Karl Marx in New York Daily Tribune
Articles On China, 1853-1860

The New Chinese War

Written: October 1, 1859;
Transcribed by: Harold Newson;
HTML Mark-up: Andy Blunden;

October 1, 1859

A Cabinet Council is announced for to-morrow in order to decide upon the course to be taken in regard to the Chinese catastrophe. The lucubrations of the French Moniteur and the London Times leave no doubt as to the resolutions arrived at by Palmerston and Bonaparte. They want another Chinese war. I am informed from an authentic source that at the impending Cabinet Council Mr. Milner Gibson, in the first instance, will contest the validity of the plea for war; in the second instance, will protest against any declaration of war not previously sanctioned by both Houses of Parliament; and if his opinion be overwhelmed by a majority of votes, will secede from the Cabinet, thus again giving the signal for a new onslaught on Palmerston's administration and the break up of the Liberal coalition that led to the ousting of the Derby Cabinet. Palmerston is said to feel somewhat nervous as to the intended proceedings of Mr. Milner Gibson, the only one of his colleagues whom he is afraid of, and whom he has characterized more than once as a man peculiarly able "in picking holes." It is possible that simultaneously with this letter you may receive from Liverpool the news of the results of the Ministerial Council. Meanwhile the real bearing of the case in question may be best judged, not from what has been printed, but from what has been wilfully suppressed by the Palmerston organs in their first publicationsof thenews conveyed by the last overland mail.

First, then, they suppressed the statement that the Russian treaty had already been ratified, and that the Emperor of China had given instructions to his mandarins to receive and escort the American Embassy to the capital for the exchange of the ratified copies of the American treaty. These acts were suppressed with a view to stifle the suspicion that would naturally arise, that the English and French Envoys, instead of the Court of Peking, are responsible for meeting obstacles in the transaction of their business which were not encountered either by their Russian or American colleagues. The other, still more important, fact that was at first suppressed by The Times, and the other Palmerston organs, but is now avowed on their part, is that the Chinese authorities had given notice of their willingness to conduct the English and French Envoys to Peking; that they were actually in waiting to receive them at one of the mouths of the river, and offered them an escort if they only consented to leave their vessels and troops. Now, as the treaty of Tien-tsin contains no clause granting to the English and French the right of sending a squadron of men-of-war up the Pejho, it becomes evident that the treaty was violated, not by the Chinese, but by the English, and that on the part of the latter there existed the foregone conclusion to pick a quarrel just before the period appointed for the exchange of the ratifications. Nobody will fancy that the Hon. Mr. Bruce acted on his own responsibility in thus baffling the ostensible end aimed at by the last Chinese war, but that, on the contrary, he only executed secret instructions received from London. Now, it is true that Mr. Bruce was dispatched, not by Palmerston, but by Derby; but, then I have only to remind you that during the first administration of Sir Robert Peel, when Lord Aberdeen kept the seals of the Foreign Office, Sir Henry Bulwer, the English Ambassador at Madrid, picked a quarrel with the Spanish Court, resulting in his expulsion from Spain, and that, during the debates in the House of Lords on this " untoward event,", it was proved that Bulwer, instead of obeying the official instructions of Aberdeen, had acted up to the secret instructions of Palmerston, who then sat on the Opposition benches.

A manoeuvre has also been carried out during these last days in the Palmerstonian press, which leaves no doubt, at least to those acquainted with the secret history of English diplomacy during the last thirty years, as to the real author of the Peiho catastrophe and the impending third AngloChinese war. The Times intimates that the guns planted on the forts of Taku which caused such havoc among the British squadron were of Russian origin, and were directed by Russian officers. Another Palmerstonian organ is still more plain spoken. I quote:

"We now perceive how closely the policy of Russia is interwoven with that of Peking; we detect great movements on the Amur; we discern large Cossack armies manoeuvring far beyond Lake Baikal, in the frozen dreamland on the twilight borders of the Old World; we trace the course of innumerable caravans; we espy a special Russian envoy" (Gen. Mouravieff, the Governor of Eastern Siberia) "making his way, with secret designs, from the remoteness of Eastern Siberia to the secluded Chinese metropolis; and well may public opinion in this country bum at the thought that foreign influences have had a share in procuring our disgrace and the slaughter of our soldiers and sailors."

Now, this is one of Lord Palmerston's old tricks. When Russia wanted to conclude a treaty of commerce with China, he drove the latter by the opium war into the arms of her northern neighbour. When Russia requested the cession of the Amur, he brought it about by the second Chinese war, and now that Russia wants to consolidate her influence at Peking, he extemporizes the third Chinese war. In all his transactions with the weak Asiatic States, with China, Persia, Central Asia, Turkey, it has always been his invariable and constant rule to ostensibly oppose Russia's designs by picking a quarrel, not with Russia, but with the Asiatic State, to estrange the latter from England by piratical hostilities, and by this roundabout way drive it to the concessions it had been unwilling to yield to Russia. You may be sure that on this occasion the whole past Asiatic policy of Palmerston will be again sifted, and I draw, therefore, your attention to the Afghan papers ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on the 8th June, 1859. They throw more light on Palmerston's sinister policy, and the diplomatic history of the last thirty years, than any documents ever before printed. The case is, in a few words, this:

In 1838 Palmerston commenced a war against Dost Mohammed, the ruler of Cabul, a war that led to the destruction of an English army, and was commenced on the plea of Dost Mohammed having entered into a secret alliance against England with Persia and Russia. In proof of this assertion, Palmerston laid, in 1839, before Parliament, a Blue Book, chiefly consisting of the correspondence of Sir A. Burnes, the British envoy at Cabul, with the Government at Calcutta. Burnes had been assassinated during an insurrection at Cabul against the English invaders, but, distrustful of the British Foreign Minister, had sent copies of some of his official letters to his brother, Dr. Burnes, at London. On the appearance, in 1839, of the "Afghan papers," prepared by Palmerston, Dr. Burnes accused him of having "garbled and forged the dispatches of the late Sir A. Burnes," and, in corroboration of his statement, had some of the genuine despatches printed. But it was only last summer that the murder came out. Under the Derby Ministry, on the motion of Mr. Hadfield, the House of Commons ordered all the Afghan papers to be published infull, and this order has been executed in such a form as to constitute a demonstration, to the meanest capacity, of the truth of the charge of garbling and forgery, in the interest of Russia. On the title-page of the Blue Book appears the following:

"Note. — The correspondence, only partially given in former Returns, is here given entire, the omitted passages being marked by brackets, [ ] ."

The name of the official, which appears as a guaranty for the fidelity of the return, is "J. W. Kaye, Secretary in Political and Secret Departments," Mr. Kaye being the upright historian of the War in Afghanistan. Now, to illustrate the real relations of Palmerston with Russia, against which he pretended to have set up the Afghan war, one instance may suffice for the present. The Russian agent, Vickovitch, who came to Cabul in 1837, was the bearer of a letter from the Czar to Dost Mohammed, Sir Alexander Burnes obtained a copy of the letter, and sent it to Lord Auckland, the Governor-General of India. In his own despatches, and various documents inclosed by him, this circumstance is referred to over and over again. But the copy of the Czar's letter was expunged altogether from the papers presented by Palmerston in 1839, and in every despatch in which it is referred to, such alterations were made as were necessary to suppress the circumstance of the connection of the "Emperor of Russia" with the mission to Cabul. This forgery was committed in order to suppress the evidence of the Autocrat's connection with Vickovitch, whom, on his return to St. Petersburg, it suited Nicholas to formerly disavow. For instance, at page 82 of the Blue Book will be found the translation of a letter to Dost Mohammed, which reads now as follows, the brackets showing the words originally suppressed by Palmerston:

"An ambassador on the part of [the] Russia [an Emperor] came [from Moscow] to Tehran, and has been appointed to wait on the Sirdars at Candahar, and thence to proceed to the presence of the Ameer.... He is the bearer of [confidential messages from the Emperor and of the] letters from the Russian ambassador at Tehran. The Russian ambassador recommends this man to be a most trusty individual, and to possess full authority to make any negotiations, [on the part of the Emperor and himself], etc., etc."

These, and similar forgeries committed by Palmerston in order to protect the honour of the Czar, are not the only curiosity exhibited by the "Afghan papers." The invasion of Afghanistan was justified by Palmerston on the ground that Sir Alexander Burnes had advised it as a proper means for baffling Russian intrigues in Central Asia. Now Sir A. Burnes did quite the contrary, and consequently all his appeals on behalf of Dost Mohammed were altogether suppressed in Palmerston's edition of the "Blue Book;" the correspondence being by dint of garbling and forgery, turned quite to the reverse of its original meaning. Such is the man now about to enter on a third Chinese war, on the ostensible plea o thwarting Russia's designs in that quarter.