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England has been for fifty years the paramount Power in China. By the vast preponderance of her trade, the numbers of her nationals living and trading there, her experience of the East, her supply of capable administrators, her unquestioned command of the sea highway thither, the position of leader has naturally fallen to her among the nations. How she has acquitted herself of this responsible and proud task is sufficiently shown by the facts of the situation to-day as summarized above. The humiliation, the loss, the possible horrors, lie chiefly at the door of England. Her paramountcy is gone forever, beyond the faintest possibility of retrieval. That the openings for her trade will be largely curtailed is also no longer a matter of doubt. Our statesmen have been lamentably and conspicuously wanting in the energy necessary to the performance of their task, and as the most important problems have arisen during Lord Salisbury's present Government, it is the Cabinet of to-day that has done, or left undone, most to bring this injury upon the nation.
Since Lord Salisbury has been in office there have been several occasions when an intelligent appreciation of affairs, backed by bold and straightforward action, would have preserved the integrity of China, kept for all nations alike the huge actualities and greater potentialities of her trade and postponed indefinitely, if not forever, the dangers of a war over her partition. The ability of England to do this thing was far greater than that of any other country, for the simple reason that the world realizes that we are by fixed policy a free-trading nation, and that our object is to maintain open markets for all. The United States and Japan, with possibly Germany as well, would have supported us in diplomatic action directed to this end-indeed, when it became evident that nothing was to be
expected from Lord Salisbury, the United States Government took the matter up and secured assurances of definite adherence to the "open door" from every nation except Russia, whose reply was characteristically vague and unsatisfactory. But this was too late to prevent the absorption of Manchuria by a Power whose fixed policy is the prohibition of foreign trade, whereas there was plenty of time, after the intentions of Russia were plain to all the world, to secure a general declaration of open trade policy for all China forever, which no Power could have subsequently abrogated except by force of
Sooner or later order will reign once more in Peking, there will be some central authority there, and the Ministers of the Powers will once more be about their business-or other Ministers if these are in their graves. Then England will have to profess a policy of some kind, and make an effort of some sort to carry it out. Beneath any policy there are a number of axioms, and so far as these are borne in mind that policy will stand a chance of success, and so far as they are overlooked it will once more fail. Expert opinion will differ somewhat, of course, concerning these axioms, but upon most of them, all who know the Far East, will be in substantial agreement, and my desire here is to set some of these plainly forth. Before doing so, however, it is essential to recall to public attention a few of the extraordinary lapses from common sense and common energy that have characterized our treatment of the Chinese problem during the last few years. So many other exciting events have overlaid them that they have probably passed out of public recollection.
Is it generally remembered, for instance, that the British Parliament passed a resolution formally declaring the integrity of China to be a British
concern? It meant nothing, and no action whatever was intended to follow it. It was tossed as a sop by a policyless Government to an uneasy House. Could anything have been more discreditable to the British Empire than this bit of feeble bluff? The Cassini Convention is even less likely to be recollected. In November, 1895, the Times published a telegram from a correspondent in Hong Kong, stating that a secret treaty had been signed between Russia and China, by which the former was conceded the right of anchorage for her fleet in Port Arthur, and the right to build railways across Manchuria to Vladivostok and Port Arthur. The Russian Embassy in London at once declared these statements to be "absolutely unfounded." On the 28th of October, 1896, the North China Daily News published the full text of this Convention, which was seen to place the whole of northern China virtually under Russian protection-Russia might station any force she pleased in this territory, raise and drill Chinese levies, develop mineral resources, fortify Port Arthur, Talienwan and Kiaochao; if she found herself in danger of war, China bound herself not to cede strategical points to any other Power, and Russia undertook to defend China against other foreign encroachment. Again and again the British Government denied the existence of this Convention. Yet for six weeks the baggage of the Russian Minister in Peking was packed ready for his instant departure as soon as it was signed, and his carriages and mule litters stood ready all this time in the courtyard of the Russian Legation. The Times felt compelled by courtesy, in view of the official Russian denial, to repudiate its correspondent, but the English papers in the Far East persisted in the fact of the Convention, and, as I myself knew this correspondent intimately and the sources of his information, I wrote
at the time, "I am profoundly convinced that although the statement as to the conclusion of a private treaty may have been textually inaccurate, the broad fact is indubitable." It might have been thought that the Foreign Office would have inquired privately into the sources of so very serious a rumor. On the contrary, it simply informed Russia indirectly that she could not be allowed to possess herself of Port Arthur. On the 8th of February, 1898, Mr. (now Lord) Curzon reassured the House of Commons as follows:
Up to now, Russia has done nothing in respect of Port Arthur which she has not been perfectly entitled, under treaty rights, to do. Russia has sent ships of war to Port Arthur; and if blame is to be attached to her for so doing, Her Majesty's government must be included in the accusation, for a fortnight ago we did exactly the same thing (Cheers). The right to send ships of war to Port Arthur is right which enjoy together with other Powers under the treaty of Tientsin, and when the occasion arises, we shall do it again.
On the 27th of March the "lease" of Port Arthur by China to Russia was signed by Li Hung-chang, Chang Chihtung and M. Pavloff, the Russian representative in Peking, with the following as its Article VI:
The governments of the two countries agree that as Port Arthur is solely a naval port, only Russian and Chinese vessels are to be allowed to use it, and it is to be considered a closed port as far as the war and merchant vessels of other Powers are concerned.
Thus, within seven weeks the remark of the Under-Secretary in the House of Commons was shown by events to be as ignorant in fact as it was flippant in form. The above "lease" was not generally known until the 3d of June,
when the Times published it. At once Lord Salisbury telegraphed to the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg to inquire if it was correct, and to instruct him, in that case, to point out to the Russian Government that Article VI was "quite inconsistent with the specific assurances of the Russian Government and with our treaty rights in Chinese ports." This infantile belief that the Russian Government would care a jot about "specific assurances" and "treaty rights" in a matter which Russia had so close at heart as the eventual mastery of northern China, when she knew perfectly well that a few sarcastically turned sentences in a despatch would be all she would have to bear for ignoring them, is of a piece with too much of our diplomacy for years past. Of course Russia poohpoohed all the objections, with even less consideration for our feelings than usual. One course alone would have saved the situation. The treaty of Tientsin (1858) gives us "free and equal participation in all privileges, immunities and advantages that may have been, or may be hereafter, granted by His Majesty, the Emperor of China to the Government or the subjects of any other nation." Here was a clear issue -the deliberate infraction by Russia of the old standing treaty rights of all other nations. The British flagship-a more powerful vessel than any Russia had on the spot-should have been ordered to enter Port Arthur, by force if necessary, and to stay there until the affair was settled in accordance with the Treaty of Tientsin, the Magna Charta of the West in China. Every student of the international situation knows that Russia would not have accepted the gage of battle; but even if she had, it would have been better to fight her with the allies we should necessarily have had, on such an issue, than to postpone an inevitable conflict until she had queened
several more pawns. Before this, too, the British Government had committed a blunder without parallel in modern diplomacy for sheer ineptitude. The country and the House of Commons had become very restless at the prospect of the seizure of Port Arthur by Russia and the apparent failure of Lord Salisbury to take any steps to prevent this. Thereupon, besides the statement of Mr. Curzon quoted above about the ships, which was received with hearty cheers of relief in the House, the Admiralty circulated a list of ships' stations in the Far East containing these words: "At Port Arthur, Immortalité and Iphigenia." That is, we had two powerful cruisers at the danger-point to guard our rights. Naturally the country was much relieved and criticism ceased. Shortly afterwards Russia requested that these two ships should be withdrawn, and by an act of folly without equal, I repeat, in diplomatic annals, they were withdrawn-forever. And the country, after being quieted by the news of their presence there, was positively assured that their presence had possessed no signification whatever!
Once more a domestic storm broke upon the Government, and a dangerous discussion loomed ahead in the House. To stave off this-to have something to pacify its supporters with-the Government arranged with Japan, always ready to act with us in keeping China open, to Occupy Wei-hai-wei when Japan evacuated it upon payment of the remainder of the war indemnity by China. Military and naval opinion, almost without exception has declared this place to be useless to us; the Government was besought by one of the first authorities upon strategy not to put any valuable stores there to be captured by the enemy or to keep the fleet idle in defending them; ten thousand men would be necessary to protect the place, and we have raised one solitary regiment of Chinese; a million sterling
would have to be spent in fortifications, and we have spent nothing; our vital interests, now that the partition of China has begun, are in the Yangtse Valley, and the Wei-hai-wei can no more defend that, as a great military authority has said, than a helmet upon a man's head would defend his vitals; the place, in fact, is an encumbrance to us from a naval point of view, while any commercial value it might have had has been destroyed by our voluntary promise to Germany not to construct a railroad from it to any other part of the province.
The list of further failures of our diplomacy in the Far East is far too long to pursue, but one or two others must be mentioned. We offered a large loan to China and strongly urged her to accept it. Russia forbade her, and she declined it. British capital was provided to build the railroad from Peking to Niu-chwang; Russia protested; we wrote many strongly-worded despatches; and then accepted the Russian insistence that the loan should not give the right to any lien upon the railway. The country became uneasy at the apparent neglect of our interests in the Yangtse Valley, but was once more relieved by the Government's assurance that an undertaking had been given by the Chinese Government safeguarding these interests. Three and a half months later this undertaking was issued to the public, but immediately withdrawn because the official copy contained Mr. Curzon's private marginal notes-"strictly speaking, this is not grammar," etc. It proved to be absolutely worthless. I quote the comment of the Times:
Perhaps our light-hearted Under-Secretary of State would not mind even the ridicule with which his carelessness has covered him if it helped him to divert public attention from the substance of these documents. . . . In point of fact, this assurance up
on which our Ministers have so often prided themselves as one of the great achievements of British policy in the Far East, turns out to be no assurance at all. No man in private life would invest a single sovereign on the strength of a declaration so evasive and illusory. . . . This is nothing more than an academic expression of opinion, which commits the Chinese Government to nothing. It might change its opinion tomorrow and cede half the valley, yet, were this a transaction between individuals to be submitted to an ordinary tribunal, we should simply be laughed out of court if we pretended to found a claim upon such a simulacrum of an assurance. . . . Is it not time for Her Majesty's Government to drop playing with phrases and to look at facts?
One of the facts was that not long afterwards a concession for a railway from Peking to Hankow, the great port in the very heart of the Yangtse Valley, was granted (in spite of Lord Salisbury's energetic protests-on paper) to a Belgian company, financed by the Russo-Chinese Bank-that is, by the Russian Government under one of its numerous aliases.
During the time these things were going on it was impossible for the country, through its Parliamentary representatives, to obtain prompt, accurate, or even straightforward information. One glaring example must suffice. When the British Government offered its loan to China and strongly urged acceptance, while Russia was successfully intriguing against it, Ministers in both Houses were sharply questioned as to the progress of negotiations. At the same hour of the same day these two absolutely contradictory answers were given. Lord Salisbury in the House of Lords:
I am not going through the proposals; the negotiations are not concluded and it would not be right for me to do So.
Mr. Balfour in the House of Commons:
The whole transaction is now a matter of ancient history. I mean the loan negotiations; they do not ask for the loan, and there is an end of it.
Again, the Times said: "It is difficult to be quite accurate about the Belgian concession because Lord Salisbury and Mr. Curzon are not in agreement about. its history." In fact, Mr. Curzon's answers in Parliament became something of a public scandal, in proof of which strong statement it may suffice, to save space, to quote the remark of the Times that "we are lulled to sleep for months by Parliamentary statements of a more or less disingenuous character."
To conclude: the situation two years ago was that the policy imperatively required by British interests in China, and openly, indeed even defiantly, professed by the British Government, was hopelessly beaten and driven from the field. Once more I cite the Times, a strong supporter in other matters of Lord Salisbury's administration, since my own assertion to this effect might be regarded by those who have not followed the facts as a partizan utter
It is most surprising that, after its failure and its utter impossibility have been clearly demonstrated, the Government should go on complacently behaving as if the open door policy were alive and winning all along the line. In the actual condition of affairs that policy is merely a snare and a delusion. The other policy for good or ill is dominant and inevitable. Each nation is taking in hand as much of China as she can deal with, and all are firmly resolved that British trade shall not, if they can help it, effect an entry into their areas. Are we to go on for ever trying to keep out the ocean with a mop or are we going to take the world as we find it, and to secure at least some area of
Unless we thoroughly realize how badly we have done in the past, there is no hope that we shall do better in the future. The object of this brief but humiliating retrospect, therefore, is to exhibit the urgency of a complete change in our method of dealing with the Chinese problem. Two things are indispensable. First, a policy; second, a determination to carry it out. The second of these can be furnished only by the pressure of public opinion, but the former is a matter of discussion and knowledge, and the light of past experience. Hitherto we have had no policy at all; nobody can look at the Far Eastern record of the present Government and believe that at any time they had definitely decided what they wished to do, except from day to day, or at what