HL Deb 04 March 1943 vol 126 cc429-39

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Strabolgi—namely, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the policy of the United Nations to afford all possible aid to the National Government of China in the common cause.


My Lords, as one who lived for some years in China and, therefore learnt to love both that country and its people, I wish to say a very few words upon this Motion. I should like to express our appreciation of, and our gratitude for, the part that China has played in this war for over five long years. She was the first to resist the attacks of the aggressor and she carried on alone for the greater part of the time without the material means necessary for waging a mechanized war. So it is, as the Motion suggests, a fight for the common cause and for principles which we are equally concerned to uphold. She is giving us an illustration and an example of the way in which the will to victory and the determination to continue to exist as an independent nation have enabled her to carry on the struggle in spite of very heavy defeats and the loss of much valuable territory. Again she has shown how to resist attack from outside, as the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, pointed out yesterday, and she has developed both unity and co-operation. She has shown how, by suffering and sacrifice, a nation does find her soul.

I would like to support the invitation which has been given to Madame Chiang Kai-shek to visit this country and to say that I hope very much that she will be able to respond to that invitation. I feel that we may then express our admiration for the Christian leadership which she and the Generalissimo have given to their country and for the way in which their country has responded to it. We may also, I think, be able to plan together the way in which we may best play our parts towards achieving success in our common task, both in the struggle which is going on now and in the establishment of a new world order in that part of the world in which we are interested. So I would support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, suggesting as it does that we should do all in our power to give all possible aid to the National Government of China in the common cause. I regard this as a pledge and a token of our fellowship and cooperation in our common cause, and I earnestly hope that that fellowship and that co-operation will continue to increase as time goes on in accordance with the circumstances in which we find ourselves placed.


My Lords, I rise to reply to the debate on the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, which was cut short yesterday in so tragic a manner. I think that no one in this House will be surprised that the noble Lord should have tabled the Motion. The question of the welfare of China is one which is very near to all our hearts. The sympathy which is felt for her in her long and bitter struggle is universal in this country. It is a question on which, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has already said, we are all absolutely united. I am glad that there has been no suggestion from any quarter in this debate that His Majesty's Government or the Government of the United States have been in any way half-hearted in the assistance which they have given to the Chinese people and to the Chinese Government. Indeed that is far from being the case. Our policy remains what it has always been: to give to China all the aid in our power for the prosecution of the war against the common enemy.

There is every reason why we should pursue this policy. First of all, as I have already stated, there is the warm and active sympathy which is felt everywhere in this country for China on account of her long and heroic defence against unprovoked aggression by Japan, and then—and this I think is a reason which is being more and more widely recognized as the months and years go by—there is the recognition here that her fight is our fight. In this war there are no boundaries and no water-tight compartments. Wherever individual battles may be fought, and whoever may be the combatants immediately engaged, all those battles are incidents in one great world-wide struggle. Our soldiers and the Chinese soldiers and the soldiers of all the other United Nations are all part of one vast army of freedom. Any help, therefore, which is given to China is help given to ourselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in his speech yesterday stressed the importance of not allowing Japan to establish herself in the territories which she has occupied. I can assure him that those who are responsible for the Allied strategy are only too fully aware of the necessity for avoiding all possible delay in this respect. But any direct help that we can give to China at the present time, in the form either of materials or supplies, must be—and I think this is something which we should recognize—limited by certain considerations which it would be foolish and wrong of us to ignore. There is first of all the consideration that, although we all recognize to the full the obligations which we owe to China, we must meet as well the needs of our other Allies.

Noble Lords will remember a debate which took place in this House last week, during my absence, with regard to aid for Russia. It was raised by my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, and he and Lord Strabolgi pressed for further assistance for Russia. Now His Majesty's Government fully share the view that we must give all possible assistance to Russia in her hour of trial. Clearly it is not the wish either of us or of the United States that we should supply Russia to the exclusion of the help we should give to China. We want to assist them both. We have solemn obligations to China as to Russia. But, evidently, while both these great nations need so much, and while they are both so dependent on the products of Great Britain and the United States of America, it is inevitable, perhaps, that neither will get quite all that she might require. Subject to this limitation, and to the requirements of our own troops in order that they may be enabled to play their full part in the war now, and an even greater part, we hope, in the near future, we are anxious to send everything in our power to the assistance of China.

But I am quite certain that Lord Strabolgi and other noble Lords will not forget the purely physical problem of transport which is involved in this particular matter. The House knows very well the difficulties of transporting materials to Russia, but the difficulties of transporting materials to China are, at the present time, infinitely greater. With the cutting of the Burma Road the main channel of supply between China and the outside world was blocked, and since then, as Lord Strabolgi stated yesterday, all supplies have had to be conveyed from India to China by air. I think it is an amazing proof of the development of air power that at the present time we should be able to give, as we are giving, some material help by these means. But, of course, of necessity, these difficulties drastically curtail our power of supplying China with what she needs. As the House is probably aware, the actual organization and administration of air transport to China is at present the immediate responsibility of the United States.

By arrangement between the United Nations, China is a United States strategic sphere, just as certain other countries are a British strategic sphere. Your Lordships are aware, however, of the passionate sympathy which is felt in the United States for China, and which has been so remarkably illustrated both in Congress and outside during the visit of Madame Chiang Kai-shek to the United States. I am certain that your Lordships reed not be afraid that the United States will not be fully alive to, and in entire sympathy with, the needs of China. Whatever can be sent to China is being sent and will be sent; but the amount—and I say this again, because it is essential to a true understanding of the position—which can be transported by these means is inevitably restricted, and it excludes certain types of heavy material.

I understand—and I should like to let the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, know this, because it is a point to which he attaches great importance—that measures are already in hand to expand the capacity of this air transport system, and it is hoped that a larger volume of freight will very soon be able to be carried. The noble Lord said in the course of his remarks—I paraphrase his words, but I think that this is the effect of them—that on a liberal estimate 1,000 cargo planes and 500 war planes, or possibly less, diverted to the China-India route would be enough to supply the necessary equipment to enable the Chinese Army to drive the Japanese from the mainland of Asia. I think that that is probably absolutely true, but I very much doubt whether there are at present 1,000 transport planes in the world. This is a matter on which others can speak with more knowledge than I can, but I believe that to be the position. At any rate, as was emphasized in no uncertain terms in a debate which your Lordships had recently on a different subject, the United States of America are at present the greatest producers of transport planes, and they are in a very much better position than anyone else in the world to supply these things for the use of the Chinese; and therefore noble Lords may be confident that anything which can be done in that respect to ease the Chinese position will be done. So far as His Majesty's Government here and the Government of India are concerned, they are giving all possible assistance to the development of this service, which they fully recognize is the main life-line of China at the present time. In the meantime they are building up a reserve of supplies in India, supplies which come not only from United States sources but from British sources, and which are meant to be transported as soon as circumstances allow.

In addition to the air route, which, as I have explained, is inevitably limited, every effort is being made, as your Lordships know, to organize alternative land routes to China. Your Lordships will not expect me to go into any details about these routes, because they are details about which the Japanese would be very glad to know; nor should there be any illusion about the fact—and I want to be quite frank about this—that these routes are not likely entirely to take the place of the Burma Road. They are long routes; they are studded with physical difficulties, and they are likely to permit the transport only of a comparatively small volume of supplies. I am afraid that we must face that fact. No doubt they will tend, to some extent, to ease the situation. Your Lordships must, however, face the fact that no radical improvement in the situation can be expected until the reconquest of Burma makes the main western highway available. That, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said yesterday, must remain a primary object of our strategy. I can assure your Lordships that from this essential objective the attention of His Majesty's Government and of the Government of the United States will not be diverted. I think Lord Strabolgi himself quoted some words by the President which I have no doubt that both he and all your Lordships will have read with very great satisfaction.

To say that any of us are happy about the position regarding supplies to China would, of course, in present circumstances, be absurd. So long as the Burma Road is closed, the position is bound to be profoundly unsatisfactory. But every effort has been made, and will be made, to do whatever we can in the way of the supply of munitions to China until a radical improvement in the strategic situation can be achieved; and to suggest anything else—and I am glad that no one in this debate has suggested it—would be misleading and, I think, mischievous to the relations between the two countries.

I have mentioned direct assistance to China in the form of the supply of munitions of war. I would, however, point out that further relief is of course being afforded to the Chinese people in their struggle by the Allied operations in the South-West Pacific. It is what the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, would call a Second Front, and what my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack would call an extension of a Single Front—and personally I agree with him. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has very rightly emphasized the value to China of our victories in the Middle East. And how much more must direct assistance be given by our successes in the area of the South-West Pacific? Although these areas are separated from the mainland by, I was going to say a thousand, but it is almost true to say many thousands of miles, what happens there is bound to affect what the Japanese can do in other spheres of battle. The South-West Pacific is an open wound which is weakening the Japanese in both men and material; and if, as I think Lord Strabolgi indicated yesterday, it is not a wound in a vital place, I would suggest to him that if a man has an open wound and his life-blood is ebbing away, it does not matter so much whether the wound is in a vital place or not. The blood will still drain away and, though death may not occur quite so soon, it will be none the less sure in the end.

The war has not gone well for Japan in the Pacific, as noble Lords already know. The full flood of Japanese expansion has been checked and is at present, I think, even definitely ebbing. They have had to evacuate Papua and Guadalcanal; and your Lordships will have read in the newspapers this morning of another severe blow struck at their shipping in that area. It is quite impossible for the Japanese to conceal these reverses from their own people, though they have done their best to do so by describing them, in what is now almost a classic phrase, as "withdrawals according to plan." They have also had to admit very serious losses of men in this area. Every blow that we strike in the South-West Pacific, every ship that we sink and every plane that we destroy, weakens the strength which the Japanese can concentrate against China. If it were not for what the Allies are at present doing in the South-West Pacific, the Japanese forces would not be divided, but would be able to concentrate a great deal more than they can do now on the attack on China and on the attempt finally to subjugate the Chinese people. That, no doubt, the Chinese people already know, and it will enable them to treat with scorn the rather crude type of Japanese propaganda which seeks to suggest that the Allies mean to leave China to her fate. China's fight is our fight, as we know, just as our fight is China's fight. There may, of course, be varying opinions as to how this great campaign can best be conducted. I am certainly not going to seek to elaborate or to divulge the Allied plans this afternoon, but I think the House and the noble Lord may be satisfied that in framing these plans the importance of the Chinese airfields, to which he rightly drew attention, will not be forgotten. In this connexion perhaps I might just pay one very brief but very sincere tribute to the American Volunteer Air Force under General Chennault whose heroic deeds are already very well known in this country.

There is one further thing I want to say before I sit down. That is one thing that is quite certain. The more contacts there are between the representatives of our two peoples the more this essential inter-dependence will be recognized in both countries. Your Lordships already know of the visit of our Parliamentary Mission to China. I understand there is to be a debate on that subject, and I do not propose to trespass on that ground this afternoon. Then there is the visit of Field-Marshal Dill and General Arnold to Chungking, and also the visit which is now taking place—and we are fortunate in having it—of a very distinguished Chinese soldier, General Hsiung, one of the seven members of the Chinese National Military Council. General Hsiung has been on an official visit to Washington. On his way back he has paid us a visit here, and I understand that he is taking the opportunity of looking at the British war effort from every aspect. I feel sure he will be able to tell the Generalissimo when he gets back that we are throwing ourselves into the struggle with the same resolution of which the Chinese people have given such a noble example. Lord Strabolgi referred yesterday to a Press interview which had been given by General Hsiung. It is not for me to interpret what General Hsiung said, but I can assure the House of this—and I think it is right that it should be said. Far Eastern strategy is under constant examination at Washington by the Pacific War Council, of which China is a member, and I hope that it will therefore not be thought that efforts are not being made to produce a co-ordinated strategic plan. And in this connexion—because I understood the noble Lord to speak of the efforts of the United Nations—I think we must remember that Russia is at present not at war with Japan. That is a consideration which must be borne in mind in considering the strategy of this Far Eastern campaign.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, this afternoon also mentioned the possibility of a visit by Madame Chiang Kai-shek to this country. As the noble Lord knows, an invitation was given to Madame Chiang Kai-shek last year and it has lately been repeated. She has, I understand, told Lord Halifax that she would very much like to come but she is not certain yet whether her doctors will allow it. I am quite certain that none of us here would wish to put an undue strain on one whose life is so important to China. But one thing is quite certain: no one would be assured in this country of a warmer welcome than that brilliant and heroic lady.

I hope I have said enough this afternoon to show that there is really nothing half hearted in the support that His Majesty's Government are willing and ready to give—and are giving—to the Chinese cause. We admire China. We respect China. We respect her as a nation which like ourselves has shown itself ready to sacrifice everything for the things in which she believes. Nearly 4,000 years ago the greatest of all Chinese philosophers, Confucius, said: Moral force never dwells in solitude. It will always bring neighbours. Of that great truth China is to-day a shining example. Once she stood alone in defence of those principles in which she believes. To-day there stands with her a mighty army known as the United Nations. With her that army is resolute to go forward until victory be achieved.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount for the very full and sympathetic reply to the Motion which I put forward on behalf of my noble friends. May I take this opportunity of congratulating him on his very obvious restoration to full health and vigour? May I also thank the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for the support they gave me? I am sure they spoke for all your Lordships: there is no difference of opinion about this. It is, unfortunately, as the noble Viscount said, a question of priorities.


Of possibilities.


Yes and priorities also, and a question of long-term plans. I still have a suspicion that we do not think far enough ahead. I think there is still a little of the Micawber policy about our strategy, and I only hope I am wrong. The noble Viscount referred to the great commercial aircraft route from India to China, involving one of the most remarkable flights in the world, a flight literally over what we used to call the Roof of the World—I believe they have to fly to 27,000 feet on that remarkable journey, and I am told the losses are remarkably few. They are doing wonderful work, and the pilots are mostly Americans. When the noble Viscount says there are not a thousand transport planes in the world I do not know whether he was referring to the very large transport planes, but of course there are many more at the disposal of the United Nations.


What I meant was what the noble Lord called cargo planes—very large ones.


Well, perhaps that may be so, but the United States programme for this year is a minimum—and I believe it is going to be much increased—of 12,000 cargo planes, of which I understand a very large proportion are the long range type, which can carry guns and motor lorries and light tanks. I should have thought that the thousand planes which would enable military cargo to be taken to China, and alter the whole situation there as against the Japanese Army, could have been provided if those responsible agreed to priority being given to them. But again that is a question of balance, and I entirely accept what the noble Viscount says. We have also a great need of cargo planes in North Africa and, I hope, very soon for supplying our Armies in Western Europe. But I do not want to press that matter to-day.

I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for the sympathetic tone of his reply, and I am sure his words will give a great deal of satisfaction in many quarters. I would also join with him in making quite clear that we all of us appreciate the tremendous efforts of the Australian and American Forces in the South-West Pacific. There is no attempt to belittle what they have done in the face of terrific climatic and geographical difficulties. There has been a remarkable campaign there, which seems to have had great success recently, and that campaign of course does indirectly and substantially help China. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.