CHAPTER XXII. THE REIGN OF KWANGSU
Let us, finally, examine the Chinese question from a political point of view. We concur with Mr. Colquhoun in believing that Englishmen are now at the parting of the ways, and that their failure to take the right course in the Far East will mean the loss of England's commercial supremacy, and, eventually, the disintegration of the British Empire. He maintains that, since November 16, 1896, when the German government was compelled by Bismarck's revelations to disclose the drift of its future policy, it has been apparent that there is an increasing tendency toward cooperation in the Near East and the Par East between Germany and Russia, and therefore, also, between those powers and France, which is Russia's ally. The understanding is based upon mutual interest, territorial in the case of Russia, commercial in that of Germany, and political in the case of France. The cornerstone of the combination is Russia, whose goodwill is sought for at all costs by France, in a lesser degree by Germany, and, latterly, even by Austria-Hungary. The chief aim of the combination is the reduction of England to a secondary position, politically and commercially. In China, the outcome of the coalition has been to isolate England completely. For some years past, her efforts to secure concessions at Pekin have been frustrated by Russia and France. Meanwhile, these two countries, and, more lately, Germany as well, have secured for themselves solid advantages. Japan, on her part, since she was compelled to submit to a revision of the Shimonoseki treaty, has been watching silently and preparing anxiously for eventualities. England's official optimists talked in 1895, however, as they still talk, of the successes gained, the "rectification" of the Burmo-Chinese frontier and the incomplete "opening" of the West River. As a matter of fact, the British government has done little or nothing to establish overland railway communication from Burmah to China, or to reach China "from behind," as Lord Salisbury called it; and the Upper Yangtse, the main artery of China, has remained practically unopened. Such, at least, was the situation a few months ago.
To understand the present situation, which is the natural sequel of 1895, it is needful, first of all, to recognize the fact that Russia is, at this moment, the protector of China against all comers, and that France supports her firmly, while Germany, having once taken the decisive step of placing herself alongside Russia, is likely to follow the czar's lead for two sufficient reasons; namely, for fear of displeasing the Russian ally of France, and because concessions are not likely to be obtained at Pekin by Germany, if the latter country places itself in direct and open opposition to the St. Petersburg government. Russian influence has, for some time past, been omnipotent at Pekin, mainly through the kindly assistance rendered to China in 1895, followed up by what has been practically an offensive and defensive league. The nature of the understanding between Russia and the Middle Kingdom has, indeed, for some time been patent to all the world except Englishmen, the chief features of it being: First, an offensive and defensive alliance; secondly, branch railways through Manchuria; thirdly, the refortification of Port Arthur and Talienwan, both to be paid for by China, and either or both of these harbors to be placed at Russia's disposal whenever they may be required. It is true that China has denied the existence of any agreement except that concerning the northern Manchurian Railway, but Russia has never denied anything except the accuracy of the version of the so-called "Cassini" Convention, published by a Shanghai paper. Apart from the existence of any written contract, the facts speak for themselves. Russia, having had a prior lien on Kiao Chou, it is obvious that Germany could not have seized that harbor in opposition to Russia. Again, what is to prevent Germany from discovering some day that Kiao Chou does not "meet her requirements," in which event what is there to hinder Russia from taking over Kiao Chou and giving Germany another port? Provision has, in truth, been made to enable Germany to treat Kiao Chou as a negotiable bill of exchange.