Mr. Williams to Mr. Fish.
Peking , November 24, 1873. (Received January 26, 1874.)
Sir: In continuance of my recent dispatch, (No. 9, of 6th November,) I have now the honor to send you the remaining papers connected with the adjustment of the differences between the Spanish chargé d’affaires and this government.
Soon after the date of Baron Holleben’s letter of the 24th ultimo, and [Page 229] the interview with the Yamun on the 30th, referred to in my dispatch, at which the draft of a protocol in two articles was presented on behalf of M. Otin, the Chinese officials, having had time to reconsider their declinature of that mode of arranging the matter, sent an informal note, signed by the prince, on the 7th instant, accepting it in substance. (Inclosure 1;) their conference with Messrs. Macpherson and Huber had probably tended, too, to convince them that M. Otin’s proposal did not necessarily interfere with the freedom of their own commission, but was a courtesy required by the intercourse of nations, the rejection of which would only recoil on themselves.
The Spanish chargé d’affaires thereupon resumed his official relations with the prince, and a circular-note to this effect was issued on the 12th. (Inclosure 2.) The hesitation and unwillingness of the officials to admit, or even discuss, the articles of the first protocol were, I think, chiefly owing to their impression that, if a Spanish officer was in any way connected with their deputies, it must necessarily neutralize the whole investigation. However, every point having been cleared up, and the terms of agreement settled, a protocol in four articles was signed on the 21st instant, between M. Otin and three members of the Yamun. It insures the entire freedom of the Chinese commission when it reaches Cuba, and in the Chinese text asks the good offices and support of the local authorities in the same terms that it asks the advice of the foreign consuls. In the English text the support of the former is even more explicitly granted.
In his letter of the 21st instant, (inclosure 3,) sending me the two versions of his agreement, (inclosure 4,) he has requested my aid in the arbitration which may be necessary on the return of the commission and reception of its report. I have agreed to act on the matter, (inclosure 5,) as have also the other ministers, excepting the Russian, who is just now absent. One of the questions which will certainly be brought forward then will be the amount of indemnity to be paid by this government for damage and loss incurred by the alleged violation of its treaty obligations to allow Spanish agents to contract for coolies. This protocol carefully omits the word indemnity, but the fourth and fifth articles of the other contain the pith of what the Chinese will resist if it is demanded, as they look upon it as a mulct, because they have tried to protect their subjects from misery and disappointment by forbidding contract-emigration to Cuba.
M. Otin has left Peking to spend the winter in Shanghai and return in the spring, when he expects the return of the commission. Messrs. Macpherson and Huber are now there, ready to leave by the next American mail. I can only here repeat my strong desire that you will give all the countenance and help to this commission which can properly be given to it; but especially that you will bear me out in my promise given to Prince Kung in my reply of September 5, (dispatch No. 9, inclosure 5,) and instruct the United States consul-general at Havana to aid it in going into a thorough inquiry of the matter.
The energy shown by the Canton authorities in arresting kidnapers, and putting the people on their guard against the wiles practiced to get them down to Macao, which has so materially reduced the coolie-traffic there, is, in a great measure, owing to Mr. Low’s information, given to the government here, and his remonstrances at their apathy over the great wrongs committed by native brokers. Now that the Emperor has gone further, and sent a special commission of inquiry as a further step in these efforts to restrict, if he cannot abolish, emigration by contract, it is very desirable that every encouragement be afforded its members in [Page 230] prosecuting their inquiries. If the moral support and experience of the consuls of the five powers be honestly enlisted on their side, it will do much to effect an untrammeled examination, and neutralize the jealousy or intimidation which the rulers or the planters in Cuba might otherwise show. The first proposal of M. Otin to appoint two Spanish assessors, and make up a mixed commission, composed of Chinese, Spanish, and consular members, would have crippled all fair inquiry; and the Yamun was right in rejecting the proposal. Bat I am afraid, after all, that the Cuban authorities will endeavor in some way to make the inquiry partial, and keep the coolies out of the reach of their countrymen, or frighten them from telling the truth; and herein the foreign consuls, especially the American and British, can, it appears to me, help them materially.
Now that this government, after much urging and hesitation, has organized a commission of inquiry into the condition of its subjects abroad, it is very desirable that what is good in the effort may, by its success, so far justify the wisdom which planned it as to lead to further similar designs and attempts.
I have, &c.,