Mr. Denby to Mr. Gresham.

No. 1938.]

Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 1921, of the 11th instant, I have the honor to report that the negotiations between China and Japan for the exemption from seizure of the private ships of one another, which were being conducted through this legation and the U. S. legation at Tokyo, and which promised to be successful, have failed.

As stated in my dispatch above referred to, the suggestion to exempt merchant vessels from attack originated with China. The Japanese Government consented thereto, excepting vessels bearing troops or contraband of war and vessels attempting to break blockade. These terms were acceptable to the Viceroy Li, to whom I submitted them through the consul at Tientsin.

On the 7th instant the viceroy asked Mr. Read to telegraph me as follows:

Agree. Understanding China merchant’s1 steamers and Japanese subsidized lines as private vessels, but Japan must first define contraband of war.

Japan, however, refused to define contraband of war, and inquired whether the exemption would include Japanese vessels visiting Chinese ports. The edict of the Emperor of China of the 1st of August, declaring war, orders that Japanese ships entering Chinese ports shall be destroyed, and the Japanese Government asked whether this order would be revoked.

On the 14th instant I visited the Yamên for the purpose of ascertaining the views of the Chinese ministers on these questions. They [Page 171] stated that they were willing to consent to the proposed exemption without a definition of contraband of war, but that they could not consent to admit Japanese vessels into Chinese ports, nor could any part of the imperial edict be revoked. They asked this legation to try to induce the Government of Japan to come to an agreement upon these terms. I asked them to put their statement into the form of an official dispatch, which they did, on the 17th instant. A copy of this dispatch I inclose herewith.

The day after this interview, viz, on the 15th instant, I telegraphed to Mr. Dun, United States minister at Tokyo, as follows:

Chinese Government consents exemption without defining contraband of war for coasting trade and foreign neutral ports. Japanese vessels will not be allowed to visit Chinese ports.

To this telegram Mr. Dun replied, under date of the 19th, as follows:

Government of Japan refuse proposals relative to exemption of private vessels from capture and withdraw from negotiations.

I communicated this answer, which puts an end to all negotiations, to the Viceroy Li, through the U. S. consul at Tientsin, and to the Tsung-li-Yamên in a dispatch, of which I inclose a copy herewith.

In the interview of the 14th instant with the Yamên, I stated, in reply to an inquiry, that it was not reasonable to expect Japan to undertake not to search Chinese ships for contraband of war in case the proposed agreement was made. The Chinese ministers, however, thinking that they had gained exemption of their merchant ships from capture, wished to go a step further and to be permitted to use them to carry munitions of war. The subject will be found referred to in the Yamên’s dispatch inclosed herewith. I refused to submit such a proposition to the Japanese Government.

The ministers of the Yamên gave two reasons for refusing to admit Japanese ships to their ports. Firstly, they asserted that the Emperor’s decree ordering their destruction was irrevocable, and that the national dignity would be compromised should any part of it be withdrawn. Being asked to explain why vessels at sea might be spared and those coming on peaceful errands to their ports should be destroyed, they said that this decree did not mention Japanese vessels at sea and that they might be exempted without disobedience to it.

Secondly, they expressed fear of treachery, and said that Japanese men-of-war, disguised as merchantmen, might steal past their forts.

After this decision of the Chinese Government an agreement became impossible. The only advantage Japan would have derived from it would have been the continuance of her steamship lines to Shanghai and Tientsin. This being refused, the agreement would have profited only her enemy. Under these circumstances her withdrawal from further negotiations was only to be anticipated.

I hope the Department will not disapprove my having consented to act as a means of communication in this matter. The Chinese Government naturally turned to this legation for the performance of a friendly act, and a refusal would have been misunderstood and would have caused much embarrassment.

I have, etc.,

Chas. Denby, Jr.,
Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.
[Page 172]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 1938.]

The Tsungli-li-Yamên to Mr. Denby, Jr.

No. 33.]

Your Excellency: Upon the 7th of August the prince and minister had the honor to receive a communication from the chargé d’affaires of the United States (with reference to the exemption of Japanese and Chinese merchant vessels from seizure), wherein he stated that on the 5th instant he telegraphed to the American minister at Tokyo asking whether Japan would enter into an agreement in the matter, and that he had this morning (7th August) received a reply from Tokyo saying that the Japanese Government would be willing to consent to exempt Chinese merchant ships from capture, except ships carrying troops, contraband of war, or attempting to break blockade, provided the Chinese Government would guarantee like immunity to vessels of Japan, etc.

The Yamên telegraphed the minister superintendent of northern trade, asking him to consider the question. A reply has now been received in which the minister superintendent states that “the exemption from seizure of merchant vessels of China and Japan would refer to those met at sea, but to allow Japanese vessels to enter Chinese ports free from attack can not under any circumstances be sanctioned. The Japanese propose that while merchant vessels at sea will be exempt from seizure, still the right to search them for contraband of war must be permitted. They refuse to clearly define what articles should be regarded as contraband, and this being the case merchant vessels would still have many doubts and misgivings in the matter.”

In the communication under review there are three conditions specified. So far as merchant vessels engaged in carrying troops or breaking the blockade [are concerned] both powers would have a perfect right to seize them, but with regard to the condition having reference to contraband of war, since it is not defined as to what articles should come under this heading, it would seem right and proper for both China and Japan to exempt merchant vessels from being searched.

As to the telegram received from the U. S. minister at Tokyo, particulars of which were left at the Yamên by the chargé d’affaires on the 14th instant, wherein the request is made that Japanese merchant vessels be allowed to enter the ports of Shanghai and Tientsin, and also that the Emperor’s commands in the decree (of August 1, 1894) to attack Japanese vessels entering Chinese ports be revoked, the prince and ministers have to say that such a proposition can not under any circumstances whatever be acceded to. The Yamên clearly explained this to the chargé d’affaires of the United States at the interview.

The views expressed by the minister superintendent of northern trade in his telegraphic reply are the same as those held by the Yamên. But as to the question of the merchant vessels of China and Japan being exempt from seizure at sea, an arrangement may be clearly settled or drawn up and action taken in accordance therewith.

In addressing this communication for the information of the chargé d’affaires of the United States, the prince and ministers would ask him to consult with the Japanese Government upon the subject.

A necessary communication addressed to Charles Denby, jr., esq.

[Page 173]
[Inclosure 2 in 1938.]

Mr. Denby to the Tsung-li-Yamên.

No. 32.]

Your Highness and Your Excellencies: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch of the 17th instant with reference to the exemption from capture of the private vessels of China and Japan. On the 15th instant I received a telegram from the U. S. consul at Tientsin, stating that the Viceroy Li consented to the proposals of Japan, except that Japanese vessels would not be allowed to visit Chinese ports. This statement coincides with the position assumed by you at our interview on the 14th instant. Accordingly, on the 15th, I telegraphed to this effect to the minister of the United States at Tokyo. I have now received a reply from him in which he states that Japan refuses these terms and withdraws from the negotiation. This result is much to be regretted.

I have, etc.,

Chas. Denby, Jr.,
Chargé, etc.
  1. A large Chinese steamship company.