Mr. Conger to Mr. Hay.

No. 972.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge Department’s instructions No. 468, inclosing a copy of a dispatch from Mr. Fowler with regard to the question of establishing our own post-offices in the foreign treaty ports in China and setting forth certain complaints concerning the collection of import duties at Chefoo.

I have given to the question such investigation as I have been able, and report that in my judgment foreign post-offices in China, except at Shanghai, are not a necessity, because the Chinese postal service under the imperial maritime customs is everywhere giving fairly satisfactory service and is rapidly and effectively increasing and extending into the interior.

The foreign post-offices are being established principally for political reasons, either in view of their future designs upon the Empire, to strengthen their own footing, or because jealous of that of others. They are not established with the consent of China, but in spite of her. They will not be profitable. Their establishment materially interferes with and embarrasses the development of the Chinese postal service, is an interference with Chinese sovereignty, is inconsistent with our well-known policy toward the Empire, and I can not find any good reason for their establishment by the United States.

At Shanghai, where the foreign mail routes center, they are important, especially in taking charge of and starting the mails homeward, particularly since China is not a member of the International Postal Union. China appreciates this situation, and is willing, in fact, desires, that they should remain there.

Concerning the collection of duties on foreign goods purchased in China, which have already paid duty on their entry into the Empire, the treaties provide that the importers, under certain prescribed regulations, can always reship their duty-paid goods to another Chinese port without further payment. As to small purchases, I am informed by the inspector-general of customs that he has instructed the customs officers at Shanghai, where the most of such purchases are made, that [Page 226] whenever it is possible some arrangement should be devised whereby goods so bought and shipped to another port can be accompanied by a certificate showing that they had paid duty on entry, in which case duty will not be charged at a second port; but if not so identified, they must pay foreign import duty as an original entry.

By treaty regulation “Native produce carried coastwise pays full export duty at the port of shipment, and at the port of entry coast-trade duty, the amount of which is declared to be half import duty.”

The increase to a “5 per cent effective on maritime imports” is not applied to coastwise trade, except in cases where it is not (dearly shown that foreign goods so shipped have already paid import duty.

As to “original imports through the mails,” no privilege of exemption of duty has been granted by China to any foreign post-office, but most of them exercise it in spite of her helpless protests. The practice of the Imperial Chinese post-office has been, and still is, to require a declaration of the contents of a parcel, and if it contains only a single piece or pair of anything, or so small a quantity as to evidence a non-intention of importation for sale, it is usually exempted from import duty as a courtesy, but not as a right. A very large discretion upon these matters is always left with the commissioners of customs at the several ports. * * *

Following the spirit of your instructions, as I understand them, I shall take no further action upon either of the questions until I hear from you again.

I have, etc.,

E. H. Conger.