HL Deb 27 July 1893 vol 15 cc598-9

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (having given private notice of the question) whether he could give any information respecting the critical state of affairs in Siam, with especial reference to the interference caused to British trade by the blockade the French proposed to establish; and whether, in view that only recently the British Government gave rights of suzerainty to the Siamese over the State of Kiang Kheng, with the proviso that it should never he handed over to another Power, any protest has been made against the demand of the French as contained in their ultimatum for the cession of all territories east of the Mekong River?


To the last point in the question of my noble Friend I would rather not give an answer to-day, but I would ask my noble Friend to be quite sure that we shall make our rights in that matter respected. Her Majesty's Government are not in a position to make a full statement about Siamese affairs to-day. This is not owing to any reluctance to take the House into its confidence, but from the fact that M. Develle has been unable from various causes to see Lord Dufferin since their first interview on Saturday until yesterday, and we await a full Report of that interview. It may be well, however, once more to define the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in this question. From the very first it has refused in any way to intervene in the dispute between France and Siam. On the merits of that quarrel Her Majesty's Government do not feel called upon to pronounce an opinion. They have, therefore, limited themselves to providing for the safety of the British lives and interests at Bangkok, and it is to he regretted that some should appear to suspect in that provision—none too large for the security of life and property in an Oriental population of 350,000 souls—an encouragement to the Siamese to persevere In a hopeless resistance. In this connection it is, I think, unnecessary to state in this House that from the commencement of this Siamese difficulty we have scrupulously avoided giving any advice to the Siamese Government, beyond, when they have asked for it, urging them to come to terms as quickly as possible with their powerful neighbour. But the events now passing in Siam are by no means indifferent to Her Majesty's Government. We have, in the first place, great commercial interests in that country, and British shipping constitutes 87 per cent, of the whole shipping in Bangkok in point of tonnage, and 93 in point of value. For this reason we regret that a blockade should be deemed to be necessary by the French authorities, and it might raise some difficult questions of International Law; but it is not yet formally notified, and perhaps it is not too much to hope that the necessity for it may yet be averted. Moreover, the territorial arrangements consequent on this dispute involve matters of British concern. Her Majesty's Government are glad to believe that the French Government are not less alive than themselves to the value of Siamese independence, and that they regard it as a matter of moment, both to France and to ourselves, that we should nowhere have conterminous frontiers in the Indo-Chinese Peninsula, for such a frontier would involve both States in great military expenditure and cause constant liability to panic. Her Majesty's Government can well understand the anxiety of the House for Papers on this subject, and they will take an early opportunity of gratifying that wish by laying Papers on the Table which will embrace the course of negotiation on this subject for the last three years.