No. 44.
Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. Young.

No 267.]

Sir: Your No. 350, of the 11th of February last, concerning the threatened obstruction of the Canton River by the viceroy of the province, as a defensive war measure, has been received and read with much attention.

The report of your conference with the yamên on the 14th of January presents very clearly the embarrassments which attend any attempt to make clear to the Chinese Government the relations of the treaty powers to each other in regard to this question.

In your interview with the yamên you closely anticipated the tenor of my telegraphic instruction of the 22d of January. Had that telegram been before you it might possibly have furnished you with a reply to an argument frequently put forth by the ministers of the yamên, that the neutral powers should show their friendship for China by preventing France from attacking China without proper previous notice of intention to do so. This is, as you will have seen, almost exactly the ground taken by the United States.

The real issue seems to have been very succinctly put by Chang-ta-jên in the interview of the following day with Sir Harry Parkes. “If,” said he, “China could be certain that France would be guided by the laws of war in her future action, and an authoritative assurance could be obtained from any quarter that France would not attack (the open ports) without due notice, Chang-ta-jên would promise, on his own responsibility; that the obstructions at Canton should be removed.”

The gravity of the question seems to have been removed in a great measure by the assurance given by the yamên that a channel of over 100 feet in width would be left in both channels for the convenience of steamers and sailing vessels, an assurance which Chang-ta-jên seems afterwards to have still further extended to 150 feet, as appears from the telegram from the British consul at Canton to Sir Harry Parkes of January 26.

Even, however, under this favorable modification, the obstruction to the channel at Canton and Whampoa can only be tolerated as a temporary measure, to be removed as soon as the special occasion therefor shall have passed, and under no circumstances to be admitted as a precedent for setting obstacles to open navigation at the treaty ports in time of peace, under pretext of being intended for ultimate strategic defense in the contingency of future war.

I am, &c.,