GREATNESS AND ETERNAL GLORY
FROM 1896 TO 1900, the years following the Kruger telegram crisis, during which Wilhelm II worked to promote the construction of a battle fleet, there had been a number of diplomatic crises in which Germany had been able to make little more than a rhetorical contribution, a bitter reminder to the Kaiser that without a navy the Fatherland was virtually a diplomatic cipher. Until Tirpitz's majestic fleet (inaugurated in 1898) came into being--something that would not happen for at least a decade and not be complete to well into the twentieth century--Germany would have to act prudently until this "danger zone" had been safely negotiated.
The first of the crises that Wilhelm II confronted in this period was in China. Germany had considerable economic interests in the Celestial Empire and in the 1860s had stationed a squadron off the coast to protect German merchants and their property. It was this flotilla that Admiral Tirpitz had commanded before being called to Berlin in 1897 to replace Hollmann as state secretary of the imperial Naval Office. The German presence on the central Chinese litoral depended on the goodwill of the British, who administered the great trading ports in the absence of any effective rule by the Manchu dynasty. To the north of these ports, in the gulf of Pechihli, Russia was asserting more and more influence, especially after China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894- 95. What the Kaiser wanted, and what he felt entitled to, was a port which could serve as a permanent headquarters for the China squadron and as a much-needed coaling station for German ships on duty in the Pacific. This would enhance German prestige and prevent a valuable concession from falling into the hands of another power.1 Germany would somehow have to insert itself between the Russian and British spheres of influence without giving offense to either power.