HL Deb 04 September 1893 vol 16 cc1856-9

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as to the position of the Franco-Siamese crisis? He said he put the question because of several disquieting rumours which had lately arisen in respect to the carrying out of the terms of the French ultimatum, and because of the fact that several fresh demands were reported to have been made as to Chantaboon, the dismissal of European officers, the Commercial Treaty, and the cutting of a canal through the Malay Peninsula. Perhaps the noble Lord could now give more complete information than was supplied when similar questions were asked in the House of Commons. But he also desired to call attention to one or two points in connection with the ultimatum itself. In the first place, could the Secretary of State say what was to be the fate of the States of Kan and Luang Prabang, neither of which could by any pretence be considered to be anything else than strictly Siamese, and whose territories lie on either bank of the Mekong? Would Parliament have any opportunity of considering the boundaries with reference to those States, and as between ourselves and France, before they were ratified? In the second place, he wished to call attention to the new principle introduced into the ultimatum of prohibiting a country from having troops on their own territory. As their Lordships were aware, within 25 kilometres of the right bank of the Mekong the Siamese were restricted from having troops for aught than police purposes. That vitiated the agreement as being a permanent settlement of the frontier question, and was a constant threat to the independence of Siam. He could believe that the French Government were acting in perfect good faith, and intended honourably to respect the independence of Siam; but the official who drew up the terms of this ultimatum must have had a good laugh in his sleeve when he inserted this section. Why, outside of Bangkok the only police were soldiers, and these would not be allowed to set foot in this belt of territory. Who would keep order then? It would not be long before the French found occasion to interfere in some paltry quarrel. If this restriction were imposed for the mere purpose of the avoidance of misunderstanding or animosities between the Siamese and French Annamite troops, why did the French not stipulate that they would not themselves have troops within 25 kilometres of the left bank of the Mekong? There was no use in disguising the fact that practically the frontier was 25 kilometres west of the river, and not the river itself. What, then, was certain to happen if the great Annamite chain of mountains, crossed by only a few paths, was an ineffective barrier to French aggression on the clashing of rival interests? What possibility was there of an imaginary line drawn through goodness knows what country, towns, or villages restraining the zeal of those who desired in the Indo-China Peninsula to recover a lost India? And, as he had said on a previous occasion, no neutral frontier existed between the Mekong and Menam Rivers, the country being a tableland. He fully accepted the assurances of the French Government to respect the integrity of Siam; but it would be hardly in human nature, and certainly not French human nature, to avoid pressing on into the richer and more fertile districts of Siam. What would happen to the valuable teak forests situated in the large north-eastern bend of the Mekong? The best method of working would be to float the logs down the Mekong to such a point where they could be put on the railway that it was proposed to make in continuation of the Bangkok-Korat line. It was to be remembered that it was the taking in hand of this railway and the consequent attraction of traffic from the Mekong to Bangkok that probably decided the French to put into execution their long - determined policy of having all lands east of the Mekong. Would the French, then, allow of the teak being worked in this manner? He greatly doubted it. It was more probable that once floated on the waters of the Mekong it would never be allowed on to a Siamese railway. This was only a detail, but one which showed what constant causes there were of future friction. There was no use in blinking our eyes to the fact that, though it might not be the intention of their Government, the French in Indo-China desired the whole of Siam, and when they made the move they would be supported by the Press at home. The only chance of making the new frontier a permanent solution of this vexed question was to hedge it round with every possible safeguard that diplomacy could suggest, and to state frankly that to break these guaranteed boundary arrangements would be regarded as an attack on British interests. So far it could not be said, except indirectly, that the large mouthful of Siam that France had swallowed had affected our interests; and taking action, as was the usual practice of the Foreign Office, very late in the day, the noble Lord had done the best under the circumstances. But the limit of our forbearance should now be reached—it was not only the trade with this country and our Colonies that would be at stake, but it was our Indian Empire that was so closely concerned in the preservation of the Kingdom of Siam. It would be interesting to know what was the opinion of the Secretary of State for India in this matter, and it would re-assure those engaged in commerce in the East, and many thousands of Indian subjects living in Siam, to know that the Indian Government was fully alive to the necessity of keeping free from the rule or influence of any European power. And, as connected with the Indian Government, he asked whether it was not their intention to ask for Consular posts wherever the French might be allowed to establish them? He had asked this question at length, but it was most unfortunate that no other Member of the House had interested himself in the question, as if, because Siam was some thousands of miles away, the fate of our fellow-countrymen and of our subjects were a matter of small importance.


My Lords, I can assure my noble Friend that I always hear him on this subject with deep interest as a real expert on all Siamese matters; but he will also allow me to say that he speaks with greater freedom from responsibility than I can in the Office I have the honour to hold. His question is put so broadly that it could only lead to a statement on the whole position of the negotiations with regard to Siam which, in my opinion, would be in the highest degree detrimental to the public interest at this moment to make. It was only the other day that Lord Dufferin left England for the purpose of renewing those negotiations which were interrupted by the course of the French Elections; and I hope, therefore, that at this particularly delicate and critical moment my noble Friend will be satisfied with the assurance, which I am happy to think he may receive with the more readiness from the opinion he has been good enough to express upon our efforts so far, that Lord Dufferin has returned to Paris with the fullest and most definite instructions for the protection of British rights so far as they are affected by what he has called the Franco-Siamese crisis.