The Ambassador in Great Britain (Davis) to the Secretary of State

No. 4130

Sir: Referring to the Department’s telegram, No. 9 of January 7, 5 p.m., concerning the Chinese Arms Embargo, and as stated in my telegram of today’s date,45 I have the honor to enclose a copy of a Note from the Foreign Office dated the 22nd instant, received on the 24th, in reply to the Embassy’s Memorandum of the 10th instant,45 which was based upon the Department’s telegraphic instructions. …

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have [etc.]

For the Ambassador:
J. Butler Wright

Counselor of Embassy

The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Curzon) to the American Ambassador (Davis)

No. F. 120/2/10

Your Excellency: I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s memorandum No. 20 of January 10th, 1921, on the subject of the arms embargo for China.

[Page 543]
Your Excellency alludes to a Note addressed to His Majesty’s Ambassador at Tokio by the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, outlining certain alleged violations of the embargo by the United States, Italy and Great Britain.
I note with pleasure the statements contained in Your Excellency’s note as to the careful watch which has been kept by the United States Government on all applications for permission to ship explosives and munitions to China, and as to the confidence of the Department of State that no permits have been issued except for the usual small consignments of sporting arms and ammunition, and certain shipments of blasting explosives for industrial purposes. His Majesty’s Government fully appreciate the cordial co-operation hitherto afforded by the United States Government to ensure the success of the arms embargo policy.
As regards the alleged violation of the embargo by Great Britain, I can only presume that this refers to the agreement between Messrs. Vickers, Limited, and the Chinese Government, the existence of which is doubtless known to Your Excellency.
His Majesty’s Government desire therefore to point out that the supply of aeroplanes as provided for in this contract constitutes no violation of the arms embargo, which relates only to arms and munitions of war and material destined exclusively for their manufacture. This aspect was carefully considered at the time, and the transaction was only approved on the definite assurance that the machines were solely for commercial purposes, and were incapable of conversion for military use. These assurances were accepted as satisfactory by His Majesty’s Government, and also by the Japanese Government, who made enquiries on the subject. It is true that attempts were at one time made to divert these aeroplanes for military purposes but immediate action was taken by His Majesty’s Government to prevent such misuse of the machines and has, they believe, proved effective.
Commercial aeroplanes are therefore in quite a different category from arms, but nevertheless, in the light of subsequent experience and in view of the signature of the Consortium Agreement, His Majesty’s Government feel strongly that it would be inadvisable to encourage China to devote her resources or her credit to obtaining further supplies of aircraft until more essential national needs have been fulfilled the relative urgency of which will be, no doubt, considered by the Consortium. While it would not be possible for His Majesty’s Government to take steps to prevent the execution of the Vickers contract, which was financed by a loan actually floated in this country, they would be prepared, having regard to present developments, to come to an agreement with the other Powers concerned for placing an embargo on any further [Page 544] supplies of aircraft other than machines already contracted for. This agreement would be similar in effect to the Arms Embargo Agreement,46 although the reason for it would, as indicated above, be different in that it would be based rather on consideration of financial policy arising out of the Consortium than on strictly military grounds.
In this connection, I desire to mention to Your Excellency that in December 1920 a Peking agent of another British firm concluded, entirely unknown to His Majesty’s Legation, an agreement for the supply of aircraft to the Government of China. One of the clauses of that agreement provided for the communication of its text to His Majesty’s Government by the Wai Chiaolu. His Majesty’s Minister at Peking has, however, been instructed by telegraph to refuse to accept the document, and the firm has been informed that the transaction cannot be countenanced by His Majesty’s Government. His Majesty’s Government are resolved to maintain this attitude so long as the co-operation of other Governments in this policy is forthcoming.
As regards the export to China of arms and munitions, the supervision exercised in this country has been no less strict than that obtaining in the United States of America. All applications for licenses, save only for reasonably small consignments of bona fide sporting arms and ammunition, have been, and continue to be, steadily refused.
In the present condition of internal turmoil in China, and in the light of recent developments, His Majesty’s Government are more than ever convinced of the vital necessity in the interests of peace and union in that distracted country, of whole-hearted adherence ta the policy of the arms embargo, and I sincerely trust that the United States Government will continue to employ every means in their power to secure its observance by their nationals, with a view to maintain the co-operation of other countries concerned.

I have [etc.]

V. Wellesley

(For the Secretary of State)
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Latter not printed.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. i, p. 670.