Old Allies in China

I

WHEN the Anglo-Japanese alliance was scrapped at the Washington Conference, Japan was in no happy mood. There will be no harm now in divulging the long-guarded secret, that Japan was desirous of continuing the alliance and hoped to the last that it might in some way be preserved. She had, through twenty long years of coöperation with Great Britain, come to rely upon British leadership to such an extent that she felt, almost superstitiously, that the reversal of this traditional relationship might prove a serious setback to her international prestige. In China, especially, Japan had believed British support indispensable in maintaining her position, politically and commercially. Quite naturally she felt as though the keystone fell out of her diplomatic arch when ‘perfidious’ Albion, lending car to her clamorous colonies, particularly Australia and Canada, and scared by the nagging of the Foreign Relations Committee of the American Senate, served notice upon her Eastern ally that she considered the alliance no longer necessary. Japan was perturbed, keenly conscious of the isolation that was to be her lot.

To-day, four years after the Conference, Japan is well satisfied with her new status and has no desire to go back to the British fold. She has found out, perhaps to her own surprise, that she could get along very well without British guidance. The dread ’isolation,’ far from hindering her, has given her the free hand necessary to develop initiative and resourcefulness. Particularly in China the abrogation of the alliance has by no means militated against Japan’s interests or lowered her prestige. So far from it, her trade and enterprise there have, in the last few years, grown steadily, while those of Great Britain have suffered a decline. All things considered, Japan has reason to congratulate herself upon the new turn of affairs. She is grateful to Mr. Lloyd George and Senator Lodge and their colleagues who wittingly or unwittingly conferred a material benefit upon her by forcing the termination of the British alliance.

In view of this changed Japanese attitude, it is strange that rumor has been in the air in the Far East that a movement is afoot to revive the AngloJapanese alliance in one form or another. The extended visit to England of Prince Chichibu, brother of the Prince Regent, has in some quarters been interpreted, or rather misinterpreted, as an indication of the responsive state of Japan’s mind. On the British side signs have been unmistakable of a desire to reëstablish understanding with Japan. The British press, especially of the Conservative school, now and then guardedly advocates the reëstablishment of an entente. The Britishers in China who, in the years preceding the Washington Conference, joined hands with Chinese and Americans in an effort to convince Downing Street of the wisdom of getting rid of the Japanese ally are sorry figures to-day. They had fancied that the Anglo-Japanese alliance helped to advance Japanese interests in China at their own expense, and that, once the pact was dissolved, British influence and British trade would again have smooth sailing. Now they are sadly disillusioned. Some of them frankly admit their blunder in casting aside Japan for elusive Chinese friendship and problematical American goodwill. Boycotted by the Chinese, singled out by ’Red’ agitators as targets of attack, and uncertain of the real benefit of American friendship, the British in China are weary of chasing the rainbow and are advocating the reorientation of British policy, based upon the realities of the situation. This general sentiment is well expressed in a recent editorial in the North China Daily News, the most influential British organ in Shanghai. It says:—

The late Count Kato is affectionately remembered for the large part he played in the formation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, and although that valuable instrument was wantonly thrown away in the unsteady atmosphere which confused British vision of foreign affairs after the war, in an exaggerated sense of the necessity of deferring to the creditor nation’s — America’s — wishes, and in an altogether mistaken compliance with the prejudices of Canada and Australia, we believe that the spirit of the alliance can and still should be a dominating consideration with both Britain and Japan in the Far East. . . .

It cannot be thought that United States’ guidance in the Far East is a safe or consistent one to follow, and there is too much reason to fear that the British Foreign Office is still following it far too unquestioningly.

To such overtures Japan’s reply cannot but be a courteous non possumus. In the four years since she was divorced by John Bull, she has tasted something of ‘blessed singleness,’ and to-day she no longer cherishes a desire to espouse the cause of so fickle a spouse. Friendly to him she will always be, but it will have to be friendship at a distance. Rightly or mistakenly, Japan believes China’s hatred of England far more deep-seated and general than China’s hospitality toward her. To make the situation still worse for England, the British position in China has been made the butt of Bolshevist assaults. Ever since Soviet Russia entered into diplomatic relations with China, its successive envoys at Peking, with hosts of propagandists, have concentrated their disruptive agitation upon British interests. Yulin, Joffe, Karakhan — what ’Red Ambassador’ has not found a tempting sport in the hounding of the British? Between the Chinese dragon and the Russian bear the British lion has felt somewhat uneasy as to his stand in China. For Japan to reënter into alliance with Britain in such a situation would be to take upon her own shoulders a large share of the hostility now directed against England. It may be that the Russian scheme is to disrupt the British Empire, and then turn on Japan. For the present, however, Japan must accept the friendly hand proffered by the Soviet.

II

The rabid anti-British feeling now prevailing in China is well illustrated by the Chinese attitude toward the British proposal to remit the Boxer indemnity. The Chinese educators, meeting at Peking to discuss the matter, have demanded that the remission of the indemnity be made absolutely unconditional. ‘Full publicity,’ they resolved, ’shall be given the proceedings of the conference between the British indemnity commission and the Chinese representatives, so that the Chinese people may know that the British Government has no real desire to remit the Boxer indemnity, but simply wants to use the money for the promotion of British enterprises in this country.’

One cannot help but sympathize with England’s predicament in China. Hongkong, the clearing house for British trade in the Far East, has suffered seriously from repeated strikes and boycotts directed against it. Its prosperity, its existence even, depend upon its ability to sell foreign goods and to buy Chinese commodities through Canton, Swatow, and Amoy. As the Chinese have for more than a year maintained a rigid boycott against Hongkong and against the British merchants at the Chinese ports, the existence of this British colony as a commercial metropolis has been menaced. Hongkong’s trade and shipping for 1925 are reported to have decreased fifty per cent as compared with figures for the preceding year. Its population has declined from one million to eight hundred thousand. Sugar refining, Hongkong’s only important industry, has come to a standstill. Real-estate values and house rents are tumbling. The colonial Government finds it increasingly difficult to raise adequate revenue. So many British firms and merchants in Hongkong have gone bankrupt that the colonial Administration, as a measure of rescue, has been obliged to borrow $15,000,000 from the home Government—a measure which has proved far too ineffective. Even Sir Montagu Turner, the great financial genius who has for twenty-two years directed the affairs of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia, and China, seems at a loss to know what should be done to relieve the strain. In his report for 1925, Sir Montagu says: —

It is not surprising that the sufferers by this unmerited adversity are inclined to think that the apparently supine conduct of the British authorities has encouraged the Cantonese strikers to persist in their outrageous conduct. At the same time it must be remembered that Great Britain has not a free and untrammeled hand. It is almost impossible for her to act on her own in the matter of a display of force or by threats, and, unless the combined foreign nations bring pressure to bear on the authorities responsible for civil government in Canton, it would, I believe, be hopeless to attempt single-handed action on the part of Great Britain. But the position is most serious, and it behooves the British Government to lose no opportunity of coming to the help of the British merchants and effecting by some means a very necessary improvement in the condition of affairs in South China. That the Bolshevist influence is at work both in North and South China is undoubted. In the South, especially, money has been freely supplied by the Bolshevists, and this apparently has been found by utilizing the proceeds of Russian goods sold in China.

Meanwhile, Japanese trade in China, recovering from the general post-war depression, has been forging ahead, especially within the last year or so. According to the report of Mr. Kojima, president of the Yokohama Specie Bank, Japan’s exports to China during the last six months of 1925 amounted to $134,000,000, an increase of $56,000,000 as compared with the same period of the preceding year. In spite of the labor troubles experienced by some of the Japanese-owned cotton mills at Shanghai from May to July of last year, China’s general feeling toward Japan has signally improved. Even in the midst of the strike some of the Chinese labor leaders invited leading Japanese business men in Shanghai to a banquet, and assured them that as far as the Japanese mills were concerned the strike would soon be settled. And, indeed, the strikers soon resumed work in the Japanese factories, while the British mills and British shipping continued to be tied up. The British were piqued, and complained, quite unjustly, that the Japanese were partly to blame for their being left in the lurch.

III

The International Customs Conference at Peking accorded to Japan an opportunity to demonstrate her genuine goodwill for China. At the very beginning of the conference, the Japanese delegation came out squarely for China’s tariff autonomy and declared itself in favor of considering with sympathy any proposal that China might bring forth. The true story of Japan’s activities and proposals at the Tariff Conference has never been told in the China dispatches to the American press, which seems to assume that America is the only nation capable of dealing justly and fairly with China. Many are inclined to think that because Japan erred once in China she is always bound to err. But the fact, is, Japan’s tariff proposals have been as liberal as, if not more liberal than, the American proposals — certainly far more sympathetic to China than the British. England, as a matter of fact, came to the parley willy-nilly. When Washington was taking steps with Peking for the calling of the conference, the London Times, apparently inspired, asserted that there was little reason why such a meeting should be called while China herself was helpless in the grip of chaos. It lamented that ‘the kind of British initiative which the sad progress of events [in China] might from time to time have provoked was sedulously internationalized in the spirit of the Washington decisions, and was in fact paralyzed,’ and it militantly declared that ‘we are not a feeble folk and we shall not easily acquiesce in any attempt to ruin our prestige or our trade.’

In the course of the parley at Peking the British delegation has been plainly restive lest Japan and America go too far in favor of China. When, on June 10 or thereabout, Japan proposed that the banks of all foreign nations having claims secured on the Boxer indemnity be designated as depositories of customs receipts on equitable terms, the British delegation was reported to have made this a plausible excuse to propose that the conference adjourn sine die. Nor was this surprising, since the Japanese plan, if adopted, would put an end to the monopoly of the British banks as custodians of China’s customs revenue. Naturally China and the European Powers, except England, were in favor of the Japanese proposal, while America, though endorsing it in principle, was inclined to think it impracticable to discuss it at this conference.

There is no doubt that Japan is making sincere efforts to befriend China. She has long since recognized her blunder in the historic episode of the Twenty-one Demands. Step by step she has retreated from the difficult position in which she had placed herself in the years 1915 -1918. She has found out that the only way to make friends with China is to be honestly friendly, and that debauching China with loans is as unwise as bullying her by display of force. Not only has she completely withdrawn from Shantung, but she is devoting the funds secured by the sale of the Shantung railway to China, as well as the fund realized by the remission of the Boxer indemnity, to the advancement of educational and scientific work in China. At the meetings of the League of Nations, especially at the opium conference, Japan has acted in harmony with China. In Manchuria, Japan has to no small extent reversed her former policy, opening its doors to the enterprise of the nationals of all countries. Her attitude toward recurrent civil wars in China has been one of impartial neutrality. Even when her interests in Manchuria were seriously menaced by the civil strife between Chang Tso-lin, war lord of Mukden, and his former lieutenant, Kuo Sungling, Japan adhered to the policy of noninterference. All such efforts have not failed to make favorable impression upon the Chinese, for China, however irresponsible and wayward her militarists and politicians may be, is not always unresponsive.

One of the most important signs of the new spirit which has come over the relationship between the two Oriental nations is the visit to Japan of sixty business men representing leading chambers of commerce throughout China — an event without parallel in the annals of either country. For three weeks from May 22, the party visited principal cities in Japan. While in Tokyo they held conferences with leading Japanese statesmen, publicists, financiers, and business men. Evidently the tour was planned with the utmost care. The party was accompanied by a Chinese and a Japanese movie man, whose cameras recorded every detail of the enthusiastic welcome extended to the Chinese visitors wherever they went. The pictures are to be shown throughout China and Japan so that the masses on either side may know that the two countries have entered into new relations of friendliness. Before long, leading Japanese financiers and business men will go to China to return the call. Already a joint committee of Chinese and Japanese business men has been organized for the purpose of dealing with business and labor troubles which may arise between the two countries. The movement is certainly in the right direction. It may prove even more significant than most diplomatic dealings between Tokyo and Peking, for whatever is promised or done by the shadowy Central Government of China is of little value as long as it is not endorsed by powerful organizations such as the chambers of commerce and various student bodies. In recent years anti-Japanese agitation has been carried on by the encouragement offered by such organizations rather than under governmental instigation.

IV

While the Japanese are encouraged by increasing signs of a friendly China, the Britishers in the Far East are becoming more and more pessimistic as to their future in the Far East. One naturally wonders why the Chinese assume so intensely hostile an attitude toward Great Britain. The answer is not far to seek. The Chinese, to begin with, has never forgiven England for fastening the opium curse upon him. He remembers also that England was the originator of the unequal treaties whose revision he has these many decades struggled in vain to obtain. Now that Tsarist Russia is no more, England, to the Chinese mind, stands out as the greatest aggressor. Japan, after all, is an imitator, instigated and abetted until recently by her British ally. That, at least, is the Chinese reasoning. In reply the British have a good deal to say, but the Chinese have their minds so firmly set that it is futile to explain and reason with them. At a dinner given in honor of the British delegation to the tariff conference on the eve of its departure for Peking, Mr. Austen Chamberlain, defending the opium war and the unequal treaties his country had imposed upon China, had this to say: —

‘China could not adjust herself to the new conditions. Seven years of constantly increasing strain of constant friction and complaint, and failure to secure any satisfaction, led, as these events must lead, to war, and the socalled “Opium War” of 1840 followed. But there were much more important things at stake in the Opium War than any question of opium. The boycott of British shipping, confiscation of traders’ goods, restrictions of the liberty and imprisonment of British citizens, and, finally, the expulsion of merchants from Canton — these were the questions which led to the war, and which found their solution in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the first of those unequal treaties of which China complains to-day. I wish I could persuade some Chinaman of historical knowledge, of statesmanship, and of authority with his own people, to explain that all this system of unequal treaties was not of our choosing. We did not desire it. It was the minimum we could ask of a China that repelled the foreigner, that would not give justice in courts or secure for him the ordinary advantages of civilization and orderly government. It was largely British policy which opened China through that and subsequent treaties to international trade, and it was first and foremost British enterprise which showed the way to other nations, and proved to them how great a market was opened to them and us and the Chinese, to the mutual advantage of all of us.’

These were unfortunate words uttered at an unfortunate time — especially for a man of Mr. Chamberlain’s position. Such utterances can merely serve to irritate and anger the Chinese, adding fuel to the anti-British sentiment already aflame. China, momentarily dislocated, yet still proud as Lucifer, does not want to be reminded that her first duty is to put her own house in order.

Although the anti-British feeling is general, it is particularly strong in South China. This is largely due to the fact that the South was the first to feel the impact of British advance, and has since always felt it more keenly than has the North. But the more immediate reason is that England, and especially the British press in China, has for more than ten years relentlessly pursued Sun Yat-sen and his followers as busybodies and mischief-makers. To this Sun Yat-sen replied with boycott, strike, and general anti-British agitation throughout South China. I recall vividly the bitter indictment that he pronounced against England in the course of our interview at Canton in the fall of 1917. He said that the World War should not end in Germany’s crushing defeat, for such an outcome would only strengthen Britain’s strangle hold upon China and India. He deplored that Japan hopped into the fracas only to pick England’s chestnut out of the fire. Why, he asked, should Japan act like a marionette always dancing to the British string, instead of upholding the common cause of Asiatic peoples? He said he had no more love to lose on Germany than on England, but argued that Asia’s interest demanded the existence of a Power capable of counteracting Anglo-Saxon domination. He upbraided the Americans who helped the British in railroading the Government at Peking into declaring war upon Germany. Even the missionaries and mission schools came in for a goodly share of the blame, for he assailed them as anti-Asiatic institutions, often scheming to estrange China from Japan. For more than an hour he poured out his heart in this fashion, and I could not help but recognize his earnestness and sincerity, though some of the things he said were more rhetorical than true.

The death of this romantic crusader a year ago has by no means altered the situation. The anti-British tradition bequeathed by him is, and promises to remain, a vital force, especially in the Yangtse Valley and the South, where England has the greatest interest. In order to destroy British domination, Sun Yat-senism did not hesitate to join hands with Bolshevism. Encouraged by this overture, Soviet Russia beguiled itself into believing that South China was a fertile soil for Bolshevism. To please the Chinese even a university perpetuating the name of Sun Yat-sen has been established in Moscow. But the fact is that the Chinese, even the followers of Dr. Sun, do not want Bolshevism — they simply want to use Soviet propaganda to loosen the British hold upon China. When, therefore, the Bolshevist tail attempted to wag the Chinese head at Canton, the tail was promptly cut off. But the combined Chinese-Bolshevist onslaughts have already had a telling effect from which British interests in China will not soon recover.

It is quite possible that the coming decade or two will witness a great drama, likely to bring into a bolder relief the new international alignment which is, to all appearances, taking place in the regions of the Far East. In such a situation, what will be the attitude of the United States, and particularly the relationship between her and Japan? That is a question now being seriously considered by many a thinking mind on the other side of the Pacific.