893.113/952: Telegram

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

162. 1. Reuter telegram from London March 31st reports that in replying to Labor members of Parliament who referred to the supply of arms to Chinese factions from abroad, British Minister for Foreign Affairs said that “he was not inclined to take any very active steps in regard to this matter ‘unless the ban was applied on all frontiers, land as well as sea’”.

2. As a result of almost a year’s observation here I would strongly urge upon the Department a consideration of the arms embargo of 1919,42 which I have convinced myself is wholly ineffective to accomplish prohibitions intended and whose partial enforcement results in favoring some factions to the disadvantage of others.

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3. I have reached this conclusion against my own prepossessions, because when stationed here before I had a certain part in bringing about establishment of the embargo and because while in the Department I still felt that it should be maintained in the absence of concrete and conclusive evidence of its general violation. I am now convinced beyond any doubt that even though such positive evidence is not available it is the fact that the embargo is not vigilantly and scrupulously enforced by any nationality except the British and ourselves. The British control over imports into China as well as exports from home territories enables them to deal with the matter more effectively than we but even so there are quantities of British as well as of American arms that find their way into China. Nonparticipation of various countries furnishes channels through which arms can be brought in practically without restriction. Arsenals in various parts of the country are also in operation which enable the Chinese to a large extent to supply themselves. The existence of embargo merely makes it a trifle more difficult and expensive to obtain arms. It does not appreciably diminish the means for either warfare or brigandage.

4. Apart from this general ineffectiveness of the embargo is the particular question of supply of arms by Russia to such forces as are willing to cooperate in Soviet policies in this country. This supply is on a large scale and, in the face of it, refusal to permit the sale of arms to the Government or to other factions becomes tantamount to intervention to their detriment. It is known that Chang Tso-lin and Wu Pei-fu,43 for instance, strongly resent the restriction thus imposed upon them.

5. To withdraw embargo immediately might have the appearance of giving support to the forces combined against the Kuominchun in the present situation. If however the announcement were to be made that embargo would be withdrawn at some future date (say 3 or 4 months hence) this action would not have the appearance of being prompted by a particular situation.

6. Apart from the statement of the British Minister for Foreign Affairs quoted by Reuter, I have reason to feel that the British Legation shares the belief that the embargo wholly fails to serve its purpose and prejudices impartiality of the attitude of the powers towards the various factions in China. I believe that the same opinion is held by the French Legation. Knowing the Department’s desire to maintain an attitude of unquestioned loyalty towards the embargo I have refrained from expressing to any of my colleagues my own convictions as set forth above. I venture however to ask your authorization to discuss the matter with them frankly on my [Page 735] own responsibility in order to ascertain more definitely the general attitude in this matter with a view to your consideration of the question.

  1. See ibid., 1919, vol. i, pp. 667 ff.
  2. Chinese military leaders in Manchuria and the Yangtze Valley, respectively.