No. 51.
Mr. Young to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 511.]

Sir: There has been much discussion in our diplomatic body as to the rights and duties of neutrals during present complications between [Page 104] China and France. In my dispatch No. 505, dated September 7, I in-closed a decree from the throne which appeared in the Peking Gazette. Under ordinary circumstances such a proclamation would be regarded as indicative of the actual existence of war, and could impose upon us the duties of neutrals.

It has been impossible to obtain from the prince, with whom I have had several conversations, any declaration to the effect that China regards herself at war with France. I have asked for an official copy of the decree, but the answer is that decrees from the throne are domestic incidents and do not concern legations.

I learn, furthermore, that M. Jules Ferry has said to European Governments that France does not regard herself as at war with China. A proclamation issued by M. Lemaire, consul-general of France at Shanghai, confirms this belief. At the same time the French at Keelung forcibly prevent a German ship from landing a cargo, and the captain, in doing so, avers that he commits a “belligerent act.”

The question has assumed practical shape in various instances. The consul-general and the consul at Tien-Tsin have been asked whether American ships could carry munitions of war for Chinese. I have instructed them that until war is declared our vessels are at liberty to carry any lawful merchandise. The consul at Foo-Chow writes that he has forbidden American pilots to serve on French ships. I have said to him that until we know war exists, American pilots are free to accept any engagements.

The yamên, in a note addressed to the Japanese legation, asked the Japanese to refuse coal to the French steamers. The same request was addressed to the Government of Great Britain, as well as to our legation. The especial purpose of the note was to prevent supplies from being furnished at Hong-Kong and Nagasaki. I made no reply to the note beyond a simple acknowledgment. The question has no practical value as far as we are concerned.

I have been unable to discover any consensus of opinion among my colleagues. I presume they await instructions from their Governments. Sir Harry Parkes gave the British consul at Tien-Tsin the same instructions that I gave Mr. Smithers, namely, that until he had official knowledge of war he could not enter upon the obligations of neutrality. I suggested to Mr. von Brandt that the diplomatic body might unite in a request to the Government for a specific declaration as to the existence of war. Mr. von Brandt did not feel that he could do this, and, beyond some conversations among the members of the diplomatic body of an informal character, there has been no action. I learn from the Japanese minister that China, through the Berlin minister, requested Germany to enter upon the duties of belligerency. Prince Bismarck answered that Germany, before doing so, must have an assurance from China or France that belligerency existed. This assurance China refused to give.

I am most anxious that Americans in China should preserve an exact neutrality in the unhappy event of war. At the same time I see no reason for imposing the obligations of neutrality upon our people until we know that war exists. If China and France desire American neutrality, they can make their wishes known through their legations in Washington.

I shall take no action looking towards the acceptance of neutral obligations by Americans in China until I have the orders of the Department.

I have, &c.,