893.5045/300: Telegram

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

69. 1. Inspector General of Customs today discussed with me the following very confidential telegram from Commissioner General of Customs at Canton:

“Boycott pickets have commenced seizing import cargo between ship and shore to an extent that has to be met as a principle. Such cargo is detained and fined and confiscated at will by them. Official representations to Government extending over some weeks have met evasive or procrastinating replies. Yesterday five loaded cargo boats escorted by Chinese tidewaiter proceeding from Chinese steamer from Shanghai were carried off by pickets. I proceeded with party to spot to which taken, first sending word to Superintendent that I should not leave cargo until it was brought back to Customs and if not so brought back should stop loading and discharge of all steamers in harbor until Government moved one way or the other. This was supported by Superintendent and, finally, but not until after 10 hours on the spot, I was able to return to the Customs with the five cargo boats. Pickets intend take back cargo when examination by Customs completed. I shall refuse release to them until all cargo now held by them and not yet presented for examination by Customs is surrendered for examination. This includes American, Japanese, and German seized ex16 different ships. This may succeed but may [Page 715] also bring deadlock between Government and pickets. Action will also undoubtedly involve possibility of Government assuming Customs Fund. I am of opinion action absolutely necessary and timely. There is no flaw in our case and I expect full support of foreigners and claim merchants.”

Inspector General pointed out that if Canton local agent supports the strikers in this lawless interference with the landing of cargoes it will raise a direct issue as to the right to trade with China under the treaties and in that event will probably involve the seizure by the local authorities of the customs from the Maritime Customs Administration at Canton and doubtless before long at other ports.

2. I fully concurred in this view and assured him of my readiness, in case it should become necessary, to instruct American consul general at Canton to join with interested colleagues in protest to the local authorities. I stated my opinion that American naval forces would be warranted in furnishing protection in the landing of cargo from American vessels to the customhouse. I reserved, however, subject to your instructions, any opinion as to action to be taken to prevent seizure of the customs by the local authorities.

3. Repeated to Canton and to commander in chief for information only.

  1. i. e., free of charges on cargo until taken from the ships.