The Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy (Denby)
Sir: With reference to your letter of August 28, 1923 (File No. 27403–340:23) concerning the inadequacy of the present units constituting the Yangtse River Patrol, I have the honor to state that this Department is much gratified to learn that the Navy Department [Page 749]is including in its estimates for the coming year specifications for the construction of six new river gunboats under plans especially designed for service upon Chinese rivers.
As stated in my letter of August 20, 1923, the need for these vessels is most imperative. The progressive disintegration of the authority of the Chinese Government, and the diminishing of the sense of responsibility on the part of Chinese officials with respect to the protection of the lives and property of foreign residents, have created in China a situation which gives this Department constant apprehension with regard to the safety of American citizens in that country.
Our chief commercial and missionary interests are centred in the valley of the Yangtse River which drains the whole of central China. Because of the existence of this river, with its branches, it is possible to extend a very considerable degree of naval protection to our interests in that valley, whereas in other parts of that country such protection is necessarily limited almost entirely to the coastal regions. For many years, it has been the custom for the Powers principally interested in Chinese commerce (the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and France) to maintain a naval patrol upon the Yangtse River. These vessels, constantly appearing at the various ports of central China, have served to evidence to the Chinese people the ability and purpose of the foreign governments to protect both their missionaries and their traders in the exercise of their legitimate treaty rights. As I have indicated above, the exercise of these rights is at the present time in jeopardy; and, from such information as the Department is now receiving, there appears no indication of any improvement in these conditions in the immediate future. Especially in the upper reaches of the Yangtse, between Ichang and Chungking, foreign merchant ships are constantly being fired upon by bandits and by irregular forces of Chinese provincial troops. Such conditions have resulted in a very considerable diminution of foreign prestige; and, in one province, the Department has within the last few weeks deemed it necessary to advise the American missionary bodies that they refrain from sending further members of their organizations at the present time.
The necessity, under such conditions, for the maintenance of an adequate naval patrol is obvious. The fact that the American patrol is composed of vessels both antiquated and unadapted for service in the swift and tortuous waters of the upper Yangtse River has been for some years a matter of regret to this Department, especially in view of the greater suitability of the craft assigned by the British and Japanese Governments for this purpose. In the event of an emergency, it is altogether likely that American [Page 750]citizens may have to depend upon the protection afforded by vessels of other than American nationality, through the inability of our own vessels to reach them. Such a situation, as you state in your letter, “does not reflect credit on our flag or add to our prestige when these vessels are compared with the vessels of other nations that are far better represented.” I may state, therefore, that it is the earnest hope of the Department of State that the new construction which your Department is planning for service on the Yangtse River will be approved and commenced at the earliest practicable moment.
I have [etc.]