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China Crisis—Russia And Manchuria

Volume 92: debated on Tuesday 2 April 1901

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I do not propose to detain the House long upon the subject that I have placed upon the Paper. I consider there is ample justification for that motion in the fact that when this question was before the House last week there was no practical declaration made on the part of the Government. I do not wish to press the Government even to-night for an elaborate declaration with regard to China. I only wish to impress upon them that if they fail to do their duty with regard to the present position in the Far East, if they allow Russia to obtain control of the north-eastern part of China, they will not be readily forgiven by the people of this country. The mistakes of the Government in South Africa have been sufficiently serious; they have lost opportunities of settling the South African question and preventing enormous expenditure of blood and treasure; and the country will not stand a similar experience with regard to China. I ventured to suggest the other day that the Government had the dealing with this question in their own hands. They hold all the cards if they will only play them with courage and determination. The principal card is the position and the temper of the great nation of Japan. If the Government are willing to use Japan as they may, they have nothing to fear, and there is no danger of or necessity for war. But I am very much afraid that the Government will hesitate to give that support in resisting this Russian encroachment which Japan expects from us. It is necessary that the ring should be kept for Japan at sea in the event of force being necessary; and unless the Government are willing to give a pledge of that support I am afraid the Japanese will be forced into an alliance with Russia rather than with us. A very remarkable article appeared in a Russian paper three or four days ago, which says:—

"It is only from Russia that Japan can look for any genuine help; she cannot count on any other Power, least of all upon England. At the present moment, in the most shameless manner, the English are trying to raise Japan against Russia"—
and so on. That article shows the danger which we incur if we hesitate to give the necessary encouragement to Japanese policy at this time. The Russians can offer a great deal to Japan, and they will not hesitate to do so, if necessary to prevent the Japanese pursuing a policy favourable to this country. That is the danger. We must offer something to Japan. No doubt the Government will hesitate and say that nothing can be offered. I do not expect them to make public the offer. I only wish the country to notice the way in which the Government can solve this important question without danger or difficulty. They can offer Japan a protectorate over Korea. That would be a great boon to the Japanese. Korea, in a sense, is a necessity to Japan. Japan requires a close connection with Korea to feed her people and to provide a place of occupation for her surplus population. Such a course would do no injury to anyone in Asia. It would establish a permanent bulwark there against the further advance of Russia southward. For that purpose I suggest it to the Government. I do not expect them to proclaim this policy at once, but I warn them most emphatically that if the same course is pursued in this north-eastern China question as has been followed in South Africa, the result will be exceedingly serious for them and for the great party which they represent. There is one other subject to which I wish to call attention, and that is the necessity of encouraging the party of reform in China. The one part of the speech of the Foreign Secretary the other night to which I take exception, is the cold water that he threw upon the possibility of the British Government supporting the reform movement in China. It should be one of the first objects of our policy to support the party which is anxious to establish administrative and general reforms in that country. Unless His Majesty's Government take the lead in that direction there can be little hope for China. It has always been and is still the policy of our great rival in the East to prevent reforms in China, to keep the Government there thoroughly corrupt and rotten, in order that when the favourable moment comes China may fall more readily a prey to her ambitions. That is the policy which Russia has pursued with regard to Turkey for the last fifty years. Ever since, and even before, the Crimean War that was her policy with regard to Turkey. Seventy years ago there was in Turkey a great reforming Sultan, Mahmud II., and if he had been allowed his way the history of Turkey would have been very different. But the moment Russia saw that reforms were likely to be effected she forced war upon Turkey, and destroyed Mahmud's power and all hope of reform. Precisely the same policy is being pursued by Russia in China to-day. On the one hand, she is massacring the Chinese people and destroying the Chinese Army: on the other hand, she is holding out the arm of her protection to the corrupt coterie at court, doing her utmost to persuade the corrupt and tyrannical clique that has too long ruled over China that she is China's friend, and that if they will play the Russian game she will support them.

Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present.

Mr. Speaker, nearly all the Cabinet are standing behind your Chair; why do they not come in?

House counted, and forty Members being found present—


I am not surprised at the attitude of the Government; it is quite on a par with the underhand methods which have been adopted, I am sorry to say, by some leaders of the great party to which I belong to choke off discussions on important subjects. I am very glad that that very carefully organised attempt to count out the House failed. I think it was unworthy of those who planned it. I was calling the attention of the House to the great importance of supporting the party of reform in China. The other day the Foreign Secretary tried to draw a distinction between principles and details upon this question, and he seemed to think that if we got the principles we might abandon the details. But in Chinese affairs the truth is just the reverse, for there it is the details that count. We used to hear a good deal about the principle of Free Trade in China, but nevertheless the Russians got Port Arthur. We heard a great deal about the policy of the open door and open ports, but the fact that the Russians have political and military control of Manchuria, is far more valuable to them than all this vague talk about open doors is to us. We were told that we were going to have all our trade rights in the Yang-tsze Valley and other parts of China protected, but, nevertheless, a great Power like Russia manages to obtain direct control of the North-East of China, and will, if she is allowed to remain in possession there, obtain control of all China. In conclusion, I say that now is the time for the Government to act. It is not necessary for them to say publicly that they are going to act, or to make any strong statement with regard to the question. I do not care how considerate their language towards Russia is, but what we do want from the Government are acts and not words. We want them to take up this question before it is too late. We want them to take it up before Russia gets permanent control of Manchuria and conscripts a large army there, which would enable her to conquer all China, and indeed all Asia. We want to see China strong and fortified, so that she can resist the attack when it comes. We do not want this question put off, as the South African question was put off, until it has cost this country £130,000,000 and a terrible loss of life. That is the policy which I venture to urge upon His Majesty's Government. The action which I recommend is not in favour of war, or of threatening war, but is the most peaceful action which the Government could take; for it is the neglect of these questions which causes war. Those persons who would put off dealing with these dangers, who would keep silent about them and who would keep the country uninformed about them, are the real advocates of war and the enemies of peace. Several of my hon. friends have told me that my motion is one which is likely to lead to war, but I deny it. I advocate a policy of peace, a peace made certain by timely precautions, a peace with strength, and a peace with honour. I beg to move the resolution standing in my name,

I rise to second this resolution, and I wish to call the attention of the Government to be rather serious aspect of the question so far as it affects the county of Lancashire. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs stated in reply to a question that, according to the versions the Government has seen, the suggested Agreement between China and Russia apparently affects British Trade interests only in those parts of the Chinese Empire to which the Agreement applied. China is the second largest customer Lancashire possesses in regard to cotton manufactures, and the people of Lancashire feel that if the Agreement is allowed to be concluded it will start a principle full of danger and threatening to their trade. The noble Lord may say that the Lancashire trade with Manchuria is not very great. I grant that; but, if we allow the principle that any portion of the Chinese Empire can be detached from our trade, there is no reason why the principle should not be carried further. It is said that we stand by the principle of the open door, but we know that we have spent much blood and treasure in order to secure our trade privileges in China, and if those privileges are lost to us in one province, it is no equivalent to say that we have got a special sphere of influence elsewhere. We already possess extensive trade privileges, and we do not want to lose those privileges in any portion of the Chinese Empire. It is not so much a question as to how wide the door in China is open if we can get through it, but it is a question as to the size of the garden on the other side after we have got through. If the garden is made smaller it is no use making the door wider. In Lancashire we recognise the difficulty of the problem, which has existed for the last fifty years. We hear of the existence of the European Concert, but the fact remains that Russia, while a member of the Concert, has been going behind the backs of the other members and secretly negotiating arrangements with China. This is not the kind of conduct which is likely to inspire you with confidence for the future. When a member of any firm goes behind your back and attempts to negotiate an arrangement privately, it makes you full of suspicion regarding his future conduct. The noble Lord says that he absolutely begged Russia to tell us, and that Russia is not only negotiating, but she persists in secretly withholding all information on the subject. In view of the attitude of Russia he thinks we are justified in being anxious and watchful and in taking some firm stand if occasion should necessitate it. The noble Lord also said that the Boxer movement was a surprise to everybody. I do not think it was. I think it shows; the existence of some national spirit in China. One nation steps in and takes possession of the Chinaman's front sitting rooms, another take s his back sitting rooms, and then another comes along and demands his bedrooms, and under these circumstances, I think it is to the credit of the Chinese that they resent this conduct, and it gives some hope for the future. I do not want the Government to be dragged by Germany or any other Power into exacting too severe terms from China. The Government must make up its mind to one of two courses. Either you are going to displace the present Government of China, or you are going to keep it. If you are going to displace it you are going to take on a thing which is far beyond the power of this Government to carry out. If you are going to retain the present form of government in China, what is the interest of England in the matter? Why to keep that Government strong. I hope the Government will not exact from China any kind of penalty which would permanently weaken her, because that would injure us in Lancashire, and would also injure the whole country. I ask, firstly, that the Government will see that no portion of our present trade privileges are taken away in any portion of China; and, secondly, that they will not insist upon any punishment or penalty which will be calculated to weaken the power of the Chinese Government in controlling the affairs of that vast empire.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That no settlement of the present Crisis in China will be satisfactory to this House that does not completely exclude Russian military and political control from Manchuria."—( Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett.)

I should like to add my testimony to what has been stated by the hon. Member who spoke last. I did not have the advantage of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield, and I do not know whether I should have been in order in proposing an Amendment to his motion. Had I been in order I intended to move an Amendment in favour of the southern viceroys being supported. While there is no doubt that the action of Russia in the northern part of China has aroused suspicions which are well warranted, and while there is no doubt that it is the bounden duty of the Government to take every precaution to see, that our interests in northern China are not injured, at the same time I am bound to say that, in my opinion, it is far better to leave those matters at the present stage in the hands of the Government. Turning to the Amendment which I should have moved had I been in order, I would like to point out that, in the opinion of those best qualified to judge, the Government missed a golden opportunity in the centre of China before the troubles in the North of China reached their climax. I think I am correct in saying that before the outbreak attained any great proportions the Viceroy of Nanking offered to our Government the joint occupation of the forts of the Yang-tsze. Consider, for a moment, the position our Government occupies in Central China. We had proclaimed that we occupied a special position there, owing to our great trade interests. We had proclaimed that on several occasions. I think I am right in saying that in 1894 the late Liberal Government, in so many words, warned Japan from the Yang-tsze territory, and by our understanding with China that she should not alienate any of the Yang-tsze region we again told the world that we had special interests in that portion of China. By the agreement between German merchants and the merchants of our country we arrived at an understanding that the Yang-tsze region was to be considered as our sphere of railway development, and we had a further agreement with Russia on the same lines, namely, that we were to have the Yang-tsze region for railway development and Russia, was to have Manchuria for railway development. That showed conclusively our special position in the Yang-tsze valley. When the trouble broke out, the Government was offered possession of these forts, and it appears to me from the position they held and the responsibility they had assumed, they were bound, in the interests of all countries concerned, to have occupied those forts. They let, however, the offer go by, and the trouble increased, but there is good reason to suppose that the viceroys of Central China would have been strengthened in the position they took up against the evil influences of Peking if that offer had been accepted, and that in all probability the troubles in Peking itself would never have reached the disastrous volume they did. Another opportunity was found when negotiations were entered into between ourselves and the, court. Who were the proper people through whom to negotiate? Why, surely the viceroys of Central China, who had stood by us through all the troubles. Were they not, the people to have represented the court of Peking in these negotiations? What did we do? We went to Li Hung Chang and other persons, not certainly of the best repute, and another opportunity went by. If we had had the influence of these viceroys we should have strengthened our position. They were advocates of reform, and we should have given them a, commanding position to enable them to deal with Peking. We have one more opportunity before us. Lord Lansdowne stated the other day, in another place, that it was not our business to force reform upon China. I know of no one who has ever ventured to suggest that reform should be forced on China, but I know those who suggest that reform should be offered to China, and that people who are capable of carrying out those reforms might, if required, be lent to China. That is quite a different tiling. The people who use this argument appear to me to assume that all China is against reform. I notice that the hon. Member for Bolton assumes that the Boxer movement was a national movement. Those who are best qualified to judge say that the Boxer movement was not a national movement at all. They say, on the contrary, that it was engineered by the Manchu party, who saw their privileges slipping from their grasp, and who utilised the disorderly element in order to recover the privileges they thought they were losing. The best proof of that is that wherever viceroys or governors were well disposed towards foreigners the people did not rise against them. If the movement were a national movement, would a single foreigner—man, woman, or child—have escaped? But there is to-day in China a national movement. It is a movement organised against what is believed to be the aggressive action of Russia in the north. That is a genuine national movement, and when people look forward with horror to the advance of Russia, I look forward to the day when China, having reformed herself, will be able to meet any enemy who may approach her from the north.

My hon. friend says, we must help China. Yes, we will have to help China to help herself. I have said just now that the Chinese people are not adverse to reform. It is well known that many Chinese, hold property registered under foreign names. They take advantage of foreign law because they consider it better than their own. A remarkable book, which I think everybody interested in China ought to read, was recently published. It was written by one of the great viceroys of China, and it is called "The Only Hope of China." That book displays a marvellous knowledge of all that is best for a nation—education, literature, languages, railway development, and everything that goes to the development of a nation—and it has been received by the Emperor with the highest approval, and he has ordered it to be distributed all through China. Is a man like that viceroy opposed to reform? The leaders are in favour of reform, and why, therefore, do we not go a little further and see that the viceroys of the Yang-tsze Province shall have the right given them to carry out in their own province the reforms for which they have memorialised the Throne? If we did that we would strengthen the position of the viceroys enormously, and give new life to China. They should be allowed to carry out these reforms, and also be given a sufficient tenure of office for the purpose. The Government have the opportunity of making it an integral part of the settlement that these viceroys should be given that power.


The hon. Member must remember that the question before the House is the position of Russia in Manchuria. A great deal of what he is now saying is not relevant to that question.

I apologise for having trespassed beyond the limits of the motion. I will conclude by saying that, as stated in the book to which I have referred, this Government and all other Governments in dealing with China have shown a slipshod, drifting attitude, and a habit of depending on mere fortuitous success.


The hon. Member for Bolton in seconding this resolution never referred to the question of Manchuria at all. I will confine myself strictly to the motion, and I wish to give my views to the House as to why it should not be accepted. Manchuria is really a vague geographical expression. I doubt very much whether any Member of this House or any person outside it could really define the geographical boundaries of political Manchuria. When we discuss the resolution with the object of compelling another Power to be excluded from a certain territory, it is extremely important that we should be perfectly clear in our own minds what that means. If we do not know the present political boundaries ourselves, then it is only waste of time to discuss such a resolution as this.


My hon. friend says that he knows there perfectly well. I am very glad to hear it. I would ask him does his resolution mean that no settlement will be satisfactory that does not exclude Russia from acquiring more of Manchuria than she now has, or does he mean that no settlement will be satisfactory that does not turn out Russia from the portions of Manchuria she has long held? I wish to deal with this question of the Russian advance in Manchuria, and with the circumstances which have led up to the present state of affairs. In the press, and even in this House the position of Russia in Manchuria is discussed as if it were a question of yesterday, or the day before. I will give the Mouse, as briefly as I can, a sketch of the persistent advance of Russia from Europe to Manchuria for the purpose of getting to the sea on the sunny side of Siberian territory in order to have open ports. It was a definite, persistent policy, and it is important with reference to this question that we should remember that we are not dealing with a series of questions which have suddenly arisen, but that we are dealing with a policy which has conic down through generations to the present time. It was during the reign of Henry VIII. that the Russians first began to move eastward. At the time of the Spanish Armada they got so far eastward as to be able to found Tobolsk. In the reign of Charles I. there was a great expedition to the Upper Amur, and later another expedition penetrated further eastward, and attempted to occupy this very region of Manchuria. That expedition, with all its gallantry and all its persistency, was almost completely destroyed with the exception of forty-seven, who were taken prisoners to Peking, and founded the Russian college in that city, which has had a continuous history up to the present time. Then followed another expedition which went still further east, and founded Nerchinsk. That was about the time that Bombay was ceded to England, so that Russia was advancing towards the Pacific Ocean before we had established ourselves at Bombay. Still pushing on, the Russians made a settlement at Albazin, on the upper reaches of the Amur, but that settlement was wiped out by the Manchus, and the 5,000 gallant men composing it were massacred. Manchuria is really the water-shed of the Amur, and the Amur is the key of the whole position. During the reign of William III. the Russians approached the position from the sea. They acquired Kamskatka in 1728, and explored the coast, with the result that they acquired that territory which they recently transferred to America Alaska. The next interesting point occurred at the commencement of the last century. They tried to extend their position, but they were shut out by Manchuria and China from actual contact with the sea territorially. In the year of Trafalgar the Russian Hag was hoisted on the Island of Saghalien. This was a persistent policy, characterised by great energy, great gallantry and great perseverance on the part of Russia, though often attended by defeat and disaster. In dealing with this question it is important we should have an historical outline of the persistency of Russia and a knowledge of the fact that Russia occupied these regions two or three times and suffered defeat in her attempts to hold them. Now as to modern times, during the Crimean War a great Russian general was at the furthest eastward position on the Amur, 2,000 miles from the sea, while we were marching the Guards through London and were preparing to meet Russia in the Crimea. He cast guns and made ammunition there, and built barges and a steamer to tow them. The, Russians, with a splendid conception of strategy, which they accomplished in a most wonderful way, were preparing to extend their territory to the sea which for centuries she had fought and bled to attain. At the eastward point I have mentioned boats and barges were built thus to go straight down the Amur. They did not go to the mouth of the river, but crossed over where the Amur takes a bend, and arrived at a place now known as Port Imperial. Our fleet was already in search of the Russian fleet, in the summer of 1854, which was known to be in the Pacific. We could not discover it, and the fleet wore instructed to ascertain if the Russian ships had taken shelter in the vicinity of Petro-paulovski in Kamskatka. The combined fleets of England and France sailed one morning into the bay. They found it commanded by five Russian forts swarming with Russian soldiers, and the Russian fleet under cover of the guns of the forts. I am not going to abide to that disastrous affair in naval history. Our Admiral shot himself going into action, and the ultimate result was that we had to retire. We could not take the ships, and we tried to take the forts, but we could not do it. We lost heavily and had to withdraw. People were then full of the Crimea, and did not; hear much about it, but next year the Governments of England and France, being determined to wipe out the disaster, sent out a powerful fleet. The ships were ordered not to advance into the bay until the whole force was assembled, but many weeks elapsed after the arrival of the first ship at the rendezvous, 100 miles south of the bay. During these weeks the Russian ships passed within fifty miles of our fleet without being seen, and when our fleet sailed into the bay they found the forts dismantled, the ships gone, and; the inhabitants selling trophies of our defeat. Another squadron was sent to Saghalien. One Sunday morning they saw in Castries Bay the whole Russian fleet. Our force was a weak one, and sailed away south to give information, but they did not leave a watch, with the result that when they looked in again a week later they found the Russians had left. During all those years Russian policy was to come to a very distinct understanding with China with regard to certain portions of territory, but they always left that portion of boundary nearest the sea undefined. The treaty confirming what they had taken of Manchuria in 1855 was not ratified by China until we met with that unfortunate disaster of our unsuccessful attack on the Taku Forts in 1859. The Russian admiral used his friendly offices for us with the, Chinese. What he really did was to pull the rejected treaty out of his pocket and call on China to sign it. Ever since that time Russia has been gradually extending her territory down towards the north of China. Is this House going to pass a resolution to exclude Russia from the territory which she has occupied in Manchuria for years, and which she has gained at the expenditure of blood and treasure. I cannot understand anyone knowing history bringing forward any such resolution as this. The policy suggested by it is an impossible policy. You cannot get the Powers to engage in a policy to turn Russia out of Manchuria, where she has established herself by a persistent policy pursued generation after generation, and it is ridiculous to talk about it. What is the alternative? The alternative is to recollect that Russia has been forced onward on her land destiny, as we have been forced onward on our sea destiny, and to see that our interests and trade rights are not adversely affected by Russia being in Manchuria on the sea, on the rivers, and at Chinese ports.

It being midnight, the, debate stood adjourned.

Adjourned at one minute after Twelve of the clock till Thursday, 18th April.