to Mr. Denby.
Washington , November 4, 1887.
Sir: Your telegram, received here early in the morning of October 27, informs me that in reply to the representations you were instructed [Page 226] to make with regard to the alleged intervention of China to control or obstruct the diplomatic relations of the United States and Corea, the Chinese Government alleges that Corea is tributary, adding that the King of Corea, having memorialized the Emperor of China, has been authorized to act under the provisions of the treaty between Corea and the United States.
It may be premature, in advance of a full report of the correspondence had by you with the Chinese Government on this subject, to lay down instructions for your guidance. But it is right and proper to suggest a line of thought within which our treatment of the question should be confined. The essential thing is to fix the responsibility of execution of treaty stipulations, and to determine where lies the discretion which guides the acts of independent and sovereign states in their mutual relations. Whether the act performed is obligatory or permissive is not material, so long as it is done by the one contracting party in pursuance of a treaty compact with the other.
The reciprocal sending and receiving of diplomatic and consular officers is provided for in the treaty between the United States and Corea. No act of national sovereignty is more express and decided than this, and it is necessarily an attribute of the power to manage her own affairs, domestic and foreign, which, as the United States were assured when the treaty with Corea was negotiated, belonged to Corea, notwithstanding her tributary relation to China. That treaty sprang, logically, from the announcement of the Chinese Government that its treaties with foreign powers did not extend to Corea, and that it was in no way internationally responsible for any acts of Corea toward foreigners. By treaty Corea assumes that responsibility.
It seems, now, from your telegram, that the accepted sovereignty of Corea in her foreign relations is not absolute. It seems to be claimed by China that one of the simplest and most ordinary provisions of the treaty can not be executed without the Kiug of Corea memorializing the Emperor of China and being accorded permission to do so.
The right to accord permission necessarily involves the right to refuse it, but the exercise of the latter right suggests a responsibility which has not heretofore been admitted and is expressly disclaimed. What would have been the consequence if the Emperor of China, in the exercise of a sovereign claim of right, had refused to allow Corea to maintain a diplomatic mission in the United States?
I do not think the advisers of His Majesty the Emperor have considered the necessary inference from the premises on which they act. For if the treaties of Corea with sovereign States can not be executed without the authority and consent of China, they can not be violated without the responsibility of China.
The Department’s instructions to your legation, during the past few years, show the concern felt here at the indeterminateness of the question of China’s relation to Corea. The object of this instruction is to impress like solicitude upon you, so that in any discussion affecting this question you may ascertain the real position of China, and avoid any admission that might be construed as approving China’s singular claim of ultimate control without ultimate responsibility.
I am, etc.,