893.512/426: Telegram

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

513. My 511, October 25, 10 a.m.

1. Following telegram has just been received by the Acting Inspector General of Customs from the Commissioner of Customs, Cantoitem:

“The Finance Minister has notified me through superintendent that specially organized ‘inspection companies’ have been appointed to examine incoming and outgoing steamers, trains, passengers, luggage and cargo. Stations are established on city bund, at Honam, river mouth forts, Taishan and Shunchuanan [Shumchun]. Inspection companies are under control of Smuggling Suppression and Merchant Protection Bureau, aim of [which?] is to maintain revenue and prevent illegal actions. I regard occasion as calling for positive and uncompromising reply and action, and I am warning Government that such intrusion into Customs field of responsibility will not be tolerated until full instructions received from Peking. I am requesting superintendent to refrain from any overt act in the boarding of steamers, Chinese or foreign, or interference with cargo, any case of which I will deal with as circumstances require. Submit that very existence of Maritime Customs is threatened by this and like calculated methods of infiltration. I am meeting consular body today.”


2. The British Minister, Sir Ronald Macleay, has just conferred with me. He feels sharply the increase of danger to the integrity of the Administration of the Customs through this further action on the part of the Cantonese, and wished to telegraph immediately to his consul at Canton to inform the Cantonese authorities that the British Government would give its acquiescence to the new taxation, provided it was completely placed under the supervision of the Customs Administration. He inquired whether I was prepared to take similar measures. I replied to him in the negative, explaining that my Government’s policy was to protest for purposes [of record?], and was apparently not favorable to having the new taxes collected by the Customs, which it was believed were not involved in this matter in any way. The Minister then asked whether I believed my Government would be inclined, considering the Washington Conference agreements, etc., toward taking exception if he acted independently in the way he desired. My reply was that his question was somewhat difficult to answer but that I rather was of the opinion that such a feeling would be held by my Government. Sir Ronald declared he would not act independently in these circumstances, at least before presenting the whole matter to his Government. He [Page 889] said he would at once do the latter by telegraph and suggest in a most urgent manner to the Foreign Office that there be an exchange of views immediately among the British, American, and Japanese Governments. In his opinion, and I consider rightly, this latest Cantonese move to inspect personal outgoing and incoming luggage, cargo, etc., makes even harder the collection of the customs and brings the whole Canton situation before us in such a way that at the earliest possible time it must be effectively dealt with. In accordance with the earnest recommendation made in paragraph 4 of my number 449 of October 2 [3], I support the British Minister’s suggestion that there be an immediate exchange of views among the three aforesaid powers for the purpose of reaching some common decision upon what action should be taken in the premises.

3. Parenthetically, I ought to add with reference to Department’s telegrams 240 of October 22 and 243 of October 23 and to my number 507 of October 23, that although the Government of Japan agreed quite unexpectedly to the new draft of the protest, agreement was not given by the British Government which, I understand, preferred to make no categorical protest against the new taxation out of fear that such protest would work against their desire to safeguard the Customs by every possible means. It was the belief of the British Government that acquiescence in the new taxes and effort to persuade the regime in Canton to have them collected by the Customs were rendered necessary by that desire.

4. Most respectfully I record my judgment that if the powers concerned should not oppose the disregard of and encroachment upon the functions of the Customs through the imposition of the new taxes, and the extension of those taxes (shown in the new regulations, which are defined above and which were described in my 511 of October 25), the integrity of the Customs is undermined most seriously if not conclusively.

5. Although we do not have in the maintenance of the Customs the same intrinsic interest the British have, it seems to me that we have a very real reason for standing against the collection of the Customs by unlawful action on the part of the Cantonese and on the part of other authorities in China. My view is that by the fall of the Customs a further and most spectacular signal would be given for an even more comprehensive and vigorous drive against the rights and interests of foreigners in China, which inevitably and directly must tend to produce increased loss of respect for foreigners, thereby putting in greater jeopardy their lives as well as their property.