The Secretary of State to the Foreign Secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions ( James L. Barton )
Sir: The Department has received your letter of March 18, 1924, stating that there exists among American missionaries in China a growing spirit of opposition to the extraterritorial conditions and to government protection of missionaries thereunder, and making certain inquiries with regard to the right of American citizens to waive such privileges, if they so desire. In general, I may state that American citizens are not entitled to waive rights of the character to which you refer. The treaties concluded between China and the United States are contracts between the two governments. They expressly provide that American citizens in China shall enjoy, with respect to their person and property, the protection of the local authorities of government, and that they shall be exempt from the processes of Chinese law. The observance of these provisions of the treaties this Government has a right to insist upon, and doubtless would insist upon, irrespective of the wishes of particular individuals [Page 603] who may be influenced by religious or other beliefs. It has been repeatedly held that a citizen cannot by his independent act control the right of his government to intervene or afford protection in an appropriate case. In this connection, you may be interested to refer to Moore’s International Law Digest, Vol. VI, p. 293.
With reference to the exercise of extraterritorial rights, Congress has, furthermore, enacted legislation extending to American citizens in China the laws of the United States. No American citizen in China, so long as he remains such, can waive the application to his person or property of such laws by the claim of a preference to be subject to the laws of China.
I think you will agree with me that the surrender of such rights by a portion of the American community in China, even if by a very small number of individuals, would seriously impair the whole system of the treaties as designed for the protection of all classes of American citizens in that country. It is hoped, therefore, that, in the article which you are preparing for the general instruction of mission boards, you may be in a position to make clear the attitude? of the Department with respect to this subject.
I am [etc.]
Chief, Division of Far Eastern Affairs