HL Deb 10 February 1966 vol 272 cc915-9

4.46 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, some 26 years ago I underwent an experience which was so alarming that I could console myself only with the thought that it could not possibly happen to me again—at least, not on this planet. But to-day I know that I was wrong; because although to make a maiden speech in another place may be, and indeed is, most alarming, to make it here is more than alarming, it is absolutely daunting—for this reason. Although your Lordships have surrendered some aspects of political power, there is no doubt that this House has enormously gained another aspect of power in the influence which its debates have on the formation of public opinion, an influence which I venture to say is of great value to our democracy. Therefore, it is a great responsibility, and I think particularly alarming, to have the opportunity of addressing this House for the first time. But your Lordships are also renowned for the kindness and courtesy with which you conduct your affairs, and it is with this consoling thought in mind that I ask you to give me your indulgence for a few minutes.

My first connection with China took place some forty years ago when, as a young Naval officer, and with the assistance of 25 sailors, I spent some weeks refereeing a local Chinese war at Amoy. I was on Amoy island to protect an extra-territorial British concession, a quite small one, and the island was controlled by a certain General Chik-Ping. He was being attacked by a General Yet and also by a Chinese Admiral who, curiously enough, was an honorary British K.C.B. The Chinese Admiral was also at war with General Yet, which somewhat confused the issue.

It was relevant to this triangular contest that, as the Principal of Amoy University, a learned man who was a friend of mine, explained to me, it had been traditional for centuries in China, and was a well-established convention, that in contrast to the barbaric and manifestly stupid behaviour of the Western Powers, who broke off diplomatic relations as soon as hostilities began, it was the Chinese view that as soon as hostili- ties began it was more necessary than ever to intensify and increase diplomatic relations because the situation had become much more serious.

It was for this reason that the three belligerents I have mentioned came with a request that they should use the British concession, and my modest headquarters therein, as a place for their regular and daily meetings at which they could discuss amongst themselves the state of the war. I am glad to say that, with the assistance of the British Vice-Consul and with security provided by the 25 British sailors, an arrangement on a cash basis was reached, after some negotiations, which was extremely satisfactory to all concerned. I am reminded, when I look at four rather charming Chinese pictures, that the neutral Power was not forgotten in this arrangement, which perhaps illustrates the rather realistic Chinese saying, which goes something to the effect that: The host is happy when the guests have gone. It occurs to me that this Chinese piece of wisdom can perhaps best be adapted to Parliamentary life if we re-word it by saying: The House is happy when the speech-maker has sat down. So I shall be brief. I have informed your Lordships of this little episode in Anglo-Chinese relations because I submit that what the British Government did by way of conciliation on a minute scale at Amoy some forty years ago is illustrative of what Government policy might be on the world scale in the Far East. I think that it should be our endeavour, before it is too late, to use our influence to bring China into the great debate about the future of mankind which is now shaping up. And I trust that it will remain a debate and not deteriorate into something much more serious. We are living in difficult times. The shrinking of the world, in terms of the time space factor; the application of nuclear energy to military purposes, and the proliferation of such weapons; the population explosions, and the racial question in Africa—these are some of the great questions which, if they are to be resolved peacefully, will have to be dealt with to an increasing extent through what I have described as the beginnings of embryonic World Government, which I regard as meaning the strengthening of the United Nations by making its membership truly universal. It is essential to bring about without delay China's membership of the Security Council.

The practical problem which emerges from this is, what arguments can we advance to our American friends to persuade them of the wisdom of this policy? It would appear to be the opinion of important parts of the American Administration that China is out to conquer the world by force of arms and/or by subversion, and that this ambition must be contained, particularly in South-East Asia. This does not fit in with my reading of Chinese history, though I will not weary your Lordships with my reasons for this opinion. In broad terms, we are witnessing to-day the consequences of the fact that for the first time in their enormously long history the Chinese people have a strong central Government. It is inclined to be a nationalistic Government which is operating in the ideological framework of Communism internally and externally, much as the Japanese militarists operated in a framework of Shintoism.

It is my guess that if the Chinese intend any serious aggression, their long-term purpose may well be to regain from the Soviet Union the territories taken from China by the Czars, in North-East Asia and, may be, Central Asia. The occupation of Tibet; their attempt to get influence in Indo-China, to counteract Russian influence there, on the southern flank of China; the development of their nuclear capacity, and other measures, could all fit in with the belief that what they may face is a war with the Soviet Union.

There are a number of well-substantiated reports showing that there is a great deal of friction and tension, and a good deal of shooting, on the borders between Russia and China. I think we must recognise that a Russian-Chinese war would be a major disaster for all of us. I fear that if China remains as a kind of international outlaw over the next ten or twenty years we may see some extraordinary developments, in the shape of China and Japan coming together, on the one side, with the Soviet Union and the United States on the other side. Such a confrontation could be the prelude to a great racial conflict in which the non- white "have-nots" would be aligned against the white well-off peoples.

At this time our American allies have enormous military strength, and I hope that they will see the wisdom of acting from strength and reversing their policy of non-recognition of China, before the Chinese are in a position to say, "Thank you for nothing!" Furthermore, if the Americans could, as it were, inaugurate a new deal with China by supporting their admission to the United Nations, and perhaps move on to give economic aid, on the lines of the strands of American policy in South-East Asia, it seems to me that the Vietnam problem, which is so important and so central at the moment, would then be treated as one, and only one, of a number of problems in East-West relations. We should remember that for a brief period of about 150 years the Western Powers, as a Chinese writer put it, "tried to carve up the Chinese melon." And later on the Japanese tried to annex China with their 21 demands and invaded her.

I would remind our American allies that they were always in the forefront of endeavours to save China from what they regarded as Imperialistic Western Powers. What we are seeing in Asia today is a readjustment of forces consequent upon the departure of the Europeans after their brief domination of the Far East. The control which the Western Powers exerted began to crumble with the fall of Singapore, which was one of the great events of history. We must be very careful of the danger of having policies which may seem to Asians to be an attempt by the West to re-enter Asia and to tell them how to conduct their own affairs—not that I believe that that is any part of Western policy; but we must be careful to see that it does not look as if it is.

If China can become a member of the United Nations and occupy a position therein to which her present and particularly her potential importance seems to entitle her, we shall have made a beginning with the creation of a situation in which an attempt could be made to reach peaceful solutions of the whole range of world problems, some of which I have mentioned; and we should hope that in world affairs China would play a constructive rôle.

I conclude by suggesting that we should not assume that, because at the moment China is in what one might describe as "the high temperature phase" of Communism, she will not pass into what one might describe as bourgeois Communism, which is what seems to be happening in Russia. If I may sum up, in a sentence or two, what I believe should be Britain's rôle at this time in the Far East, it is that we should strive to be bridge-builders between China and the United States. I realise (to conclude with another Chinese saying) that: "To say is easy; to do is difficult." Nevertheless, we should attempt this task, and I hope that it is a policy which is likely to be supported by many persons of all Parties and also by all Cross-Bench opinion.