Mr. Denby to Mr. Gresham.
Peking, August 22, 1894. (Received October 1.)
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.,
Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.
- A large Chinese steamship company.↩