File No. 893.00/1669.

The Second Assistant Secretary to the Secretary of State.


Mr. Secretary: In response to your request I endeavor to formulate my personal views in regard to the general question of recognizing foreign governments, and in respect to the peculiar conditions in the case of China.

It will, I think, simplify the matter to keep in mind the distinction between the recognition necessary to the conduct of international business between two countries and the recognition of the form of government professed by a foreign country.

In the former case, ever since the American Revolution entrance upon diplomatic intercourse with foreign states has been de facto, dependent upon the existence of three conditions of fact: the control of the administrative machinery of the state; the general acquiescence of its people; and the ability and willingness of their government to discharge international and conventional obligations. The form of government has not been a conditional factor in such recognition; in other words, the de jure element of legitimacy of title has been left aside, probably because liable to involve dynastic or constitutional questions hardly within our competency to adjudicate, especially so when the organic form of government has been changed, as by revolution, from a monarchy to a commonwealth or vice versa. The general practice in such cases has been to satisfy ourselves that the change was effective and to enter into relation with the authority in de facto possession.

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In some instances of such changes in the form of government, there have been distinct stages in the process of evolution: as in the case of Brazil, where the Empire gave place to the Provisional Government of the Republic, this being in turn succeeded by a Constitutional Federal Republic with an elected President. Again, upon the downfall of the Second French Empire, the reins of authority were taken up by the Government of National Defence of France which continued until the Republic has proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly and a President was chosen. On these occasions the United States entered at once into relations with the governing authority at each stage, by giving notice through our diplomatic representative. The same thing occurred in Portugal, when the Monarchy was replaced by the revolutionary Provisional Republic, and this by the final proclamation of the Portuguese Republic by the Constituent Assembly.

The case in China was and is more complex than either of those cited. At my request Mr. Miller has prepared a statement, hereto appended, showing the successive stages of the movement and the character of our relations with the governing authority of China. I may briefly remark that at the outset of the revolution which brought about the abdication of the Emperor, there were for a time two distinct forms of republican government. The southern provinces proclaimed the Republic of China, and by the vote of their revolutionary assembly chose Sun Yat Sen as President. In the north, the Emperor on abdicating, placed the administrative power in the hands of Yuan Shih Kai, for the purpose of framing a republican form of government. The merger of these two elements was soon effected by the resignation of Sun Yat Sen, and the acceptance of Yuan Shih Kai’s presidency by the assembly of the southern provinces. Therewith, the southern assembly disappeared as an independent constitutional factor by being merged with the Advisory Council at Peking, and the control of China remained under one administrative head as provided by the Provisional Constitution.

The United States at no time entered into diplomatic relations with the southern republic of Sun Yat Sen. The American Legation at Peking continued to discharge all diplomatic functions and transacted business with the administration of Yuan Shih Kai, upon being notified that he had assumed power and that China had entered upon the “formative” period of republican existence. The notification made by the Chinese Minister in Washington to the effect that he was charged, as Provisional Diplomatic Agent of China, with the conduct of international business, was accepted and he has since been treated in every respect on the same footing as the accredited Ministers of the other Powers. The status of the American Minister at Peking has remained unchanged. Every usual function of international intercourse between sovereign states has been performed, although informally, in the regular course, and consular exequaturs have been asked and granted on both sides according to the established formalities.

Since the initial notification of the establishment of the Provisional Government of Yuan Shih Kai, and of the title and status of the Chinese representative in Washington, there has been no announcement of any change in the administrative system of China. That [Page 102] the formative stage still continues may be inferred from the recent official communication, by the Chinese Minister, of the intelligence that the now-elected Constituent Assembly is to meet on the 8th of April, 1913.

The latest communication in this regard that has reached us is the telegram from Chargé Williams, dated Peking, March 28 (today), conveying “the desire of President Yuan for immediate recognition by the United States.” This would seem on its face not to be a request for the recognition of the Chinese Republic as a republic, but rather suggests Yuan Shih Kai’s wish to have his status as President recognized in some more explicit way than it has hitherto been. This inference may find support in Mr. William’s mention of “the tension existing,” which may refer to the reported activities of the adherents of Yuan Shih Kai and Sun Yat Sen, mentioned in the memorandum of the Far Eastern Division.

You have asked my views on the question of recognition in general, and as affecting the Chinese situation in particular.

In the practice of the United States, there are several formulae of recognition.

The first and most usual is, the notification, by the American representative at the foreign capital, that he is instructed to enter into relations with the new government. This is ordinarily supplemented by informing the foreign minister (if there be one) in Washington in a like sense.

The second, and the course very generally followed in other countries, is the acknowledgment, by the President, of a letter addressed to him by the head of the new foreign government announcing his assumption of authority. (It is in this way that King George V is reported to intend to recognize General Huerta as Constitutional interim President of the United Mexican States—that being the style and title used by General Huerta in his formal letter of announcement.)

The third, also usual in the intercourse of states, is the reception of an envoy by the President, in audience for the purpose of presenting his letters of credence.

The fourth is the reception, by the President, of the continuing diplomatic agent of the foreign state, for the purpose of making oral announcement of the change of government. In both these two latter cases, the complimentary addresses of the envoy and the President suffice to define and accentuate the scope of the recognition so effected.

A fifth method may be available, namely, the formal delivery by the American envoy at the foreign capital, to the head of the new government, of a message of recognition from the President, or of a congratulatory resolution of the American Congress if one have been passed.

The sixth method, which was adopted in the case of Portugal and Spain (and, I think, in the case of the French Republic, 1871) is to supplement the recognition of a provisional or interim government by a formal announcement of recognition, made by the American envoy, upon the adoption of a new form of government by the national assembly of the foreign state.

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You have invited my suggestion as to the form of recognition preferably to be given in the present case of China. I answer, with considerable diffidence:

If the purpose be to recognize more emphatically the existing government of China in the person of its present Head, Yuan Shih Kai, that could be immediately effected by granting the Chinese Minister audience to deliver to the President the telegram of congratulation entrusted to him by Yuan Shih Kai. This, however, would not of itself have the effect of recognizing the Republic of China as a Republic but would be a confirmatory supplement to our present acceptance of Yuan Shih Kai as the responsible head of the Chinese administration, although it would be open to the President to embody in his reply-address a designation of China as a Republic.
If, however, the intention be to make effective recognition of the form of government in China as being that of a Republic, the sixth alternative as above described would appear to be in order if, as is anticipated, the forthcoming National Assembly which is to meet on April 8th should proclaim the Republic and proceed to its definite organization. To ensure immediate action in such a contingency, the American Legation at Peking could be instructed in advance to make the appropriate announcement so soon as the Assembly acts. This course was adopted in the Portuguese instance, as will be seen by the annexed copy of the telegraphic instruction sent on June 6, 1911, to the Legation at Lisbon.1

Respectfully submitted,

Alvey A. Adee.


Memorandum by the Division of Far Eastern Affairs on the development and character of the existing Government in China.

Early in the disturbances the revolutionary military leaders in the various Yangtze provinces and in southern China established a cabinet form of government with Nanking as headquarters, and convoked in that city an assembly composed of their special representatives, thirty-four in number. On December 29, 1911, this assembly unanimously elected Sun Yat Sen Provisional President of the Republic of China and he was inaugurated as such on New Year’s Day at that city.2

On February 12, 1912, the Throne abdicated in favor of a republican form of government, at the same time conferring on Yuan Shih Kai full power to organize such a government.3 Three days later Yuan was unanimously elected Provisional President by the Nanking Assembly (Yuan had previously been elected to this position by the Peking Assembly)3 and the resignation of Sun Yat Sen and his Cabinet was accepted by the Assembly to take effect on the inauguration of Yuan, which occurred at Peking on March 10, 1912.4

On February 13 the Chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, referring to the present as the time of the formation of a Provisional United Government, officially informed the American Minister at Peking, for transmission to the Department, that the foreign minister accredited to the Government of the United States would temporarily be designated “Provisional Diplomatic Agent.”

On March 10, the date of Yuan Shih Kai’s inauguration, a Provisional Constitution, previously approved by the Peking Assembly and other governmental [Page 104] authorities there, was adopted by the Nanking Assembly providing that within ten months after its promulgation the Provisional President should convene, a representative National Assembly at Peking to adopt a permanent Constitution and elect a President, thereby providing for the normal establishment of constitutional government. In the meantime the authority of the State was to be exercised by the Advisory Council, the Provisional President, the Cabinet and the Judiciary. The various ways in which the Chief Executive has been referred to at different times are shown in the accompanying annex.

Early in May, after the formation of a coalition Government under Yuan, the Department telegraphed the Legation at Peking to report promptly as to how far, in the judgment of the Legation, and in the light of the more recent reports from our consuls, the situation in China was responsive to the conditions of recognition of governments under international law and specifically in what respects the Provisional Government still fell short of the requirements.1 In reply the Department received the following telegram,1 dated May 7:

The present coalition government is nominally in possession of 20 provinces under military governors, the extent of whose submission to the Central Government is problematical. The north and south are not yet well fused but the only organized resistance is in Mongolia, Kansuh, Turkestan and Tibet. There is acquiescence but not hearty support on the part of the wealthy and educated and the real will of the mass of the people is not known. The National Council can not therefore be considered representative. The Government was established by the political maneuvers of a few, not by general demand of the people, but it is the only government in sight and recognition would strengthen its hold on the country, particularly if given by concerted action of the powers.

In July the Department addressed a circular telegram2 to all the principal powers having important interests in China, as follows:

Confidential. The powers are in full accord, the American Government believes, in the view that a stable central government is the first desideratum in China and that formal recognition by the powers, when granted, would go far to confirm the stability of the established government.

The Provisional Government appears now to be generally in possession of the administrative machinery, to be maintaining order, and to be exercising its functions with the acquiescence of the people. The situation accordingly seems to resolve itself, to the question whether there are any substantial reasons why recognition should longer be withheld.

Would the Government of [name of country] now be disposed to consider whether the present Chinese Government may not be regarded as so far substantially conforming to the accepted standards of international law as to merit formal recognition?

The Governments were unanimous in replying that, in the light of their reports, they did not regard conditions such as to warrant the consideration of the question of the formal recognition of the present Government until he assurance of its permanent stability should be of a more promising nature and until it should itself have been confirmed by the vote of the National Assembly convoked for the purpose and regularly invested with authority to express the will of the people.3

During the past few months the situation has not changed in any material respect. Order has been maintained generally throughout the country while financial conditions and international relations have at times appeared critical. The primary elections have been going on throughout the country since early in December, 1912, for the members of the new National Assembly which, by recent Presidential order, is to be convened on April 8.

Since the inauguration of the new régime there have been many changes in the system of government. The effect of these changes has not yet been fully realized and many administrative reforms, though duly promulgated, have not yet come into force. The control of the central Government over the provinces is not clearly defined, with the result that there is constant friction and misunderstanding between Peking and the provinces. The most important controversial points of difference are the system of national taxation, the contracting of foreign loans, railway construction and the appointment of provincial officials. The entire system of central and provincial administration is still in a transition stage and cannot be expected to assume a permanent form until the National Assembly has met and adopted a permanent constitution.

It is understood that the election returns in the provinces point to a decided majority in the permanent assembly for the Kuo Min Tang, or citizens party, which is the party of Sun Yat Sen and Tong Shao Yi and represents a consolidation of several minor parties generally considered to be opposed to Yuan Shih Kai. Yuan’s party is the Kung Ho Tang, or republican conservative party, whose leader is Li Yuan Hung, the Vice President of the Republic. It is probable that Yuan will, nevertheless, be elected President since it seems to be appredated [Page 105] by all that serious political trouble might arise if any attempt were made by the citizens party to elect a President from their own ranks and to oust Yuan. It is doubtful if any party, no matter what its majority, could be successful in an attempt at forcing him to give up office as his position is strengthened by the large military forces at Peking and in northern provinces which are known to be loyal to him. The conflict of authority between the central and provincial governments as well as the uncertainty of Yuan’s election are doubtless the causes of the existing tension referred to in the telegram from Peking of March 28.

various titles of the chief executive.

March 9, 1912. Note from Chinese Minister stating that Yuan Shih Kai had taken oath of office and entered upon his duties as Provisional President of the Republic of China.1

March 14, 1912. Dispatch from the Legation at Peking reporting that Yuan Shih Kai had been inaugurated as President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of China. Encloses oath of the Provisional President which contains a statement as follows:

“In these endeavors I will continue steadfast and without change, until such time as the National Convention shall convene and elect the First President.”

March 20, 1912, Dispatch from Peking enclosing Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China, Article IV of which reads as follows:

“The sovereignty of the Chinese Republic is exercised by the Advisory Council, the Provisional President, the Cabinet and the Judiciary.”

Throughout the Provisional Constitution the head of the State is referred to as Provisional President.

March 4, 1913. Note from Chinese Minister. In transmitting a cablegram of congratulation addressed by Yuan Shih Kai to President Wilson, the Minister referred to the former as President of the Republic of China. The cablegram, however is signed “Yuan Shih Kai, President of China.