393.1123 Coltman, Charles/77: Telegram

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


112. My telegram no. 101 of April 10, 4 p.m.51 On the evening of April 13 I met Koo socially and had a lengthy private conversation regarding the Coltman case. I warned him that the relations between our countries would be seriously affected if the case was left unsettled and insisted that China would have to satisfy our demands. His acceptance of the appointment as Foreign Minister awaits confirmation by Parliament, yet he appeared to feel responsibility in the matter and said he would talk with the President about it the next day. The following evening he called me on the telephone and reported that he had done so. He said that the President had conferred with the Cabinet regarding the case and that the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs would inform me on Monday, April 16, as to the results of this conference. Sunday I learned from other entirely reliable sources that Koo had telegraphed Tsao Kun substance of my conversation.

Recently through effective intermediaries I have been impressing Tsao Kun with the danger that the Chinese attitude respecting the Coltman affair would alienate the United States. On April 14 General Feng Yu-hsiang, the Christian general, who had just returned from a visit to his chief, Tsao Kun, sent a trustworthy messenger to me expressing his concern regarding the present status of the issue. It was arranged that I should confer with Feng on the morning of the 16th. In order to secure his cooperation I had personally explained all phases of the case to General Feng several weeks ago. At that time I know he at once made representations to the Department of War.

On the 16th as arranged I had separate conference of nearly two hours in each case with Feng Yu-hsiang and with the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs who at present is the Acting Minister. Feng stated that he was speaking for Tsao Kun as well as for himself although his visit was unofficial. He said that neither of them was officially connected with or had any responsibility for the action of the Tutung at Kalgan who was in another command. However, they were concerned about the action of General Chang Hsi-yuan, the present Tutung, as he was a good friend of both Feng and Tsao and also because Tsao had recommended him for the position, [Page 733] while Feng when Tuchun of Shensi had been his superior and in 1922 had brought him to Chihli to assist in the campaign against Chang Tso-lin.

A large part of Feng’s remarks consisted of expressions of regret and appeals that the strong nation, the United States, should deal kindly with the weak nation, China. I found it necessary to say to him that justice as well as benevolence was among the principles on which states conducted their relations with each other. I added that no sacrifice on China’s part was involved in our demands in the Coltman affair. Feng did not have any adequate idea of the character of extraterritorial rights and when I explained the system and illustrated its flagrant violation in the Coltman affair he became somewhat excited. However he greatly regretted the occurrence and on the whole was sincerely desirous of helping to settle the case. He was nonplussed and gave no answer when I inquired what settlement he would propose.

The Acting Minister said that his object was not to review the legal arguments but to seek to obtain a speedy settlement by frankly talking over the situation. He had the gist of his remarks on a paper before him written in Chinese. He was very considerate and was anxious to reach an understanding. …

I am convinced that the only way to get any nearer to our complete demands is by the use of diplomatic pressure, hurtful to China, either by the Department or by the concerted action of the powers.

Although three of the six demands originally presented are still unsatisfied, the Chinese consent to have our Government determine the size of the indemnity to be paid by China to the family of Coltman, of course subject to final acceptance by the Chinese Government, is a decided advance over any suggestion or proposal before made by the Peking Government.

The fate of the Tutung is a matter of grave concern to the Peking Government. Their argument is that since he has already made an apology to the Minister of the United States, which he has done, no additional demand should be made upon him. I presume that no Chinese would look at the case differently. Replying to my statement that it was necessary to have some public act of atonement at Kalgan, the Acting Minister called attention to the fact that such public expiation was supplied by the summary dismissal of the three officers. This action would be known to population of Kalgan and in the country far beyond.

The Chinese Government has made a marked advance in meeting our demand with respect to punishment. It now consents that the chief of staff be punished like the others and that all three officers be summarily dismissed. I asked what was the reason that these [Page 734] officers should not also be excluded permanently from the Chinese service and brought to trial for killing an American citizen. The reply of the Vice Minister was that there was no way to bring them before the courts and that it would be a deprivation of the rights of citizenship to permanently exclude them from public service. No official in China, civil or military, could put such a decree in effect without authority of a court decision.

I have been going on the assumption that the Peking Government will accept the plan of settlement recommended by the Vice Minister. Possibly they may not, but if they do I recommend that the Department accept the terms.

It may be wise to give me instructions to secure certain further concessions if possible, but with the provision that although I am to present and urge them they may be dropped if it should be found that they make a speedy settlement impossible. …

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