Mr. Choate to Lord Salisbury.

My Lord: I am instructed by the Secretary of State to present to your lordship a matter which the President regards as of great and equal importance to Great Britain and the United States—in the maintenance of trade and commerce in the East, in which the interest of the two nations differs, not in character, but in degree only—and to ask for action on the part of Her Majesty’s Government which the President conceives to be in exact accord with its uniformly declared policy and traditions, and which will greatly promote the welfare of commerce.

He understands it to be the settled policy and purpose of Great Britain not to use any privileges which may be granted to it in China as a means of excluding any commercial rivals, and that freedom of trade for it in that Empire means freedom of trade for all the world alike. Her Majesty’s Government, while conceding by formal agreements with Germany and Russia the possession of “spheres of influence or interest” in China, in which they are to enjoy especial rights [Page 134] and privileges, particularly in respect to railroads and mining enterprises, has at the same time sought to maintain what is commonly called the “open-door” policy, to secure to the commerce and navigation of all nations equality of treatment within such “spheres.” The maintenance of this policy is alike urgently demanded by the commercial communities of our two nations, as it is justly held by them to be the only one which will improve existing conditions, enable them to maintain their positions in the markets of China, and extend their future operations.

While the Government of the United States will in no way commit itself to any recognition of the exclusive rights of any power within or control over any portion of the Chinese Empire, under such agreements as have been recently made, it can not conceal its apprehensions that there is danger of complications arising between the treaty powers which may imperil the rights insured to the United States by its treaties with China.

It is the sincere desire of my Government that the interests of its citizens may not be prejudiced through exclusive treatment by any of the controlling powers within their respective “spheres of interests” in China, and it hopes to retain there an open market for all the world’s commerce, remove dangerous sources of international irritation, and thereby hasten united action of the powers at Pekin to promote administrative reforms so greatly needed for strengthening the Imperial Government and maintaining the integrity of China, in which it believes the whole Western world is alike concerned. It believes that such a result may be greatly aided and advanced by declarations by the various powers claiming “spheres of interest” in China as to their intentions in regard to the treatment of foreign trade and commerce therein, and that the present is a very favorable moment for informing Her Majesty’s Government of the desire of the United States to have it make on its own part and to lend its powerful support in the effort to obtain from each of the various powers claiming “spheres of interest” in China a declaration substantially to the following effect:

That it will in no wise interfere with any treaty port or any vested interest within any so-called “sphere of interest” or leased territory it may have in China.
That the Chinese treaty tariff of the time being shall apply to all merchandise landed or shipped to all such ports as are within such “spheres of interest” (unless they be “freeports”), no matter to what nationality it may belong, and that duties so leviable shall be collected by the Chinese Government.
That it will levy no higher harbor dues on vessels of another nationality frequenting any port in such “sphere” than shall be levied on vessels of its own nationality, and no higher railroad charges over lines built, controlled, or operated within its “sphere” on merchandise belonging to citizens or subjects of other nationalities transported through such “sphere” than shall be levied on similar merchandise belonging to its own nationals transported over equal distances.

The President has strong reason to believe that the Governments of both Russia and Germany will cooperate in such an understanding as is here proposed. The recent ukase of His Majesty the Emperor of Russia declaring the port of Ta-lien-wan open to the merchant ships [Page 135] of all nations during the whole term of the lease under which it is to be held by Russia removes all uncertainty as to the liberal and conciliatory policy of that power, and justifies the expectation that His Majesty would accede to the similar request of the United States now being presented to him and make the desired declaration.

The recent action of Germany in declaring the port of Kiao-chao a “free port” and the aid which its Government has given China in establishing there a Chinese custom-house, coupled with oral assurances given the United States by Germany that the interests of the United States and its citizens within its “sphere” would in nowise be affected by its occupation of this portion of the province of Shantung, encourage the belief that little opposition is to be anticipated to the President’s request for a similar declaration from that power.

It is needless also to add that Japan, the power next most largely interested in the trade of China, must be in entire sympathy with the views here expressed, and that its interests will be largely served by the proposed arrangement; and the declarations of its statesmen within the last year are so entirely in line with it that the cooperation of that power is confidently relied upon.

It is therefore with the greatest pleasure that I present this matter to your lordship’s attention and urge its prompt consideration by Her Majesty’s Government, believing that the action is in entire harmony with its consistent theory and purpose, and that it will greatly redound to the benefit and advantage of all commercial nations alike. The prompt and sympathetic cooperation of Her Majesty’s Government with the United States in this important matter will be very potent in promoting its adoption by all the powers concerned.

I have, etc.,

Joseph H. Choate.