§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I have given private notice to the noble Marquess opposite of my intention to ask a Question on a matter of large importance to the country. We have had within the last few days some very important Papers presented to us with regard to an Agreement or Treaty between His Majesty's Government and Japan. I notice that in another place the Government have a good many Questions addressed to them on the subject, and I think it is only right that your Lordships' House should have some information about the matter. I desire at once to say that I address the noble Marquess without the slightest desire to throw any doubt as to the importance of Japan, or of our relations with that country. I happen to be exceedingly friendly with 1173 Japan, owing to certain circumstances when I had the privilege of being there, and I have the highest opinion of the capabilities and power of the country, and I desire this nation to be on the most friendly terms possible with it. At the same time, it is a question of very great importance; and it strikes me we ought to have very good reasons, strong reasons, why we should depart from what has been, certainly of late years, the policy of this country—namely, that of avoiding what are called offensive and defensive alliances. I am not going into that question; I am not going to pronounce in any way myself against alliances of this sort; but I feel strongly that we should not enter into such alliances unless there are very strong and urgent reasons for doing so. Now, I am not aware that in anything which has been said, even in the very lucid and able despatch of the noble Marquess which has been laid on the Table, anything has been said to prove why it is so essentially necessary to do this with regard to Japan. I fully share what has been so well said by the noble Marquess as to the identity of our interests in the East with those of Japan. I do not think this could have been expressed in better terms than those used in one paragraph of the noble Marquess' despatch. At the same time, it may involve very serious considerations for this country, not only in regard to other countries, but very largely with regard to ourselves in the future.
Upon one point particularly I wish to ask for explanation. It is this. As I understand the Agreement, it is that, in the case of one Power being hostile and attacking the interests of Japan, we are bound to neutrality, but if more than one Power should do the same thing, then we are bound, so far as I understand, to take an active part in co-operating, even in war, with Japan. That requires some explanation, for I do not at once see the distinction between the two cases. The one Power may be a very powerful one, more powerful than two or three others. Is it on account of the ability of Japan to repel the attack from one Power, rather than the justice of the cause, which is to make us take an active or a neutral part in the matter? I only allude to 1174 this to ask for explanation, for I think the country will desire to be more fully informed on this and other parts, of this important Agreement before they entirely endorse the policy of His Majesty's Government. The only other point I will now refer to, and I will not enter upon it at length in this preface to my Question—but I should also like to know whether the noble Marquess will be prepared to put on the Table of the House further Papers explaining and elucidating this Agreement. No doubt there must have been communications with other Powers interested in this question, who probably would enter into agreement—for instance, the United States of America—and,of course, there are other Powers deeply interested. I will say no more at the present time, but merely ask the Question I have sent to my noble friend—to call attention to the Agreement, or Treaty, recently made between His Majesty's Government and Japan, and to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for an explanation on certain parts of the Agreement, and to ask whether he will lay on the Table further Papers in relation to this subject.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, I will at once answer the Question with which the statement of the noble Earl concluded when he asked whether I would lay on the Table Papers relating to this Agreement other than those already in your Lordships' hands. The answer to that Question is in the negative. The Agreement speaks for itself, and I do not know that it greatly needed even the short explanatory despatch which accompanied it and forms part of the Papers your lordships have already seen. I do not think the noble Earl would be entitled to ask from us information—documentary information—as to negotiations between this country and Japan which led to the conclusion of this Agreement. These communications must obviously have been of a preliminary and most confidential character; and I do not think it would be in accordance with sound tradition to lay Papers of that kind on the Table of the House. The noble Earl has an idea, as I gather from his remarks, that we have in our possession Papers showing that 1175 communications have passed between His Majesty's Government and other Governments who, he supposes, might have been associated with us in this Agreement. There are no such Papers. I may say at once that, in our view, this compact is one which concerns Great Britain and Japan in the first instance to an extent to which it concerns no other Power. I do not think it can be said for an instant that any other Power has interests in the Far East at all comparable to those of Great Britain and Japan; and therefore it is that this Agreement is made between this country and Japan alone. The noble Earl suggested that the matter was one of very great importance, and I do not differ from him in that view. He said in particular that it was of importance because it involves a new departure—a departure from the traditional policy of this country, which he said had until now been a policy of isolation. I think it is true that in recent years international agreements involving assistance on the part of this country to other Powers have been generally regarded with considerable suspicion and misgiving; but I say frankly we are not going to be deterred by these considerations, or to admit for a moment that because this Agreement does involve a new departure it is therefore open to adverse criticism.
I do not think that any one can have watched the recent course of events in different parts of the world without realising that many of the arguments which a generation ago might have been adduced in support of a policy of isolation have ceased to be entitled to the same consideration now. What do we see on all sides? We observe a tendency on the part of the great Powers to form groups. We observe a tendency to ever-increasing naval and military armaments involving ever-increasing burdens upon the people for the defence of whose countries these armaments are accumulated. There is also this—that in these days war breaks out with a suddenness which was unknown in former days, when nations were not, as they are now, armed to the teeth and ready to enter on hostilities at any moment. When we consider these features of the international situation, we must surely feel that that country would indeed be endowed with an extraordinary amount of what I might call self-sufficiency which took upon itself to say that it would accept, 1176 without question, without reservation, the doctrine that all foreign alliances were to be avoided as necessarily embarrassing and objectionable. Therefore I would entreat your Lordships to look at this matter strictly on its merits, and not to allow your judgment to be swayed by any musty formulas or old-fashioned superstitions as to the desirability of pursuing a policy of isolation for this country. If considered on its merits, I venture to suggest that what you have to take into account in regard to an alliance of this kind is, first, whether the ally is a desirable ally, and in the next place whether the objects of the alliance are commendable, and last, but not least, whether the price you pay for the alliance is greater than you ought to pay. If these questions can be satisfactorily answered, then I say the alliance is not a bad thing for the country, but, on the contrary, is a good thing; for prima facie if there be no countervailing objections, the country which has the good fortune to possess allies is more to be envied than the country which is without them. I will not take up the time of the House to show that as an ally Japan is desirable. I well remember that in one of our debates last year the noble Earl himself referred in the warmest terms to Japan, and I am sure he will not withdraw a word of what he said on that occasion. He said—Japan is a Power of great commercial and political influence. It has a strong Army and an even stronger Navy. I do not, of course, say that we should have an offensive and defensive alliance with Japan if we have no such alliance elsewhere, but I do say that it is of great importance to this country that we should have thoroughly good and cordial relations with Japan.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Those words, I think, will be generally accepted as an indication of the feeling of the House. Then as to the objects of the alliance. They are stated very clearly on the face of the Agreement. They are, in the first place, the maintenance of the status quo in the Far East; in the second place, they are the maintenance of that commercial policy which is for convenience usually described as the policy of the "open door"; and I think I may say that the third object of the Agreement is the maintenance of that which 1177 seems to me to be a very valuable interest to us indeed—the maintenance of peace in that part of the world to which the Agreement applies. These are not objects desired by this country alone. I believe I shall be correct when I say, speaking in general terms, that the whole of the great Powers with whom we have been in constant communication in the last few years in regard to the affairs of China, that all of these Powers have at one time or another given their adhesion to the policy of the status quo and the policy of equal commercial opportunities for all countries in the Far East.
There is, therefore, nothing in this Agreement that does violence to the policy which has been accepted by the other great Powers. Then is it the case that we are paying an excessive price for this alliance? I understood the noble Earl to say that he well understood our feelings towards Japan, but that he was unable to understand why it was necessary to resort to an international agreement of this description in order to give effect to our policy. Well, my Lords, I venture to say that if it is indeed our policy to support Japan, to protect Japan against the danger of a coalition of other Powers, I do not think we can avow it too frankly or too distinctly; and, to my mind, there is a much greater danger in leaving important questions of international policy of this kind to vague and hazy understandings than there is in embodying them explicitly in an Agreement, the purport of which cannot possibly be misunderstood by those concerned. The noble Earl asked us a question, the answer to which seemed to me to be an obvious one. He said, "Why under this Agreement do you undertake to protect Japan if she be attacked, in the defence of the interests which are recognized under the Agreement, by two Powers, whereas you do not undertake to come to her assistance if she be attacked by only one Power?"
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
By a very strong Power. The answer to that is obvious. We desire to protect 1178 Japan against what we conceive to be the greatest peril which might menace her and that would certainly he a coalition of other Powers. Japan has a strong Navy and a strong Army, and might very fairly expect to hold her own in a single-handed encounter with any other Power; but if she were to be threatened with an attack by more than one Power she would undoubtedly be in imminent peril; and it is in that imminent peril that we desire to come to her succour. The Agreement suggests many other topics; but as the noble Earl has not touched upon them, I do not conceive that I am called upon to discuss them this evening. Your Lordships have only had a few hours in which to consider the question; but I express my confident hope that the more you consider it, the more you will realise that this Agreement is not one which you need regard with any misgiving, but that it is an Agreement which will serve to uphold British interests, the importance of which no one has ventured to dispute. On the other hand it will compel us in certain carefully defined circumstances to come to the rescue of a friendly country, the obliteration of which, by a coalition of Powers, we could not in any circumstances tolerate. It is an Agreement which will make for the maintenance of the peace of the world, and should that peace unfortunately be broken, its effect will be to restrict the area within which hostilities are likely to take place.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I fully echo the opinion expressed by the noble Marquess in his concluding remarks that this is not a time at which we can take a clear, definite, or conclusive view of this Agreement. We have not had time to consider it in all its bearings, and they are far more numerous than have been expressed from either side of the House to-night. Therefore, I only rise for the purpose of asking two or three questions. Let me say at the outset that my first impression, "without prejudice," if I may say so, is favourable to the treaty, and that so far as I can see we may congratulate the noble Marquess and the Government upon it. I can only express my surprise, as I have often said in the course of the last two or three years, that His Majesty's Government 1179 have not thought fit, long before this, to enter into closer relations with Japan, in view of the complications that have taken place in China; for we should then have been saved from some of the disagreeable effects, and some even of the humiliation and vacillation, which have resulted from the want of such an understanding. On one point, however, let us be clear before we attempt to make up our minds on this treaty. It is not a treaty the effect of which will only be felt in the Far East. It will be felt in every part of Europe and the civilized world. That is why it is so large and pregnant a departure. That is why, I think, those of us who are deficient in the information that is at the disposal of His Majesty's Government, and who wish to weigh well their opinion before they give effect to it, will do well to hold their peace with regard to this Agreement. I want, however, to ask one or two questions which arise in regard to it, in order to facilitate our understanding of it. For example, the phrase "territorial integrity of China"—does that comprehend Manchuria? The noble Marquess very rightly pointed out the advantage of having a clear and definite understanding on points of this kind; and, as we know in the case of the Anglo-German Treaty, there was an ambiguity with regard to that which has led to some unfortunate conflict of view.
The next question I want to ask is this—Has the change of policy of the Government with regard to Wei-Hai-Wei been in any way connected with the conclusion of this Agreement? If so, it might throw light on that somewhat mysterious proceeding. The third point is this. I see that in the noble Marquess's despatch he says the Agreement has been—Concluded purely as a measure of precaution to be invoked, should occasion arise, in the defence of important British interests.Should not this be—In the defence of important common interests?I think if you let it go out that this Agreement is for the defence of purely British interests, that will not reconcile opinion in Japan to the treaty. I am quite sure that can only be a misprint, and, in view of its importance, I think it well to call attention to it.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
So far as His Majesty's Government are 1180 concerned, we have never doubted that Manchuria formed part of the Chinese Empire, and the reference to the territorial integrity of the Chinese Empire which is contained in the treaty must, therefore, be taken, as referring to Manchuria as well as to other parts ofthe Chinese Empire. The noble Earl's second question was whether the conclusion of this Agreement and the modification of our intentions with regard to the fortification of Wei-Hai-Wei might be considered as in any way connected with one another. I am not aware of any such connection; but the decision of His Majesty's Government with regard to both matters took place about the same time, and I will not undertake to say that some of my colleagues may not have been, consciously or unconsciously, influenced by the knowledge that both of these events were impending. Then the noble Earl made a criticism as to the language of my despatch in the penultimate paragraph, and expressed his doubt whether the Agreement could be properly described as one in defence of British interests. The expression "British interests" is a somewhat vague one; but, of course, we throughout contend that the maintenance of the independence of China and the protection of those regions in Korea which adjoin Japan are of the utmost importance to us as well as to Japan; and, therefore, although the expression is, perhaps, a somewhat loose one, I am not prepared to admit that it is inaccurate, I think moreover, although I cannot put my finger on the passage at this moment, that the noble Earl will find that elsewhere in the despatch we refer to the same interests as the common interests of the two Powers.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My objection is not that it is a loose phrase, but rather that it is unduly tight. Will the noble Marquess consider the construction of the sentence—It has been concluded purely as a measure of precaution to be invoked, should occasion arise, in the defence of important British interests.That might give a false impression, which can be avoided by the use of the word "common."
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Even if there is an ambiguity in the despatch, it is obvious that the document which is the prevailing document is the Agreement itself concluded between this country and Japan, and not my covering despatch.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
But the noble Marquess must be able to describe his own treaty.
Subsequently, just before the adjournment of the House—
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
said: Lord Rosebery is no longer in the House, but I desire to add one word of explanation in regard to a passage in my despatch covering the Japanese Agreement to which the noble Earl called your Lordships' attention. The noble Earl took exception to my having stated that the agreement had been "concluded purely as a measure of precaution to be invoked, should occasion arise, in the defence of important British interests." But in the immediately following sentences occur these words:—On the contrary, that part of it which renders either of the high contracting parties liable to be called upon by the other for assistance can operate only when one of the allies has found himself obliged to go to war in defence of interests which are common to both," &c.I suggest to your Lordships that these words are qualifications of the preceding sentence, and make the meaning of the despatch clear.