393.1123 Coltman, Charles/35: Telegram

The Minister in China (Schurman) to the Secretary of State

36. My 33, January 26, 3 p.m.37

Saw Premier yesterday afternoon regarding Coltman case. Premier wanted to postpone conversation till after appointment of Minister for Foreign Affairs38 but I objected declaring matter was urgent (I also felt it important that Premier himself should realize gravity of problem before appointment of Minister for Foreign Affairs).
Premier took position that if anyone had unhappily been killed it was a matter for Chinese tribunals to determine. Premier also indicated feeling of conflict between the demands of justice and the demand of friendship with the United States which however he later withdrew.
I emphatically repudiated both propositions. As regards justice of our demands I reminded him that an American citizen had been killed and an American consul fired on by Chinese and declared that although both these [were?] atrocious crimes our terms of reparation were not only not unjust but moderate and even considerate. It was true that China and the United States had always been friends; that the United States had often been disinterested helper of China, and that we desired to continue this attitude but it was not true that we were in the Coltman case asking anything on the ground of friendship, we were demanding simply justice and our treaty rights.
As to Premier’s idea of leaving matter to Chinese tribunals I pointed out that the suggestion was in complete disregard of our right of consular jurisdiction. I had brought with me volume of [Page 721] treaties in Chinese and English39 and I compelled Premier to read in Chinese article 11 of Chinese-American-Tientsin treaty40 and article 9 of Chinese-British-Tientsin treaty;41 It seemed a new point to him. In fact the Chinese newspapers discuss the Coltman case as if consular jurisdiction did not exist.
I then declared that for the killing of Coltman and outrage on consul the entire and exclusive responsibility rested on the Kalgan military officers who had trampled under foot our extraterritorial rights, violated the treaty articles just read about, and themselves assumed, although the American consul (was present?), to enforce on American citizens, even by murderous methods, a local economic regulation of which notice had not even been given to us. The death of an American citizen and the insult to the American consul resulted directly from this unlawful exercise of authority by Chinese officers in contravention of our treaty rights.
I pressed for an immediate reply to my note of January 3rd in which the demands were formulated and said that my Government regarded the matter as very important and very urgent. I read two sentences from Secretary’s telegram number 12, January 18, 6 p.m.42 indicating that a right solution of the question was essential to the continuance of the sympathetic and helpful attitude which the United States Government had so constantly shown in Chinese affairs and I declared solemnly that the demands would not be altered.
Premier replied that he would have to consult others, mentioning specifically Minister of War and Minister for Foreign Affairs but probably having in mind … Tsao Kun, and the military clique who are protecting their followers at Kalgan. Premier added he would instruct Minister for Foreign Affairs as soon as appointed to take up this matter and assured me they would not be bound by what preceding ministers had done.
In conciliatory manner Premier observed that this matter must not disturb good relations between China and the United States. I said it certainly would unless our terms of settlement were accepted by China. I inquired whether I was correct in understanding that he would not permit matter to result in disturbance of existing good relations. To this question he answered in the affirmative but when I asked categorically whether he accepted our terms of settlement he replied that he must “consult everybody”.
  1. Not printed.
  2. The appointment of Alfred Sze as Minister for Foreign Affairs had been rejected by the Senate.
  3. Apparently China, The Maritime Customs, Treaties, Conventions, etc., between China and Foreign States, 2d ed. (Shanghai, 1917), vol. i.
  4. Ibid., p. 713.
  5. Ibid., p. 404.
  6. Not printed.