to Mr. Evarts.
Peking, January 13, 1881. (Received March 8.)
Sir: Since my dispatch No. 58, of November 30 last, the discussion between the diplomatic body and the foreign office on the proposition to increase the duty on imports, and abolish the lekin on them, has advanced one stage.
On the 13th of December Sir Thomas Wade received from the foreign office a reply to the memorandum which he had presented to them in behalf of himself and his colleagues. A discussion between Sir Thomas and the foreign office, in respect to the exact import of a certain passage in the reply delayed the translation. But I now inclose a copy. At a conference held on the 4th instant, it was decided, by the unanimous vote of the foreign ministers, to instruct Sir Thomas Wade to say, with brevity to the foreign office, that their proposition is unsatisfactory.[Page 225]
You will observe that their proposition is to raise the duty on imports from 5 per cent. to 11½ per cent., and to free the goods from all lekin and charges of every sort in the interior. This is a very important proposition, even in that form. But the belief of the diplomatic body here is that the government may perhaps be brought to accept of 10 per cent. instead of 11½.
The British minister presented at the conference a rough draught of a paper, in which he expressed the opinion that if the proposed arrangement were adopted lekin would still, to a greater or less extent, be laid on foreign goods so long as it should be laid on native goods; and that, notwithstanding the frequent protests against it by the Chinese themselves, the native goods will probably not be exempted from it in many years. He was requested by the conference to write out his opinion on this subject more fully.
Since the conference Sir Thomas Wade has had an interview with the Tsung-li Yamên, and reported to them our dissatisfaction with the rate they propose—11½ per cent. He received the impression that they will probably agree to accept ten if we propose it. It will be borne in mind that none of the propositions mentioned will be recommended by the ministers here to their respective governments, except with these conditions annexed: First, that there shall be a court of reclamation to secure to importers the return of any lekin or other tax laid upon goods which have paid the stipulated duty; and second, that the scheme shall be experimental, tried for a limited time, until it shall be seen how it works.
I reserve a discussion of the very interesting and important subject until it is determined whether the diplomatic body and the foreign office can come to an agreement upon the rate of duty to be imposed.
I have, &c.,