893.512/407: Telegram

The Chargé in China (Mayer) to the Secretary of State

462. Department’s 217, October 5, 7 p.m., my 456, October 6, noon, and 449, October 2 [3], 7 p.m.

1. At diplomatic body meeting[s] yesterday and today tax situation at Canton was discussed from a point of view, first, of what if any action the powers concerned should decide to take in reference thereto, and, second, what reply could be made to the Acting Inspector General of Customs’ inquiry of the Senior Minister as to support the Customs could expect from the powers should the Canton regime endeavor to force it to collect the new taxes. The 2 days’ discussion revealed complete unanimity except for the British Minister, whose position will be later discussed, in opposition to the new taxes; but efforts to arrive at unanimous concurrence in method of opposing them could not be achieved. It was realized finally that the two questions were too vital and broad to be determined by the diplomatic representatives at Peking and therefore it was agreed that each should place them immediately before his Government with the request that a reply be made to reach Peking on October 11th, if possible, when a further meeting it was hoped could take place. In order to furnish respective Governments with something concrete, a formula for joint protest was drafted as give

2. In placing this matter before our Governments, each agree[s] to inform his respective Foreign Office that it was our considered and unanimous opinion that the powers had arrived at a parting of the ways; that they should clearly realize that if Canton taxes were allowed to be carried into effect it meant beginning of the end of our treaty rights in China since undoubtedly the new taxation would be increased as to Canton and its action followed by the other semiautonomous regimes. We all believed that we could not warn our Governments too solemnly in this regard and that we should earnestly solicit them to decide upon a means of preventing the success of the effort of the Canton authorities to tear up the treaties with the alternative that foreign persons and interests in China would be increasingly and inevitably imperilled. It was further consensus of opinion among all the diplomatic representatives, except for the [Page 876] Japanese Chargé d’Affaires, that the only practical method of procedure in the above respect was to bring the Canton regime up sharply with a determined protest to be backed by force if necessary; that once the Cantonese realized the powers were in earnest there would be the very least likelihood of the necessity of a resort to force. In this connection I repeat a statement which the Senior Minister informed us Wellington Koo made to him on October 6th, to wit, that if the powers agreed to the new taxes at Canton he foresaw the early breakup of the Customs Administration.

3. Herewith the draft formula mentioned above:

“In view of the intention of the Canton authorities to levy certain taxes on foreign trade the diplomatic representatives in Peking of the powers concerned declare that they cannot recognize the legality of this proposed measure which is a direct violation of the treaties and against which they protest most emphatically.

“The Powers concerned have repeatedly shown their willingness to negotiate with China for an increase in her customs tariff. Unfortunately their efforts to assist the Chinese Nation as a whole in the spirit of the Washington Treaties and resolution[s] have been frustrated by the present unhappy internal strife in China and by the opposition of certain regional authorities to the Special Tariff Conference.”

I see no particular advantage or disadvantage in the second paragraph of this draft since it is simply a repetition ad nauseam of the expressions of good will and kindly intentions which have accompanied practically every statement the powers have made [concerning?] China within the past years, having had no other effect if any than to give the Chinese reason to believe that the powers are not prepared to defend their rights. If anything is joined to a formal protest it seems to me preferable to add something of a constructive character such as set forth in last sentence, paragraph 4, of my 449, October 2 [3], 7 p.m., and in paragraph 5 of MacMurray’s September 30, 2 p.m., repeated in my telegram just mentioned. However, I continue in the belief that this should only be done if the powers are in earnest in a protest and are prepared to follow it up to a logical conclusion. Any show of weakness at this time, either through acquiescence to the Canton taxes or in the wording of a protest they accept, will, in my opinion, be fatal to its success as well as contributory to the unfortunate result which must follow a failure to present [prevent] imposition of the new taxes at Canton.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

6. I have today received a despatch from the American consul general at Canton, dated September 29th, from which I make the following pertinent quotations: “It is evident that the Cantonese authorities intend to levy these taxes regardless of protests from the powers concerned. It is also equally clear that once these taxes are [Page 877] applied they will be continued indefinitely,” and “when questioned as to what would be done about the tax after the strikers had been paid, Mr. Chen said that question had not yet been decided but the taxes would probably be continued indefinitely if the Government found it expedient and necessary to do so,” and “it would be a fatal mistake in the opinion of the writer (Jenkins) merely to protest against the institution of the taxes and then permit the Canton regime to proceed as though the powers took no further interest in the matter. The so-called Nationalist Government is now far stronger than it has ever been in the past and the powers must find some means either to prevent Government[’s] growing interference in our trade rights or to control and regularize its activities in the interests of all concerned.” I entirely concur in this sound presentation of the matter.

7. The Department’s instructions are solicited at the earliest moment practicable.

8. American group representative Peking requests Department to inform American group, New York, of full details of proposed taxation in regard to which he is commenting by telegraph.

9. Commercial attaché requests his Department be informed.

10. Repeated to Tokyo by mail.