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China—Anglo-Russian Dispute At Tientsin

Volume 91: debated on Friday 15 March 1901

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I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the attention of the Government has been called to what took place in China recently when the Russians objected to the construction of a railway siding by the British; whether General Barrow, Chief of the Staff, met the Russian objection by ordering the construction of the siding to be completed, if necessary, by force of arms, and had troops placed along the line while the work was continued whether the Russian General protested against this action; and whether General Barrow acted under instructions received from His Majesty's Government.

I am informed that some land over which the North of China Administration have proprietary rights has been claimed by the Russian military authorities as belonging to them in virtue of a concession alleged to have been made to them by the Chinese Government when the disturbances commenced. I am informed that, consequently, some difficulties have arisen with regard to the construction of the sidings referred to in the question. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities on the spot, but not under any special instructions from His Majesty's Government.

Arising out of this matter, may I ask the noble Lord whether in cases of dispute between the allied Powers in China British officers are entitled to threaten to use force without consulting the Home Government?

In reply to that question, I may say that right throughout the Chinese operations British officers have shown conciliation in meeting every difficulty. I do not therefore consider it necessary to send any special instructions.

Will the noble Lord kindly answer the latter part of the question and say whether General Barrow did threaten to use force of arms, and whether in so doing he acted on his own authority or on the authority of the Home Government?

I do not know on what authority the hon. Member makes the statement.

I think if he looks at the telegram he will see that all General Barrow has done has been to ensure the protection of people working in territory belonging to a British company.