File No. 763.72/3490

The Minster in China ( Reinsch ) to the Secretary of State

No. 1390

Sir: Supplementing my telegrams of February 6, 1 p.m. and 11 p.m., 7, 6 p.m., 8, 12 p.m., 9, 12 p.m.,1 10, 1 p.m.,2 and 12, 4 p.m.,3 I have the honor further to report on the steps taken in connection with the instructions contained in your circular telegram of February 3, relating to the protest against the German policy of submarine warfare.

Upon receiving your instructions, I immediately informed the Minister for Foreign Affairs, his excellency Dr. Wu Ting-fang, who being ill at present has been represented by his son, Mr. C. C. Wu. I also immediately arranged for interviews with their excellencies the President, the Premier, and the Minister of Finance. During the period from February 4 to 8 I had numerous interviews and conferences with these high officials, as well as with other members of the Cabinet.

In urging that China should associate herself with the policy and action of the American Government in this important matter, I made use of the following arguments:

I stated that the position of the American Government was not based upon any desire to secure national profit or advantage of any kind whatsoever at the expense of other nations, but that it identified American national action with a purpose to vindicate the fundamental rights of all nations, to protect them against further inroads, and to secure the existence of a community of nations mutually respectful of their rights. From both parties of belligerents, the United States, as well as other neutrals, had been made to suffer many serious infractions of its rights; the American Government had met these with strong protests in the hope that at the end of the war common agreement might revindicate and give force to the rights thus disregarded. But when the wilful oversight of neutral rights went to the extent of imperiling not only neutral property but the lives of its citizens, the American Government was obliged to take more forceful action. In this matter the [Page 415] interests of China are entirely parallel to those of the United States: both nations are peaceful and see in the maintenance of international right and peaceful conditions a vital guaranty of their national safety. Through association with the United States, China would enter upon this controversy with a position consonant with every tradition and interest of her national life, a position which would have to be respected by friends and foes alike, as dictated by the highest principles which could guide national action. By taking this action, China would improve her independent standing among the nations, she would have to be consulted during the course of the controversy and at the conclusion of the war: she would, in all this, be most closely associated with that nation which she has always looked upon as peculiarly friendly and just to her. In addition to these arguments, many favorable results were discussed which China would obtain in her tactical position in international diplomacy.

Many arguments were advanced by the Chinese officials in doubt of the policy suggested: it was stated that China had not led up to a breach with Germany by notes of protest, such as had made the action of the United States seem natural and unavoidable; Germany had of late years always been considerate in her treatment of China, a sudden breach might seem treacherous; it might also be taken by Japan as so surprising an action as to give a favorable pretext for pressing the dreaded demands of Group V.1 It was also apparent that the representatives of the European Allies were not in a position to give China, at the present time, any advice favorable to the action suggested.

I pointed out in turn that were the action suggested once taken by China, the representatives of the Allied powers would have no choice but to applaud it, which some of them at least would do from the fullness of their hearts. As far as Japan was concerned, the situation would be such as to indicate that that country, too, would decide to express approval of the action. Having taken a definite position on this side of the controversy, without yet entirely associating herself with the Allies, China would be in a position to command their good will; any interference with China’s sovereign rights would be rendered more difficult because of the situation thus created. It was almost inconceivable that coercive action should be taken against a friend who had declared himself. Moreover, the United States having taken the initiative in inviting China to participate in the protest, it would be unlikely that any action could be taken over the head of the United States or without consulting the American Government.

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As to the suddenness of the action suggested, I urged that the action of the German Government in announcing unrestricted submarine warfare was itself so astounding in its disregard of neutral rights that no action taken in reply could be considered too drastic. It was virtually a threat to kill Chinese citizens navigating certain portions of the high seas; and injury could be prevented only by taking a determined and forceful position.

I was also asked whether, should China follow the lead of the United States, it would then not be made easier for the Allies, under the leadership of Japan, to invite China to join them upon conditions laid down by Japan: I stated that I did not believe such to be the case, particularly if China closely associated herself with the policy of the United States step for step.

Early in the course of the discussions, I was informed quite positively that no action would be possible unless the American Government could give to China some sort of adequate assurance that China would be assisted in bearing the responsibilities which she might incur through taking this step, without an impairment of her sovereign rights and her national control. In my mind, I felt it as a matter of course that should China follow the lead of the American Government, the latter would not allow China to suffer in consequence thereof through lack of every possible support in helping China to bear the responsibilities assumed by her and to prevent any disastrous consequences falling upon her as a result of her action.

I also felt that quick and definite action alone could bring the results desired by the American Government; I felt that the effect upon Germany of the American protest would be enhanced by the early concurrence of important neutral powers. It also appeared to me that the first impulse, apparently present among a number of influential Chinese leaders in favor of associating themselves with the United States in this matter, would result in action only if a prompt decision could be made before all sorts of unfavorable and obstructive influences actually present could get to work. German influence itself, due to a wise course of policy towards the Chinese, has been very strong during recent years and could go far to neutralize action after the danger had once been fully realized.

When, on February 8, it became absolutely certain that the action counseled by the American Government could be obtained in principle, but only upon definite assurances that in the event of action being taken by China the latter could count upon the support of the United States, I felt it necessary to address to the Foreign Office the note embodied in my telegram of February 7, 6 p.m. I did this upon the conviction that at a time when immediate action was necessary and when I could not have your specific instructions, you would support me in action based upon the firm belief that the Government [Page 417] would act in a manner consonant with its position as a powerful Government in its relations with those who gave support and associated themselves in carrying through a policy of fundamental importance.

As the secret assurances given by the Chinese Government to the effect that China would “at the least break its diplomatic relations with Germany” in case “an act should be performed by the German Government which should be considered by the American Government as a sufficient cause for declaration of war between the United States and Germany” would not become operative until further action by the United States, they therefore left further opportunity open for determining the exact nature of the action to be taken by China. I stated to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, through his representative, that China found herself in a most favorable position. If she would take firm and decided action on the submarine question, and should be induced by the American Government to follow this up with more drastic action, she had the assurances that reasonable support would not in such an event be denied her.

On February 8 I had a joint final conference with the Premier, the Ministers of Finance and the Navy, and Mr. Wu. At the session of the Cabinet immediately following, the action was taken which has been reported in my telegram of February 8, 12 p.m. A formal notification was given to the Legations concerned on February 9. On February 10 the entire Cabinet reported to a secret session of Parliament on the diplomatic action taken. The report was well received, only a few questions being asked dealing with the procedure followed. No vote was taken on this matter, as it was considered by way of report on action by the Cabinet within the range of its legal functions.

With regard to the results of the important action taken by the Chinese Government, as far as they have become apparent up to the present time, it may be said that in matters of internal affairs the action has been beneficial in increasing harmony among the different factions, as well as the self-respect of the Government. The fact that China has, without coercion, taken a definite stand on a momentous matter and that her choice in associating herself with another country in this step has been entirely free, has inspired the Chinese with hope for the future. They feel that in taking a position for international right, they are strengthening the forces which make for the independence of their country. Among the military leaders the influence of Germany is very strong. Both the Premier and the Vice President are very friendly to Germany: they admire the perfect organization which has produced the remarkable military successes of this war; they also look upon Germany as a just and reasonable friend of China. Nevertheless, they have come to see that a more [Page 418] fundamental national interest should ally them with the international policy championed by the American Government. Accordingly, for once all important sections of public opinion are united.

As far as foreign influence and opinion are concerned, the representatives of the Allied Governments have come forward with their approval of the Chinese course of action as was to be expected. In the words of the Belgian Minister, “The air has been cleared; a weight has been lifted off China and the powers. The stock of America has risen one hundred per cent. The Japanese Government fully realizes this new factor and is governing itself accordingly.”

I have the honor to enclose, for your information, copies of two despatches (Nos. 1166 and 1170) of February 7 and 9, respectively, from the Consulate General at Shanghai, and articles from the Peking Gazette of January 22, February 7, 8, 10, and 12, and from the Peking Daily News of February 7, 8, 10, and 13, in which the recent diplomatic developments are discussed.1

I have [etc.]

Paul S. Reinsch
  1. Ante, pp. 401404, 407.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Ante, p. 408.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1915, pp. 9497.
  5. Enclosures not printed.