File No. 763.72119/461
The Minister in China ( Reinsch ) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 8.]
Sir: During the recent past, various Chinese officials—their excellencies the President, the Premier, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and others—have confidentially discussed with me the position of the Chinese Republic with respect to the settlement after the war. I, therefore, have the honor to report to you on this matter and to request your instructions.
During the course of the war China has been more immediately and directly affected by hostile action between the belligerents, as to her own territory, than any other power. This happened primarily in connection with the defense and siege of Tsingtao, but there have also been many other similar cases, though of less importance.[Page 405]
The Chinese Government feels that because territorial rights located in China are involved in this war, it would be proper for the Chinese Government to be consulted when the final settlement is made after the conclusion of hostilities. Most of the high officials of China are inclined to believe that the Chinese Government should be represented in any conference of the belligerents which may be called to effect a settlement.
On the other hand, it is also apprehended by them, as well as by others, that should China be drawn into the discussions connected with the adjustment of the position and the rights of the belligerents, it might easily happen that the European powers and Japan would see in China a convenient victim for transactions and deals by which they would give to each other mutual “compensations,” or would give to one group of powers “compensations” for concessions which they might make in other parts of the world. Should the representation of China at the peace conference invite such a development, such representation would by all means have to be avoided. It is, however, felt by the Chinese that this matter of “compensations” might be brought up in their absence, without their knowledge and without an opportunity being given them to state their views. It appears to them that this would be an even more undesirable situation, and they are inclined to make an effort to be included in whatever conferences may be held. They do not, however, fail to see that unless it suits the special convenience of a group of powers or unless it is not strongly opposed by any one power, their inclusion in such a conference would not be probable. The Japanese have already hinted that they would gladly undertake to represent the interests of China at such a conference; that they would fully protect China and might even admit a Chinese attaché to the Japanese delegation. This is, of course, the last thing that the Chinese desire.
Under the circumstances, it is very difficult to determine with any degree of assurance what would be the safest course for China to pursue. Considering the manner in which international bodies [decisions] are often formulated, it would even easily be possible to give to a general resolution of abstention from interference in China such a form as would guarantee and fortify such claims already existing.
The following alternatives of policy suggest themselves, several of which might concurrently be put in action:
First: China might formally notify the belligerent powers, at the time of the calling of their conference, that she desires to be directly represented therein as far as the disposition of any rights affecting China should come under discussion. Should China be admitted, her delegation could then insist upon a strict limitation of the action of the conference to the rights of Germany in Shantung, which are [Page 406] alone directly involved in the war. Should there be an attempt made to discuss broader questions, the Chinese Government might then state that as such a discussion would affect other powers, the questions should be, if discussed at all, submitted to a special conference where the latter could be represented. The weakness of the claim of China to be represented in the congress arises from the fact that the Chinese Government has already (in 1915) agreed with Japan to sanction any transfer, which may be made at the conclusion of the war, of the rights of Germany in Shantung to Japan.
Second: The Chinese Government might formally notify the belligerent powers that it takes it for granted that any discussion of the transfer of the rights of Germany in Shantung to Japan will be confined strictly to the scope of such rights hitherto specifically and formally recognized by China; and that should the discussion pass beyond this limit the Chinese Government would desire to be represented at the conference.
Third: China might take it for granted that the conference of belligerents would not concern itself with Chinese affairs beyond the rights of Germany in Shantung; and it might then rely upon the general conference of all powers, which will undoubtedly be convened shortly after the war, to give more definite protection to her rights. The work of such a general conference, which would undoubtedly attempt to fortify and perfect the method of arbitration of international disputes, and the effectiveness of international law, and which might find means for providing a sufficient joint guaranty assuring to any power desirous of invoking the protection of international law and of international courts the right to do so, would materially assist China in maintaining her independent position and governmental rights; provided that unfavorable specific action at the conference of the belligerents may be avoided.
Fourth: Should the general situation of the powers in China and the status of the Chinese Government be brought up for discussion at the end of the war, it would appear eminently desirable that there should be called a special conference on Chinese or Far Eastern Affairs, at which all the powers having important interests here should be represented. From such a conference it might be possible to obtain a reenforcement of the integrity of China and of the policy of equal opportunity; find expression in a specific formal declaration to the effect that the powers will not seek for themselves in the Chinese Republic any special territorial or general rights of preference, and that they will oppose no obstacle to the development by the Chinese Government and people, with their own or foreign capital, of any part of China. If absolutely necessary, the special status of Manchuria and parts of Mongolia might be recognized, provided that the principle of equal rights and privileges be formally established throughout the rest of China.
The development of events will possibly indicate with greater definiteness which will be the proper course for the Chinese Government to pursue. Meanwhile, however, the high officials of the Government have repeatedly expressed to me their confidence that they may count on the assistance of the American Government in aiding them to prevent any development during, or at the end of, the [Page 407] war which would make of China a field of “compensations” or would result in general declarations that would give scope to the further development of special spheres and preferences.
I have the honor especially to request an expression of your views or instructions with respect to the action of the Chinese Government with regard to international conferences as affecting these general rights, in the maintenance of which the American Government has always been interested.
I have [etc.]