893.512/422: Telegram

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

497. [Paraphrase.] My 495, October 20, and other pertinent telegrams.

1. The British Minister stated at the diplomatic body’s meeting this morning that his Government has instructed him to have further discussion of the tax situation with his colleagues. He inquired if he might for this purpose ask in a preliminary way certain questions bearing upon the proposal of a joint protest.

First, was it the belief of his colleagues that the Cantonese would comply with this protest? The unanimous opinion of the meeting was that unless the Cantonese believed that there was a determination on the part of the powers concerned to follow it up if necessary with force, the protest would be disregarded. The next inquiry of the British Minister was whether it was our opinion that our Governments were prepared to use force to follow up the protest. The general belief was that they were not. Then the British Minister affirmed that he questioned whether in these circumstances it was expedient or advisable to protest at all, for the reasons that such action would not be likely to be effective or dignified, and that probably it would result only in weakening the position held by the Customs, who would not be willing in the face of a protest by the powers, even a technical protest, to assume the collection of the new taxes. Meanwhile the Cantonese would be forming, in complete disregard of the Customs, their own bureaus for tax collection.

2. There was then considerable discussion as to some way to strike a balance as between the question of the principle of recording a protest against the illegal action of the regime at Canton and the question of fact: the preservation of the Customs. At last Macleay brought up the possible feasibility of a démarche which would simultaneously meet the requirement of recording a protest and be constructive in hinting to the Cantonese that if they gave suitable guarantees that there would be no further increase of illegal taxation and if the collection of the new taxes were placed in the hands of the Customs, etc., there would be a willingness on the part of the [Page 884] powers to make an agreement in some form with the regime in Canton in order to regularize the situation. Much discussion of this ensued. It seemed to be the general opinion that the implications of such action would be very far reaching but that nevertheless it was constructive, at least theoretically, and took account of the real movement of events in China in the direction of regional arrangements. Recognition was given to the fact that at this time whatever we could do could be only a device for “saving face”, inasmuch as the powers concerned were unwilling to undertake the adoption of a resolute policy: the only practical means to check treaty violation. The belief was rather generally held that in these circumstances perhaps some such suggestion as was offered by Macleay was the best course to take. Accordingly, it was agreed that a draft formula should be sent to the respective Governments for approval or rejection. The first two paragraphs follow: [End paraphrase.]

“In view of the levying by the Canton and other authorities in China of certain taxes on foreign trade,68 the diplomatic representatives in Peking of the powers concerned declare that they cannot recognize the legality of these measures which are in direct violation of the treaties.

In any case they cannot acquiesce in the collection of taxes on foreign trade which is not effectuated by the Chinese Maritime Customs and not regularized by agreement.”

The third and last paragraph being the same as the second in the original draft. (See paragraph 3 of my 462, October 8, 8 p.m.)

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

5. [Paraphrase.] As to whether it is advisable for us to agree to the British proposal, I frankly believe that it makes no particular difference what action we take regarding the new taxation or in China in general by way of trying to safeguard our citizens’ rights under the treaties, unless a realization is brought home to the Chinese that there is a purpose to employ force to protect these rights if necessary. I consider that without this any regional or other arrangements we may make or any protest we may present will only be respected so far as is desired by the Chinese who are the particular authorities at the time.

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

7. I am rather inclined, in the premises and in view especially of the opinion I hold and the consul general at Canton holds that [Page 885] it would be most inadvisable to make an empty protest, to favor the British proposal as being the alternative least undesirable. [End paraphrase.]

8. The modus operandi proposed to put the new draft protest into effect is to send separate protests to Peking, Canton, and Tsinan (to cover the Shantung tax situation, for which see my 483 October 15, 1 p.m.). In the two last-mentioned instances through the senior consul which would mean deleting “and other” and “in China” from the first paragraph of the draft in the case of Canton and similarly in the case of Shantung substituting likewise in the last instance “Shantung” for “Canton”.

9. As early instructions as possible are respectfully requested.

10. To Tokyo by mail.

  1. The files of the Department contain correspondence concerning representations and protests against the imposition of illegal taxes during previous months of 1926 presented to Chinese authorities, with the approval of the Minister in China, by American consular officers at Kalgan, Tsingtao, Tsinan, Harbin, Chungking, Hankow, Foochow, and Changsha.