The Minister in China ( MacMurray ) to the Secretary of State
[Received September 5—11:40 a.m.]
374. Your 182, September 2, 5 p.m.
1. I received, August 29th, the following telegram from the American consul general, Canto:
“August 28, 1 p.m. J. W. Banbury, American citizen, was captured by strike pickets early this morning but was released 2 hours later as the result of consular intervention. A Russian, employed by Banbury, was released at the same time. British subject and the Russian was [were] driving motorboat with Chinese passengers to the Hongkong steamer when the pickets opened heavy rifle fire, forcing boat to stop. British subject escaped under fire but Banbury, the Russian and Chinese were captured. British gunboat is now searching for motorboat which strikers took away with the prisoners and in which British subject owned half interest. See my personal letter to the Minister of August 20th mentioning Banbury.31a
Pickets have fired several hundred shots in the harbor during the last few days. One shot struck United States ship Sacramento against which the consulate general protested.”
2. While considering the above telegram with a view to possible recommendations to the Department for action, I received, September 2nd, a despatch from Jenkins informing me of an attack on two American citizens, Bratt of the Texas Oil Company and Waples, local architect, by strike pickets, August 18th, at French bridge from Shameen. In reporting this incident he stated that the usual reply to his protest had been received from Canton Foreign Office to the effect that an investigation had been ordered, but he felt quite certain nothing further would be done in the matter in the present circumstances. The despatch concluded with the statement that the incident was indicative of insults to which American citizens must now submit in Canton, with practically no assurance of redress.
3. I received telegrams, September 2nd and 3rd, from the consuls general at Hongkong and Canton, respectively, giving me substantially the same information contained in Department’s 182, September 2, 5 p.m. Jenkins, in discussing with the British consul general at Canton latter’s instructions to endeavor to secure American naval cooperation in checking activities of pickets, told Brennan that he disapproved of Banbury and other Americans engaging in the business of carrying Chinese passengers to the Hongkong steamers, that as Banbury had been released no forcible measures were necessary on [Page 725] our part, that he therefore opposed cooperation, in this instance at least, but would refer the matter to the Legation.
4. I disagree with Jenkin’s disapproval of the business in which Banbury and other Americans engage as affecting the policy which we ought to adopt as a result of such incidents. I feel that the business is entirely legitimate. It is a general transportation and ferry service between the shore and the Hongkong–Canton river boats; it is not limited to Chinese. The only objection to it is that it meets with the violent antagonism of a lawless, independent organization of Canton strike pickets, whose blackmailing operations have been outrageously in opposition to our treaty rights for more than a year and whose renewed activity at the present time should be made, in my opinion, to cease without any delay whatever. I have concluded after most careful consideration that, whenever feasible in respect of attacks such as described above on American citizens, we should adopt a firm attitude and inform the regime at Canton that if it cannot protect American citizens in accord with treaty requirements and general international obligations, the United States Government will be compelled with regret to take on its own account measures necessary to that end. I urge that instructions be given to the commander of the South China Patrol that any strike picket boat which shall have attacked or shall attack an American citizen be seized and disabled, and that Jenkins convey these instructions orally to the Canton authorities.
5. I am strongly in favor of informing the British Government that we have taken this position, which would involve action on our part, so far as protecting American citizens might require, similar to but not as drastic as that of the British, though it would not associate us with British instructions to British naval forces at Canton and would not be publicly cooperative.
6. I may add with reference to last sentence of second paragraph of my telegram 326 of August 14,32 that while I do believe that in many instances it is wise for us to act in accord with the British, and the Japanese as well, in China, this should in my opinion be mainly cooperation as to understanding and complete information with regard to the plans and policies of each other, with a view rather to simultaneous action than to our direct and public association with them in joint action.