The Acting Secretary of State to Chargé Fletcher.
Washington, January 7, 1910.
Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your No. 1300, of November 20, 1909,1 reporting that in various conversations which you have had with the Russian minister at Peking the latter has frequently expressed surprise that the American Government should object to the Russian action at Harbin and take no notice whatever of the Japanese regulations regarding residence, etc., along the South Manchurian Railway.
In this connection there is inclosed for your information a copy of an instruction1 sent to the American ambassador at St. Petersburg on December 7 last, which states very fully the views of this Government upon this question. When occasion offers, you may communicate these views to the Russian minister at Peking.
An examination of the report upon Japanese jurisdiction in Manchuria, to which you refer, fails to show that the South Manchurian Railway is allowed to exercise any political powers, but that, “subject to the Government’s permission,” it makes “arrangements for engineering works, education, sanitation, etc., within the areas of land belonging to the railway and may collect fees from residents thereon.” The truth of this statement is confirmed by an examination of the Government order in the matter. (See Rockhill’s Treaties, etc., Vol. II, p. 191.)
The imperial ordinances relating to the government of the leased territory of Kwantung indicate that the police administration over the railway areas is under the control of this Kwantung general government and not that of the railway company. On the other hand, as you are aware, Mr. Straight’s No. 207, of February 22, 1908, inclosed a translation of certain regulations concerning branch councils in places along the railway which put the administration of the settlements in the hands of the railway company. It may be urged, however, that the South Manchurian Railway is practically a government [Page 228] railway and that its status is therefore different from that of the Chinese Eastern Railway Co., which is purely commercial and which has been created by a private organization (the Russo-Chinese Bank), itself subject to consular jurisdiction in Manchuria.
The position consistently maintained by this Government is that the claims of the Russian Government on behalf of the Chinese Eastern Railway are out of harmony with the natural interpretation of the text of the agreement of September 8, 1896, between the Chinese Government and the Russo-Chinese Bank, as well as inconsistent with the treaty rights of residence and jurisdiction granted by China to other powers, and that it is as impossible for this Government to recognize the right of a private corporation to exercise municipal powers as it would be to construe a railway contract into a bestowal of such powers upon a foreign government. Should it appear that any other private corporation is making claims similar to those of the Chinese Eastern Railway at Harbin, the attitude of the United States toward such claims would necessarily be determined by the principles just stated.
The department has received no complaints from Americans resident along the South Manchurian Railway of any infringement of their extraterritorial rights nor of any exercise by the company of political powers, and would like to learn whether in your opinion the statement of the Russian authorities that the South Manchurian Railway Co. exercises powers similar to those claimed of the Chinese Eastern Railway Co. is correct.
I am, etc.,