The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Kellogg)47
434. 1. At an early occasion you may tell the Foreign Minister that I appreciate his expression of a particular desire to cooperate with the United States regarding Chinese affairs. In that connection inform him of my views on the present Chinese crisis as set forth in the Department’s memorandum to the French Embassy.48 The substance of this memorandum will be cabled to you through the Paris Embassy.
2. You may further explain my views by saying that the fundamental necessities of the situation in my judgment are as follows:
- No foreign intervention on the side of any faction or group in the present civil conflict;
- All appropriate encouragement and countenance to any governing body which may emerge independently with a reasonable likelihood of stability;
- The exercise upon such a new regime of what influence may be practicable with the object of assuring that it will more faithfully observe the treaty obligations which more and more the recent Chinese administrations have been seeking to evade.
3. With respect to points (a) and (b), it is my belief that the Chinese Government is now passing through a phase which is abnormal and temporary. I hope that a more substantial regime will soon be established. I think it is vital until then that the powers do not interfere, actually or apparently, with the working out of the internal forces of China, either by assisting any group or by efforts for mediation which would tend to give an appearance of stability before the situation has actually reached an equilibrium. However, as soon as a central governing body giving a reasonable hope of permanent authority shall have been produced, I think it would be the part of wisdom for the powers to formally recognize it and encourage it with the hope of helping it as far as may be possible to reestablish unity of political control throughout China.
4. With respect to point (c), the growing disposition of the Chinese to evade their treaty responsibilities causes me deep concern—in recent reports from our Legation in China there is the intimation of the possibility that this tendency may soon become manifest in more active opposition to the special rights now held by foreigners. When Minister Schurman was here recently for consultation he confirmed the apprehension that there is the likelihood that in the relatively near future the Chinese will demand that what they call the “unequal treaties” shall be revised, insisting upon control of their tariff, freedom to tax foreigners, and the abolition of extraterritoriality. If such a policy were enunciated it would without doubt bring forth a degree of enthusiasm and popular approval such as no recent Chinese regime has been able to win. Should the powers unite in opposition to such a policy, it seems likely that the Chinese would be able to render of no worth foreign treaty rights by mere passive resistance if not by the use of more aggressive means such as a boycott.
5. Of course the proposal that the powers withhold recognition until a new Chinese administration has given assurances that it will carry out its treaty obligations, is intended to meet this situation. However, even though such foreign pressure might indeed be the means of causing the Chinese officials to yield upon any particular case in controversy, I am unable to make myself believe that it would bring about any general or permanent improvement in the attitude of the Chinese toward the treaty rights of foreigners. I fear on the contrary that if such pressure were used it would result either in a deadlock between the powers and the Chinese regime seeking recognition, or else cause that regime to lose support and therefore weaken its chances of becoming established as the actual government of the country in proportion to the degree to which it agreed to the conditions demanded by the powers. In either case [Page 425] the particular tangible advantages that might be secured would be obtained at too great a price.
6. It is my firm conviction that, without resorting to force such as for present purposes is out of the question, the peril to foreign interests in China cannot be met by merely exercising pressure without regard to the temper which underlies the Chinese attitude on this subject. Unquestionably the Chinese have a strong feeling that the powers have not played fairly with them with respect to the Washington Conference treaties, and this feeling has influenced their temper with regard to foreign rights. It may be admitted that this feeling is without justification because in any case the political chaos in China would have frustrated our desire for the realization of the concrete plans which the Conference accepted. It is a psychological fact, nevertheless, that it is generally believed by the Chinese that the failure to go ahead with the extraterritoriality conference and the customs conference justifies them in disregarding their own responsibilities. However unjustifiable this feeling may be, it is too firmly fixed and widespread to be left out of consideration as a factor in the situation. I think it is essential therefore that the powers should prove their integrity by showing that they are willing, as soon as circumstances allow, to take up the promised consideration of matters which the Chinese consider fundamental. The decision as regards the extraterritoriality conference rests entirely with the foreign offices of the powers concerned.
7. As I understand the situation, France is withholding action both upon the extraterritoriality conference and upon the acceptance of the two Washington Conference treaties regarding China, and the consequent holding of the conference on customs, in accordance with a definite policy of taking no action favorable to the Chinese until France receives satisfaction with respect to the payment in gold of its share of the Boxer Indemnity. The fact that France has apparently a good case at least prima facie in the matter makes the situation harder to handle. In fact there is some reason to think that if it could be done without “loss of face” in view of the strong national sentiment aroused on this subject in China, the Chinese would now gladly yield. The reference of the issue to the World Court might bring about a settlement practicable for the Chinese. It is, however, understood that France is so sure of its position that it is inclined to consider only a direct settlement with China.
8. Apparently this attitude on the part of France not only delays a possible satisfactory settlement of this case but it directly strengthens and makes more bitter a tendency increasingly endangering all foreign rights in China by preventing any progress in making effective the decisions concerning China taken at the Washington [Page 426] Conference. The French, therefore, have in their hands the only key to the situation. I hope that the British Foreign Minister may understand the situation as I see it and may be disposed to cooperate with me, if opportunity is presented, to endeavor to influence the Government of France to take action in such a way as to resolve the present deadlock.
9. It is understood that the French Ambassador at London, who until a short while ago was Minister at Peking, is fully informed on the gold franc question. You might take occasion to discuss the matter with him, saying that the American Government is apprehensive that unless the existing deadlock is broken a settlement will be unduly delayed, and that it hopes that some method by which a settlement could be assisted by other governments might be disclosed by a frank and informal discussion of the subject. The British Foreign Minister may of course be informed of this.
10. I have given you the above full explanation of my views so that you will be in a position to discuss the matter with the Foreign Minister confidentially and informally. Considering that there might be possible misunderstandings in other quarters I do not wish you to put these views into any memorandum or note.
11. Please repeat for information to Embassy in France as Department’s no. 412.