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1. The Russo-Japanese War

OWING to the situation at the end of the Boxer affair the clouds of war began again to gather. It was a time of monstrous complication between the chancelleries of Europe. Great Britain had the Boer War on hand; Russia, Germany and France were considering how our preoccupation could be turned to their benefit and to each other's detriment; our ' splendid isolation ' principle could no longer work, so for some years past there had been tentative approaches to an alliance between us and Germany, which a mixture on the one hand of procrastination and lack of unity of purpose and on the other the ambition to challenge British sea supremacy rendered futile; and so there grew the idea of a settlement of our differences with France and of a rapprochement with that country — which developed later.

That was roughly the state of affairs when, after the Boxers had been put down, the Russians showed that where they were they meant to stay — not only in Manchuria but in the north of China proper. Out of this situation, and solving it, came, in 1902, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, which provided that if either country was involved in war the other would come to its assistance in the event of a third state intervening.

It is worth reviewing briefly what the policy of Russia was.

Up to 1860 her boundary was the Amur river and so her naval port was Nikolaievsk — ice-bound for a large part of the year; but then China, crushed by a war with France and England, was forced by Russia to cede her seaboard from Nikolaievsk to the Korean frontier, and so was created the naval port of Vladivostok — a great improvement on the northern port.

But if one looks at the map it is plain how the Japanese contain it; there is no egress to the ocean which is not dominated by that country. It could not satisfy the Russians; and to the southward lay Korea, studded with natural harbours, and weak in her subjection to the double suzerainty of China and Japan. So, as a first step — it was long before she had a chance to attempt another — Russia tried to occupy Tsushima, a Japanese island commanding the southern channel to the ocean; but Great Britain shooed her off.

Then came the war of 1894 between China and Japan, when the former ceded to the latter the Manchurian littoral from Korea to the Liaotung Peninsula, including Port Arthur, the Chinese naval port. The Russians did not like it. If acquiesced in this cession would permanently block their game; so they persuaded France and Germany — they nominally failed with England — to join her in bringing pressure to make Japan give up her spoil of war; and against such pressure Japan was helpless. She retired and — wise little country that she was — proceeded at once to make her preparations for the future.

China, of course, was grateful and so yielded to Russia's claim to be allowed to build a railway across Manchuria from Vladivostok to cut off the great arc that was caused by the loop of the frontier formed by the Amur river; and where that railway crossed the Sungari river was built the great Russian city of Harbin.

Three years later, Germany started the policy of grab by seizing Tsingtau because two German missionaries had been murdered. Thereupon Russia demanded and obtained the lease of Liaotung Peninsula — which so short a time before she had made the Japanese relinquish — and the right to join it to Harbin by rail. England followed with the lease of Weihaiwei, as an offset to the Russian menace; France followed with the lease of Kwangchow-wan, and Italy, without a shadow of excuse, tried but failed to secure a lease of Sanmen Bay, in Chekiang Province.(1)
1 — I advised the Chinese Admiral at this time that in case of the Italians using force he should, regardless of all consequences, throw his little fleet against them.

These facts, already told, require to be repeated here. Partly as a consequence of these indignities there came, as has already been explained, the Boxer uprising of 1900, and with it another chance for Russia to further her desires. Realizing eventually that China was not to be partitioned, she limited her immediate ambitions to Manchuria; but her threat extended to Korea. The representations from other Powers on her acts resulted in an exhibition of tortuousness and mendacity that is possibly unique in the annals of diplomacy. It was during the hatching of this situation that Lord Salisbury referred to Count Ignatieff as the biggest liar he had come across in his political experience.(1)
1 — Ten Years at the Court of St. James, by Baron von Eckardstein.
Russia threatened Korea, and, if she occupied that country, she would dominate Japan and the Far East in general. That she intended to do it was so evident that in February 1904 little Japan struck at her giant neighbour.(2)
2 — An illuminating exposition of Russia's actions in this matter is given in Count Witte's Reminiscences of the Reign of Nicolas II., of which the following is a translated summary:-

When the Germans seized Tsingtau, Russian war vessels with troops were sent to Port Arthur, and the Russian Government demanded a lease of the Kwantung Peninsula: a demand which was at first indignantly refused by the Empress Dowager. Count Witte, while disapproving of the act, knew that the Tsar — egged on by the Kaiser for his own purposes — was determined to have Port Arthur, even if the use of force was necessary to that end; so he cabled a private message to Li Hung-chang pointing out the inevitability of the occupation and promising him half a million roubles for his support. That support was duly given and with success, and the bribe was duly paid. " Thus," says Count Witte, " was taken that ill- omened step which led to future developments culminating in the tragic Japanese war and our internal troubles."

In view of the fact that only a few years previously Russia had been a party to forcing Japan to relinquish her war-won occupancy of the Kwantung Peninsula, Count Witte stigmatizes the Russian seizure as an act of unprecedented duplicity.

The unexpected seriousness of the attitude of Great Britain and Japan about the seizure alarmed Muravieff, the Foreign Minister, for he had assured the Tsar that it would cause no trouble. It was thus that, in fear of a conflict with Japan, he abandoned the position of great influence which Russia had gained in Korea; he withdrew his Adviser to the Korean Emperor, his military instructors, and his other agents; and he signed an agreement definitely admitting Japan's predominating influence in the country.

It was early breach of that agreement that brought about the war between Japan and Russia.

In the development of this situation I took a keener interest and formed more definite opinions than in any of the problems with which the Far East became involved. For this there were several reasons. Although it was Chinese territory that was in dispute, China was hardly a party to the quarrel. It was the sick Chow Dog's bone that was being fought for by the Wolfhound and the Terrier. So with the elimination of that nightmare of intangibility, which China as an active factor always means, the points at issue seemed — though they were not really — comparatively simple. Then I was strongly antagonistic to the Japanese. That was only natural by reason of their victory over China; but of course I had admiration too and appreciation of the high chivalry which they had shown at Weihaiwei.

Of the justness of their quarrel there could be no question; they were — though the immediate factor was the Chow Dog's bone — fighting for existence. But I would not have them on the continent — especially in China — at any price. Of the two, as grabbers of Chinese territory, Russia would be the lesser evil. I held this view most strongly and had maintained it with some measure of success in my argument with Chirol. I had sympathy with Russia in her railway scheme. Look at the map and see the great temptation — when the break-up of China was a seeming probability — to possess the country through which that railway ran. So I considered that, if war — with all the evils that would inevitably result, whoever won it — could be averted by acquiescing in a Russian annexation of Manchuria to the northward of her railway, it should be agreed to.

In July 1903 I went home on nine months' leave, accompanied by a sister who had been paying me a visit; we travelled by the Siberian railway, and I saw something of Russian preparations — the sidings were crammed with vanloads of men and horses and field-guns. My sister became indisposed and at St. Petersburg laid up, so I went to the Embassy for advice about a doctor. There I met Spring-Rice, who in the absence of the Ambassador was Chargé d'Affaires. I did not volunteer my views, but he questioned me and showed great interest in them. It happened that owing to the renovation of his quarters he and the Military Attaché had their meals at the hotel where we were staying, and I was asked to join them. At Spring- Rice's request I wrote a memorandum on the situation, as I saw it, for transmission to the Foreign Office. He warned me that my association with them would make me subject to suspicion by the Secret Service and that therefore I should on no account keep a copy of my paper and that I should be careful to burn my blotter. But I was vastly pleased with what seemed to me the importance that had so unexpectedly fallen on me. A memorandum to the Foreign Office ! I must keep a copy, and I did so, placing it in my despatch-box, that in my portmanteau, and both locked of course. Spring-Rice was right; for just before we left St. Petersburg I discovered that the paper had been stolen. It was well for me that the opinions I expressed were so favourable to Russia; otherwise I should have been arrested as a spy.

There remains a curious sequel to that episode. My companion in the coupé on that journey to the frontier was Garfield — a Russian of English origin. Some years before I had known him quite well in China; he was then connected with a Russian Government mission in Korea; and now this seemingly accidental meeting. For was it accidental on his part?

I cannot give the reasons for the suspicion that grew on me; they were vague but based on several facts, and in the aggregate convinced me that Garfield had been sent to find out what he could about me and my business.

Spring-Rice had arranged for me to see the Foreign Office; I had some interesting conversations there and learnt that Lord Lansdowne had read my memorandum; and then of course they dropped me. I had one other shot at propaganda about another matter — the saving of China from partition. Fearon, a leading American merchant of Shanghai, was in London; I gave him a memorandum which he delivered as a speech before the Chamber of Commerce at New York; and later I had the satisfaction of hearing Sir Robert Hart express pleasurable surprise at the soundness of a merchant's views.

In December I realized that there was no longer any hope that war would be averted, and, as I wished to have a hand in neutrality affairs, I sacrificed two months of leave, and in January left for China via Suez. I had added to my stock of books on naval warfare and International Law, and on that journey read them up and thought about how exterritoriality would affect China's functions in neutrality. But war broke out two weeks or so before I reached Shanghai; China had made her declaration of neutrality, and Hobson, the Customs Commissioner, was advising the local Chinese officials about dealing with the Russian gunboat Manjur, which had taken refuge there.

Hobson, a very senior man, had been one of Gordon's officers in the Taiping days, and might have known something about the practices of war; but the advice he gave was radically wrong. Neutrality duties are those of an international policeman — they are essentially executive; yet, instead of acting on that principle and interning the vessel out-of-hand, he made the matter a subject of discussion between the Taotai and the two belligerent consuls and consequently at Peking between the Government and the two Ministers concerned; and so the duty, which in any case would be A difficult for China, was made much more so by this wrong beginning.

I could not intervene; the thing had gone too far, and besides I received instructions from Peking to attend to the barrier removal at Canton called for by the Mackay Treaty.

That affair and others resulting from my sojourn in the South employed me for over a year. I returned in May 1905, and most opportunely from the standpoint of my neutrality ambition, for a week later the transports of Admiral Rojestvensky's fleet arrived at Woosung, and a few days later that fleet was defeated and annihilated off Tsushima — the island which in 1860 the Russians had tried to occupy.

In the previous August the Russian war vessels Askold and Grozovoi, having broken out of Port Arthur, which was invested by the Japanese, took refuge at Shanghai. Again there was that exhibition of wrong-dealing with them, so now, with the remnants of the Russian fleet seeking protection at Shanghai and Chefoo, the time was ripe for me to take a hand. I discussed the matter with the Chinese Admiral and with Hobson, and then I went to see the Viceroy at Nanking — the same Chou-fu whom I had known at Chinanfu — and it was arranged that he would instruct the Admiral to follow my advice. So I took hold of the affair. Dr. Morse, in his International Relations of the Chinese Empire, says: ' The Chinese authorities learnt their lesson from this experience (their dealing with the Manjur and other early cases for internment) and on the arrival of Admiral Rojestvensky's fleet in Eastern waters, the Coast Inspector, W. F. Tyler, ... was appointed as neutrality adviser to the naval Commander-in-Chief. Towards the end of May 1905, Russian transports functioning with the Russian fleet ... arrived at Woosung. They were promptly declared war-vessels by Admiral Yeh, the Commander-in-Chief; and were given the choice of proceeding or of being interned. Admiral Yeh refused to discuss the matter with the Consuls or allow the local Chinese civil officers to interfere. Recalcitrant Russians, who after internment refused to give parole, were placed under arrest; and the important principle was enunciated and given effect to that in the performance of neutrality duties China was in no way limited by the extraterritorial rights of the belligerents.'

There was something very fascinating in the exercise of the authority and judgment which this work entailed.(1) It was an uncommon sort of duty; it needed a knowledge of precedents — I had them at my finger-tips — but above all it needed a policeman's faculty of executiveness and not a lawyer's faculty of arguing; and I never had a moment's doubt about it all. I find this entry in my very meagre diary: ` Saw I.G.; he was very nice and complimentary.'

1 — I find the following letter from the late Admiral Sir Gerard Noel, who was Commander-in-Chief on the China station at the time. It expresses an opinion on internment which is interesting: —
` Nov. 20th, '05.
Herewith the papers you kindly let me see. I think that the action you took in the case of the Russian ships, and your advice on the subject, was exceedingly sound and good; and that you managed a difficult business with considerable skill and adroitness, combining moderation with a good show of firmness. I see nothing to object to in the treatment you recommended respecting interned ships. . . . As regards the internment of warships in general, that is quite another question, and one which I sincerely trust will never become a law amongst nations, unless it is qualified by the obligation on the part of the Neutral to destroy such vessels.

I consider that the act of a belligerent seeking shelter from the enemy in a neutral port to be contrary to the spirit of honourable warfare, and indeed cowardly and reprehensible, and should certainly be given no encouragement. It is the business of a warship — as part of the territory of the country to which she belongs — and therefore not rightly subject to the protection of internment — to go out and fight or surrender to her enemy.'

In this chapter I attempt to give a silhouette of history to serve as a setting to my story, and there are other chapters where I do the same; but all the time I am conscious of the impossibility of history to really tell the truth. One picks out certain features which seem salient because one knows about them; but in reality they are no more than mnemonic labels of one's meagre knowledge. What seems salient has no great relation to the mass of complicated factors that really rule a situation.