HL Deb 08 November 1909 vol 4 cc535-9

*EARL STANHOPE rose to ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. In view of Germany's assertion of rights to participate on equal terms in the construction and financing of railways in the Yang-tsze Provinces, whether His Majesty's Government recognise German claims to an exclusive position in mines and railways in Shantung.
  2. 2. Similarly, whether Russian financiers having intimated their intention of participating in railway enterprises in the Yang-tsze Valley, the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1899 with regard to railway enterprise in China has been abrogated, and whether in that case British enterprise is in a position to claim equal opportunities in the region North of the Great Wall.
  3. 3. Whether it is not advisable to determine the geographical limits within which the Japanese Government is entitled to veto or intervene in such measures as the Chinese Government may desire to take for the development of Western Manchuria and Mongolia.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in rising to put to His Majesty's Government the Questions which stand in my name, I crave that indulgence which your Lordships have so frequently shown in the past to those who address this House for the first time. Your Lordships will observe that the first two Questions on the Paper concern the continuance of what is known as the Spheres of Influence Policy in China. I do not propose, particularly at this late hour, to occupy the time of the House by discussing that policy, still less would I venture to criticise the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government. I would merely venture to suggest to your Lordships that conditions in China having so completely changed since the Spheres of Influence Policy was inaugurated, the time may now have come when the position of this country in these matters should be reconsidered. Your Lordships will no doubt remember that a debate took place in this House in the spring of 1898 on the question of defining the British and German spheres of influence in China, and that in the following September the British and German banks concerned in the financing of railways in China passed resolutions which were laid on the Table of your Lordships' House defining the respective limits of the spheres within which each should undertake such construction. Your Lordships are no doubt aware that German financiers have for some time past been competing with British financiers in the Yang-tsze Valley, the British sphere of influence. I am further informed that the German syndicate has notified the British group that so far as the Yang-tsze Valley is concerned the agreement between those two groups made in 1898 is now at an end. I therefore venture to ask His Majesty's Government whether the British syndicates have received authority to cancel the arrangement with regard to the German sphere of influence in the province of Shantung.

With regard to the second Question which I have placed upon the Paper, very much the same state of affairs exists. By an exchange of notes between Great Britain and Russia, signed on the 28th of April, 1899, this country engaged not to seek for any concessions for railway construction north of the Great Wall of China in return for a similar engagement from Russia in regard to the Yang-tsze Valley. Your Lordships no doubt will have observed that Russian financiers have recently intimated their intention of participating with others in the concessions for and in the financing of railway construction within the latter region. I therefore venture to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Convention of 1899 has been abrogated, and whether in that case British enterprise is in a position to claim equal opportunities north of the Great Wall?

I now turn to the last Question, and here I find myself at once on somewhat delicate ground, with more than a risk of being considered l'enfant terrible of this House. I need not weary your Lordships with tales of atrocities which, albeit contrary to the wishes of the Japanese authorities, have none the less occurred under their rule, nor need I touch on the merits or demerits of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, an arrangement now, perhaps, not so popular among British residents in the Ear East as could be wished. I would, however, refer your Lordships to the preamble of that Agreement, which states that one of the objects of the Articles that follow is— the preservation of the common interests of all Powers in China by insuring the independence and integrity of the Chinese Empire and the principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations in China, and to Article IV. of the Treaty of Portsmouth between Japan and Russia, which states that the two Powers— reciprocally engage not to obstruct any general measures common to all countries which China may take for the development of the commerce and industry of Manchuria. Your Lordships will remember that the Japanese Government objected to an extension of the Chinese Northern Railway from Shin-min-tun, a town about forty miles west of Mukden, to Fakumen—due north of Shin-min-tun—on the grounds that it would be parallel to and competing with the South Manchurian Railway. I think it will surprise some of your Lordships almost as much as it did me when I was out there this summer to hear that the sites of these two railways are thirty-five miles apart and separated by the Liao River, a stream as wide at Shin-min-tun as the Thames at Windsor. It is hardly necessary to add that the trade of Fakumen, a town of 40,000 inhabitants, and of the surrounding district does not find its way to the South Manchurian Railway, which incidentally without it has been compelled, owing to the growing export trade of Manchuria, to double its line to Port Arthur. I do not know how far His Majesty's representatives in Japan, who certainly do not err as a whole on the side of partiality to British and Chinese aspirations, have advised His Majesty's Government to support vetos on railway construction, but certainly an influential supporter in this country of Japan wrote recently that even a railway constructed from Shan-hai-kwan, where the Great Wall of China runs into the sea, to Tsitsihar on the Trans-Siberian Railway, 168 miles west of Harbin, must be considered as a line running parallel to and in competition with the South Manchurian Railway, a line which with the exception of a few miles at either end will run entirely outside Manchuria through Mongolia, and about 150 miles from the South Manchurian Railway. It is obvious that there is considerable difference of opinion as to the limits within which a railway may be considered parallel to and competing with another in this region.

There is a growing party in Japan who have a feeling that Manchuria should be ear-marked to Japan as a result of the war. Under the wise and guiding hand of the late Prince Ito, a Statesman who perhaps will occupy a place unequalled by any other in the history of our times, that party was kept in check. By a dastardly crime which the whole civilised world abhors, and particularly the friends of Korea, this country joins in mourning with Japan, for whom he did so much, the loss of that great man. By such an untoward event the check which his great influence imposed in the past upon all wild policy has thus unfortunately been removed. Other nations have cast their eyes on the rich and fertile province of Manchuria, and His Majesty's Government may in the not far distant future be called upon to decide how far this country is to support Japan in any opposition she may make to a concession for railway construction in this region. The time may now fast be approaching when His Majesty's Government may be called upon to decide how far this country will support Japan in any veto or interference she may make to measures tending to the development of Western Manchuria and Mongolia undertaken by other Powers than herself. If we wait till these question's arise, we may find ourselves between the horns of a dilemma—either to oppose Great Powers such as the United States of America, to whom we are bound by every tie of sentiment, of friendship, and of community of interests in the Far East, and to be accused of suddenly relinquishing the open door policy in China, which this country has so long advocated, or to be accused of suddenly leaving our ally in the lurch at the very moment when she might be most in need of our support. I venture to suggest that if this country makes known its position in regard to these matters now when affairs in the Far East appear to be in a happily quiescent state we shall avoid finding ourselves in this somewhat embarrassing position. It is for these reasons that I venture to ask His Majesty's Government how far Great Britain will support Japan in this particular matter. In conclusion, I have to thank your Lordships for the more than kind way in which you have listened to my remarks, and to apologise to the House for having occupied so much of your valuable time. I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the Questions that stand in my name.


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, will allow me to express the pleasure which I am sure it gives the whole House and myself in particular, as an old friend of many members of his family, to see him taking that part in the Debates of your Lordships' House which we like to see taken by one who bears his distinguished Parliamentary name; and I hope that the Questions which he has put to His Majesty's Government to-night may be the forerunner, I will not say of many more Questions, because Governments are glad not to be asked Questions, but of frequent participations on his part in the discussions in your Lordships' House.

The noble Earl has asked three Questions. As regards the first, he asks whether His Majesty's Government recognise German claims to an exclusive position in mines and railways in Shantung. The answer to that is that His Majesty's Government have not given the German Government any assurance in that sense. The second Question which the noble Earl asks is with regard to the participation of Russian financiers in the Yang-tsze Valley. There the case is of a somewhat different character. The proposed participation by the Russians in railway enterprise in the Yang-tsze Valley is confined to a loan, which is not secured by any mortgage on the line, and that loan does not appear to contravene the terms of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1899. I ought to add that we do not anticipate that British participation in railway enterprises north of the Great Wall of China on similar terms to those on which the Russians are engaged in the Yang-tsze Valley would occasion any protest on the part of the Russian Government. Of course it is important to remember in considering all these matters—and the noble Earl very properly drew attention to it—the great change which has taken place in the condition of affairs in China since the two Agreements to which he alluded were made, and that all new railways in China henceforth will be under the control of the Chinese Government. As regards the third Question, the noble Earl, I think, was conscious that he was treading on somewhat risky ground, and I am afraid I cannot follow him into the very interesting matters which he raised in putting his Question. As the matter stands—the noble Earl, I think, will agree, and I have no doubt noble Lords opposite will agree also—it is one entirely for arrangement between the respective Governments of China and Japan; and I am afraid I can give the noble Earl no more satisfaction as regards that Question than these very brief words.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Eight o'clock till To-morrow, a quarter-past Four o'clock.