HL Deb 05 April 1898 vol 56 cc165-81

My Lords, in moving that the House do adjourn until the 21st of April, I propose to take the opportunity of making a short statement to your Lordships' House on a subject on which it has been promised that explanations would be given in this and the other House before the adjournment for the Easter Recess—namely, on the position of affairs in China. My Lords, I believe that no statement has been made in this House upon that subject since that which was made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government on the opening day of the Session, and it may be convenient that I should take that point as the starting-point of the statement which. I have to make to your Lordships. But first I may, perhaps, be permitted to recall to your recollection that the principle, and the sole principle, which Her Majesty's Government have had in view throughout these transactions—the principle which has actuated both their declarations at home and their communications with foreign Powers—has been that China should remain open to commerce as now, that the facilities at present possessed by British subjects for trading in China and for the employment of British capital in China, should not be diminished, but should rather be increased, and that on facilities, no concessions in these directions which may be made to other Powers should be denied to our own subjects. My Lords, it follows from the assertion of this principle that Her Majesty's Government have desired neither territorial acquisitions in China, nor even the extension of British influence in the Chinese Government beyond such extensions and such influence as may be necessary for the protection and maintenance of our commercial position in China. Up to the present time our naval station at Hong-kong has accorded the necessary base for our Fleet which protects our commerce in China. Up to the present time Hong-kong and the foreign settlements at the Treaty ports have afforded to us the necessary and adequate bases for our commercial operations, and so long as the status quo existed we were satisfied with that condition of affairs, and we had not desired any increase in our territorial possessions or any additional bases either for our maritime power or for our commercial operations. As to political influence, we have only desired it in such a decree as would enable us to secure full protection of the rights of British subjects who are trading in China, and that equal opportunities should be afforded to them for the development, by means of British capital, of the resources of China to the extent which Chinese institutions might make possible. My Lords, unfortunately these principles do not appear to have commended themselves to all our rivals. To some of them it appears that the value of political influence at Pekin consists rather in the possibility of the exclusion of foreign competition than in the extension of equal opportunities to all. Reasons such as these have made it necessary for us from time to time to assert our influence at the Court of Pekin. When it was known that the Government of China had appealed for financial assistance to other Powers as well as ourselves, and when it was known that that financial assistance, if granted by other Powers, might be coupled with conditions which would not be to our advantage, we were willing to offer that financial assistance on favourable terms to the Government of China, coupled with conditions which while they would have been a protection to our interests, would not have been injurious to those of any other Power. My Lords, you are aware that the negotiations which were in progress at the time of the opening of Parliament for a Loan to the Government of China to be guaranteed by the British Government have failed; but no other Power has succeeded in obtaining the advantages, to our disadvantage, which they may have hoped for, and the greater part of the conditions upon which we were willing to make that Loan have been, through the influence of our Minister in China (Sir Claude Macdonald), obtained without the Loan. My Lords, I believe the concessions which Sir Claude Macdonald has obtained have been stated in the other House. They have not, I think, up to this time, been stated in the other House. They have not, I think, up to this time, been stated in your Lordships' House, These concessions are, in the first place, that the internal navigation of the Chinese rivers should be open to all nations from the 1st of June. In the second place, the Chinese Government have given to us a pledge that the regions of the Yangtsze Valley, in which we are especially interested, should not be ceded or alienated to any other Foreign Power. In the Chinese Government have undertaken that, so long as British commerce maintains the position of supremacy which it at present does, the post of Inspector General of Customs shall continue to be held by an Englishman. And, in the fourth place, the Chinese Government have undertaken that within a space of two years a port shall be opened in the province of Hunnan. My Lords, these are concessions of very high importance, of an importance probably not fully understood by any except those who are actively engaged in commercial pursuits in China; and concessions, even though they seem to have merely a personal importance, such as those of the appointment of Inspector General of Customs, have, in the condition of trade in China, an importance which, I believe, is fully recognised by the British, commercial community. My Lords, it is difficult to understand Low, in face of such concessions as those which have been obtained by our influence, and through the extremely able exertions of our Minister in China, it can be asserted anywhere that British influence has ceased to exist with the Government of Pekin. I come now to the leases of certain commercial ports which have been obtained by other Powers. These leases have been spoken of as being injurious and derogatory to British interest, unless we had succeeded at the same time in obtaining similar concessions for ourselves. My Lords, I do not know by what international right we should have been justified in protesting against the voluntary and partial concessions of territory which China has been induced to make to other Powers. All that we had the right to require, and that which we have required, from the Government of China is that no commercial privileges which we possess under our treaties with China should be impaired. At the opening of the Session, Lord Salisbury stated to this House the nature of the assurances which he had received from China in respect of the port of Kaiou-chau—assurances which he stated were entirely satisfactory. I heave received private notice from the noble Lord opposite that he desires to ask for exact information as to the nature of the assurances which we have received from Germany in respect of Kaiou-chau, and the nature of the concessions which have been made to Germany in the province of Shan-tung. My Lords, I believe the Papers which will be laid upon the Table will show that the nature of the assurances in respect to Kaiou-chau which we have received are clearly to the effect that Kaiou-chau will be a free, as distinct from a Treaty, port. As regards railway concessions, we have not yet had communicated to us the exact terms of the agreement which has been made between Germany and China at Pekin, but Germany has repudiated the idea that she is claiming, in respect of railways, any monopoly in Shan-tung, My Lords, I think that is all I am able to state on that part of the subject at present, and I would suggest that your Lordships should wait until you are able to see the Papers which, will be presented. As to Russian demands, three concessions were demanded by Russia from the Chinese Government—namely, the lease of Port Arthur, the lease of the port of Talienwan, and the right to construct a railway connecting those ports with the Russian-Siberian railway system. As to the railway, our object being to develop the facilities for trade in China, and railways being an important factor in those facilities, Her Majesty's Government regard with no dissatisfaction any concessions in the direction of railway construction which may be obtained by Russia or any other Power, so long as those concessions are not hampered by conditions which would tend to obstruct the free and natural course of trade along those lines. As to the ports themselves, it has long been admitted that the desire of Russia to obtain for commercial purposes access to an ice-free port on the Pacific Ocean was a legitimate object of Russian policy. I do not know whether, when those conditions were made, the exact form in which that access to an ice-free port should be secured was contemplated by those who made those conditions; but I cannot be surprised that, after the example which was set by Germany, Russia should have required for the commercial port, which she desired to obtain on the Pacific, a title not inferior to that which had been acquired by Germany. As to the effect of the commissions which have been made by China to Russia in respect of these ports on our Treaty privileges, your Lordships are aware of the assurances which were skated by Lord Salisbury to have been received frond the Government of Russia. The exact effect of these assurances has been the subject of communications between the Russian Government and our own up to the present moment; but there can be no question that we have received, both from M. de Staal here, and through Sir Nicolas O'Coner, our Ambassador in Russia, the most explicit assurances that in respect of any port which Russia might obtain the privileges of other Powers under Treaties with China would be maintained. My Lords, the latest communication on this subject was made to the Foreign Office no later than yesterday, and the explanation now given by the Russian Government respecting the future condition of Port Arthur and Talienwar is to the effect that, having obtained a lease of these ports for 25 years, it is their intention to maintain, as far as possible, the status quo previously existing, with the exception that Talenwa will be opened to foreign commerce. It is their intention to maintain the sovereign rights of China, and to respect existing Treaties. British vassals of war and commerce will be admitted to Port Arthur to the same extent as they have been under Chinese regulations, but it is not the intention of the Russian Government to make use of the lease of that port to transform it from a closed military port into a commercial one. As regards Talienwan, the Russian Government intend it to be open to the commerce of the whole world under the most favourable conditions. My Lords, that is all I have to say as to the assurances which we have received as to the effect upon our commercial privileges of the lease which Russia has obtained of these two ports. But my Lords, the acquisition of Port Arthur by Russia has a different side. Port Arthur is not a commercial harbour, and it is extremely doubtful whether it can, with any advantage, be converted into one. But it is a naval fort of no inconsiderable strength. It has been formerly fortified, and although its fortifications are at present more or less dismantled, it is capable of being fortified again. Although it was taken with very little difficulty by the Japanese in their war with China, there is no doulg that in the hands of a great military Power such as Russia if is capable of being made almost, if not absolutely, impregnable. The abandonment of Port Arthur by Japan at the close of the war was insisted upon by France, Germany, and Russia, on the ground that its occupation by a Japanese force was a menace to Pekin. The acquisition, therefore, of Pore Arthur by Russia has a strategie and political rather than a commercial importance. My Lords, we do not entertain any illusion upon this subject. We are perfectly aware that this occupation by a great military Power like Russia, with a frontier of 4,000 miles conterminous with that of China, a frontier approachhing very closely to the capital of China, docs and will in the future, when the radway has made further progress, give to Russia powerful influence over the policy of the Government of China. We regard the acquisition of Port Arthur as an addition an important addition—to the stratagem position of Russia in regard to China, but not as the foundation of that position. We regard the attestation of Part Arthur by Russia, while the remainder of the Gulf of Pethill remains in the hands of a Power so weak as that of China, as giving to Russia strategie advantages of a similar character by sea to those she already possesses and will possess by land. We regard the occupation of Port Arthur by Russia as an indication that she does not intend to wait until that military position has been fully established; and we regard it, as we believe it will be considered throughout the whole of the East—if it is not in reality so yet, it will be so considered throughout the whole of the East—as the commencement of the absorption or partition of the Chinese Empire. My Lords, holding these views, Her Majesty's Government addressed to that of Russia grave representations of the views which they held as to the unfortunate consequences which might result if such a step were taken by Russia. At the same time, we disowned any desire on our part to interfere in Manchuria beyond the degree which might be necessary for the protection of our Treaty rights, and we disclaimed any desire on our part to obtain any naval position in the Gulf of Pechili. My Lords, those representations were not successful hi their object, and the Government, on being informed that a lease of Port Arthur had been granted by the Government of China, informed the Government of Russia that they must retain their liberty to take such steps as they might consider necessary in order to protect our own interests and to obviate, as far as possible, the evil consequences which they thought might result from the step which had been taken by Russia. My Lords, that communication was followed by one which was addressed to the Government of China to the effect that, in consequence of the action taken in leasing Port Arthur to Russia, we required, in their own interest, as well as in ours, the refusal of a lease of the port of Wei-hai-Wei on conditions similar to those on which the cession of Port Arthur to Russia had been made. That concession was only to come into force upon the evacuation by the Japanese Government of Wei-hai-Wei, and the payment of the indemnity. Of course, this intention was communicated by Her Majesty's Government to the Government of Japan. For some reason, of which I am not aware, the Japanese Government have desired that the reply which they have made to that communication should, for the present, be treated as strictly confidential. I am, therefore, unable to state the exact nature of that reply, but I may state that nothing in the nature of a remonstrance has been received from the Japanese Government, and that there is no reason to suppose that this measure—which is only to come into operation upon the evacuation of Wei-hai-Wei by the Japanese Government, and which is in no degree hostile, or intended to be hostile, to the interests of Japan—can excite any opposition on the part of the Japanese Government. My Lords, the concession of China to this demand has only been accompanied by two requests. The first is that facilities shall continue to be afforded for Chinese ships of war making use, when necessary, of the harbour of Wei-hai-Wei, and the second is that our occupation of the port of Wei-hai-Wei should be made the occasion of the granting to them special facilities for the training under British naval officers of officers for the Chinese naval service. My Lords, I need not say that, subject to satisfactory arrangements being made for carrying out those two requests, the Government are disposed to entertain both of them in the most favourable manner, and especially view with the greatest satisfaction the desire which appears to be manifested by the Chinese Government to place their naval establishments on a better footing. As to the strategic value of the port of Wei-hai-Wei, there is no doubt that differences of opinion between military and naval experts will be expressed. My Lords, I need not say that I do not profess to speak either as the one or the other. Compared with Port Arthur, Wei-hai-Wei possesses probably some advantages and some disadvantages; there can, however, be no doubt that Wei-hai-Wei is at present, and can be further rendered, a place of very considerable strength. It has already been partially fortified, and its defences are capable of being materially strengthened. Wei-hai-Wei was the only place in which the Chinese forces were able to offer serious and protracted opposition to the Japanese forces, and I do not think, whatever differences of opinion may exist on technical naval and military points, there can be any doubt whatever that in the possession of a Power which is at present, and which we trust will remain, in a position of naval supremacy in those seas, the occupation of the port of Wei-hai-Wei will be of most material service in maintaining and asserting that naval supremacy, and we believe that its occupation by a naval Power friendly to China will go a long way to relieve the Chinese Government from those apprehensions which have not unnaturally been inspired by the occupation of Port Arthur by a formidable military Power. My Lords, we regard this step as a measure which will enable us, and other Powers similarly interested in China with ourselves, to judge whether China does or does not possess any of the elements which are necessary to her continued existence as an independent Power. If not, we regard it as a measure which will give and secure to us the necessary time and opportunity for the re-establishment and consolidation of our influence in those regions of China where that influence is most essential and most vital. My Lords, this is, in our opinion, a policy which is not hostile to any State, for, whatever ambitious designs or ultimate aims may be attributed by some to any Power in regard to China, it cannot be to the advantage of any one of them that this great, and ill-compacted mass, which we know as the Empire of China, should be suffered, either through external pressure, or through internal decay, to fall into atoms without some effort on the part of the civilised Powers of the world to establish some settled order in its place. My Lords, this, I think, is all I have to say to your Lordships on the subject of the communications and the action which has recently been taken by Her Majesty's Government in China. The noble Lord opposite has given me private notice that he desires to obtain some further information as to the communications which have taken place between us and the Chinese Government and France. As to those, I can only say that Her Majesty's Government are perfectly sensible that our interests we by no means confined to the north of China, and that they are, perhaps, even greater in the centre and in the south. We are aware that certain demands have been made by the French Government on the Government of China, but these demands have not yet, at all events, been encoded by the Chinese Government. Communications on the subject are still gross between the French and the Chinese Governments, and I am unable—the Government is unable—at present to give any full information respecting them. Under these circumstances, I trust that your Lordships will be disposed to wait until the Papers, which will shortly be laid on the Table, can be produced, and that you will agree with Her Majesty's Government in regard to the last point to which I have referred—that it would be undesirable in the highest degree, pending communications which are still in an imperfect condition, that any further statement on the subject should be made. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, the noble Duke commenced by referring to the concessions which were obtained by Sir Claude Macdonald from the Chinese Government, and with regard to those concessions I have only to say that the opening of the right to use the internal navigation of the rivers must be viewed by everyone with the greatest satisfaction. I do not think there can be any difference of opinion as to the advantage of a port being opened in Hunnan, and also as to the prolongation of the holding of the office of head of the Customs by Sir Robert Hart—that very distinguished man to whom this country owes a very great debt of gratitude for the manner in which he has fulfilled those duties. But the most weighty of those concessions was undoubtedly the promise that no portion, as I understand it, of the territory generally known as that bordering on the Yang-tsze-kiang shall be conceded by China to any other Power. I did not expect that the noble Duke would be able on this occasion to give any details of that concession, but I do trust that when Papers are presented to the House we shall have some more distinct idea of what that concession means. The Yang-tsze-kiang is one of the longest and greatest rivers in the world, and it is quite obvious that, when you speak of an engagement relating to the valley, or whatever it may be called, of the Yang-tsze-kiang, it is to the last degree important that we should know to what extent of territory that engagement actually applies. I trust, therefore, we shall see some precise details in the Papers which are promised. I pass now to what the noble Duke next referred to. This was the various assurances we have received from Russia and Germany with regard to the effect of the concessions which they have obtained from the Chinese Government. The noble Duke referred very naturally to the important statement made by the Prime Minister in this House at the beginning of the Session. I may, perhaps, be forgiven for reminding your Lordships of the precise terms in which the Prime Minister made that declaration. He said— We have received spontaneously from the Russian Government a written assurance that any port which they might obtain leave to employ for the cutlet of their commerce would be a free port—free to the commerce of this country. New, a free port is much better than a Treaty port; and so, having ascertained tint Talienwan was to be a free port, it interested us very little indeed to know whether it was to be a Treaty port or not. I may say that similar assurances have been made to us by the German Government. There has been so much uncertainty as to the nature of these assurances that I must refer to some of the further statements made on the subject. The next important statement that was made was made in the other House, and we were there informed that the nature of the communication was as follows— The pledge given"—[Mr. Curzon said]—"by the Russian Government was shown in writhing to the Permanent Under Secretary of State, who tack a note of it. That did not seem to be precisely what the Prime Minister had communicated to us. I should mention that there occurred Inter the publication of an important document—a diplomatic circular issued by the Russian. Government to its representatives abroad, announcing the concession of the lease of Port Arthur and Talienwan. It was observed at once by those who read that document that no reference was made in it to Port Arthur. I conclude that what took place was that, upon that being observed here by Her Majesty's Government, further communications were made to the Russian Government, because, the Russian circular leaving appeared, I think, upon the 29th of March, Mr. Curzon subsequently informed the House of Commons that Count Muravieff had authorised Sir Nicolas O'Conor to inform Her Majesty's Government that, in the event of the Chinese Government consenting to the lease to the Russian Government of Talienwan and Port Arthur, both ports, would be open to foreign trade like other ports in China. I think that must have been anterior to the circular. Your Lordships will observe—I think this is the latest communication made to Parliament on the subject until this evening—that in this communication made by Count Muravieff to our Ambassador it was stated that Talienwan and Port Arthur would be open to foreign trade like other ports in China. Well, now, I gather from the statement of the noble Duke this evening that there has been again a variation of these assurances, and that what the Russian Government, have now stated is that Talienwan will be open to trade. Of course, one naturally asks what is meant by the "most favourable conditions?" Does "the most favourable conditions" mean that the same duties will be levied at Talienwan as are leviable at all other Chinese ports in accordance with our Treaty of Tientsin, or what does it mean? I also gather that Port Arthur is no longer to be considered a port open to trade and commerce. Now, these are very important differences. Furl her than that, I understand the noble Duke to say that both ports would be open to the entry of ships of war of other nations in the same manner as at present, because he said the Russian Government intended to make no change in the status quo. I think I understood him to say that Port Arthur would be considered to be a fortified port, and therefore I conclude that implies that it will not be open to commerce. In point of fact, I gather that the intention of the Russian Government is to make Port Arthur very much what the port of Sebastopol is in the Black Sea. Upon these matters we shall wait with considerable interest, if not with some anxiety, to see when the Papers are published what are really the precise assurances which, after all, have been given by the Russian Government; and, further, in what precise form they have been given—whether they are in a clearly written form—and I shall inquire hereafter, if it be necessary, whether Her Majesty's Government are perfectly satisfied with the form in which these assurances have been given. Now with regard to Germany. The noble Marquess at the head of Government said he was perfectly satisfied with the assurances he had received with regard to Germany. He said it did not much matter whether it was a Treaty port, because he understood that it was to be a free port. All we have ever heard on the subject since that statement was made was a report in the newspapers of a statement made in the Reichstag at Berlin by Caint Below, the Foreign Minister, whith gave it to be understood that the German Government was not disposed to bind itself as regards the conditions of trade hereafter in the port of Klaou-chau. I and anxious to know whether Her Majesty's Government have received any distained and plain assurances that we shall continue to enjoy in the port of Kiaou-chau the same privileges and advantages as by Treaty we have a right to enjoy in all the ports of Chinn which are open. One other matter I must refer to. That is as to the demands of France. Of course, after what the noble Duke said, it would be our of the question for me to press the Government to communicate But I cannot help saying that I regret that it should not have been found possible to make some dear statement, at all events, as to what the demands of the French Government are, They have been stated in the newspapers to relate to three important provinces in China, one of which is the province immediately adjoining Hoag-Konag; and although, of course, I can quite understand that, negotiations being in progress between the Chinese Government and the French Government, it may not be in the power of Her Majesty's Government, or it may nit be their duty, to make any communication on the subject of the actual negotiations to Parliament, yet I certainly should have been glad to have heard, and I rather expected to hear, some statement of what those demands are and also as to whether Her Majesty's Government consider that they affect the interests of this country, My Lords, I now turn to the other portion portion of the noble Duke's speech. Your Lordships will remember that very precise statements have been made as to the policy which Her Majesty's Government considered to be the true and sound policy as regards the interests of this country. That policy 1ms been generally known as the "policy of the open door." We, on our part, when that policy was announced, expressed without any reservation nor fullest concurrence in the policy Her Majesty's Government had announced as the really sound and true policy for this country. Then there also occurred a very remarkable Vote in the other House—a Vote of a Resolution concurred in by the Government on the importance of maintaining the independence the word integrity was mentioned afterwards by the Government—the independence of the Chinese Empire. Of course, such a Resolution implied that, in the view of the Government, the maintenance of the independence, and, I may add, integrity—as that phrase was used by the Leader of the Government in the other House—the maintenance of the independence and integrity of China was a portion of their policy of China was a portion of their policy. I do not think a better, more explicit, or clearer statement has been made on this subject that that made by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs on the 1st March said— Our belief is that the integrity of China is most likely to be secured by throwing open China to the interests and the intercourse of the whole world, and not, so to speak, by closing her into separate watertight compartments, each bearing a separate label or appellation of its own. Up to a certain point, therefore, the policy of Her Majesty's Government was that of the open door—that is to say, of maintaining the conditions arrived at under the Treaty of Tien-tsin, under which our commerce has been hitherto carnal on, and avoiding what Mr. Curzon called, by the very apposite term, the partition of China into water-tight compartments. Well, now, I must observe that this whole policy is chunked. It is quite obvious that the policy which we highly approved, which met with the approval of the whole cmntry—that of maintaining the open door—has practically gone, and instead of it we have a system of water-tight compartments. We have the great compartment which has been secured by Russia, and the smaller compartment which has been secured by Germany. We have in view a large slice of China said to be demanded as a sphere of influence by France. We have the centre of China, which has been conceded by China to us as the special seat of our interests, and, lastly, we have now the territorial concession of the port of Wei-hai-Wei. My Lords, I think the House must see that such a change of policy—I am not now saying whether it was inevitable or not—is a most grave and serious occurrence. I do not think the noble Duke has spoken too seriously upon it in the way in which he referred to its probable results as regards the whole of China hereafter. But I want, in the first place, to ask one or two questions with regard to this concession of Wei-hai-Wei. I hope the Papers will give us some information as to the manner in which this concession is regarded by those two great Powers who will be our neighbours in the Gulf of Pe-chili—Russia and Germany—and whether the acquisition by us of this port of Wei-hai-Wei in any way affects or changes their attitude with regard to our access to their ports for all purposes of commerce. As regards Japan, I recognise with pleasure that although the noble Duke—no doubt for good and sufficient reasons—was unable to give us full information as to what has been the result of the communications with Japan, yet I gather from his statement that there is no reason to suppose that by the acquisition of Wei-hai-Wei our very friendly relations with Japan will in any way be diminished or impaired. There is another point on which I sincerely trust the Papers will give us full information—as to what is the nature of this lease, and what the conditions of the lease are. Such a lease is new in international law, but if one may judge from the analogy of a private lease, we may assume that the lessee will be subject to all the obligations to which the lessor is subject. That, of course, is a point of extreme importance, and I hope we shall receive, in the Papers promised, full information as to the precise nature of the lease, and the precise obligations it carries with it. My Lords, I will not trouble the House by asking for further details. There are many points I might have referred to, but I agree with the noble Duke that it is only right and fair that we should wait until we see the Papers promised, especially as regards the acquisition of Wei-hai-Wei. On that subject I desire to reserve entirely my opinion. I do not wish to be understood as offering any confident opinion on the subject. I abstain from doing so because it is both more just and fair towards the Government, and wiser in itself that, before expressing an opinion on that very important subject, we should see all the details, and have a full opportunity of considering what the Papers may reveal to us. But, as regards the general result of what has taken place in China, I agree with the noble Duke when he says—I think I am quoting him correctly—that it leads us to look forward to the gradual absorption of China by the great European Powers. My Lords, I agree with the noble Duke. I believe that this great change which has happened will lead inevitably to the ultimate dismemberment of China. It is, in point of fact, almost the same process by which, gradually, the great peninsula of Hindustan fell under European rule. If your Lordships call to mind the history of that Empire, you will remember that it was the commencement of the acquisition of the coasts of that country by European Powers which led to its no longer remaining under native rule. We seem to be commencing the dismemberment of the enormous Empire of China much in the same way, and I cannot but feel that the responsibility that will fall upon all Great Powers who will be engaged in that which will take place hereafter in China, will be of the very gravest kind. The policy of Her Majesty's Government, as originally stated to us, was, I believe, wisely, one of avoiding the acquisition of extensive territory in China. I sincerely trust we shall be able to persevere in, and adhere to, that policy. I sincerely trust it may be possible to confine our actions, as far as possible, to the maintenance of that which we all believe to be the one true interest of this country—namely, the keeping open of the commerce of that immense Empire to British enterprise. If, unfortunately, we should find ourselves hereafter pushed into measures of a different kind, I feel confident that in this country there will be one strong desire—namely, as far as possible to avoid any armed conflict in China with the other Powers. I believe myself Her Majesty's Government is inspired—and rightly inspired—with a desire to maintain by all honourable means, and with due regard to the interests of this country, peace in that part of the world. In that desire, we, on our side, most strongly sympathise. When we see the whole details of this policy we shall give them the fullest and fairest consideration, and we shall rejoice if the Government are able—though we think there are many points on which their policy hitherto is open to criticism—ultimately to secure the most important of our interests, and, above all, if they are able to preserve unbroken peace in that part of the world.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at 4.15.