of status to the new China and willingness 1314 to accept her as a full partner in the United Nations. That is the kind of policy through which the Government of this country could give a lead that would be willingly followed by the United States and other countries.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) who, I think, was far too dogmatic in his views about China. The hon. Members knows a great many things, but his certainty about China conflicts with any knowledge which I have been able to acquire about that country. The more I have tried to learn about China the more I have realised how difficult it is to understand that enormous country. In a Debate like this it is to be expected that somebody, sooner or later, and it might as well be me, should use the well-known catch phrase about China being the place where the inevitable never happens. Although that is a catch phrase it is extremely true.
I was very interested in the historical survey by the hon. Member for Gateshead showing what had happened in China, but I thought he rather neglected one or two things. For instance, when the K.M.P. started off, their rural policy was very much the same as Mao Tse-tung's is now. But, owing to the inevitability of China, it faded away. The hon. Member seemed to assume that the battle is all over bar the shouting, that victory has already been won, but he neglected the North-West Provinces. The people there are now putting up a very serious defence against Mao Tsetung's advance.
I should like to bring the Debate back to another side of what we are discussing today. Perhaps the best use we can make of this Debate is to ensure that the lives of the sailors of the "Amethyst" were not wasted and that the lessons brought to light by their sacrifice are learned and applied. Listening to the Minister of Defence, I had no feeling either that they had been learned or would be applied. I shall refer later to the "Amethyst" disaster, but before we can really consider it we must have some sort of background in order to be able to understand its consequences.
First, there is the question of friendship with China. I am quite sure that all who 1315 know China well, will agree that there are few who have been to China who have not come back with great affection for the Chinese. Unfortunately, the Chinese have not got very much affection for them; the traffic is not both ways. One cannot really be friends with the Chinese. They can be met on grounds of mutual respect and esteem, but if one tries to base friendship with China on ideological grounds, there can be no success.
Two main currents have been running through this Debate, one mentioned by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and the other by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). The hon. Member for Aston put his case something like this: referring to the report of the second Communist conference, which I, too, have read, he said that so far Mao Tse-tung had had his successes in the rural areas, he had adopted a very efficient policy there, that he had gained support by doing that, that he must now turn to the towns, that it was his policy to industrialise China so far as he could, and that to do that, it was clear that Mao Tse-tung must have outside trade. So far, so good.
That is admirable policy I think and, bearing in mind that we can never be ideologically friendly with China, it is an excellent basis on which to do business. It is the finest way to fight all the evils of Communism as we know it. The idea of the police State and all that sort of thing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) said, can exist only in isolation, behind the iron curtain. If we open up a country and show what Western life is like to the people there I do not think that Communism will succeed. If it does then it is better than our democracy, and we must face that fact. We must meet Communism face to face; we do not need an iron curtain to keep it out. It is for us to see that the iron curtain is lifted. I believe that that is our greatest defence against Communism, and that Communism in China would not stand up to contact with Western civilisation.
§ Commander Maitland
If my hon. and gallant Friend will let me conclude my 1316 argument on this point I shall be glad to give way. later.
What I have just been saying was the argument of the hon. Member for Aston, but there is another and more serious argument. There is no doubt that Mao Tse-tung and his leaders are ardent Moscow-trained Communists—the proper copper-bottomed kind. They have all Moscow's ideas in their broadcasts and everything they do. But there is another point, and that is that throughout the whole of Chinese politics there is always the enormous factor of the hatred of the foreigner. That is something which has not been mentioned much in the Debate. I think it is the most dominant factor in Chinese politics. It seems to me that Mao Tse-tung is, as it were, on a watershed. On the one side he or any leader in China can open up trade. In my opinion, that would be extremely good for this country and the rest of the world. On the other hand, Mao Tse-tung may swing over to hatred of foreigners and try to push them out, which means, of course, the end of all trade. In other words, the two policies are not compatible; both cannot be followed at the same time.
The basis of my disagreement with the Government is that they have not realised sufficiently the enormous diplomatic opportunity which such a situation has presented. They cannot have realised it because it would have been quite out of the question for them, if they had realised it, to have allowed the circumstances to arise in which this great tragedy has happened. Quite apart from the disaster and the loss of lives, it is most tragic that we are jeopardising the opportunity which we have of swinging the Chinese regime in the way which would benefit ourselves and the Western Democracies, because this disaster must inevitably have the effect of hardening feeling against us; it may lead Mao Tse-tung to use these bonds of hatred of foreigners in order to bring his people together. Hon. Members opposite will realise that there are no stronger bonds than those of hatred to bring people together. Hitler's hatred of the Jews rallied the German nation. The cry of "Hate the Tories" is an attempt to unite their flagging supporters by the Socialist Party. All these are examples of methods of trying to get people to work together, and they are very efficient methods.
1317 Our main diplomatic object is to prevent that happening in China today, whether the Chinese are Communists or Fascists, or anything else; that is the diplomatic opportunity which is open to us, and it is this opportunity which has been wantonly jeopardised by the Government by the "Amethyst" disaster. I do not wish to go into details of that tragedy but it seemed to me, listening to the Minister of Defence, that I had never heard a weaker defence. It was intolerable to someone who, like myself, knows the routine of these operations, and who has been in China when an almost similar state of affairs existed in the previous civil war.
It seems incredible to me that this incident should have been allowed to happen. It was probably not necessary to have a destroyer there at all, but I would not like to judge that because the people on the spot probably know best. I do say, however, that it was absolutely essential, having a ship on the spot, not to pass another vessel up the river at that particular time. It is surely nonsensical that that ship had to be brought down the river. Ships have often been left up the river on previous occasions for long periods. A cruiser was left up there for the whole of the winter when I was out there. That is quite a common occurrence, and it is nonsense to talk about more stores and the necessity of relieving the ship. I see there is not a Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will convey to the Prime Minister our wish that we should have a further answer on these points.
It is not only the disaster and tragedy and the fact of people's lives having been wasted which are involved. There are further implications. For example, as many hon. Members have said Europeans and Americans who have been overrun by the present Communist advance have been treated with comparative humanity. Will that humanity continue? Up to date there has been no change, but if we have more stupidity of this kind it will certainly not continue. A further consideration is that all the plans for the possible safety and security of Shanghai were based on having ships available to assist the people in Shanghai. All that has been messed up. There are 1318 now fewer ships to do the work. All these considerations arise out of the stupidity of the Government in allowing this affair to happen. They should carry that burden on their shoulders and their shoulders alone.
I should like, before concluding, to try to strike a more optimistic note because although the chance has been jeopardised I believe it still exists. There is one question which I should like the Prime Minister to answer. I understand that a deputation of Communists has been on board the "Amethyst" and that certain considerations have been discussed. The Prime Minister should tell the Committee from whence that Communist deputation came, whether they came from the "top of the tree," as it were, and what they discussed, and what are the general arrangements which exist at the moment. We were left in the air, or rather the "Amethyst" was left above the pontoon, and we do not know what is to happen. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to tell us something about that when he replies tonight.
We ought at this time to open up trade with China wherever we can. I believe that to be the right policy. I know that policy can be criticised but in the set-up there, in that enormous range of country, I believe that will provide the greatest opportunity for keeping China safe, for keeping China on the right side. We should realise that we have a great opportunity because British prestige has increased since the war, while American prestige has, for one reason or another, deteriorated. Therefore, we have a great responsibility in this matter. It is for us to take the lead in trying to bring about a good settlement. There need be no loss of prestige in the way in which we do it. We must use all our courage and all our brains to bring about a satisfactory conclusion.
I wish to say a word about Hong Kong. If we play our diplomatic cards properly British Hong Kong is an obvious necessity to the outlet of trade from China. I believe it is our duty to see that the people of China realise that. I wish to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) said about the Hong Kong broadcasting station. We should use every means to see that the people of China and the 1319 leaders of the Chinese people realise our point of view.
I was very sorry to hear the Prime Minister say that we had not been able to make contact with the leaders of the Chinese Communist Armies, and I would suggest to the Government that we should comb out the Chinese Consular Service for people who know and understand Mao Tse-tung and his confreres. I have reason to believe that there are a good many who know Mao Tse-tung and who have had the opportunity of meeting him personally and who are now in the Consular Service. Let these people be dug out and put in the proper places. Have the Government done that, and, if not, will they do it at once?
Of course, we are going to hold Hong Kong. I do not believe it is necessary to make a song and dance about that. The people of the world must realise that we are going to stay in Hong Kong, and that that is all there is to it. We should underline that decision—it really is not a decision; it is a fact, and not worth arguing about—by quietly reinforcing the garrison there, as we are doing. The tasks which the Government have to do are not easy. They are indeed difficult, but they would have been far easier if lack of Government foresight had not brought about the "Amethyst" disaster.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
This Debate was arranged arising out of the tragedy on the Yangtse River, a tragedy that resulted in the loss of very valuable lives. As I said when the matter was first brought up here, I extend the very deepest sympathy to the mothers and relatives of the lads who were lost in that very unnecessary tragedy.
What this Debate has brought out today is the correctness of the action of my colleague and I in putting down a Motion for a full and independent inquiry into that tragedy in order to find out who was responsible for it. We cannot have a speech such as was made by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Macmillan) and let it go at that. If the accusations which he made against the Government have any basis, something must be done about them. The lives were lost. Then, the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher), who followed the line of the right hon. Member for 1320 Bromley, said that the excuse put forward by the Prime Minister, that it was a peaceful and lawful occasion, was a travesty of the truth. But there were lives lost, and something has to be done about it.
The hon. Member says that the responsibility must be placed on those whose neglect brought about the situation on the Yangtse. The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) said that, so far, a very humanitarian attitude had been adopted by the liberation army towards the English and others in the various cities taken over, and he spoke of what could happen if there was "more stupidity of this kind." Yet, when this event took place, the responsibility was placed on the Communists. The Press and the radio of this country made a great noise about it. Even the other day, in one of the weekly papers, a gentleman named Lord Vansittart, on the strength of the Yangtse tragedy, was inciting assaults upon Communists in this country. There is responsibility somewhere for the death of these lads, and I insist that a full and independent inquiry be instituted in order to find out exactly who was responsible and to see that the proper punishment takes place.
§ Mr. Gallacher
We can consider the question of the people who fired the guns, but I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether, if a warship belonging to a nation friendly to Hitler had sailed up the Channel on D-Day, there would have been a rivet or a bolt of it left? The responsibility is on those who sent the ship up in the particular circumstances—
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor rose—
§ Mr. Gallacher
No, I am sorry, but I have got to rush it. We have to take into account the background of this tragedy. The right hon. Member said that the Chinese hated foreigners. I do not know whether that is true or not, but, if it is, there is full justification for it, because the foreigners crushed the Chinese people down to a level of degradation that was scarcely known anywhere in the world, and from the time of the fearful and criminal opium war until recent times the foreigners in 1321 China treated the Chinese people as though they were the foreigners and they, the imperialists, belonged to the country.
I want to mention one or two points as a background in this matter. In 1925, British police in Shanghai opened fire on a workers' demonstration, killing and wounding about 60 and arresting 600. In June of the same year, the British opened fire on similar demonstrations in Hankow and Canton. In September, 1926, a British warship bombarded Wahnsein, killing 227, and blockaded Canton. In March, 1927, they bombarded Nanking. So it goes on right up to recent times. Consequently, there has been left in the minds of the Chinese people a feeling that these forces have been in China for the purpose of holding them down and keeping them back.
Stuart Gelder, who was "News Chronicle" correspondent over there in 1943, mentions a meeting with General Chou En-lai, and says:He had been sent by Mao Tse-tung from Yenan, the Communist capital in Shensi, to negotiate peaceful settlement with Chiang Kai-shek, and avert civil war.The mission was a failure, and everyone concerned realised that American and British diplomacy was behind Chiang Kai-shek in connection with the failure to get a peaceful solution to the situation. When Chiang Kai-shek declared that the Kuomintang was going to exterminate the Communists without mercy, he received the approval of the diplomatists of this country and America, and thousands of millions of American dollars, as well as all kinds of military equipment. That is the sort of background we have to take into account when considering this question.
Then we have to face the fact that the Ambassador in Nanking knew that there was going to be no chance of an acceptance of the armistice terms; he knew that fighting was going to start again. Much has been said about the precise date of the truce. The Chinese say that the date for the ending of the truce was the 20th, which means, according to them, that it ended at midnight on the 19th. The British Government say that the truce was not to end until the 20th, and that therefore it should not have ended until midnight on that day, that is, the beginning of the 21st.
1322 But dates are neither here nor there, because even the right hon. Member for Bromley pointed out that if there had been time to get to Nanking, there certainly would not have been time to get out again, even if the truce had not ended until midnight on the 20th. The Ambassador knew that there was going to be no acceptance of the truce. He was in hourly touch with the leaders of the Kuomintang, yet, knowing that hostilities were going to break out, and that the liberation armies were going to cross the Yangtse, the "Amethyst" was sent up the river. As has been pointed out, the roads were open, the rail was open and aircraft were there to take supplies if supplies were needed. I insist, and I am certain that after the discussion tonight the people of this country will insist, that there must be a full inquiry into this affair in order to place responsibility where it belongs.
I want to come back to the question of diplomatic recognition which I raised with the Minister. During his speech I asked him why no attempt was made to establish diplomatic contact with the Government of the liberation area. By diplomatic contact I meant contact through the Foreign Office or through the Foreign Secretary. His reply was that given by the Prime Minister when this matter was raised last week, that we had tried through some consul to make contact with this, that or the other. What sort of a way is that to play with an important situation? You cannot go to a powerful advancing people, a people who have been throwing off the shackles of corruption and imperialism, and say, "We refuse to recognise you; we refuse to have any diplomatic association with you, but when it suits our convenience we will send a messenger to get in touch with you and will tell you what we want you to do." That is an impossible situation.
I am certain from what I have read and what I know of the theory of Communism that Mao Tse-tung and his associates will be only too happy to have friendly relations with the people of this country and to develop trade with the people of this country. That will be important both for this country and for China. Do not let us forget that America is not an ally of this country but a very serious competitor of this country, and America will be trying to get into China. 1323 At a meeting a month ago I said, "You watch events and you will see that, with this changing situation in China, America will begin negotiations with the Soviet Union for a settlement of affairs in Europe." I said that a month ago. The reason is that America will be very anxious to get into China and to obtain all possible trade in China.
I want tonight to ask the Government to face up to the new situation which exists. The liberation forces in China will take over the whole of China; no one can have any doubt at all about that. I say to the Government: stop playing with sending a consular official here or a consular official there to try to make contact when a difficulty arises. Let the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary openly declare that they are willing to establish diplomatic relations with the Government of liberated China. They will find that things will work out all right. As I have said, Mao Tse-tung and his associates will be only too happy to have friendly relations with Britain and to have trade with Britain, but it must be on a basis of equality. There must be no more treating the Chinese as if they were inferior beings. It must be on a basis of equality. If the Government will face up to that, I am certain that friendly relations can be developed and strengthened between the people of this country and the people of China to the great advantage both of China and this country.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton)
I think everyone listened with great interest to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything further on that subject. The hon. Member has made perfectly clear what is the Communist attitude; indeed, I think we all knew it already. One particularly interesting suggestion was that some form of inquiry should be held about the "Amethyst" and what happened. The whole of this Debate has been more or less devoted to trying to find out what has happened about the "Amethyst." The Minister of Defence, in opening for the Government, criticised my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) for making what he said was a very political speech because he had criticised the Government. I hope I shall not be accused 1324 of making a political speech if I speak of Far Eastern affairs.
A number of people in all parts of the House interested in the Far East during the last year or two have wanted a Debate on Far Eastern affairs. We wanted it before. We did not want to wait until there was a tragedy such as this that has occurred on the Yangtse or until there was some appalling business crisis with regard to Japan. What we wanted was to discuss Far Eastern problems in a cooler and calmer atmosphere. But, the Government were unwilling to give us an opportunity, and the net result is that we have this Debate. Frankly, I am inclined to think that in the long run it would have been better if we had not had this Debate on this particular subject today, for although here we can talk very frankly and very freely, yet we must remember that everything we say goes out to the Far East. However, as the Debate is taking place I am afraid I must say what I think about the whole position.
I do not think that this is political criticism. I think, however, that the Government as such have been so busy over many other things, that they really have not given time to this particular subject of China, or to the Far East as a whole. The Minister of Defence tells us that they have been in the closest touch. The impression that almost everybody has had, and has now especially, is that things are being left very much to the people on the spot. The right hon. Gentleman has, in fact, told us so tonight with regard to the actual incidents of the "Amethyst," and other incidents about that time. I think that this practice has been going on for a long time, and that the Government have not been particularly anxious—or have not had the time—to make up their minds one way or another with regard to developments in the Far East. As a result today we find that the Ambassador and the Admiral in command were more or less left to make final decisions themselves.
When I was in the Far East, less than 18 months ago, I formed the impression that the idea was that our forces were to be withdrawn from the Far East it was to be left to the Americans to defend most of our interests there. I thought 1325 the idea was that it would be the Americans, the Australians, and, possibly, the New Zealanders who would look after our defence in the Far East. How far that plan has been developed, I do not know, but so far, obviously, it has not developed very much. Perhaps the plan was allowed to drift in the hope that there would be no crisis in the near future. The Ambassador himself must have known, or the Embassy must have known, and the Consul-General's staff at Shanghai must have known about the situation which was developing.
We have not been satisfactorily told by the Minister of Defence exactly why the "Consort" had to be relieved at that particular moment. The Minister has told us that there was a lack of fuel—whatever that means, for, after all, the ship was already up the Yangtse. He also said that the men were tired, and that there was also possibly a shortage of materials on board ship. Surely, however, everybody knew that this would be the case. Why, then, did not the "Consort" go down river a week or so before? It was quite possible for her to do so. It could have been done. It was lack of foresight and lack of control from London, that she did not—a lack of interest in London as to what was going on. Then what stores or supplies was she in such need of, that it was so necessary to send another ship to enable her to go down to Shanghai? I think I am right in saying—and this has not been pointed out so far tonight—that those stores could have been sent by rail at the time that the "Amethyst" sailed. These things have not been answered so far tonight. In that way, the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), was, I think, quite right in saying that we should have some kind of inquiry. Furthermore, when the Ambassador is remaining there, why on earth could not they have got in stocks when they knew that there was going to be trouble.
We have not been told whether anything has been heard from the Ambassador during the last day or two as to what is the position.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
If what the hon. Member has said is true we have lost our boys' lives for nothing.
§ Mr. Teeling
We are told that the right hon. Gentleman has been more or less 1326 leaving things in the hands of the Ambassador. Normally, one does not want to refer to the actions of an Ambassador. One prefers to criticise the Foreign Minister directly. If the Government are more or less sheltering behind the Ambassador and the Admiral out there, I must be allowed to say what I think is the position about the Ambassador. I have known him personally for some time, and I admire him considerably. When I first knew him, he was Ambassador in Yugoslavia and dealing with the whole of the Tito situation. He was a very strong and active supporter of the policy of giving Tito his chances against Mihailovitch. I am not saying that there is anything wrong in that. I say that what is likely to happen in China, and what he thinks ought to happen, is probably that we may make out of this Communist China a second Yugoslavia and a second Tito.
§ Mr. Alexander
This is rather a new line to take. The Prime Minister said quite definitely last Tuesday that, of course, in these matters the Government would take the fullest possible responsibility. He also said that we have kept in touch the whole time and prepared a general policy by which the men on the spot must act in the light of the events as they arise. That is exactly as the Conservative Government acted in 1937 and 1938. That is all that we have done. It is not right in this House to attack the Ambassador, which I hope the hon. Gentleman does not wish to do, or the second-in-command, or anything of that kind, because the Government take the responsibility.
§ Mr. Teeling
I am not in the least attacking the Ambassador. As I was about to say, I think that he is probably right. It looks as if this is the policy. I am also saying that the Minister of Defence did definitely say this afternoon that the final details were left in the hands of the Ambassador—
§ Mr. Teeling
It is not usual for a Minister to say that things are left in the hands of the Ambassador. When that is said, then I must say what I think is the Ambassador's attitude to life.
§ The Chairman
The point is that it is not usual to attack an individual—a civil servant—who is not able to defend himself.
§ Mr. Teeling
I am not attacking him. I will say straight away that I think that he is probably right; that what he thinks is going to happen is what is going to happen, and that in some way or another we are going to come to some agreement with the Chinese Communists on the development of the country. Those are all general questions for the future.
What is very vital at the moment is what is going to happen in Shanghai. We know that the policy which was proposed and encouraged by the British community in Shanghai, and which is, I believe, supported by the Ambassador in Nanking at the present moment, has been jeopardised very much by the incident of the "Amethyst." That being so, the position in Shanghai is one of grave peril for something like 4,000 British subjects. They are there without all the proper means of getting away. I received only this morning a message from Shanghai which says that they have enough supplies left to carry on certainly for 30 days and possibly for 60 days. There is enough rice to enable them to carry on for a month. At the present moment they are cut off by both sides; they are more or less surrounded in the area.
What is to be done? Nobody out there wants any form of politics to enter into it; it is the humanitarian side with which we should be concerned. The Minister of Defence did refer to this but only in one sentence. What is needed is an approach by the United States, France and Great Britain; we should like to know on this side of the Committee from the Prime Minister whether anything is being done to make the situation easier for the European community in Shanghai.
Here, from my point of view, I refer not only to the British, but I should like to put in a word for the White Russian community there, which is some thousand strong. They live there as refugees from Russia in the more difficult days after the revolution. They are unlikely to be persona grata with the new régime which will probably be coming in. Are we going to help in trying to get them out as well? That is a point which I should like to have answered, if possible, during the Prime Minister's speech. 1328 It seems to be definitely taken for granted that the Communist element now moving down, will capture the whole of China. I personally am not so absolutely certain of that. There is one very brilliant Moslem Chinese general, Pai Chung-Hsi who is now moving eastwards towards Kwangsi, who to my mind is likely to be able to hold the situation in the Canton area. He did it in the past, and that is a possibility. We must also remember the possibilities from the Nationalist Government in its present position. Almost all the Nationalist Government gold and the Members of the Nationalist Government, and quite considerable divisions of the Chinese Army, are, we understand, moving into Formosa. I should like to hear from the Government whether we have any policy for the future, about Formosa and what is to happen about that island.
As most hon. Members know, Formosa was part of China until the Japanese conquered it some 50 years ago. After the war—although, of course, there is no peace treaty yet—when the armistice was signed, it was decided that it should be handed back to China. It has been handed back to China, and is today Nationalist China, and being used as such. Hon. Gentlemen must realise that the United States have announced that the area of Formosa will come in its line of defence if a peace treaty is signed. If that is so, what is to be our attitude supposing, as is more than likely, the Communists claim that they should have Formosa? We really must think this out. I do not suppose I shall get an answer tonight, but I should like to know that at least it has been raised in this House and will be discussed, and thought of in the Cabinet.
There is no doubt that as things are going on in China, Chinese industry and textiles which might have competed with Japan will cease so to compete for as long as China is under the Communists, unless we are able to come to some satisfactory agreement with the Communists in Shanghai and elsewhere. If that is the case, it puts Japan right back on its feet, and it is high time a peace treaty was signed with her.
As has been said already this evening, we cannot be absolutely certain what will happen in China; but do not let us forget that in 1927, as many hon. Members opposite have pointed out, when General Chiang Kai-shek was moving down to 1329 Nanking the Kuomintang were far from friendly to the British. In fact, the most appalling things were done to British women and others in Nanking and elsewhere, and in those days we sent out regiments to protect our people. They were far worse then than anything the Communists have done in the last few weeks and months in North China. As far as I can see, no European has been touched; no white man, and certainly no British person, has been insulted, except in this particular incident of the "Amethyst." I am told that in Tientsin and elsewhere we are now able to trade; true, not as well as before, but still, we are able to do some trade. Something can be done and is being done by our business men.
The Chinese, whatever their politics, want European trade and currency, and everything they can get to keep them in touch with the outside world. That is the opportunity for us. We must not raise nationalist feeling either on one side or the other, by too much criticism and by trying to pretend to invade when we know we cannot invade or do anything similar in China. What we must do is to keep in touch with both sides, and realise that it is not at all certain that the whole of China is going to be under one régime. It is quite likely to remain under two and we should be in touch with both sides. My final point is that this House should take more time to debate the Far East and then we shall be in a better position to talk on this subject in cooler times when no crisis hangs over our heads.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Crawley (Buckingham)
I only want to deal with two points which are connected with the action on the Yangtse. First, I want to try to answer the question why the warships were allowed to be on the Yangtse at all. This was raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) and others, and when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said that they were there as refuges the idea was pooh-poohed. To pooh-pooh that idea is to overlook the whole history of our existence on the Yangtse during the past century. The decision to keep the ships on the Yangtse was dependent on the decision that British communities be allowed to remain on the river at all. Those communities live at very great 1330 distances from each other, and they are in the middle of a people among whom the hatred of the foreigner is never very far under the skin. When troubles break out in China, these people are isolated and their position is very precarious.
In nearly all the major troubles that have taken place in China and on the Yangtse, gunboats and warships have been able to act as refuges in one form or another, and that notwithstanding the fact that at any time during the troubles the guns on the banks of the Yangtse could undoubtedly have blown these ships out of the water. This is as true of the time of the Boxer Rebellion as it is today. The reason the ships were able to act as refuges—and this may seem somewhat paradoxical—was that by withdrawing the foreign communities from the Chinese towns and putting them on ships they were removed from the scene of the fighting and from the intense anti-foreign feeling which fighting in China always arouses, to a position more remote, perhaps in the centre of the river or under a mud bank; and in each case this prevented the guns on that bank from being fired. These actions have been described by Sir Meyrick Hewlett and others in their writings. By this method not only were the lives of the British community saved during these periodic wars, but also our interests in China were saved by the fact that the people were not evacuated altogether from China, but were able to go back to their homes when the fighting had subsided.
It is the knowledge of that history in the minds of the British communities in China that was the main reason why our ships were on the Yangtse. They were a great moral support, and while the guns could have blown them out of the water the fact remains that there was every justification in the world for them being there. If it was right for the ships to remain on the Yangtse, which is indisputable, the decision to relieve the "Consort" or not must be a decision for the local commander. The suggestion that if we left the ships on the Yangtse a Government in Whitehall could say when a particular ship on any reach of the river was to be relieved is fantastic, because no Government could possibly have taken that point of view.
The second point is about air cover, which was raised so vociferously last week 1331 by hon. Members on the other side, the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) getting up and saying, as if it settled the whole matter against the Government, that the country would draw its own conclusions from the fact that no air cover was provided. I noticed today that very much less about air cover was said on the other side of the Committee. It may be that some hon. Members opposite have considered practically what air cover could have done. The point whether an aircraft carrier should have been sent to Shanghai depended upon much wider considerations respecting our commitments in all parts of the globe. Hon. Members opposite have the same sources of information as I have, and they know the number of our aircraft carriers. I did not notice that they disputed the decision which was taken to withdraw aircraft carriers from Far Eastern seas when we did so. I think the reasons were very strong. I doubt whether it would have been wise to send one back.
But, had an aircraft carrier been sent to Shanghai, what air cover could have been provided? I am sure that some hon. Members opposite have had a much larger flying experience than I have had, but I believe that in the case of air cover for ships it is accepted that one ship usually demands many squadrons. I had some experience over Tobruk and there were some periods when it needed from 12 to 20 squadrons to carry out efficient air cover, even for a single barge. An aircraft carrier has two squadrons. The smallest area over which it is said we should have given air cover was a length of river bank of between 10 and 20 miles. If my information is correct on those banks were several hundred guns. The aircraft which might have given this cover from the aircraft carrier would be fighter aircraft, which carry rockets, and each of them could carry 16 rockets. If the rockets had been very economically used the pilots would only have used half of them at a time. They might conceivably, with 25 aircraft, have delivered 50 attacks. The suggestion is that, since the ships would only take 40 minutes to pass this territory, during that time the aircraft, with only fifty attacks, would have been effective either to keep people's heads down on the banks so that they did not fire, or to knock out the guns. Anybody who realises the position at all will under- 1332 stand that that suggestion is absolutely fantastic.
The error of rockets from aircraft, even if most accurately fired, is 25 yards at least, and when one is firing at guns situated in a marsh, a miss of 25 yards is as good as many miles. The truth is that even if those aircraft had been sent off to give air cover over that distance, although they might have had some effect in keeping heads down or knocking out a few of the guns, at all times many guns from many points on the banks would have been able to continue firing at the ships. Even with two aircraft carriers I do not believe that air cover could possibly have been effective. It is doubtful whether, had an aircraft carrier been at Shanghai, the officer commanding would have thought it worth while to put aircraft into the air, and even if he had, it could only have been as an action of very minor moral support.
I have dealt with two major points of criticism which were raised much more vociferously last week than they were today, and I have made it clear that I think there is an absolutely effective answer to them. On the wider questions to do with China as a whole I do not propose to touch.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
There has been a feeling on the part of one or two speakers that this Debate was perhaps not necessary, but I am afraid that I do not share that view. This is eminently a matter which needed the close scrutiny of Parliament if only because, as we all know to our intense sorrow, 40 ratings and two officers have lost their lives, the wounded number some 64 ratings and eight officers, and there are missing 105 ratings and 10 officers. Any such occasion must demand a close scrutiny by Parliament, and the Government itself must have realised that such an opportunity would be taken by the Opposition, and not only by the Opposition but by hon. Members on all sides of the Committee who are vitally interested in the protection of British lives and the glory of the British name.
I shall touch on a variety of points which have been raised in the course of the Debate. The Debate has already helped to clear up many of the points on which we wanted answers, and that, with the exchanging of views, is the object of 1333 having a Debate in this Committee. There are, however, several matters on which, on behalf of the Opposition, I should still like an explanation. The Prime Minister has indicated the importance of the occasion by coming here to answer the Debate this evening. I trust that if he is able to answer some of the remaining points which I want to put, it will clear up the doubts which exist in the country and which it is the business of the Opposition of the day to put in a frank and clear manner to the Government. I shall for a short time discuss the incident itself, but I want to speak even more of the wider circumstances, of which the incident is only a disturbing feature.
The incident itself shows that things are not at all well with Government policy in the Far East. The unfortunate thing is that on several recent occasions we have had Debates on foreign affairs, and for a variety of reasons, all those Debates being specialised, the Far East has been omitted. I can tell hon. Members, perhaps to their great satisfaction, that I had at least one important speech prepared for the December Debate on the Far Eastern situation which I had to give up, like so many other hon. Members. I will not trouble the Committee with that speech this evening, but it is there undelivered, unrehearsed and unpublished for posterity. The fact is that we have not in this Committee, or in the House itself, given sufficient attention to Far Eastern affairs, and I maintain that the Government in their policy, to which we have paid tribute and which has been successful in many spheres in the West, have not devoted themselves sufficiently to these vital problems in the Far East which have now been shown up in a glaring light by this most unfortunate incident. Therefore, I shall certainly take the opportunity within the rules of Order to draw attention to certain matters in connection with Far Eastern policy in respect of which the Debate gives us an opportunity for a little consideration.
The first undoubted fact which we must establish is that the Government allowed themselves to become embroiled in civil war activities in the Far East and this shows that there must have been, on the part of the Government and the commanders on the spot, a lack of appreciation of the situation. After all, 1334 if anybody here has had experience of trying to keep out of civil wars, it is probably myself; at any rate, in the House I have had to maintain a position of absolute non-intervention, which I gather the Government would very much like to have adopted in pursuance of the 1945 Resolution to which the Minister of Defence referred. It has obviously been British policy, laid down as the Minister of Defence said, to keep out of this civil war; but the fact is that the Government got themselves embroiled in this civil war and that is a subject of condemnation which the Opposition would like to make quite clear to the Committee and to the country.
But I go further. It is not my desire so to embroil the Government in this civil war—or this country, which is much more important than the Government—as to get us involved in the hostilities in the Far East. The whole objective of the Opposition's policy is to maintain as far as possible, a peaceful situation in the Far East and so to build up our strength, as I shall show, that we shall be able to maintain peace; at any rate, that we shall be able to maintain ourselves apart from the civil war, which is not a matter in which we should become embroiled.
The next issue I want to get quite clear at the start is that of Government responsibility. It is no part of my task to criticise the gallant commanders on the spot who have themselves engaged in operations which are worthy of the highest traditions of the Navy. We should like to make that clear in any remarks we have to offer. I am glad that the Minister of Defence used two phrases: first, that the general policy in these matters had been laid down at home and, secondly, that in regard to the cruiser "London," "We certainly did know of the operation." That puts quite clearly and squarely the responsibility for these matters on the Government, and in anything we may say, we should like to pay a warm tribute to all those who have taken part in those actions. We should like to sympathise, as we have done on a previous occasion, with the relatives of those who have lost their lives, and we should like to pay a tribute to His Majesty's Ambassador and the consular officers, particularly the Consul-General at Shanghai, who have done such excellent work throughout this 1335 difficult time. Many of them are known to some of us, and we have every reason to admire their characters.
As this Committee should be on occasions a debating assembly, we had better consider for a few moments the incident itself. The first point I raise in that connection is: Was there absolute need for the voyage of the "Amethyst" at that time and at that moment? The answer we must give from this side of the House, and the answer that so far as I am aware, the country is giving, is that that need is not proven. If I may say so, nothing the Minister of Defence has said today has convinced us that there was a need to send the "Amethyst" up the Yangtse at this time, immediately before an ultimatum expired, when it was well known that the North bank was crowded not only with troops but with guns, many of the troops being likely to be what is known as "trigger happy," in a condition when they might well fire on any object. In our view it was not a decision which should have been taken either by the man on the spot or by the Government, and as the Government are accepting the responsibility, our shafts are directed at them.
One would have thought that, at any rate before such a voyage was taken, some concerted action might have been worked out, or some advice sought from the American and Canadian authorities. I ask the Government whether any attempt was made to contact the Americans to inquire why they themselves had decided that no such adventure was possible, why in fact their ship had been withdrawn, and I ask also whether, in the case of the Canadian authorities, who have at least one destroyer in Far Eastern waters, any contact was made with them. I should like a definite answer to that because in these matters a concerted strategy and concerted diplomacy are the only ways of preserving the peace. We are not an isolated country in the Far East. It is not our strength which ultimately is the greatest; it is the American strength. Before such an adventure was undertaken there should not have been such a lack of consultation, if lack there was.
The Minister of Defence gave us his reasons for the voyage of the "Amethyst." He said. first, that such a ship would pro- 1336 vide a calming influence for the population. I am ready to agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) that such a ship provides a calming influence for the British population, because for 85 years we have sent ships up and down the Yangtse and the White Ensign, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, is undoubtedly respected in those waters for its great tradition. But the question arises whether in modern times, under the conditions which were prevalent at that moment, it was wise to indulge in such a relief voyage when, in our view, that relief was not necessary and, as circumstances have unfortunately shown, our anxieties have been proved to be correct by the unfortunate events which occurred.
Surely, if there is need for a calming influence, there was already a powerful and up-to-date destroyer at Nanking. We on this side cannot understand how the "Consort" could have run out of fuel in the course of a four weeks' stay at Nanking. The "Consort" is a powerful destroyer, I am informed, of some 1,700 tons, with all the complement of a destroyer of that class, and with a range of considerable distance. She could, I think, have kept her fuel for the short period of four weeks that she was lying at Nanking. I am informed that she is equipped with diesel generating equipment which can provide her with the internal power necessary to continue to operate her light and so forth. I cannot believe honestly that the "Consort" was so short of fuel that it was necessary to risk such a dangerous operation, and I should like the Prime Minister to give us a specific answer on this matter.
Then we are informed that it was necessary for this ship to go up to Nanking to provide a wireless for the British Embassy. Really, that is the thinnest of all arguments we have heard yet. The British Embassy, in any case, must be equipped with a wireless. I shall now say something rather more definite. If it is necessary to send a ship in order to equip the British Ambassador—who at present is one of the most lonely figures in the world—with an extra wireless at Nanking, it frankly is not worth risking British life and limb on such an operation. I shall refer later to the question of whether the British Ambassador ought at present to be kept in Nanking.
1337 This argument about wireless simply will not suffice. I am informed that the British Embassy's wireless was quite sufficient to communicate locally, at any rate with the Fleet at Shanghai, and that it would have been possible all along for the British Embassy to have kept in touch with the Commander-in-Chief. I do not believe—and it was one of the four main reasons for this voyage which were given by the Minister of Defence—that the provision of extra wireless in the "Amethyst" was necessary. The "Consort" could have stayed there longer. Those reasons, in our view, are not sufficient, therefore, to justify the course of this voyage.
I come next to the matter which has been raised to a certain extent in the course of our Debates; that is, the question of air cover. Air cover can be overdone, and I confess that some of the arguments used, especially on the subject of the possibility of accompanying the "Amethyst" with air cover, are not valid in the circumstances of this Debate. What is important, however, is the question of attaching an aircraft carrier to our Far Eastern Fleet. What has disturbed us most in the course of this Debate is the very vague statement by the Minister of Defence about the addition of an aircraft carrier in Far Eastern waters. He has used this expression:Should need arise, an aircraft carrier will be added to the Far Eastern Fleet.We regard that as a quite insufficient undertaking in present circumstances. What does it mean? It means that instead of the aircraft being two days away at Singapore, the Admiral commanding who wanted air cover from an aircraft carrier would have to whistle for it at four weeks' distance. That is no improvement on the situation, and we ask the Prime Minister to improve on the language of the Minister of Defence and at least to say that an aircraft carrier will be added to the Far Eastern ships in the near future.
An aircraft carrier by itself, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) has said, could not have decided the whole issue of the voyage of the "London;" but in any case the voyage of the "London" was an extremely dangerous one, and it is our view that many British lives could have been saved had there been an aircraft carrier, at any rate 1338 for reconniassance purposes, in the Far Eastern theatre. I am quite convinced that the Government have been shortsighted to remove from Far Eastern waters the two aircraft carriers which originally formed part of the naval force in that area. I ask the Government, therefore, to give us some assurance, to delete the words "should need arise," and to assure us that an aircraft carrier will be added in the near future, not as need arises in the Far East, but as circumstances make possible in home commitments and in the provision of aircraft carriers in the Fleet itself. That would be a reasonable provision, but let him delete the words "if need arises in the Far East."
The third question I wish to ask is, what is the present position of the "Amethyst?" It is a remarkable thing to me that since this tragedy occurred and since the minds of many, especially in our West Country ports, were stirred by the losses reported to them, practically the whole Press of the country have omitted all reference to the wretched ship. We should like, and many parents and relatives in this country, would like to know what is the present position of the "Amethyst." I am not asking for secrets which cannot be revealed, but for anything which can be told to those who are thinking of the men on board the vessel. Perhaps the Prime Minister could complete his story of the incident by some reference to that.
The incident reveals a tendency to expose British lives and ships to danger without having adequate strength to support them when they go into action. The Opposition must press on the Government the need for concerted action, not only in the field of strategy, but also in the field of diplomacy, and concerted action to get together the resources and the skill and the strength of all the nations involved in the Far Eastern question, with a view to evolving a policy from strength.
Our two major interests in the Far East are Shanghai and Hong Kong. I have information from Shanghai which follows on what has been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling). There appears to be rice sufficient for May; the flour stocks are better, but they are injurious to health when wholly substituted for rice for the population. The fuel stocks are low and the general 1339 conclusion in the information I have is that the Settlement is existing almost entirely on E.C.A. aid. The port is vulnerable and interruption of shipping will cause immediate privation to the vast population living there.
My information from British residents in Shanghai is that an elaborate plan had been prepared whereby residents would be collected in a wharf down river and would from there be ferried to merchant ships under the guard of the Royal Navy. Hearts and spirits are lower in Shanghai today because many of the gallant ships they thought would guard them on this occasion are, alas, hors de combat as a result of the recent incident. Therefore, if the Government were to make out that the incident is of no importance, they must reflect on its reaction on the population at the present time. I understand they have taken steps to fortify our ships in the Far East and that a cruiser is on its way, but this takes time and, meanwhile, the Communist tide is steadily advancing towards this beleagured city. I should like to hear from the Government any views they have on Shanghai and the population and about any troops we have there.
In regard to Hong Kong, we welcome the news of the Minister of Defence that the garrison is to be increased. I am not in a position to comment in detail on his proposal. I am not an expert on these mattters and can only presume that sufficient forces are being sent to preserve absolutely the safety and integrity of the Colony. Hong Kong is vital to us; it is vital to the whole position in the Far East and has vital connections with Malaya. In our view it is essential that we should show an absolute resolution to defend Hong Kong at all costs—
§ Mr. Butler
—because, if we give that impression, we may avert the tragedy which might otherwise overtake the area, which is itself a difficult one to defend. I believe we have a little time. There are three generals still on the Nationalist side, I am informed—General Chang Cheh Chung, who is in the north-west area of Shensi Kwangsu, General Chang Chun, at the old capital of Chungking, and General Hsueh Yeh in Kwangsi, 1340 Fukien, Hunan and Kiangsi. These are three big areas covering a distance between the scene of hostilities and Hong Kong of some 380 miles, which will not be covered so easily. Those who imagine that the Communists are easily going to sweep to the South are going to be disillusioned. There is going to be some more fighting and resistance, and, therefore, there is still time.
But, in my view, and in the view of the Opposition, the real defence of Hong Kong depends not so much upon the brigades which the Minister of Defence is so rightly mustering, but upon the mobilisation of all our strategic and diplomatic resources and the bringing together of the nations in the Far East in much the same way as we have brought them together in the West. In the West, we have seen that, through the Atlantic Pact, we have produced a definite effect in averting war. It has been needed for some long time, and this mobilisation of strength through the resources of diplomacy has been effective. We spoke in favour of this many years ago, and I remember doing so in the early years of this Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition have also spoken in that sense. We have also spoken in favour of the mobilisation of our resources, diplomatic and otherwise, in a Pacific Pact in the Far East.
The forces to which we are opposed in China are, in my view, undoubtedly Communist. Mao Tse-tung is certainly a Communist. "The Times" leading article today says that he might be a Tito. He had seemed likely to be a Tito, but if we mobilise our strength he may not be the sort of man that Tito was when he began in Yugoslavia. In my view, having studied his writings, including his writings upon Tito, he is not yet a Tito and will not be a Tito, because it does not seem to be worth his while to be one.
There has been some talk about contact with the Communist forces. All I can say is that the only form of contact that the Communist forces in China will recognise is if they see that we are concerted in strength on our side, and by concerted I mean with the Americans, the Commonwealth, India—which is a party to this new arrangement, and I think 1341 will very much help us in all our new arrangements in the East—Siam, which is as yet free from Communism, the Dutch and the French, all getting together in unity in such a way that we can be assured that we have in the East a pact which will prevent war equally with that which has been worked out in the West.
I do not say that we can immediately and easily divert all our resources from the West to the East. The Prime Minister knows well that that was the great problem in the war, but what I do want to make clear is that this is going to be our problem in the peace. We have to look at Communism, whether in the East or West, as one piece, with a concerted guidance from the centre in Moscow. While there may be variants of Communism; while Communism in China may not be so successful, because a bamboo curtain fluttering in the breeze will be very much easier to penetrate than an iron curtain, and while we cannot enclose Communism in China, we are going to see the same sort of strategy in the East as we have seen in the West.
Therefore, I beseech the Government not to spend all their time on the very laudable activities upon which they have been engaged. We have had the Council of Europe and the Atlantic Pact and the news about India, which in itself I believe will aid the imaginative process of building up this strength, both diplomatic and strategic, in the East. Let them pay attention to the words of Mr. John Foster Dulles reported in "The Times" today and the views of Mr. Dean Acheson, also reported in the Press today, that the United States is considering projecting its trans-Atlantic policy into the Far Eastern arena. I ask the Government to use a little imagination, to be humble about their share in this incident, to realise that it has shaken the confidence of the country, but to regain at least some of our confidence, and the confidence of this Committee, by bringing into force a proper Far Eastern policy which brings us strength in the global and total struggle in which we are engaged.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
We have had a very interesting Debate. I must say that I preferred the more measured words of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) to the rather portentous opening of the 1342 right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan).
§ The Prime Minister
I did not think that the content of his speech was quite equal to the manner. This Debate has taken a rather unexpected line. As I understood it, the Debate was to be concerned solely with the incident on the Yangtse. It has tended to turn into rather a desultory Debate on foreign affairs, and it would really have been more appropriate to have someone who had been prepared for making a speech on foreign affairs to answer the last part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
Let me say that we on this side of the Committee would welcome a Debate on foreign affairs in relation to the Far East, and let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that we have not been asleep in these matters. The assumption always seems to be that if everybody has not got together, it is somehow or other always the fault of this Government. I should have thought that experience has shown that where we have got together, it has been largely due to the work of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It is not always quite so easy to ensure that everybody is coming into line. I thought when this matter was raised at Question time that it was going to be on the question of the use of air power. At Question time a whole platoon of hon. and gallant Members opposite rose to their feet at every opportunity, and I understood that this afternoon we were going to hear from some of them exactly how they would have conducted a combined operation of war. I gathered that by some method, quite unexplained, a certain number of air squadrons were to have silenced a large number of batteries which had not been located along 220 miles of river, but, somehow or other, this interesting disquisition has not materialised, and I am not surprised.
§ Mr. Gammans
How can the right hon. Gentleman hold the view that he thought this Debate was going to be only on air power when for the last three days any Question put to any Minister, either regarding British foreign policy in China or the defence of Hong Kong, has been answered by the phrase, "That will be dealt with by the Prime Minister in the Debate on Thursday"?
§ The Prime Minister
The answer was on the question of Hong Kong, and that has been dealt with. I say it is no wonder that this matter was not pursued, because, when we have met any senior officers, they have always said that this idea is complete nonsense. As a matter of fact, a broadside in "The Times" by a gallant admiral, who was a well-liked Member of this House in the last Parliament, has completely silenced the batteries opposite, and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) also made that point. The point about air cover, the idea that somehow or other we were going to have an operation of war for the silencing of batteries with aircraft of various sizes, either land-based or from aircraft carriers, up 220 miles of river, has proved to be absolute moonshine. I think it was quite wise of the right hon. Member for Bromley that he turned away from that and dealt with why it was a wise thing or a foolish thing that the "Amethyst" should have gone to Nan king at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "It did not get there."] I said, why it should go there. It is a very elementary point. The point of the right hon. Gentleman was that it ought not to have started to go there. Surely the point just made by an hon. Member is a very simple point; and is it really worth while in a serious Debate to make a childish little point like that?
I want to deal with this point, which is a serious point put forward quite seriously by the right hon. Gentleman. It is a question of whether there should be a gunboat at Nanking. It was thought to be useful by our authorities on the spot. Let me say that I seem always to be condemned if I mention the authorities on the spot; it is suggested that I am sheltering behind them. I am not. I take full responsibility, but I also take responsibility for following the advice given by those on the spot. As a matter of fact, if any of these incidents had happened through interference from here with the views of the people on the spot, then the Government would have been "hotted" far worse than they are now. Let us not have that silly point.
As a matter of fact, there are good precedents and quite recent precedents which I am sure all hon. Members who have served in the Navy know quite well. I have a number of incidents here when 1344 there was a confused situation of what was called "almost war" between Japan and China. In August, 1937, the "Sandwich" was sent up there to the port of Taku. That proved extremely valuable, because in these days it is valuable to have a body of men and a ship on the spot; it helps to preserve law and order and to preserve the morale of the people. There was an allied fleet at Shanghai in 1937. Just after the "Panay" incident, which hon. Members will remember, there was an incident at Cheefoo and there again our ship was sent up, and all the evidence which I have—and it is evidence given by experienced people who were on the spot at the time—is that the presence of a gunboat was extremely valuable.
There is always a risk in sending a vessel when there are these disturbances, but suppose we never sent anyone there. We have not been asked to evacuate all our nationals, but if there had been no one there and we had said that we could not risk anything, we should have been charged with not looking after the safety of our nationals. No one deplores this unfortunate incident more than we do; we all deplore it.
§ The Prime Minister
Then it is no use appealing to him to develop a case in an orderly way. Perhaps he will wait for the next round.
Obviously if we are to have any people there to protect our nationals there is bound to be some risk. We all deplore these events. We have all expressed our deepest sympathy with the people concerned. The fact is that there is bound to be a measure of risk. This vessel was not sent up to take part in war; it was sent up because, in what has been described by a great many hon. Members as a fluid situation, there was a danger of an interregnum, and our experience has been that it is precisely in these conditions that it is valuable to have a vessel on the spot. Now the question arises as to why, if we had the "Consort" there, she should have been relieved. She had 1345 been there a considerable time; a great deal of her stores had been consumed; and it was thought and judged that she should be relieved. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) asked about other ships proceeding to and from Nanking.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
May I ask a question about the "Consort"? I understand the "Consort" had been there only four weeks. I am open to correction on this, but that is my information. I understand she is a modern destroyer with a great range of mileage, and had plenty of fuel. Would it not have been possible for her to have remained a greater time than she did?
§ The Prime Minister
I think it is quite true that she could have remained a greater time. The question was, how long? It was thought wise to take the opportunity, which seemed to be an opportunity, of relieving her, otherwise she might have been tied up a much longer time. It was a matter of judgment. It was not decided, as the right hon. Gentleman can imagine, by a Cabinet decision, or anything of that sort. It was the view taken there. I have no doubt that it is a view as good as anybody's here.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland asked about other ships travelling to and from Nanking. Let us look at what that situation was. The Communist elements began to reach the Yangtse in February. By 10th February they were forming up. By the end of March they were there at full strength along that river bank. I think the last elements of the national armies had crossed to the southern bank. The "Cossack" had gone up on 26th February and returned on 14th March. The "Consort" went up on 8th March. An American vessel also went up and down again in March. The "Alert" went up on 7th March, and down on 10th March. There had, therefore been vessels proceeding up the Yangtse during this period of tension.
During that period there were negotiations for a cease-fire, and so forth, going on, and sometimes an extension of the truce; and sometimes there was a danger that one could not find out exactly what was happening. The information, which proved correct, was that there would be no hostilities until after midnight of 20th April. The hon. Member for 1346 North Cumberland rather questioned the date, and said that I said 21st April. I said the crossing of the Yangtse would not be before 21st April, because the expiry of the truce was on 20th April. I do not think there is any difference in the dates there. The detailed times have been given, and there was a period here in which it was thought that, during this period of truce, one could get relief of the vessel.
§ The Prime Minister
Yes; 7th March, and down on 10th March; and the "Consort" went upon 8th March. The "Cossack" came down on 14th March, and the American vessel towards the end of March. The truce all this time, as I have pointed out, was uncertain. I do not think—and I think everybody there will not agree with the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter)—that this was a deliberate action. I think it was shown it was not, because the first firing was stopped when they saw what she was. Then it started again. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there was a large number of troops possibly not very well disciplined, and I do not think this was a concerted act at all. There was a danger that it might happen. It equally might have happened when the other vessels were going up. That is really the position, and we take full responsibility; but we also take full responsibility for letting the people who are on the spot act in the circumstances which they know.
The question has been raised about the ambassadors. Let me say here that there has been the most close collaboration between all the ambassadors out there throughout on this. It was considered that they should stay in Nanking. It is true that the Chinese Government went back to Canton, and that they returned again to Nanking. I do not think the ambassadors would have been wise to have chased after a Government which, almost like the situation, was somewhat fluid. I think they were wise to stay in Nanking.
§ Sir A. Salter
My point was not to criticise what has been done in the past nor to suggest that our Government should take unilateral action; but in the 1347 present circumstances I do suggest that we might propose, to our friends that we should all withdraw our ambassadors from a place which is now in the physical control of people who are hostile to the Government to which those ambassadors are accredited.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman has anticipated the point I was going to make. I said that was being determined. The question of the future representation there, whether by ambassador or consul, is obviously one for consideration. I am not prepared to answer that straight off. Similarly, I cannot answer the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden with a positive statement that I will say here and now that an aircraft carrier will go. I am not accustomed to taking decisions of that kind without consulting very fully with our Service advisers. I do not think that it is wise for anyone to get up in the House and to say that we are going to send this, that and the other, without having a proper and full consultation.
I now turn towards another point that has been raised. That is the point of recognition. I think that it is much too early to decide on the question of recognition. We have a very confused situation. As a matter of fact, in the course of the Communist advance our consuls have made local contacts. Our policy was laid down as I expressed in the House, and I believe that it was the general view that everybody should not go away from China and be evacuated. We believe that we have still valuable work that we can do in China. It is very previous to judge what this Government will be like. I should judge them by what they do. Some one seemed to suggest that we were trying to do this and that in order to earn the gratitude of this Government, so that they will treat us well. The question of relations between us and that Government will depend on their actions, and it is premature to judge what lines they will take. What we do know is that hitherto, in North China, they have wanted the foreign elements to stay and for foreign work to be carried on. Therefore, I am not prepared to come to a judgment at the moment on the question of recognition.
There has been a certain amount of talk about Hong Kong. I cannot think 1348 that the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) was a very happy one. He seemed to me to be offering a general invitation to people to go and attack. We send forces to Hong Kong, and the hon. Member for Hornsey thinks that they are inadequate. We have to send what our advisers think are adequate, and I think that their advice is probably better than that of the hon. Member for Hornsey. Again, one must act on the advice that one gets.
There was a particular point there. I am not quite sure whether my right hon. Friend made it clear. He said that we had brought up two brigade groups. I think that a question was asked as to whether these reinforcements were British troops. The answer is that they are all British troops. Of the three battalions there now, one is British and two are, I think, Gurkha. We have made perfectly plain our position with regard to Hong Kong. I am sorry that the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey, who is well known in the East, may well be quoted as suggesting a doubt as to our intentions. I am sure that he would not wish that. I wish that he had chosen his words rather more wisely.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
Did the right hon. Gentleman hear what the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Harrison) said.
§ The Prime Minister
I am afraid that I was out of the Chamber. That is the answer to the main points that have been raised in this Debate. There has been, as I have said, a good deal of tendency to change this into a broad survey of the whole position in the Far East and not only in the Far East but in South-East Asia. The Committee knows that we have been pursuing a policy in South-East Asia. A suggestion was made with regard to Burma, and we have been endeavouring to help Burma. We collaborate with both the Indians and the Pakistanis, and of course in the Far East we are in close touch with our Southern Dominions, and also with the United States of America.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of Hong Kong, will he say something about the radio station, about which questions were put to him from many sides of the Committee and by many speakers?
§ The Prime Minister
I cannot say more than that consultation is going on with regard to the particular radio that shall be sent out, its strength, and so forth.
There is another matter on which I should like to speak, but not in detail, and that is the present position of the "Amethyst." As we understand it, she and her crew are safe at the present moment, and on the advice I have been given on the spot, I should prefer not to go into any details on that matter. I should welcome at some time a broad discussion of the issues raised by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, and I hope that he will be able, after all, to deliver that speech, although it may require bringing up to date a little bit; I am sure we shall all listen to it with the greatest possible interest.
I know that an incident of this kind is bound to have its effect; but I do not believe that British prestige is low in the East. On the contrary, the evidence I have had from people who have been there recently is that our prestige is high in the East, because they believe that we stand for certain definite principles, and that we have been putting those principles into effect. I think it will be found that in Eastern countries there is a great deal of confidence in Britain; and despite an incident of this kind—an incident which we all deplore but an incident such as may happen from time to time if we look after, as we must, the interests of our nationals in these disturbed countries—I do not believe that there has been a lowering of our influence in the East.
§ Mr. Teeling
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether anything is being done for the British people in Shanghai, supposing there is a long siege, with regard to food and money?
§ The Prime Minister
Plans have been made. Obviously I cannot give the plans in detail, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the fullest plans are being made.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"—[Mr. Snow]—put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.