File No. 4002.

The Secretary of State to the Russian Ambassador.

Excellency: The Government of the United States has given the most considerate attention to the memorandum received from your excellency, dated February 4, 1908, in regard to the attitude of the American consul at Harbin concerning the protest of the Chinese Government against the contemplated establishment of municipal administration at Harbin and Hailar by the Chinese Eastern Railway Co. Pains have been taken to ascertain just what has happened at Harbin and especially what the American consul at that post has done regarding the matters referred to.

Upon the best information which this Government has been able to obtain, through official reports and otherwise, it is evident that a very disorganized condition exists at Harbin, and that serious difficulty has been experienced in the maintenance of order, and that there have been serious differences of opinion between the Chinese [Page 204] Eastern Railway Co. and the foreign residents at that point as to the methods which it was advisable to follow, and it is evident that there is a very great need of some adequate arrangement for the protection of life and property and the maintenance of order. This Government can not fan to recognize and sympathize with the earnest efforts which have been made to bring about such an arrangement, and the United States desires to aid by every means in its power toward the accomplishment of such a desirable end.

There would seem to be no serious obstacle to the direction of a common effort for such a purpose, since the Governments of Russia and the United States are as one regarding the fundamental principle to be observed, as stated in the treaty of Portsmouth and as stated by yourself orally in our conference upon the subject, in terms which meet the entire acquiescence of this Government and which include a scrupulous regard for the sovereignty of China, equal opportunity for trade on the part of both and of all nations, and observance of treaty rights.

This Government can not doubt that a just application of this rule, so fully and universally agreed to, and a sincere and equally universal desire to accomplish the beneficent object sought will make the satisfactory solution of the problem certain, however complicated the conditions of the problem may be.

It would seem, however, that the railroad officials of the Chinese Eastern Railway Co. and the residents of Harbin, naturally intent upon the settlement of their own business interests, in attempting to formulate an arrangement between themselves, have overlooked some inconsistencies between their proposed arrangement and the rules to which I have referred. This Government can not resist the conviction that these inconsistencies flow almost inevitably from the initial error of assuming, as the basis of the proposed arrangement for establishing and maintaining order, the railroad grant made by China to the Chinese Eastern Railway Co. to construct and manage the railway, dated September 8, 1896, instead of taking as the basis of the proposed arrangement the political rights of the residents secured by treaties between China and the several powers.

The grant by the instrument of September 8, 1896, to the railroad company of a right of railroad administration over its own lands could not, even if standing alone, be deemed to carry a right of political administration which would amount to a transfer of sovereign rights; but the same instrument, by the French as well as the Chinese text, contains also an express provision reserving the political jurisdiction over these lands to the Government of China. This view appears to agree entirely with that expressed by the Government of Russia in the declaration of the treaty of Portsmouth—that Russia has no territorial advantages or preferential or exclusive concessions in Manchuria of such a nature as to impair the sovereignty of China or which are incompatible with the principle of equal opportunity.

The action of the American consul in Harbin seems to have gone no further than an informal and oral expression of opinion in accordance with this view, and especially with regard to a proposed ordinance, based upon the railroad concession, prohibiting foreigners to trade except upon receiving a license under the proposed municipal government, and a further ordinance subjecting all foreigners to [Page 205] the criminal jurisdiction of municipal courts not of their own nationality, both of which provisions would be a clear infringement upon the sovereignty of China and a deprivation of the rights which China has secured by treaty to the United States, under which the citizens of the United States in China are entitled to reside and trade and to be subject only to the jurisdiction of their own extraterritorial courts.

Fortunately, the fact that political authority can not be derived from the grant to the railroad company does not leave the foreign residents in Harbin without opportunity to secure for themselves a method of maintaining order suited to their western customs and ideas and the protection of courts administering their own laws. The sovereignty of China, which all agree exists in Harbin, is subject to the rules of extraterritoriality established by China’s own treaties with the several powers. On the basis of this extraterritorial jurisdiction, the scope and limits of which are well understood, it would seem practicable to work out in Harbin, as has been done in the other treaty ports of China, a satisfactory and effective local government.

This course would not merely have the advantage of resting upon a sound basis of unimpeachable right, but, following well-understood precedent, would not excite among the people of China apprehensions of infringement upon her sovereignty and misunderstandings as to the purpose of the powers which, like both the United States and Russia, desire sincerely to preserve that sovereignty intact.

Toward the working out of such a result this Government would be glad to contribute, and to that end will give appropriate instructions to its representatives in China.

Accept, etc.,

Elihu Root.