The Chargé in Siam (Williams) to the Secretary of State

No. 169

Sir: Adverting to my Despatch No. 167 of October 28, 1921, and to the situation as regards the assumption of mortgage rights by American citizens or by American corporations defined therein, I now have the honor to transmit, herewith, for the consideration of the [Page 896] Department, copies of informal correspondence with the Foreign Office in this regard.5

The Department will recall that in my Despatch of above date, I reported that the Minister for Foreign Affairs had not seen objection to the proposed assumption of such rights by American interests. My enquiry had been introduced casually into a long conversation comprising several other subjects, and the details of my proposal were not at that time questioned by Prince Devawongse. In view of the very brevity of our discussion upon the subject, I deemed it well shortly thereafter to confirm, informally, in writing my understanding of the tenour of his views. Meantime, owing to a brief intimation from Prince Devawongse that cases involving land tenure or mortgage rights under the treaty would be referred by other Departments of the Government in every instance for decision by the Foreign Office, I deemed it well to notify to the local representative of the Standard Oil Company of New York the desire that each mortgage, proposed or assumed, be recorded at the Legation. The subject might then be included within the purview of the Legation’s diplomatic correspondence.

I have received an informal reply from Prince Devawongse, who emphasizes the point, not however referred to during the previous interview, that each case of the character as it arises should first be referred to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to be dealt with on its merits rather than be decided upon any principle which may involve any modification of the Treaty. To this communication, I have responded with an appropriate acknowledgment of the expression of views by Prince Devawongse.

In comment upon the attitude of the Foreign Office in the matter, I would point out that by the procedure specified American citizens will be obliged to follow a routine in filing applications for mortgage rights and land tenure not required upon the part of British or Danish subjects, engaged in commercial pursuits in Siam. Although there is a general assurance that fair treatment will be accorded to Americans, there is not a corresponding rule or understanding that the rights in question will ordinarily accrue to Americans: in other words, each case will be dealt with separately upon its own merits. While it is true that at present the atmosphere is very pro-American, it is conceivably possible that a change of policy might be inaugurated at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In such event, American trade enterprise would exist only upon sufferance. The situation which now obtains is not therefore without its disadvantages.

I venture to add that the assumption of full jurisdiction by the Foreign Office in cases of such land-ownership difficulties is, in view [Page 897] of the ambiguity of the Treaty, of a present general advantage to American interests. The Foreign Office is in the main both friendly to the United States and impartial towards considerations of the commercial activities of other nations in this country. The Department is perhaps aware, in the connection, that the Siamese Law Registry is controlled by Advisers of European nationality.

I have [etc.]

Curtis Williams
  1. Not printed.