The Minister in Siam ( Brodie ) to the Secretary of State

No. 36

Sir: I have the honor to refer specifically to the Legation’s despatches No. 167, of October 28, 1921, No. 169, of October 29, 1921, [Page 904] No. 175 of November 14, 1921,13 No. 181, of November 17, 1921, No. 191, of November 26, 1921, and No. 26, of February 27, 1922, and to the Department’s mail instruction No. 28, of January 11, 1922, and telegraphic instruction No. 4, of January 18, 3:00 p.m., which together constitute the dossier relative to the possibility of ownership of land in the future by American citizens resident in Siam.

2. I did not fail to communicate to the Foreign Office the substance of the Department’s views in this connection, as expressed in the mail instruction of January 11, 1922. Inasmuch as the Siamese Government had definitely taken the initiative in the matter, through the formal enquiry of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of November last, reported in the Legation’s despatch No. 191, I deemed it proper to indicate, to the extent possible, the Department’s attitude upon the general subject. While intimating my satisfaction that a question of administrative policy in Siam should have brought together the Governments in friendly consultation, I was careful to recall the circumstance that discussion of the question of land-ownership now occurred at the express wish of the Siamese Government. After pointing out that the federal system implied an execution of laws relative to property rights through the State Authorities, I invited attention to conditions actually existing, making it demonstrably clear that land legislation in a majority of States has, broadly speaking, been based upon the principle either of equal treatment or of reciprocity. I concluded my Note of the twenty-seventh ultimo by stating explicitly that the American Government would welcome any assurances of the sort that the Foreign Office might feel prepared to advance.

3. The Minister for Foreign Affairs replied to my communication in a lengthy Note of the sixth instant, explaining that his original enquiry had borne reference to the interpretation which the Department might place upon Article I., of the Treaty of December 16, 1920, in the light of the reciprocity contemplated in that understanding, and adding that there existed special circumstances which restrained the free action of the Government in dealing with questions such as the ownership by foreigners of land in Siam. As regards the latter point, I might refer in passing to the statements contained in the Legation’s despatch No. 181, of November 17, 1921. Prince Devawongse then added, in a very considerate tone,—

“Should my Government voluntarily and without consideration extend to American citizens privileges beyond those stipulated for in the Treaty of 1920, it might be constrained through most favoured nation clauses contained in treaties with other Powers, to extend the [Page 905] same privileges to the nationals of those Powers. These Powers still retain consular jurisdiction and maintain restrictions upon the fiscal autonomy of Siam. It is not desirable, and I am sure that this will be readily perceived by you, that a valuable privileges [sic] should be extended gratuitously to those Powers which have not modified their position in those respects as your Government has very generously done.”

In view of the very difficult position thus created, the Foreign Minister renewed, therefore, his request for a reasonable interpretation by the American Government of Article I., of the Treaty.

4. Prince Devawongse in his reply to an unusual degree confided frankly in the good faith of the American Government. The Department is perhaps aware that the very existence of Siam has in the past been threatened by colonial imperialism, and, in consequence, Siamese statesmen hardly, if ever, bring up the subject of their international obligations. The Minister intimated openly,—

“One way … to meet this situation seems to me to be through an interpretation of Article I., of the Treaty of 1920, … (which) …, however, would have to be a reasonable one, otherwise my Government would be faced with a situation in which it might be forced to extend such privileges to nationals of other Powers through the operation of the most-favoured-nation clauses.”14

5. It would be well to stress further the very circumstance of the friendly confidence shown by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Prince Devawongse has held office for thirty-six years, and the arduous nature of his duties has recently proven almost too burdensome for the veteran statesman. Following upon a serious illness during the autumn, speculation has been concerned both with the possibility of his retirement and with the selection of his successor. Prince Devawongse has carefully explained that,—

“For the reasons already given, I have considerable difficulty in formulating a binding assurance as to ownership of land in Siam by Americans, which would go beyond the terms of the Treaty of 1920. However, I can assure you that this difficulty is not due to any unwillingness on the part of my Government to extend to American citizens and others entitled to the protection of the United States the full privileges of land ownership enjoyed by the nationals of the most favoured nation but solely to the condition arising from most favoured nation clauses in treaties with other Powers to which I have alluded.”

While inviting consideration to this free expression of Government policy, I would voice the opinion that a more favorable attitude is never likely in the future to be assumed by the Foreign Office. The question simply arises as to the advantage of disposing of an issue [Page 906] of considerable difficulty in an atmosphere of present friendliness over the advisability of its postponement to a later date.

6. The Legation has now sketched in rough outline the circumstances environment to the question of land ownership in Siam. Further action must obviously await further instruction. Yet responsible American citizens have continuously approached the Legation for information regarding their rights in fundamental matters of policy that have remained unsettled for more than two years. If the viewpoint expressed in the course of paragraph two on page one of the instruction of January 11, 1922, is the authoritative interpretation of Article I., I would respectfully request instruction anew to represent it to the Foreign Office. The implications of such a course are obvious: the provisions of the Treaty are reciprocal; the Siamese Government are bound by international obligations; and there remains but a single conclusion to be deduced. American commercial enterprise in Siam must operate in the future under the handicap of a loss of equality of opportunity.

7. Such then is the position. ‘Article I., of the Treaty, was drafted in such a manner as to express more especially the views of the Department’: an interpretation of its provision has accordingly been sought by the Foreign Office here. Prince Devawongse has stated that the Treaty is in the connection reciprocal, but that the Government are precluded from exceeding its limits by other foreign agreements. I venture therefore to formulate again the enquiry made in the first paragraph of the Legation’s despatch No. 167, of October 28, 1921.

I have [etc.]

Edward E. Brodie
  1. No. 175 not printed.
  2. The omissions in this quotation are indicated in the original despatch.