19 DECEMBER 1896, Page 10


E sudden contraction of the world due to telegraph cables and the increased speed of steamers, which within our own time has reduced the planet to one-third its size, tends to a grave increase in the number of political troubles. Everything that happens is known to every- body, and therefore affects everybody, sometimes very sharply. Every nation that is really alive is looking out for islands, harbours, and promontories of good position, and thinking that if it gets them it will be as lucky as the shopkeeper who gets a frontage in Bond Street or the Rue Rivoli. The French say, not without some reason, that international complications in Europe may yet arise out of the civil war in Cuba, and now there is this still more serious business in the Philippines. It is by no means certain that the Spaniards, with all their blood- hound courage and tenacity, can retain their hold on the islands. Their colonial authorities, after their invariable practice, have been for some months inventing, or allowing their journals to invent, a multitude of stories of small victories ; but it now appears from a telegram sent by the correspondent of the Times at Singapore on December 16th that the insurgents have on the whole been decidedly victorious, that the Spanish troops have been withdrawn from all the islands to protect the capital, and that the rebels in arms in the island on which the capital stands number fifty thousand men. He mentions also a rumour that Spanish troops have mutinied in Mindanao, which means, we should fancy, not that Spaniards from Spain have revolted, but that the native regiments under Spanish command in the largest island have gone over in a body, or in companies, to their countrymen. There was a report of that kind some weeks ago, and though it was angrily denied as casting a slur on Spain, it now appears that it was at all events based upon a truth. It is obvious that the war of repression, which, we fear, has been far too savage, has not been successful, for the Governor, General Blanco, has, under an honorific pretext, been recalled, and a fighting General from Spain, General Polavieja, is starting for the colony invested with supreme civil as well as military powers. He takes with him no less than fifteen thousand regular troops, and doubtless full supplies of munitions, which other- wise will run short ; and will find himself, we believe, when he arrives in command of at least twenty-three thousand soldiers, calculating in that number only whites and only effectives. That should be an amply sufficient force for the work to be done ; but it is evident from what we see occurring in Cuba that there is in the Spanish Army, when employed on colonial service, some source of weakness which renders the courage and devotion of the officers and men comparatively useless. What that source is we do not pretend to know, for it seems to us incredible that the men should be underfed, we see no evidence whatever for the stories of corruption, and the general statement that neither officers nor men wish to prevail in the contest is directly contrary to all human experience ; but that " inefficiency " of some sort exists is on the face of the admitted facts. We see no reason why Spanish troops should succeed better in the Philippines than in Cuba; the islands to be conquered are at least as difficult to traverse ; and the insurgent population to be defeated, besides being six times as numerous, is, individually at least, as formidable. Half the natives at least are of the kind of Asiatics who fight well, men with the blood of the defenders of Acheen in their veins—is it for fifteen or twenty years that the Dutch have failed in Acheen ?—they are roused by some cause, which it is clear from the special cruelty shown to the cures, and the special fury of the Spaniards against the native "priests," has some connection with religion, and it is obvious from their success that they are decently armed. No exertion will prevent the import of arms on so enormous a coast-line—it must be much greater than that of Britain, which is two thousand miles —and we doubt if the Spaniards, who are careless rulers, and hardly know even the geography of the group, have made any serious attempt to stop it. The soldiers in that climate will sicken as fast as they do in Cuba—the Spanish Government will never publish the true hospital statistics lest conscripts should read them—and if we understand the geography of the islands at all, the employment of troops in large or strictly organised masses is next to impossible. You might as well try to hunt a copse with hounds all chained together. Spain cannot go on losing blood from wounds on each side of her for ever, and the Philippine revenue is not like the revenue of Cuba, an asset upon which great loans can be raised. It is perfectly possible that Spain may be beaten in the islands ; and what, if that regrettable contingency occurs, is to become of them ? People forget them while they are under the sleepy rule of Spain; but they would furnish in strong hands one of the most useful " bases " of mari- time empire in the world. They are splendidly fertile, they are full of forests and mineral regions, and their people need nothing but training and a liking fox their officers to make not only admirable soldiers, as good probably as any Sepoye, but most efficient and plucky sailors. The steam companies of the Far East and the pirates of the Eastern Archipelago alike recognise that some tribes of the Philippines are among the boldest and strongest sailors in the world. The possessor of the Philippines, if a European Power, would be formidable to Japan, to China, to Singapore, and even for a few years to Australia, which federation' when its gristle has matured, will be master from Hobarton to Vladivostock. Such a colony can never be suffered to become a derelict, which would be its fate if it were independent. There is not the material in the islands for self-government in the European sense, and the half-caste Malay General, who would in the regular course of events become Sultan, would govern more harshly than the Spaniards, and with even less attempt at vivifying the native population.

To whom, then, if Spain should fail to reassert her authority, are the islands to belong ? We should govern them best, and if the inhabitants were consulted they would probably vote for Queen Victoria, whose reputation for lenient government and non-interference with creeds extends all over Asia ; but a British purchase would increase the Continental jealousy of this country to fever- heat. We have, too, already more possessions than we know how to garrison, and quite as many dark subjects as we are able to control without the cruelty to which we shall always, we trust, refuse to resort. Leaving Great Britain, therefore, aside, the real disputants would be Japan Russia, France, and Germany. To Japan all Englishmen would object—or at all events ought to object—upon the broad principle that no possession which has once belonged to a civilised and Christian Power can be permitted to fall back under the dominion of a Pagan one, unless, indeed, the Pagan power is evolved from among its own inhabitants. The government of Formosa has not yet reconciled Europe to Japanese expansion, nor did the massacre at Port Arthur induce us to look with complacent eyes upon future Japanese conquests or occupations. Russia has plenty to digest in Mauchouria without travelling so far South, even if she were willing to give up her principle, that her Empire must be ex- panded as a block, and should not include islands except where they are required for naval purposes. The Philip- pines are far too valuable to be turned into penal stations. There remain, if Austria continues to shun the difficult and costly work of colonisation, Germany and France, and the contest between those two Powers which always rages in silence would, if such a prize were before them, speedily become acute. The Colonial Warty in both is fiercely greedy ; either could pay the price which Spain would, of course, demand and have a right to receive, and both have maritime force sufficient to keep the islands secure. Neither, moreover, would shrink, as recent events have shown, from incurring the vindictive hostility of Japan. We should ourselves, we think, prefer France as successor to Spain ; first, because Frenchmen would, in a country closely watched by the Roman Catholic Church, be more lenient rulers than Germans ; and,

secondly, because, if the truth is to be stated without reserve, France never will be, or from the nature of her people can be, a formidable competitor in trade. Despite the heavy percentages she levies against us, we, and not she, trade with Tonquin. That, however, is not our sub- ject to-day, but only to point out that a new and very complicated international difficulty may speedily be ex- pected in the Far East. It may be avoided, of course, for Spain may reconquer the Philippines, and then no one will interfere with her ; but she also may not, and judging by the light thrown on her strength and weakness by events in Cuba, she probably will not. We know of few things in politics more curious than her difficulty in re- conquering revolted colonies ; but it exists, and has existed for more than seventy years. It is not want of character, for if North America were submerged Spain would try conclusions with South America again without hesitation and without a day's delay, and she has in Cuba displayed an obstinacy which even Americans admire. There is, in truth, nothing more marvellous than Spanish stubborn- ness, unless it is Spanish ill-success.