893.51/4699: Telegram

The Chargé in China ( Bell ) to the Secretary of State

397. 1. My telegram 394, October 19, 12 a.m. [noon.]31 Following from Jenkins:

“October 19, 1 p.m. Referring to my telegram of October 18, noon. It is rumored persistently Sun will attempt to seize customs tomorrow. No Japanese warship in port at present and neither I nor commander of South China Patrol believe we should consent to cooperate in use of force to prevent seizure unless British, French and Japanese warships are to actually take part.

As this situation will probably be identical with that of last December I assume we should be warranted in opposing seizure by force but I would appreciate instructions in connection with Legation’s April 2, 3 p.m., quoting Department’s attitude towards question. Please answer as soon as possible.

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British landing detachment marines Shameen today. If clash with Sun develops, situation with respect to the safety of foreigners will be more serious in my opinion than last December because of local Russian Soviet influence.

French consul just informed me French warships in port will probably not act without definite instructions from the French Minister.”

2. The Department’s telegram referred to by Jenkins is number 62, March 31, 3 p.m.33 Since no Japanese vessel is at Canton and since Jenkins emphasizes Soviet influence there I desire the Department’s instructions before authorizing participation in another joint action in protection of the Canton customs.

3. Jenkins’ recent reports would indicate that the Sun government is completely under domination of Soviet agents. If this is so an initial success at Canton in defying the treaty powers’ contention regarding the customs would dangerously assist Soviet agents in their endeavor to incite Chinese to repudiation of all treaties. I assume that seizure of customs at Canton would leave Chang Tsolin to seize Majichurian customs which he has already threatened (see my telegram 375, October 2, 4 p.m.33) Incidentally Manchuria also has become important sphere of Soviet activity. From this standpoint additional weight seems given to the Department’s views respecting insuring of Maritime Customs as essential to whole system of treaty rights (see Department’s telegram 243 December 5, 192334).

4. There is reason to fear that the apparent efforts of the Soviet Government to achieve the disintegration of China as a national entity are regarded with favor by the Japanese Government at least as concerns Manchuria. I therefore apprehend Japanese reluctance to cooperate again in protection of the Canton customs lest precedent be set requiring Japanese participation later in international support of the Central Government against Chang Tso-lin. Japanese cooperation at Canton therefore seems essential.

5. Although total American portion 1900 indemnity has now been remitted I assume the American Government still asserts former interest in the integrity of the customs based not only on general grounds but also on actual claim to revenues as secondary security for unpaid obligations owed to American citizens.

6. In view of these various considerations and in spite of Jenkins’ report of imminent action by Sun I have telegraphed him and the commander in chief of the Asiatic Fleet as follows:

“October 20, 5 p.m. Your telegram October 19, 1 p.m. American vessels should not take forcible measures to prevent seizure customs [Page 413] until further instructed and unless British, French and Japanese ships cooperate in action. Keep me informed by telegraph regarding all foreign war vessels at or near Canton.”

7. I request the Department’s early instructions.

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  4. Foreign Relations, 1923, vol. i, p. 562.