File No. 4002/195–197.

The Secretary of State to Ambassador Riddle.

Sir: Referring to your dispatch No. 4841, of June 4, 1909, transmitting a Russian press version of the preliminary arrangement concluded between the Chinese Government and the Chinese Eastern Railway Co. at Peking on April 27–May 10, 1909, in regard to the municipal administration of Harbin, I have to transmit herewith2 for your information copies of notes exchanged at the time of the signature of the arrangement by the Wai-wu Pu and the Russian legation in Peking in which complete Chinese sovereignty over the lands leased by the railway company is recognized and the rights of subjects or citizens of other powers under treaties with China” are fully guaranteed in the railway zone.

The preliminary arrangement, while eliminating some of the objectionable features of the former regulations and providing for a share in the supervision of the municipal organization by an official representative of China, still vests in the manager of the Chinese Eastern Railway Co. at Harbin and the board of directors at St. Petersburg virtual control over all important acts of the municipality, and it is further provided that pending the elaboration of a detailed scheme of administration the former intolerable regulations shall remain in full force. No provision is made for securing the approval of municipal regulations either by the local consuls or by the diplomatic representatives of the interested powers in Peking.

The agreement thus conflicts with some of our most important rights, and this Government therefore finds it impossible to recognize it as in any way binding upon the United States or its citizens.

Under instructions from the department the American chargé d’affaires in Peking addressed to the board of foreign affairs on June 23, 1909, a statement expressing gratification at the terms of the notes exchanged by China and Russia but at the same time informing the Chinese Government that, for the reasons set forth, the preliminary arrangement could not be accepted by the United States. A copy of this note is inclosed herewith, and as it seems important that both, parties should be equally informed of the sentiment of the Government of the United States on this subject you are instructed to make similar representations to the Russian Government, at the same time emphasizing the desire of the United States to cooperate [Page 214] in every possible way with the Russian and other Governments interested in the maintenance of good order and the improvement of the conditions of life in the foreign settlements in Manchuria.

While it is not necessary to take up all the details of the new regulations at this time, it is desired that you find suitable occasion to express to the Russian Government the hope that means may be found to remove all restrictions upon the transfer of the long-term leases upon which most of the land in Harbin occupied by private individuals is held. These leases run for the remainder of the term for which the railway holds its whole concession (to Jan. 1–14, 1983) and contains a clause by which the sanction of the railway company is required for their transfer. The railway company is thus given the power to dictate who shall be allowed to settle in Harbin. The waiving of this clause is therefore most important if Harbin is to become in fact an open port. As some of these leases run for 80 years or more the opinion has been expressed that they are illegal under the Russian law which provides a maximum term of 12 years for land leases.

In view of the complete accord that Russian representatives have from time to time expressed with the position taken by the United States in regard to the principles underlying the whole question of the administration of the settlements in Manchuria, the department hopes that before the time comes to put into operation the scheme of self-government for those settlements means may be found to correct these details in the interest of an harmonious and effective administration to which all the powers may be able to give their fullest support.

I have, etc.,

P. C. Knox.
  1. Not printed.
  2. See Mr. Rockhill’s dispatch No. 1154, May 19, 1909, p. 208.