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

No. 2636

Sir: In connection with my despatch No. 2582 of March 11th relating to the Shanghai Peace Conference, and with despatches from the Consul-General at Shanghai sent directly to the Department, as well as the bulletins issued by the “Intelligence Bureau of the Constitutional Government of China”, I have the honor to make a further report.

The Peace Conference is at present still in abeyance. The Southern delegation is not as yet satisfied that the Northern Militarists have actually discontinued operations in Shensi Province. Mr. Tang Shao-yi, himself has been sick with influenza. It is reported that he is discouraged because he has doubts of the sincere support of the Allied Ministers at Peking for the policy of re-uniting China and ridding the country of Militarists’ dominance. Such doubts are unjustified as far as the British, French, and American Ministers [Page 323] are concerned. It is, however, very difficult to take any specific action without encountering the objection made by the Japanese Minister that interference in the internal affairs in China must be avoided. It is also not desirable that an open breach between the Japanese and the other associated Ministers should occur. The illogical character of the Japanese position has already been pointed out to the Department. Under the pretext of nonintervention in Chinese internal affairs, continued financial support to the Northern Military clique is maintained.

At a meeting of the representatives of the five Powers which gave the original peace advice on December 2nd, 1918, the desirability of disbanding the War Participation troops and of insisting upon the settlement of the Shensi matter was brought up: the British Minister was in favor of strong action to the extent of asking for the dismissal of the Governor of Shensi. The Japanese Minister stated that his Government would feel that expressing any opinion on these matters would be considered as undue interference with internal affairs. All others were of the opinion that in view of the fact that we had in the original advice expressed our hope that nothing would be done which would be an obstacle to peace, we were certainly within the bounds of the original action should we protest in the cases mentioned. In other words we should not be dictating specific terms of settlement but asking for the removal of conditions which stood in the way of any settlement. Personally, I was willing to support my Colleagues in this matter and considered that such action could not justly and fairly be attacked or criticized; I was also fully aware that notwithstanding this protest against noninterference, the entire Japanese policy in China is actually based upon interference by way of supporting certain men and groups of men and in many other ways. I was, however, doubtful whether any protest which we could make would have any effect upon the action of the group which now controls the Peking Government. They would make a polite reply but continue to act in accordance with their party interests and the advice of their Japanese counsellors. Our advice would be encouraging to the South and the national unity movement in general, but only platonically so. While I was, therefore, favorably disposed towards taking the action on account of the general effect our statement would have, I did not expect it would result in producing the action called for because even though the Japanese Minister might join us in form, other Japanese influences would be exercised to maintain the policy which we should be protesting against. This could also be done by only making a change in the form while maintaining the substance. My feeling [Page 324] throughout this matter was that action of the friendly Ministers and Governments in behalf of restoring peace and normal conditions in China could be effected only on two conditions; namely, that the President and the Peace Conference should propose a definite program of re-organization which they could ask us to support; and that thereupon we should be in a position to support not only with advice but with financial assistance. Any other attempt will leave the essential factors in the situation unchanged; namely, the fact that the Northern Militarists are in possession of funds and ammunitions derived from Japanese which give them a sense of power, the fact that Japanese influence will not allow this party to be effectively discouraged, and finally that the President and the national unity forces in general, have not produced a specific program which we could support.

On this last point there are, of course, difficulties which cannot be overlooked. The very announcement of a program on the part of the President to dispose of the disproportionate influence and expense of the military would probably lead to an attempt on the part of the latter to overthrow him or at least to deprive him of all possibility of exercising power. The President, with all his good impulses and intentions is too much given to the old conception of political leadership which means the bringing together of all parties by compromise by promising each some advantage. The idea of boldly coming forth with a policy demanded by the interests of the country which would command the support of the majority but which would also encounter determined opposition on the part of others of great influence—this is a course he cannot key himself up to. He wants to be sure of a definite amount of support before he embarks. I believe it will not be possible to save China from further demoralization unless more definite assurances can be given to all those leaders who represent civilian rule and national unity.

In the meeting of the Ministers referred to above, the Japanese Minister stated that he had told the Chinese Government that the Japanese Government would not stop the payment of the War Participation Loan but that under all the circumstances and in view of opposition to this loan, it might be well not to draw the money. (This matter has already been referred to in my despatch No. 2582.) Sir John Jordan then suggested that we should all make this recommendation which had already been made by the Japanese Minister. The latter seemed surprised at this turn. The suggestion of the British Minister was adopted and as a result the representatives of Great Britain, France, Italy, and the United States called on the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs and orally expressed our opinion [Page 325] that the drawing of these funds at the present time was not advisable because the continued enlistment of troops constituted an obstacle to peace. On March 15th the Foreign Office presented to Sir John Jordan, an Aide-Memoire which was worded in striking similarity to the suggestions which the Japanese Minister had made to any representations concerning the War Participation troops. The Aide-Memoire (copy enclosed herewith) also overlooked the fact that the Japanese Minister had given the same advice. Upon its receipt the British Minister discussed with me what attitude we should take in view of the intimation in the Aide-Memoire that our action constituted interference with China’s internal administration. It was my opinion that the Chinese should withdraw the Aide-Memoire entirely. I, therefore, undertook to send word to the President to this effect which I did through two men of high position. They informed me that the President and Premier had held the Aide-Memoire several days fearing that it might give offense but that the Minister of War had absolutely insisted upon its being sent. The President then, without again referring the matter to the Cabinet, caused the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs to withdraw the Aide-Memoire, which was done on March 21st.

On March 11th the five representatives again met because of instructions received by the French Minister favoring action in the matter of the War Participation Bureau. On this occasion the Japanese Minister re-iterated his objection to any action because the War Participation Bureau, according to him, was a purely internal affair which should not be especially selected for diplomatic action. He was asked whether the War Participation Bureau had not been selected as the representative of China to make arrangements with the Allied and Associated Governments in connection with the War, and whether a Japanese loan had not been made to it. He stated that the Japanese loan was a purely commercial affair made by certain Japanese banks over which, he implied, the Japanese Government had no control whatsoever. He was then asked how it was that in connection with this loan, Japanese officers were assigned to the War Participation Bureau as Advisors and Instructors, and whether this was a usual arrangement in connection with a purely commercial transaction. At this point he stated that he was not fully informed and would have to refer to the documents and reports of these transactions. … Nothing further has been heard from the Japanese Minister on these matters.

During the past ten days, friends of the President have, on several occasions, brought me word from him to the effect that he had given General Tuan notice that the War Participation Bureau and all [Page 326] associated organs would be dissolved when the peace treaty is signed and that thereafter the troops would be distributed among different commerce [commands?]. He believed that as the peace was now so near, he could dispose of the difficulty in this manner.

It seems, however, that General Tuan did not take kindly to this suggestion. He sent in his resignation. Several of his counsellors urged the President to accept it, which action they believed would greatly strengthen his position. The President, however, received indirect intimations from Tuan that the latter expected trouble should his resignation be accepted. The President adopted this point of view, fearing that disturbances in the North would greatly worsen the condition of China. His most intelligent advisors felt that he is too apprehensive—that it would strengthen him should one or even more of the Tuchuns declare their independence because that would clearly force the issue and would bring together all the forces standing for national unity in support of the President. In such an issue it would be difficult for him to suffer defeat especially, also, as the trouble makers would not be able to count on any countenance or support except that secretly given. The President, however, thought better to decline to accept General Tuan’s resignation.

On March 21st, Chow Tze-chi informed me that the President had now decided to issue a statement of his re-organization and constitutional policy wherein he would appeal to the country and the friendly powers: that he had instructed the Premier to prepare a statement on disbandment of the troops and the constitution. On March 26th, however, the same gentleman informed me that the paper which the Premier had produced was so general and platitudinous as to be of no use whatever so that it was rejected: also that the President was still uncertain whether he had sufficiently firm ground under his feet to come forward with a statement of policy which would be unwelcome to the Peking Militarists. At this time, I was also, incidentally, informed that more than half of the War Participation proceeds had been used up for current expenses.

From whatever point of view one may consider the situation, the judgement is always brought back to the conclusion that in view of the actual powers still wielded by the Northern Militarists, largely through foreign support, it will require positive encouragement, guidance, and support of the friendly powers if the President and the other civilian leaders are to take courage to enforce a policy for which they are as yet insufficiently organized but which would have practically the whole nation for it, were it once announced by the leaders. They cannot, however, safely announce it in view of local influences until they have some assurance of support.

[Page 327]

There is also enclosed copy of a memorandum proposed by the Japanese Minister on March 10th40 as a basis for representations. The proposal was not accepted by the Ministers as being too general in its terms to be of any benefit.

I have [etc.]

Paul S. Reinsch

The Chinese Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Representatives of France, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States


The aide-memoire presented by the Representatives of France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States on the 7th instant41 gave evidence of the anxiety felt by them for the furtherance of union between North and South for which my Government is extremely grateful.

The question of the proceeds of the War Participation Loan therein mentioned is one which my Government regards as pertaining wholly to internal administration. Now in the aide-memoire presented by the Representatives on the 2nd December last42 it was stated that they had in contemplation no ulterior plan of intervention and no desire to control or influence the particular terms of adjustment which must remain for the Chinese themselves to arrange, and my Government accordingly attached great weight to that expression of views because of the clear indication which it contained that the Representatives also attached due weight to the maintenance of a position of complete abstention from any interference with China’s internal administration.

As for the method to be adopted in dealing with the War Participation Loan my Government will naturally give it the most careful consideration.