Concessions, Conflict, and Conciliation: China, 1895-1899
WHILE Salisbury had reason to be unhappy with the position that he inherited in Anglo-Russian relations about Armenia, the same could not be said about the position in China. At the end of the Sino-Japanese War, Anglo-Russian relations in the Far East were on a relatively friendly footing. During the next four years, the situation fluctuated greatly. From 1895 until 1897, the Great Powers sought railway concessions in and the right to make loans to China. This involved the British government to some extent, but it was largely an issue of secondary importance. The Foreign Office had confidence that British commercial interests could hold their own unaided. The German seizure of a naval base at Kiaochow in 1897, which prompted a similar Russian acquisition of Port Arthur, was viewed quite differently. This threatened the strategic balance in the Far East. When these actions were combined with a Russian attempt to gain undue influence over China by means of offering her a big loan, the British had to take action. The result was Salisbury's failed attempt in 1898 to reach a general agreement with Russia. However, while this wider initiative was not successful, in April 1899 Salisbury was able to reassert Britain's influence in the Far East through a limited Anglo-Russian agreement over Chinese railway concessions.
After the successful coercion of Japan by the Great Powers, the immediate question arose: where were the Chinese to obtain the money to pay the indemnity that they owed Japan?1 The immediate contenders were the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, the largest British financial power in the Far East, and the Deutsche-Asiatische Bank, the quasi-state bank created to provide funding for German commercial efforts in China.2 However, in the wings were both the French and Russian governments, with the latter quite willing to accept the burden of the entire loan in order to strengthen its influence in China. The Hongkong Bank____________________