763.72119/3309: Telegram

The Minister in China ( Reinsch ) to the Acting Secretary of State 24

I beg to request you to transmit the following to the President to reach him in Europe.

I feel in duty bound to call your attention to the imperious necessity of including a thoroughgoing and permanent settlement of the Chinese question among the arrangements to be made for the establishment of peace. I appeal to you directly not only because of your determined purpose to create a just foundation for human relations throughout the world but also because you have become to the people of China the embodiment of their best hopes and aspirations. Your championship of the four great principles laid down in your speech of July 4th,25 has found a deep response throughout China. These people whose rights have been trodden under foot while the war of liberation was going on in Europe, know from their own bitter experience, the vast importance of these principles for protecting free development and justice within the nations and for preventing coercion, plots and conspiracies from without. Never before have the words of a foreign statesman entered so deeply and directly into the hearts of the Chinese people, from the President of China who has again and again cited them in his manifestoes, down throughout all the ranks of the people. Though with bitterness akin to despair they observed that while the western powers were fighting for human rights in Europe the rights of the Chinese people were invaded by one of the Allies with every device of corruption and coercion, they now again have raised their hearts in hope and confidence that those who defeated evil in Europe and especially their leader and spokesman, the President of the United States, will no longer tolerate in [Page 521] Asia the execrable practices of military domination, secret trafficking with fundamental rights and the corruption of the life of a people and they ask no charity but justice, they ask no support but the assurance that the constant exertion of evil influences from without and the attempt of foreign military autocrats to seize control of the Chinese resources, finance and defenses shall be put an end to so that the Chinese people may continue the arduous work of establishing a representative Government without having every constructive attempt maimed and every weakness aggravated by selfish interference from without.

I need not recall to you that the action of China during the war was inspired by the example of America and by a desire to realize our common ideals of freedom and justice. It was the liberal elements that are working for representative government which determined the rupture of diplomatic relations in February 1917. Could we at that time have devoted attention to China, her entire course in the war could have been guided by America as China sought earnestly of one accord to follow this guidance. The new President, though trained in the older school of statesmanship, singled out your greeting as the most noteworthy statement upon his accession and has since in words and action expressed his desire to guide the country after the models of American statesmanship. In their trouble, aggravated by foreign intrigues, both sides have repeatedly and fervently expressed the assurance that if you would consent to mediate all China would be happy to accept your judgment and advice. Such has been the attitude of the Chinese people throughout the war during the latter part of which, unhappily, the controlling power in the government fell into the hands of men who through ignorance, corruption and treachery prostituted their public trust to Japanese desire for power.

Nor need [I] more than summarize the acts of Japan during the fateful years of the war while her Allies were shedding streams of blood for liberty. In 1915 coercion was applied and China was forced by threats to solidify and extend the privileged position of Japan in Manchuria and Mongolia and to agree prospectively to a like regime in Shantung together with the beginnings of special position in Fukien province. After this there was a change of methods although the policy tended to the same end, domination over China. Instead of coercion, [they] used secret and corrupt influence through alliance with purchasable officials kept in office by Japanese support. The: latter insidious policy is more dangerous because it gives the appearance that rights are duly acquired through grant of the Chinese Government; no demands or ultimatums are necessary because corrupt officials strongly supported by Japanese finance, acting absolutely in [Page 522] secret channels, suppressing all discussion with the strong arm of the police, are able to exercise contractual rights regular in form though of corrupt secret origin and evil tendency.

Japan has used every possible means to demoralize China, by creating and sustaining trouble, by supporting and financing most objectionable elements particularly a group of corrupt and vicious military governors in their methods, by employing instigators of trouble, by protection given to bandits, by the introduction of morphia and opium, by the corruption of officials through loans, bribes and threats, by the wrecking of native banks and the depreciation of local currency by illegal export of the copper currency of the people, by local attempts to break down the Salt Administration, by persistent efforts to prevent China from going into the war and then seeing to it that China was never in a position to render to the common cause such aid as would be in her power and as she would willingly render if left to herself, finally by utilizing the war and the preoccupation of the Allies for enmeshing China in terms of a secret military alliance.

As a result of these methods and manipulations Japan has gained the following: A consolidation of her special position in Manchuria and Eastern Mongolia and the foundation of the same in Shantung and Fukien; control in the matters of Chinese finance through the control of the Bank of Communications and the Bureau of Public Printing and the appointment of a high financial adviser together with the adoption of the unsound gold note scheme happily not yet put in [to] force. She has secured extensive railway concession [s] in Manchuria, Shantung, Chihli and Kiangsu; mining rights in various provinces and special monopolistic rights through the Kirin forestry loan, the telephone loan and others. Through the secret military convention Japan attempts not only to control the military policy of China but [incidentally] national resources such as iron deposits. All these arrangements are so secretly made that in most cases not even the Foreign Office is in possession of the documents relating thereto. Together with this goes the persistent assertion of special interests which are interpreted as giving a position of predominance.

I realize that this is a strong indictment and I feel the fullest responsibility in making these statements to you. Fundamentally friendly to the Japanese as my published expression[s] show, I have been forced through the experience of five years to the conclusion that the methods applied by the Japanese military masters can lead only to evil and destruction and also that they will not be stopped by any consideration of fairness and justice but only by the definite knowledge that such action will not be tolerated. As a steady stream of information from every American official in China and from every [Page 523] other source as well as my own experience have made this conclusion inevitable, I owe the duty to state it to you and to the American Government in no uncertain terms, nor is this said in any spirit of bitterness against the Japanese people but from the conviction that the policy pursued by their military masters can in the end bring only misery and woe to them and the world. During this period it has not appeared possible for the European powers or the United States to do anything for China; the United States, though assisting all other Allies financially, could not contribute one dollar toward maintaining the financial independence of China as undivided attention was necessary to the requirements of the West Front. The Lansing-Ishii notes26 undoubtedly intended to express a friendly attitude towards any legitimate aspirations of Japan, while safeguarding the rights of China, was perverted by the Japanese into an acknowledgment of their privileged position in China. Now at last when the pressure has been released America as well as European countries must face the issue which has been created which is whether a vast peaceable and industrious population whose most articulate desire is to be allowed to develop their own life in the direction of free and just government, shall become material to be molded by the secret and unconscionable plottings of a foreign military despotism into an instrument of its power. If it is said that the aims of Japan are now but economic and in just response to needs of Japan’s expanding population, it must be remembered that every advantage is gained and maintained by political and military pressure and that it is exploited by the same means in a fashion taking no account of the rights of other foreign nations or of the Chinese themselves. Divested of their political character and military aims the economic activities of Japan would arouse no opposition. The fact that at present when it has been announced that Japan will tolerate only bona fide economic business in China, huge iron enterprises, loans, mining concession[s], et cetera, are being actively promoted by Japanese with the assistance of subservient members of northern military clique who desire to use the proceeds for the purpose of increasing their personal forces—gives a clear insight into the method of Japanese economic business in China.

Detailed reports on the facts of the recent situation as well as discussions of remedies to be applied have been sent the Secretary of State in considerable volume, particularly in my telegrams of October 19, noon; November 7, 6 p.m.; November 12, 6 p.m.; November 18, 4 p.m.; November 23, 6 p.m.; November 27, 11 p.m.; December 4, 5 p.m. (?);December 10, 5 p.m.; December 20, 6 p.m; December 20, 7 p.m.; December 24, 7 p.m.; December 27, 3 p.m.; December 30, [Page 524] 6 p.m.;27 and despatches number[s] 2342, November 23rd; 2361 and 2362, both December 3rd, and 2408, December 20th.27a

Only the refusal to accept the result of Japanese secret manipulation in China during the last four years, particularly the establishment of Japanese political influence and privileged position in Shantung can avert the onus of either making China a dependence of a reckless and boundingly [boundlessly?] ambitious caste which would destroy the peace of the entire world or bringing on a military struggle inevitable from the establishment of the rival spheres of interests and privileges in China. Peace is conditioned on the abolition for the present and future of all localized privileges. China must be freed from all foreign political influence exercised within her borders, railways controlled by foreign nations and preferential arrangements supported by political power. If this is done China will readily master her own troubles particularly if the military bandits hitherto upheld by Japan shall no longer have the countenance of any foreign power.

The advantages enumerated above were gained by Japan when she was professedly acting as the trustee of the Associated Powers in the Far East and they could not have been obtained at all but for the sacrifices made in Europe. They are therefore not the exclusive concern of any one power. With respect to Shantung, the German rights there lapsed together with all Sino-German treaties upon the declaration of war. A succession of treaty rights from Germany to Japan is therefore not possible and the recognition of a special position of Japan in Shantung could only proceed from a new act to which conceivably some weak Chinese officials might be induced [apparent omission] but which would be contrary to the frequently declared aims of international policy in China and which would amount to the definitive establishment of exclusive spheres of influence in China leading in turn to the more vigorous development of such exclusive spheres by other nations. The present situation of affairs offer[s] the last opportunity by which to avert threatening disaster by removing the root of conflict in China. This can be done only by abolishing localized preferences and particularly by commercializing all Chinese railways under unified Chinese control with such foreign non-political expert assistance as may be necessary. Slight sacrifices of special advantages already held by one or two European powers would be justified by the suppression of formidable danger to civilization. [Thereby] the opportunity for the infiltration of political influence in [Page 525] the interior of China is precluded; the development of stable and free government is assured particuarly if America should give some practical indication that we are not indifferent to the preservation of the right of the Chinese people to develop freely.

Never before has an opportunity for leadership toward the welfare of humanity presented itself equal to that which invites America in China at the present time. The Chinese people ask for no better fate than to be allowed freedom to follow in the footsteps of America; every device of intrigue and corruption as well as coercion is being employed to force them in a different direction, including constant misrepresentation of American policies and aims which, however, has not as yet prejudiced the Chinese. Nor is it necessary on this account to exercise any political influence. If it were only known that an exchange [sic] in concert with the Liberal powers would not tolerate the enslavement of China either by foreign or native militarists, the natural propensity of the Chinese to follow liberal inclinations would guide this vast country towards free government and propitious developments of peaceful industrial activities, even through unavoidable difficulties in the transition of so vast and ancient a society to new methods of action. The eager attention which has been paid to your words, the trust and confidence which the Chinese feel in your policies and aims, are evidence of a spontaneous desire to follow along the path of American action and aspiration which you have made so clear to the world. If China should be disappointed in her confidence at the present time the consequence of such disillusionment on her moral and political development would be disastrous, and we, instead of looking across the Pacific towards a Chinese nation sympathetic with our ideals, would be confronted with a vast materialistic military organization under ruthless control.

  1. Forwarded to the Commission to Negotiate Peace as Department’s telegram No. 168, Jan. 10, 1919, 4 p.m.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 268.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1917, pp. 258 ff., and ibid., The Lansing Papers, 1914–1920, vol. ii, pp. 432 ff.
  4. Of the telegrams cited, only three are printed: Oct. 19, noon, Foreign Relations, 1918, p. 112; Nov. 18, 4 p.m., ibid., Paris Peace Conference, vol. i, p. 242; Dec. 10, 5 p.m., Foreign Relations, 1918, p. 197.
  5. Despatch No. 2342, ante, p. 491; No. 2361, Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. i, p. 566; others not printed.