HL Deb 17 February 1893 vol 8 cc1689-94

asked the Secretary of State for India whether a settlement of the frontiers between the Northern Shan States and Siam had been arrived at; and whether his attention had been directed to the statement made by Mons. Deleassé, the Under Secretary of State for the French Colonies, in the Chamber of Deputies, that the French Government claim the Mekong River as the western boundary to their Indo-China Possessions? He said this was not the first time he had ventured to draw their Lordships' attention to the subject of our frontier towards Siam; but when he spoke previously about the matter the settlement of our frontier was then pending, and he now begged to ask the Secretary of State for India whether any definite arrangement had yet been made? He hoped the answer would be that we had decided to accept the sovereignty of the Province of Kyang-Kyang. That Province had always formed part of the Great Kingdom of Ava-Burmah; its people were most peaceably disposed, and its chief was anxious to accept our protection. If not, if we had decided to refuse the responsibility of taking over that country it would give a blow to our prestige in the Northern Shan States; and if they were told that the Government had decided not to accept that responsibility the country had a right to know what were their reasons for refusing to extend their protection over that region. A large section of our mercantile community was greatly interested in this question, and although there might be grounds of political expediency for our not assuming the suzerain power over Kyang-Kyang, still Parliament and the country ought to be informed for what good reasons we had refused to accept that responsibility. He had in moving in this matter no malevolent intentions towards the Kingdom of Siam. Far from it. He was glad to say that our relations with that country were on a perfectly good footing; our commercial interests there were large, and our traders were in friendly relations wit h that Power. This subject had been brought forward by him more especially in reference to some remarks made recently in the French Chamber of Deputies. Of course, similar remarks had been made there on other occasions by M. de Lanessan and others, but this year many more members of the Chamber, amongst them M.M. Le Roy and Delondre, had interested themselves in the matter, had spoken upon it with considerable force, and were warmly supported and applauded in the expression of their views. They spoke of the insulting and intolerable conduct of the Siamese; said that the Siamese had snatched French territory; had despoiled and maltreated French subjects; that supported by the English they had established a post in Cambodia, had a desire to take all Annam, and (which was almost ludicrous) that the Siamese posts could be heard at the gates of Hue, and were within a few days' journey of Hannoi, the capital of Tonquin. The Siamese elephant must have been roaring rather loudly to have been heard so far, for the places referred to were some days' march from the French frontier. Mr. Delondre, in particular, referring to our position in that part of Indo-China, said— With England we have only one question, that of the Upper Mekong from Kyang-Hong to Ching-Sen. There, as you know, the left bank of the Mekong forms the limit of French Tonquin and of the Burma Shan States, settled by the Burmese Declaration of 1884, and by the agreements which permitted M. Ribot, when Foreign Minister, to state that he would never allow any other frontier between Tonquin and the Burma Shan States. I may add that since that period Lord Salisbury has recognised that his Government had no concern with the frontiers between France and Siam. Finally, both those gentlemen who spoke on the subject in the French Chamber of Deputies insisted upon an energetic and forward policy against Siam. The answer given on February 6th by the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, M. Delcassé, was to the effect that— The Government has not changed its opinion. To-day, as two years ago, it considers the left bank of the Mekong to be, in the north of Indo-China, the western limit of its sphere of influence, and its opinion rests on the incontestible rights of Annam consecrated by a possession of many centuries. These rights appear to us too important to be abandoned. They are too evident for the Siamese to persist in opposing them before our determination not to tolerate but to prevent violation of them. That was the official answer of the French Government. No evidence whatever existed to prove that assertion of incontestible rights of the old Kingdom of Annam to the left bank of the Mekong generally. Grounds could no more be alleged for it than for a claim by Denmark to suzerainty over this country, or for a similar claim by England over France at the present time. Nothing more existed than a number of old, traditionary legends to support it. He would not go into the whole question as regarded the Mekong River, but in reference to its upper waters, where it was stated both countries had some interests in common, he felt on more certain ground. They bordered the greater part of the Province of Kyang-Kyang, and there was not even a shadow of legend or tradition for saying that they ever appertained to the old Kingdom of Annam. From personal knowledge he could say that a desire existed among the people there to come under our suzerainty, and there was no shadow even of French influence at the present time in any of the old Annamite parts of the country. He was in no way animated by feelings of hostility to the French Government. Plenty of room existed for both countries to move in Indo-China. The French had a rich possession in Tonquin, and he wished to see all future causes of trouble and friction between the two countries removed. It was clear the French had determined upon a forward policy, which meant that some day our frontier must be coterminous with that of France, and he was anxious that we should have a strong natural frontier by the retention of this Province of Kyang-Kyang. A chain of mountains presented an almost impassable barrier, crossed at one point only by a narrow foot-path, which bad only been used for baggage-animals quite recently. The usual communication was by a rapid river with shallows, which rendered it navigable only by rafts. If, therefore, we had that country for our boundary towards France, no clashing of rival interests could occur. Frenchmen acquainted with the country would, he felt sure, agree with his views of the country; it was only people in France who imagined that these mountain districts, covered with jungle, were going immediately to bring them enormous wealth, and that the River Mekong was going to be at once crowded with fleets of deeply-laden barges, and who were, therefore, so anxious to push their frontier up to that river. Those acquainted with this region, and who had regard to the mutual interests of the two countries, would welcome such a settlement as he proposed. At the same time, it was unlikely that the Siamese would easily surrender their territories to the French, and he had no wish to depreciate their defensive forces, but it was evident a Kingdom like Siam would not be able long to sustain a contest with one of the great European Military Powers. His chief desire was to draw attention to the French official answer, and to the position of the territory to the west of the upper waters of the Mekong; and he therefore asked Her Majesty's Government whether they would take notice of the remarks made by M. Delcassé. A few days ago the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) referred to what our position might have been in East Africa, and pointed out that it had been the fault not of the Government, but of Parliament itself, that we bad not extended our territory there; but this question had no such object, it was simply directed to placing ourselves in a position to avoid future friction with a great Military Power like France when she should become our neighbour on the eastern frontier of our Indian Empire.


My Lords, I am sure everyone listens with pleasure to the noble Lord opposite when he speaks on this subject, for I am sure there is no one in this House so well acquainted with this remote part of the world; but he will forgive me if I do not follow him into a general discussion upon it. He has asked me a question, and to that I will return an answer. My answer is that a general settlement has been arrived at with Siam as to the frontier between that country and the northern Shan States, and the demarcation of the frontier is at present being actually carried out by an Anglo-Siamese Commission. The noble Lord also asks me a question, of which he did not give me notice, with regard to a particular Shan State which he named. Not possessing the advantage of having been in those countries myself I confess that, though I have carefully and constantly studied the maps, I have always a difficulty in distinguishing between the various names of these Shan States; they are so exceedingly like one another that one may easily make a mistake. But I conclude that the noble Lord has referred to the State winch is to be ceded to Siam, immediately adjoining the Mekong. If so, I may tell him that part of the agreement is that that State is to be ceded to Siam, and they make a very important concession to us on the western boundary of Siam. With regard to the general reasons for making that settlement, I think it would be very inconvenient I should go into them now. In due time the Papers will be laid before your Lordships, and you will then see what were the grounds for the settlement, which I take to be altogether a very advantageous one for securing peace and order in that part of the country. The noble Lord referred to a statement in the newspapers as having been made by M. Delcassé in the French Chamber. I have read the report of that speech, and all I have to say upon it is, and I think your Lordships will agree with me, that it would not be convenient for us to discuss here speeches reported to have been made in the French Chamber of Deputies. Therefore, the noble Lord will excuse me if I do not reply to his remarks on that subject.


asked whether the House was to understand that no notice was to be taken of such a declaration of policy?


I think the noble Lord has not quoted correctly the statement to Which he alludes. The French Minister, M. Delcassé, did not go quite so far as to claim the Mekong River as the western boundary to the French Indo-China possessions, but he rather spoke of it as the western limit of their sphere of influence. It is not for me to judge what the French view of their sphere of influence may be, because that is a vague term, but no such sphere of influence has been recognised by Her Majesty's Government.