T"permanent interest of Great Britain in the Far East is the good will of China, the only great native Power in Asia • the only one which dare struggle with Russia ; the only one which, if we ever have to fight for India, could make an effective diversion on our behalf. She is, too, the only great Power who, if France ever demands Siam or Burmah as natural divisions of the Indo-Chinese Empire she is building up, would heartily sympathise with our resistance, perhaps aid it by pouring her innumerable militia into Tonkin. That is, we say, the permanent situation, unalterable by any momentary events, and we can see nothing in this dangerous Corean affair which should induce us to abandon a policy which, if we do abandon it, we must sooner or later resume. The art of Japan, the pleasantness of her people—the only genuinely polite race in Asia—and the events of her recent history, make the island Empire interesting to us all, but furnish no reason for taking, as we are urged to take, the inexpedient side. The Japanese have created a disciplined army, and have purchased or built an effective fleet ; ambition has awoke in their statesmen, who probably share the vanity which is the national foible, and they are anxious to profit by the new and powerful weapons they have forged. Naturally they turn with eyes of longing to Corea, as a possession which would increase at once their territory and their wealth. The great peninsula, as large as Britain, is as fertile as Japan itself, is full of mineral wealth, possesses fine natural harbours, and is filled with an industrious population which can hardly exceed eight millions, and, as at present organised, has little capacity for defending itself. The Japanese long for possession, as the Germans longed for Schleswig- Holstein, and think they have at last a good chance of obtaining it. The Coreans oppress foreigners, whether Chinese, Japanese, or Europeans, and being in a condition almost of anarchy, they have recently been plundering Japanese traders. The Government of the Mikado has therefore appealed to a tripartite treaty signed in 1885, under which, in the event of provocation, China and Japan have equal rights of landing troops in Corea. They asked the Chinese to join them in setting affairs straight, and on the Chinese refusal acted alone, despatched a fleet with eleven thousand troops on board, seized Seoul, the capital, and are at this moment masters of official Corea. They have not, however, contented themselves with com- pelling a redress of grievances, but have announced their intention of " reforming " Corea, more especially its taxa- tion, and of " civilising" the country,—that is, in fact, of governing it for any period they choose. That may be i highly proper, and is certainly in accord with a great many European precedents—for example, the French descent on Tunis, and our own on Egypt—but it really involves conquest, and has naturally excited the wrath of the Chinese, who consider Corea a feudatory State of their own. The statesmen of Pekin are never in a hurry, and they never wish to risk war, but they never give up anything, and they will not surrender their right to a condominium in Corea. They do not want the province for themselves ; but they cannot, while the North remains the centre of their power, tolerate a. strong foreign army in the peninsula ; and consequently, after demanding that the Japanese shall retire, they have accepted the risk of war, and are forwarding by land and water an army to Corea. As nearly as we can calculate, they will in a week or two have seventeen thousand men in Corea, and as the Japanese cannot fly before a mere threat, it is difficult to see how overt war is to be avoided. The Japanese evidently do not intend to avoid it, and the Chinese are not using " Black Flags " or " Pirates," or any other unacknowledged force, but their regular troops and ships about who com- mission there can be no mistake. If, therefore, Europe does not intervene, there will be war between the Empires, ending, in all human probability, in an annexation of Corea to China. The fancy that Japan must win is, we imagine, based only on the preference for Japan which we can none of us help feeling. She has far greater quickness than her rival, far more power of imitating European discipline, and far more mobility and readiness to make sudden dashes on exposed points ; but she has not the gloomy strength of China. Her people have neither the physical qualities of the Chinese nor their indifference to life, nor their immutable resolution, nor their inexhaustible numbers. The Chinese cannot give up Corea to Japan, and they will roll forward forces in- numerable, if necessary for twenty years on end, until the Japanese, crushed under their weight, retire to their islands to reflect that although civilisation is often stronger than barbarism—not always, or Europe would have mastered. Asia ages ago—a native-born barbarism is often stronger than an imitative civilisation. Defeating China is a difficult task even for France, and we cannot believe that it is a possible one for Japan.
But Europe may intervene? Europe, we fancy, will be very slow to do it. If it intervenes as a whole, it will be to postpone the entire business, order China back to her frontiers, and Japan back to her islands, make some arrangement in Corea for decent government, and pro- claim that the status quo has been re-established. But Europe is at this moment hardly capable of collective action, and separate action would involve just that risk of war which all European statesmen are determined for the present not to run. Russia might aid. Japan in considera- tion of a Corean port ; but besides having reason to dread China, which only a few years ago faced her in Kuldja, and compelled her to retreat, Russia does not want to weaken her resources in Europe by an expensive war in the Far East, or to begin any great adventure there until the Trans.. Siberian Railway enables her to move troops and artillery with some ease, and the Trans-Siberian Railway will take her engineers ten years more to construct. France, of course, can intervene if she pleases, but her taxpayers will dislike the adventure; she has herself nothing to gain, and she will have to send twenty thousand troops to perish in the deltas of Tonkin. /As for England, her interest now and always is peace and friendship with China. It is true, if the three Powers took the other side, they could give Corea to China and for- bid. Japan to move ; but they have absolutely no interest in doing it. France wants nothing up there ; England wants nothing up there ; and though Russia wants a great deal, more especially a port farther south than Vladivostock, China will not give her one. Pekin does not want Russia in Corea, and unless she is beaten will not tolerate her there. We look to it therefore, that the European Powers will hover about watching each other, but unless compelled by some new event, not doing any- thing of importance ; and that China and Japan, after a desultory and expensive contest, will arrive at some compromise, and, " in view of the condition' of their treasuries," simultaneously retire. There is a sort of idea afloat that, as Russia and France are allied, they may welcome the opportunity of striking a blow at England in the Far East ; but why should they do it there any more than in the Atlantic or the Mediter- ranean ? France has nothing to get, and Russia only a port. They would run the same risk of being defeated, while they would be exposed to attacks from China, which they are both compelled by circumstances to consider formidable.
That statesmen should allow the European peace to be broken because the Mikado's Government wants, very foolishly, to gain a province on the mainland, is almost incredible ; but what a position that of British Foreign Secretary is now becoming ! He must really hate the mails, they bring him so much trouble. In every corner of the planet, things may happen any day bringing this country to the edge of war. It is not only what we may do, but what the Mikado may do, or some wretched Sheikh on the banks of the Upper Oubanghi. Now it is Australia which declares that we ought to fight France because New Caledonia is too near Sydney; and again, it is the citizens of Johannesburg who think the Boers ought to be crushed because they insist on enlisting Englishmen against their native foes. The English are everywhere, and everywhere they think that the one imperative duty of the Foreign Secretary is not to protect them, for that is natural and just, but to do something that may avert a possible source of future dis- comfort or loss of profit. Our colonists really think that England exists in order to fight their battles. and the merchants in the dependencies are just a trifle worse. Their complaints and outcries and representations are often justifiable and always natural, but a Foreign Secretary must read them with a, strange feeling of being pitted against the world. All roads lead to Downing Street, and there is never a day when some messenger is not entering it with tidings which demand immediate attention. We suppose it is pleasant work, or at least many Secretaries have said so ; but the most cheerful among them must sometimes feel that, if he is so often to play the part of the Roman Emperor, it would be a comfort to feel that he had at all events command of Caesar's legions.