893.01/213: Telegram

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


93. 1. The Chinese Secretary of the British Legation called in behalf of the British Minister on February 25th to consult me regarding the long-established question of the customs at Canton. The opinion held by the British Foreign Office, he stated, is gravitating [Page 665] in the direction of early recognition of the Canton Government, and if independence was the desire of the people of South China and if capacity for the maintenance of a comparatively satisfactory separate administration was shown thereafter by them, to continue to withhold recognition would not be right.

2. As suggested in my telegram 73, February 12, 8 p.m.,47 third paragraph, I cannot but feel that the motive which impels the British Government to make a decision so momentous is the hope that by placating the Canton regime, the strike and boycott can be terminated. There is perhaps also the hope of eventually placing British interests vis-à-vis the new government in a position of special advantage. I myself am unable to perceive in regard to Canton and other regions of South China that any basis exists for viewing them as a political entity which is separate from the remainder of China. While it is true that they have for several years maintained an autonomous administration of their own with some degree of success, all along their so-called independence has been a political fiction rather than a reality. A faction which had been ousted from power has in a particular section of China maintained its organization without considering itself actually separate, in fact, from China as a whole. For example, in representing China at Paris it participated with the Peking Government. At times it has claimed that it was itself the sole legitimate government of China, and assembled the rump parliament at Canton. From time to time it has sought by military force to regain control of the country. Through personal representatives, its leaders constantly continue informal relations with leaders of other factions. In its territories it permits the Central Government to function with regard to customs, wine and tobacco, salt, telegraphic and postal services (although, except in the case of customs, the conversion of revenues to local uses is acquiesced in by the Central Government).

3. The representative of the Government of China on the Commission on Extraterritoriality, Dr. Wang Chung-lin [Wang Ch’ung-Jiui?], who is himself a Cantonese, has just called on me for the purpose of making, in behalf of the Canton Government, certain informal representations in the pending customs question. He confirms my understanding that while they claim complete independence, nevertheless the Canton authorities regard themselves, while waiting for opportunity to extend throughout China their influence in accord with the policies which Dr. Sun Yat-sen laid down, as administering a portion of the territory of China.

4. Were the British to extend recognition to the Canton Government, the Cantonese faction doubtless would be gratified by that [Page 666] action as tending to strengthen greatly their influence in Chinese affairs. It would, however, lead to these questions: could the British continue recognition of the independence of a regime which lacks desire for separation from China, and would the British withdraw the recognition they have given to the government existing at Peking?

5. It is doubtful, when such recognition is considered from the standpoint of British interests as a matter of expediency, whether it would be effective in any case in conciliating those influences which are concentrating under Russian guidance their attack upon Great Britain in line with what is a considered antiforeign policy.

6. British recognition of Canton would condone the similar action taken by Soviet Russia toward Mongolia. It would afford temptation at least for encouragement of the secession of north Manchuria and Chinese Turkestan by the Russians, of south Manchuria by the Japanese, and of Yunnan by the French. While it might be possible to reconcile such action with the letter of the Washington Treaty in regard to policies, such action would have the effect of restoring the scramble for spheres of influence and for concessions and, under new names, of recommencing the process of partitioning China.

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