Carley BRA

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    From Revolution to Dissolution: The Quai d'Orsay, the Banque Russo-Asiatique, and the

    Chinese Eastern Railway, 1917-1926Author(s): Michael Jabara CarleySource: The International History Review, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Nov., 1990), pp. 721-761Published by: The International History ReviewStable URL:

    Accessed: 12/09/2009 06:42

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  • 8/2/2019 Carley BRA


    FromRevolution to Dissolution:The Quai d'Orsay,the BanqueRusso-Asiatique,and the Chinese EasternRailway, 1917-1926


    the first World War the richest financialinstitution nRussia and the ninth richest bank internationally was theBanqueRusso-Asiatique BRA), whoseoperationsrangedfromLondonand Paristo Pekingand Manchuria.1After the Bolshevik evo-lution in November 1917, and the nationalizationby the new Sovietgovernmentof the Russian banking system, bitter power strugglesimperilled he bank. Its officials urned to the Frenchgovernment orprotection,and the Quai d'Orsay,seeingthe bank as a meansto over-throwthe Bolsheviks nd promoteFrenchpoliticaland economic nter-estsin China,wasquickto respond.The Frenchgovernment'snvolve-ment with the BRA demonstratesnot only intimacywith bankers nParis,but a readiness o use a privatefinancial nstitution or purposesofstate.It also llustrates he character f French mperialismn decline:imperialisme u pauvre,as GeorgesSoutouputsit in anothercontext.2Before1914 Francehad been a prominentexporterof capital,but thewarso exhaustedher financialand human resourceshat by the time ofthe Armistice n November1918, the Frenchgovernmentwas crippledand deeply n debt to its Britishand Americanallies.Too weak to takeI wish to thankthe Social Sciencesand Humanities Research Council of Canada forits financial support; and the Social Science Federation of Canada and the Cana-dian Federation or the Humanitiesforgrantingme leave of absence.Thanks are alsodue to John Cairns,Richard K. Debo, and RobertYoung for readingand comment-ing on an earlierdraft.

    1 Revue Economique et Financiere, 1 June 1929, clipping in M[inistere des]Finances], B31593, formerlyF30 669.2 Georges Soutou, *L'impe*rialismeu pauvre: La politique e"conomiqueu gou-vernement rangaisen Europecentrale et orientalede 1918- 1929',Relationsinter-nationales,vii ( 1976 ) , 219-39.The InternationalHistory Review, xii, 4, November1990, pp. 661-880cn issn 0707-5332 The InternationalHistoryReview

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    722 Michael JabaraCar eycontrol of the BRA, the failure illustrates the Quai d'Orsay's unwilling-ness to limit itself to objectives within its power.When Allied efforts to overthrow the Bolshevik revolution failed,the history of the BRA matched the halting development of Franco-Soviet relations in the early- and mid-ig2os. As the Soviet governmentbegan after 1920 to rebuild the economy devastated by the Russian civilwar, it sought to re-establish diplomatic and economic relations withthe western powers. Soviet Russia needed western manufactured goodsand credit to obtain them; and she needed markets for her petroleum,lumber, and other raw materials. While exploring the possibility ofusing the BRA to facilitate these objectives, the Soviet government alsosought to control it through clandestine means. Similarly, the Frenchgovernment was preoccupied with the economic reconstruction of itswar-ravaged north-east, where most of its limited financial resourceshad to be directed; with the establishment of new markets for its manu-factured goods; and with finding new sources of petroleum and otherraw materials. In the stagnant post-war economy of the early 1920s,the reintegration of Russia - Soviet or not -seemed essential to therevival of European industry and commerce, and the BRA seemed toprovide a useful means of tying French and Soviet interests together.The Banque Russo-Asiatique (Russko-Aziatskii bank) was formedin 1910 from a merger of the Banque du nord (or Severnyi bank) andthe Banque Russo-Chinoise (Russko-Kitaiskii bank) . The latter, whosecapital stock was more than fifty per cent French, had been establishedin 1896 as an instrument of French and Russian economic penetrationof China. Though the BRA was a Russian bank, the majority of itscapital stock was in French hands before the First World War, and itcame under the influence, though not the control, of the SocieteGenerate and the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas (Paribas), two ofthe richest and most powerful banks in France. Its assets were by 1914the largest of any Russian bank. It had important interests in theRussian petroleum industry, in mining and metallurgy, in the develop-ment of railways in the Ukraine and Donetz basin, and in virtually everysector of Russian industry. It had nearly one hundred branch offices inRussia and twenty others in foreign cities, including Paris and London.But the majority of its foreign branches were in China, where it hadtaken over the role of the Banque Russo-Chinoise as an instrument ofRussian economic and political influence.

    Behind the screen of the Banque Russo-Chinoise, Russia had acquiredin 1896 the concession to build the Chinese Eastern Railway. Thus, theRusso-Chinoise became the sole stockholder of the 1,000 shares of theChinese Eastern Railway Company, though the Russian government

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    The Banque Russo-Asiatique 723provided the capital to build the railway, a line of approximately 2,000kilometres across Manchuria linking European Russia, via the Trans-Siberian Railway at Irkutsk and Chita, with the port of Vladivostok onthe Pacific Ocean. The Chinese Eastern Railway had considerablestrategic and economic importance, as it was shorterby several hundredkilometres than the Trans-Siberian route around the vast Manchuriansalient into eastern Siberia. A spur line also ran south from Harbin,Manchuria, to connect with the network of lines leading into China.The capital shares of the railway were deposited in trust with the Rus-sian state bank in St. Petersburg, and symbolized the dominant role ofthe Russian government in the development of this important politicaland economic resource.3The BRA had other important assets.With theHongkong and Shanghai and the Deutsch Asiatische banks, it was oneof the three 'Custodian Banks' of China, where customs revenues weredeposited for the payment of interest on various loans contracted by theManchu government and, after the revolution of 1911, by subsequentChinese regimes at Peking. The BRA also acted as the mandatory ofthe Russian government for the Boxer indemnity - the reparations im-posed by the Great Powers following the failed anti-imperialist andanti-foreign revolt of 1900.During the twenty years before the First World War, the Franco-Russian partnership in the Russo-Chinoise and the BRA was far fromharmonious. As French investors had advanced more than half thefoundation capital in the Russo-Chinoise, the French government, ifnot French financiers, expected the bank to serve French as well asRussian interests in China. The French sphere of influence in Chinawas in the south, but the Quai d'Orsay sought to piggyback its way intothe north on the shoulders of its Russian ally. The Russian financeminister, Sergei Y. Witte, however, resisted the attempt, and succeededin bringing the Russo-Chinoise wholly under Russian influence.4 Whenthe BRA was created, with a board of directors in Paris and an execu-tive committee (pravlenie) in St. Petersburg, each with an equal num-ber of French and Russian members, French financial groups gained astronger hold over policy, but the conflict between French and Russianpolicy objectives did not end.8 *Les nte"retsrangaisdans le Chemin de Fer Ghinois de PEst', Banque Russo-Asiatique,6 March 1926, M[inisteredes] A[ffaires][trangeres],ancienne srie

    E-Asie, 1918-1929, followed by geographicsubheading,volume and folio num-bers, hence MAE E-Chine/379, fos. 123-40. See also N.N. Liubimov, Econo-micheskieproblemyDaVnego Vostoka (Moscow, 1925), pp. 5-7.4 Olga Crisp,The Russo-ChineseBank: An Episodein Franco-RussianRelations',Slavonic and East EuropeanReview, Hi (1974), 197-212.

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