763.72119/2809: Telegram

The Minister in China ( Reinsch ) to the Secretary of State 11

Minister for Foreign Affairs in personal conversation informed me today that the Chinese delegation at the Peace Conference would probably propose the following:

  • First. The settlement of proposals relative to the annulment through declaration of war of the treaties between Germany, Austria-Hungary and China, particularly with respect to permanent abrogation of the protocol of 1901 and treaty port concessions as far as concerns Germany and Austria-Hungary.
  • Second. That in the matter of damages for injury suffered the Chinese delegation would be guided by the general principles adopted by the Allies.
  • Third. That in the eventual making of new treaties with Germany or Austro-Hungarian states the principle of equal international rights implying complete reciprocity should be taken as a basis.

His Excellency also expressed the hope that in the general interest of world peace the Conference might make such arrangements as would effectively protect the integrity and independence of China particularly by discontinuing localization foreign interests and influences in different parts of China. As this would involve a change of policy as well as a relinquishment of certain existing arrangements, not only on the part of former enemies but also on the part of friendly governments, the Chinese Government could not make such a demand upon the latter but would only trust to that desire to bring about conditions which would guarantee the peace of the world through protecting integrity. In the same manner he entertained the hope that the friendly powers might be willing on their part also to relinquish the burden laid upon China by the protocol of 1901 particularly with respect to the remaining Boxer indemnity which funds the Chinese Government would be happy to devote to the cause of popular education. The entire abrogation of the protocol of 1901 containing terms incomparably harder than those of the Austrian ultimatum to Servia, terms in large part already fulfilled, [Page 508] perhaps might be considered by the friendly powers as in accord with the new spirit which now animates international relations. The Minister stated that he entertained the hope that these suggestions might win the approval of President Wilson.

In connection the above report I have the honor to express the following carefully considered opinion on the settlement Far Eastern affairs at the Peace Conference.

The great peril of China lies in the localized [preferences?] or spheres of influence which divide foreign action and which threaten to develop rapidly into causes of the most serious friction. Therefore the essential point to be gained for China at the Peace Conference is to give specific substance to the general declaration hitherto made in favor of independence and territorial integrity. Total abolition of localized preferences is equally essential to world peace and to extend freedom of national developments in China. The separatist, economic, and political action of the powers in China must be replaced by the idea of a trusteeship in behalf of united China exercised in the general interest: foreign enterprise and expert assistance existing in China must be organized to support and develop the united processes of Chinese national life. To stop all action inconsistent with trusteeship in behalf of general interest it is essential that treaties and agreements kept secret after their conclusion should be informed [devoid?] of all validity.

Without a just settlement of the Chinese situation the Conference would fail to protect the world against peril, for in that case either the rivalries of powers having local advantage in different parts of China will inevitably lead to armed conflict,—meanwhile poisoning international atmosphere,—or should Japan be given a freer hand and should anything be done which could be interpreted as a recognition of a special position of Japan either in the form of a so-called Monroe Doctrine or in any other way, forces will be set in action which will make huge armed conflict absolutely inevitable within one generation. The substance of a general agreement to safeguard the world from danger would be as follows:

The Powers engage themselves to give up mutually all claims to exclusive preferences in any part of China and to base their action here on the principle that China must be treated as a unit open to foreign commerce and enterprise under the provisions of general treaties. The Powers pledge themselves that they will insist that activities undertaken on behalf of the Chinese Government by their nationals shall be carried out in every detail in the spirit of trusteeship for China without an attempt to establish special national interests. The Powers will treat as invalid any agreements relating to China which are not made public upon their conclusion or which aim to establish localized preferences.

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On the question as to how far these matters can be settled at a general conference, opinion is practically unanimous to the effect that Conference cannot achieve its task of safeguarding world peace unless it frankly faces the situation and lays down adequate principles to cover its requirements.

It may be found that the application in detail of the general principles adopted is work more appropriate to a special conference. It is, however, indispensable that the general principles should be specifically worked out and expressed in such detail as to form a system of action which would remove the existing evils and provide an adequate guide and restraint for the future.

It may also be suggested, that if the principle of unification China and of the abolition of all local preference, together with the principles of trusteeship and non-secrecy of agreements be established, the creation, or evolution, of expert administrative commissions may yet govern as needed through special arrangements among the powers chiefly interested. In order to participate in this administrative cooperation a power ought to have a sufficiently strong interest in Chinese affairs to assure a real sense of responsibility.

For the above reason the rights of China and of the friendly powers who have sacrified their blood and treasure in this war it is requisite that all treaties and agreements made since August 1, 1914 should be laid on the table in order that it may be ascertained how far they are in conflict with the national rights of China and the general principles hitherto solemnly agreed to.

It will be possible to give general form to the system above outlined as applicable to China by decreeing its principles for all countries where in the past public administration has been by treaty agreement partly in the hands of men other than the natives of the respective countries such as Turkey, Persia, China and Morocco.

All the above considerations are commended most earnestly to the attention of the United States Government as essential to a permanent settlement of Far Eastern problems.

  1. Repeated to Colonel House in Department’s telegram No. 179, Dec. 12, 1918, 9 p.m.