Britain and the Last Tsar: British Policy and Russia, 1894-1917

By Keith Neilson | Go to book overview

7
Anglo-Russian Relations, 1899-1903: China and Central Asia

'THERE has been an epidemic of illness which has affected certain members of the Government,' Hamilton wrote early in 1899, ' Chamberlain is ill with influenza and gout, and both Goschen and Beach are showing evident signs of work and worry. We are none of us getting younger.'1 The infirmities of the Cabinet were a metaphor for the last days of the 'Victorian' ascendency in British foreign policy. From 1899 to November 1900, the Boer War brought growing discontent with Salisbury's management of foreign affairs. The 'Edwardians' advocated abandoning Britain's diplomatic isolation and re-examining Britain's defence policy.2 When Lansdowne took over the Foreign Office in November 1900, he spent the next year considering the alternatives--an arrangement with either Germany or Russia-- before settling on an Anglo-Japanese alliance. At the same time, and particularly after Balfour assumed the premiership in mid-1902, Britain's military and naval position underwent a thorough re-examination, centred on Russia.3

From 1899 to 1903, Anglo-Russian relations focused on China and Central Asia. The Russian refusal to withdraw from Manchuria was a continual irritant. After the Scott-Muravev agreement, Anglo-Russian relations were relatively quiet: the British desired calm in the Far East because of South Africa; the Russians were fearful about British intentions in China. Conversely, the British were concerned that Russia would attempt to advance there. By mid-May 1899, there were rumours that the Russians were trying to extract a concession to build a line from Newchwang to Peking, with possible dire implications for China's sovereignty.4

____________________
1
Hamilton to Curzon, 24 Feb. 1899, Curzon Papers, MSS Eur F111/142.
2
C. H. D. Howard, Splendid Isolation: A Study of Ideas Concerning Britain's International Position and Foreign Policy During the Later Years of the Third Marquis of Salisbury ( London, 1967).
3
G. Monger, The End of Isolation: British Foreign Policy 1900-7 ( London, 1963); I. H. Nish, The Anglo-Japanese Alliance: The Diplomacy of Two Island Empires 1894-1907 ( London, 1966); J. Gooch, The Plans of War: The General Staff and British Military Strategy c.1900-16 ( London, 1974); A. L. Friedberg , The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895-1905 ( Princeton, 1988).
4
Scott to Sanderson, 18 May 1899, Scott Papers, Add MSS 52303; Scott to Salisbury, disp. 160, 23 May 1899, FO 65/1578; Bertie untitled memo, 19 May 1899 and Salisbury minute (20 May), both Bertie Papers, FO 800/163.

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