Xi’s Costly Obsession With Security
How a Quest for Control Threatens China’s Economic Growth
SINCE the days of King John, the last really French sovereign of England, some seven hundred years ago, rarely have the relations between Britain and France been worse -- save in times of acute controversy or of actual hostilities -- than they were at the opening of the present century.
The feuds between the two countries have indeed been number-less and have left their mark. We think at once of Crecy and Agincourt, of Joan of Arc, of Blenheim and Fontenoy, of the struggle for empire in America and India, of Trafalgar and Waterloo. But apart from such bygones, the record of the last two decades of the last century alone were filled with one quarrel after another, for the most part due to the clashing of incompatible colonial ambitions. The climax was reached in 1898 when Kitchener after his victory of Omdurman steamed up the Nile only to find his progress barred by Marchand who had crossed the African continent from the Atlantic and hoisted the flag of France at Fashoda. The universal outburst of wrath in England and the rough, uncompromising tone adopted by both government and people might well have made war inevitable if France had not backed down completely, albeit with dignity.
A public humiliation is not easily forgiven by any nation, especially a great one. No wonder that for a space it seemed that Britain had displaced Germany as the chief object of French hatred. Germans were in fact perhaps more numerous and certainly more welcome than Englishmen at the Paris exhibition of 1900. When the South African war startled the world by the repeated defeats of British regulars at the hands of Dutch farmers, Frenchmen high and low jeered to their hearts' content with a noisiness and occasional indecency that provoked fierce resentment across the Channel. Never had English and French, statesmen and people alike, appeared further estranged than at this juncture. Thus the British Foreign Office, when taught by experience of the perils of "splendid isolation" it looked for a partner, naturally turned first and foremost to Germany. From 1899 till near the close of 1901 London repeatedly sought for an alliance or at least a binding agreement of some kind with Berlin -- but sought in vain.
Yet, throughout it all there were a few rare souls, French and English, who in the darkest days never gave up the conviction that, whatever might be the griefs of the past, it would be of untold benefit to both nations, ay, to civilization, for them to be friends, not enemies, that the very differences between them demanded that they should supplement, not antagonize one another, that there were no questions between them which could not be fairly settled by the proper exercise of consideration and good will. Among the men holding these views were a few high in office, but what is extraordinary is not so much that a mere handful were able to bring about a far-reaching political agreement as the support they instantly found in public opinion.
Soon after its overtures to Germany had ended in failure, the British Government was questioned by the French as to whether it was disposed to enter into negotiations aiming at a broad settlement of outstanding issues between them. The reply was a prompt affirmative and the discussions began. It is noteworthy that the most important matters -- Egypt and Morocco -- were disposed of without much trouble. This seems surprising when we remember that Egypt had been a particularly sore point for France for twenty years, one which had rendered truly good relations with England impossible, one on which she appeared more sensitive and less willing to make concessions than on any other. As for Morocco, the last attempt of the British Foreign Office in 1901 to win the coöperation of Germany was precisely in order to keep the French out of that country. But now each side realized that instead of trying to ignore unpleasant facts it was wiser to come to terms on a principle of give and take, of a free hand (subject to certain restrictions) in Egypt for the one, in Morocco for the other. This principle was, therefore, accepted, without further ado. Also the old wearisome dispute regarding the so-called French Shore of Newfoundland, where France had well established legal and historic rights, but where in the course of time their exercise had become an unquestionable hardship to the native population, was terminated in the rational way of buying her out by concessions elsewhere. Curiously enough, the difficulty that delayed longest the signature of the convention was the French wish to acquire the insignificant British colony of Gambia which made an awkward enclave in French West Africa but which, though of slight value in itself, England refused to part with.
Already measures had been taken to prepare the public for the new orientation. It was necessary to proceed with caution even in the exchange of courtesies, for the situation was delicate and a trifling mistake might prove disastrous. The most important and striking step was the visit at his own initiative of King Edward VII to Paris in 1903. There was serious risk in the venture, for though the King as Prince of Wales had been a well known figure in the town and was personally popular there, anti-English feeling was strong and a single hostile demonstration might have done untold mischief. But the French did not belie their traditional reputation for politeness. The reception accorded to the King, if not enthusiastic, was courteous and all passed off smoothly. With the ice thus broken, President Loubet on his return visit to London was greeted with something like real warmth and exchanges of politenesses between English and French societies became the order of the day.
Nevertheless, it must have been with many tremors as well as hopes that those in authority in London and Paris announced to the world the famous Anglo-French agreement of 1904. How would it strike the general public in the two countries so recently at daggers drawn ? It entailed for both the surrender of hopes and of "rights" which had been maintained with patriotic ardor. Would the uncertain future profits compensate for what would be deemed grievous sacrifices?
The reply both in England and in France was startling in its promptness and unanimity. Doubts, hesitations, reservations were drowned in an ever swelling chorus of approval which apparently included nearly everybody except the Frenchmen in Egypt and the Englishmen in Morocco. In the British parliament the convention was ratified almost without opposition; in the French chamber there was more criticism but the great majority acclaimed what had been done. Of course, true to human nature, each side asserted that the other had got the better of the bargain, but the dominating fact was that neither attached importance to the actual terms so much as to the clearing away of the obstacles to better relations between the two nations. Manifestations of good feeling now became more and more marked, the prevailing tone of the press was almost dithyrambic, and presently the erstwhile traditional foes found themselves closely linked together, not by any written pact but by what was well termed the "Entente Cordiale." Since then, through days of peace and days of war, despite many conflicts of interest and some of sentiment which have aroused grievous heart burnings, the Entente Cordiale, though at times far from being a reality corresponding to its name, has survived to this hour and still has roots deeper than is often appreciated.
To interpret all this is not easy. It is clear that the treaty of 1904, which in its provisions was quite unsentimental, would not have produced such an outburst of approval if the peoples concerned had not been prepared for it, to an extent that neither of them nor anyone else was aware of beforehand. When we seek for the reasons, some of them can well be surmised, such as the recognition in France that with her stationary population it had become hopeless for her to endeavor at the same time to rival England by sea and Germany by land, and that she must now decide between the two policies. Conversely, we have the age long English tradition in favor of a "balance of power" on the continent and an awakening to a consciousness that whereas France was no longer to be feared, German competition at every turn threatened Britain industrially and commercially and even in that command of the sea which she held to be essential to the feeding of her own people and to the existence of her empire.
These considerations, whether well or ill founded, were cold blooded and were plain to the man in the street. They have often been expatiated upon. The more unconscious motives are harder to fathom. The French and the English are radically dissimilar in innumerable ways, indeed both are probably nearer to the Germans than to one another. Even with Americans Frenchmen often appear to have more intellectual affinities than they have with Britons. The attitude of millions of British for generations was one of scorn for the French and all they represented; that of the French, who have got the worst of it in most of the wars between the two, was marked by positive hatred, tempered but not sweetened by contempt for a folk whom they regarded as gross and stupid. Yet underlying French enmity there ever lurked a recognition of English achievement as something which extorted admiration. In yet greater measure the assumption of ineffable British superiority has not prevented numberless Englishmen from yielding to the charm of French culture and from appreciating how manifold and how marvellous have been the products of the French mind. At bottom, too, both peoples have for the last couple of centuries entertained a feeling that they belonged to a special category, that it was they, between them, who had taken the chief rôle in the shaping of the modern world, and each has been at least secretly pleased when its merits have won the recognition of the other. After all, granting that the twain are not alike and cannot be expected to see many things in the same light, may they not for that very reason serve as a better complement to one another, and perhaps live in truer harmony on that account, as one sees in private life in many of the happiest marriages?
Be this as it may, one can hardly imagine that if the previous negotiations between the English and the Germans had been fruitful, the announcement would have been greeted by either public with anything like the same volume of popular enthusiasm or would have led to such immediate cordiality. And yet the two would merely have had to overlook a few recent bickerings instead of being called upon to forget age long dissensions.
The Entente Cordiale was soon invigorated by the action of Germany in intervening in Morocco. Whatever may have been the rights and wrongs of the dispute in itself, the British, not without reason, were convinced that the German Government cared little enough about Morocco but was intent on demonstrating to France that the friendship of Britain was an insufficient protection against a hostile Germany. Let her become convinced of this and do penance; then Moroccan affairs could be arranged without trouble. If, too, as is probable, the British Foreign Office had some inkling of the secret anti-English Björko covenant between the Tsar and the Kaiser, this would stiffen its attitude. At any rate England backed up France without reserve from start to finish, for which support the latter was frankly grateful. Thus the whole incident, and especially its finale, the Conference of Algeciras, led to a fresh honeymoon between a couple who felt that the troth they had pledged had been tested and had not been found wanting.
In the following years Anglo-French amity was unmarred by any serious rift. The general foreign policy of the two countries was similar, they took the same stand in broad international questions, they consulted together frequently, and lent the readiest assistance without either having to feel that it was sacrificing real interests of its own for the benefit of its friend. The intimacy was also strengthened by the meetings of military and naval experts to agree on principles of joint action in case of need.
These "secret" military conventions have been fiercely attacked and interpreted as indicating nefarious designs. Much nonsense has been talked in this connection. We may grant, to be sure, that confabulations of the sort are not in harmony with theories of pacifism at any price and that they betray a lack of confidence in the maintenance of the peace, as do armaments themselves. Their necessity and even the temptation to them may well be deplored. But the foreign policy of a state is not properly determined by its military authorities, whose duty in time of peace is in the main confined to planning and preparing to meet situations not of their making. No one can reasonably blame a general staff for working out with care and elaboration a plan of campaign in an imaginary war even when such a conflict is most unlikely and is desired by no one. That is not its affair. Its business is to be ready for whatever happens and reasonable beings may be expected to devote most of their attention to contingencies they think may well occur rather than to mere plays of the imagination. Now if the military experts in a country are to be prepared to fulfill the terrific tasks which may suddenly be imposed upon them, we can hardly criticize them if they wish to consult with similar representatives of another land with which their own is in alliance. The difficult and complicated problem of the coördination of the resources against the common enemy should be discussed beforehand. Such things cannot be safely left to the last minute. And even when there exists no formal alliance, but only a likelihood of joint action, should responsible people be precluded from taking counsel betimes with one another in regard to the course to follow in the event of circumstances which may be of vital importance to them all? It stands to reason, too, that such conferences and the agreements arrived at must in the nature of the case be as "secret" as are the plans of a single general staff which nobody imagines should be given to the newspapers.
Yet whatever were the heart to heart talks and the understandings, and despite the fact that in 1914 there was really much more common interest as well as sympathy between the English and the French than between the French and the Russians, there was no Anglo-French alliance similar to the Franco-Russian one. In consequence, when the crisis came in July, while France not only as she was pledged to do took the side of Russia after the German declaration of war, but from the beginning of the dispute gave her ally full assurance of support, on the other hand until the last moment she was in desperate uncertainty as to whether she could rely on English help. Even Sir Edward Grey, who believed that Britain was morally committed, pointed out again and again that she was bound by no express promise. If, indeed, the Germans had avoided taking the offensive in the west or at the very least had respected the neutrality of Belgium, one may well think that England would have remained neutral, at any rate for a while. At the cabinet meeting on the morning of August 2nd when the armies were already on the march, the majority of the members still favored England's keeping out of the war, and even after the news came of the entry of German soldiers into Belgium, there was a delay over the final vote until it should be clear that this violation of neutral territory had not taken place with Belgian connivance. Only after the appeal of King Albert did the British cabinet commit itself and even then the last word was reserved to Parliament.
The prolonged tragedy of the World War led to more than four years of the most intimate association between the English and the French, -- to common hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, to countless interchanges of services, and to the actual personal contact of millions of people belonging to the two nations. It would be asking too much of human nature to expect that either governments or individuals should invariably see eye to eye with their partners under such circumstances. Radical differences of honest opinions as to the wisest course to pursue in critical situations, clashes of equally legitimate interests, selfishness of every sort, pride, suspicion; jealousy, the inborn tendency to take the credit for success to yourself and to put the blame for failure on your co-worker, the fraying of nerves continually at the highest tension, all played the part they must among men not angels, and left their traces behind. One wonders not so much that faults were committed as that people kept their heads at all and that through this terrible experience of bloodshed and destruction the relations between the companions at arms continued as good as they did to the end.
When the gigantic combat was over, the victory won, and the foe compelled to accept an armistice, to surrender his conquests, and to disband his armies while his fate was being decided for him, the triumphant allies after the first moment of intoxication were soon to discover how widely their views differed. The French and the English who had borne the brunt of the fighting and formed the nucleus of the world wide combination which had overthrown the German titan, could look back on their achievements with equally justified pride -- there was glory enough to go round; they had suffered and bled to a ghastly, though not to the same, extent, and they demanded reparation as well as security for the future. But there was much that was unlike in their situations. England had now attained practically every one of her war objects. Her fear of the German menace was gone, for there no longer existed a German navy, and the rebuilding of one could be forbidden; German commerce was prostrate, and the mercantile fleet, like the colonies of the former empire, were in the hands of the conquerors who proposed to keep them. For Britain, who had not known invasion, it was comparatively easy to forgive and forget, the more so as it soon became evident to her that for the reconstitution of her own industry and trade, the peace, prosperity and purchasing power of her neighbors, Germany included, were more important than the amount of money she might obtain from reparations.
Victorious France, on the other hand, which had suffered more from the war than had her vanquished German foe, now had a great deal to ask for. She wanted first and foremost security. Her recovery of Alsace-Lorraine did not make up for the actual war losses from the flower of her population, which still was fifty percent smaller than that of her neighbor and with a much lower rate of annual growth. How was she to be insured against fresh attack and a renewal of the secular struggle for the Rhine frontier? Must she look forward before long to the horrors of another invasion? Secondly, in addition to what the combat itself had cost her, she was obliged to devote immediately huge sums to the reconstitution of the devastated district, sums which it was stipulated should be made good by German reparations. These were vital to her and she must insist accordingly. That Germany might be ruined in the process left her comparatively indifferent. She preferred it should be Germany rather than herself. Also, as a more economically self-sufficing nation, she was less keenly concerned about the prompt rebuilding of Europe than was England.
These fundamental differences in situations and the conflict of equally justifiable claims which has ensued have been at the bottom of most of the troubles, not to say antagonism, between Great Britain and France from the days of the Peace Conference to our own. With the best of will it has often been more than difficult for them to work harmoniously together when their respective necessities have been so impossible to reconcile without painful sacrifices on the part of one if not both.
There have of course been various other reasons for the many disputes which have embittered their relations. Old rivalries sprang up again in many quarters. There was bad feeling in the Near East, where both for a time acted in a way which redounded neither to their credit nor in the end to their profit; there were struggles for influence and petty intrigues in regions far and near, including Geneva. The French have resented that England made her consent to the fifteen year alliance agreed upon at Paris dependent on the adhesion of the United States. As that was withheld later, the treaty fell to the ground; but they were left bound by the concessions they had made to obtain it. They also were particularly embittered by the proceedings of the Washington Disarmament Conference, and though ready to admit afterwards that they had blundered themselves, they ascribed their discomfiture and humiliation chiefly to the machinations of the British. Personal elements have likewise entered in. Lloyd George was the bête noire of Frenchmen who believed that he got the better of them in every transaction; Poincaré in his turn became even more unpopular in England, whose outspoken disapproval he calmly disregarded. As the months passed the animosity on the two sides of the Channel both in the government and the public waxed more and more evident, the tone of the official correspondence was marked by acerbity, that of the press by violent recrimination. The one thing which everybody seemed agreed upon was the charge of utter selfishness on the part of their former friends.
The occupation of the Ruhr, which was almost unanimously condemned by vocal opinion in England and was carried out in the flattest defiance of her wishes by an ally who in turn accused her of desertion, marked the culmination of this ill feeling. The Entente Cordiale appeared to be not only dead but to be poisoning the atmosphere with its decomposed corpse. Yet disastrous as the Ruhr occupation may have been economically, its ultimate political effects proved to the good. It served to make both France and Germany realize the limits of their strength and of what they could obtain by mere force, active or passive. Without it we should have had no Dawes Plan or Locarno or Thoiry. With the improvement in Franco-German relations those between England and France have coincidently grown better, so much so that they have resumed at least a semblance of their former cordiality; Messrs. MacDonald and Herriot were well fitted to work in harmony for common ideals; Briand and Chamberlain have had no unpleasant controversies and have coöperated loyally.
Perhaps the same spirit has not yet permeated the two Foreign Offices, for such institutions have tenacious memories, are seldom sentimental or even charitable, and are prone to see the trees rather than the wood. It thus occurs sometimes that, unknown to the world, their opinions differ materially both from those of their chiefs and those of the general public, but this is an evil which has to be put up with.
We may also keep in mind that it is natural that there should be a certain jealousy between the representatives of the two leading powers of Europe whenever they meet on neutral grounds. The relative prestige of nations may often appear a petty consideration, but it has a practical importance in obtaining attention to their wishes. There may well be sound reasons why either England or France should object to having her voice listened to less than the other's in, for instance, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Turkey, or, indeed, almost everywhere. It may be noted that the Little Entente has never excited enthusiasm in Britain, where it has been looked upon as a grouping of French satellites, and much the same is true of the alliance between France and Belgium. On the other hand, any British flirtation with Mussolini is alarming to France. One could multiply examples of the kind on either side.
Turning to the future, the question that immediately arises is the all important one -- what are the prospects for the further duration of the Entente in substance as well as in form? If we begin by surveying or merely enumerating the fields, both spiritual and material, the world over, where the interests of England and of France differ and must differ, our first impression is discouraging. We can only indicate a few of them here. Each one has a whole complicated history and literature of its own.
To start with, is the close mutual friendship of England and France the one above others that either would prefer? For England at least this is more than doubtful. There can be little question that ever since the war, if she had been able to get the coöperation of the United States in the manner and on the terms she desired, she might have let France go by the board without overmuch regret. The Entente Cordiale can never offer such advantages or make such a sentimental appeal as would an Anglo-American alliance. Therefore, at best it looks only a second choice. And is it even that? Has not the wise and successful tradition of the foreign policy of England been to cultivate intimacy with the next strongest power on the continent as against the dangerous ambitions of the strongest one? Would it not be as natural for her to turn to Germany now as it was to France in 1904? Why, too, should she favor France rather than Italy, from whom she has less to fear as a power, whose interests run less often counter to her own and with whom she has been on excellent terms since the first days of Italian unity? She has in truth more than one string to her bow.
On the French side we may remember that the dream of the community of "the Latin sisters," although it has suffered rude shocks and looks unpromising just now in view of Italian aspirations, still keeps some sentimental appeal. Pan Latinism may have little more than a vague cultural significance, but a "Latin Mediterranean" dominated by a close alliance of France, Italy and Spain can still count on enthusiasts. There are various possibilities for France worth considering in this and other directions, possibilities whose attractiveness would be heightened by any too marked growth of Anglo-Saxon fraternity.
When we turn to economics, we note that France and England have been competitors in the course of centuries in more than one domain of manufacture and commerce. It is true their rivalry has not usually been such as to threaten the welfare of either. They have tended rather to have their particular fields where they did not have to fear one another. It looks now, however, as if France, especially if the interests of her steel industries can be combined with those of German coal to the obvious profit of both, might soon become an active competitor in what have been some of the most important English productions. Conversely, British "defence of home industries" and imperial preference are disadvantageous to France, though with her own record of protectionist policy and of illiberality in regard to colonial trade she has no right to complain.
In the matter of the Allied war debts the British by their loudly proclaimed policy of exacting no more from their debtors than they are forced to hand over to their creditors have been successful, at least for the present, in transferring any French ill feeling on this sore subject from themselves to the Americans. They have made it appear that only the greed of the United States prevents them from being magnanimous to their impoverished allies, who are now being squeezed indirectly as well as directly for enormous payments to a rich creditor across the seas. All right, but how long will it last? Suppose France were to make her payments dependent on her receipt of reparations and these were to dry up so that she gave nothing to America at all, while England continued to do so under the Baldwin agreement. London would soon remind Paris of its obligations. Or again, if France were in the end to obtain a much more satisfactory settlement from America than the one Caillaux was able to conclude with Winston Churchill, would she rest content with the latter? The French tax payer is no more willing to be bled for the benefit of Britain than he is for that of the United States.
In the political domain the possible causes for disagreement are beyond number. It is true that though England is affected by what is going on all over the globe, in the western hemisphere France has but a few scattered outposts. Otherwise her interests are economic or cultural. But everywhere in Europe, as well as in much of Asia and Africa, both the French and the English are actively concerned. Their views and desires often differ, which means that their policies are in danger of clashing. For recent examples we have but to think of the still unsolved problems connected with the peace terms and the reconstitution of Europe and especially with German reparations. In spite of the progress made in the last three years the situation is precarious enough and in any new crisis the previous reasons for dissentiment will still exist.
Then there are the broad international issues, some old, some new, but all complicated, all fraught with grave possibilities for both countries. Who can say that either the question of the Near East or that of the Mediterranean has reached any but a temporary solution? We know that the Far Eastern one is in a most dangerous condition. What is there in Pan Europeanism, is it a practicable ideal or an empty name? Should a united front be opposed to propagandist Bolshevik Russia? What are the limits to the "revolt of Asia" and how is the white man to meet "the rising tide of color?" In every one of these, as in many other problems, England and France are vitally interested and we can conceive of their taking incompatible, not to say hostile, positions. How can anyone expect two peoples so dissimilar in character and manner of thought and whose aims are so often opposed to live together in more than temporary accord?
To this there is a first obvious answer. Life, whether individual, national or international, has become vastly more complicated everywhere. This is a part of the price we have to pay for modern progress and we must face it as best we can. The very fact that the relations, geographic and economic, historical, political and cultural, between the English and the French are more intricate than those between any other two of the great nations of the world means that it is of the utmost consequence to both that they should be friends, not enemies. They are capable of doing each other endless good as well as harm and this is no mere transient phase but is based on permanent conditions. As King Edward VII put it, "I know of no two countries whose prosperity is more interdependent." A few enlightened spirits have always appreciated this, and since 1904 there have been many who have perceived it more or less clearly, even in these last years of reaction. If it can become part of the creed not only of statesmen and of the leaders of public opinion in London and Paris, but also of the instinctive belief of the masses, it should go far to enable them to put up with the irritations, large and small, that come of constant intercourse, and to make allowances for each other's peculiarities as well as natural selfishness. They must resolve to make the best of one another, and to maintain constant loyalty as well as tolerance in good weather and in bad. This is asking a great deal of any two peoples, but the nearer the French and the English come to reaching this ideal, the better for them and for the world.