755.98/30: Telegram

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

544. [Paraphrase.] Referring to my telegrams 535 and 536 of November 9th.

[Page 996]
The denunciation of the Belgian treaty constituted a deliberate attempt to find out to what extent the treaty powers were complaisant towards a repudiation of treaty obligations by China. A division of opinion is understood to have existed among the officials concerned. Victory went to those who made it clear that the Peking group, in consequence of the inertia shown by the powers in the making of their dilatory and patently platonic statement concerning the violation of treaty rights brought about by the illegal taxes imposed by Canton, might safely go the Cantonese one better by actually commencing to tear up treaties. Consult telegram number 449 from the Legation, October 2nd [3d].85 We are brought by this to the juncture about which we had warning from Dr. Schurman 18 months ago, and to which I have referred earlier as in the fifth paragraph of my number 325 of August 14th.86 Those professing to control China’s foreign affairs find that espousing the doctrine of repudiation is to their personal advantage. A state of fact now confronts us: an organization which actually is only a derelict of a former regime which received the recognition of foreign powers, though it purports to represent China internationally, has given notice to all powers, by its action regarding Belgium, of its disregard for the binding force of China’s treaties. This action has the more pointed significance because of its being wholly unnecessary. The Belgian Government had unreservedly offered to negotiate a new treaty and to regard the old treaty as meanwhile no longer in force, provided only that pending the outcome of the negotiations Belgium be placed on a footing giving her equality with the other treaty powers. The very liberality of this offer not to insist upon treaty rights out of deference to the national aspirations of the Chinese had the effect, I am confident, of giving the Chinese encouragement to presume upon this indulgence. The significance of the action taken is emphasized further by the following fact: In the exceedingly disingenuous statement which the Foreign Office issued is an assertion that national aspirations are hardly fit matters to submit to adjudication. If in its context this has any meaning beyond impertinence or bombast, it constitutes a warning that the intention of the Peking administration is to take the position that abrogation of the so-called unequal treaties has become such a necessity for the nation as to give justification for treating the obligations of China as scraps of paper. Until 1934 our own treaty of 1903 is not due to be revised. But my belief, which I confidently venture to express, is that even though in the meanwhile we should make concessions beyond what the Washington Conference contemplated, by way of bowing to the storm, some specious occasion will have been [Page 997] made by the Chinese before that date to declare our treaty terminated. That is, unless in the meantime our intention not to tolerate such treatment of our rights has been made very clear.
The feasibility of having the Washington Conference powers make a protest to China against the denunciation has been discussed with me by the Belgian Minister. I expressed my own opinion to him that a protest such as that would not be well-advised, for it would be a prejudgment of the World Court’s decision on the question of interpretation which Belgium proposes to submit, and therefore it would be subjected to violent nationalistic propaganda along the line that China was being confronted by the Western powers with a choice between yielding to what we desire or taking the question before a court willing to serve our avowed interests.
However, considering both our own interests and our genuine sympathetic attitude toward China’s international development on a basis of understanding and fair dealing, I feel most strongly that we should take occasion informally to intimate that the United States Government does not have any sympathy with the Chinese in the doctrine of international irresponsibility which has stood in the way of our recognition of the Russian regime. I beg to suggest respectfully that if the Secretary were in person to make an informal intimation to that effect, it would be greatly influential in acting upon the Chinese as a deterrent from pursuing the course of action which would, I gravely apprehend, lay the foundation for a new war in a not very distant future in the Far East. Also I propose, for my part, unless instructed to the contrary, to take available opportunities for pressing upon Chinese officials a view in this matter similar to that which I expressed to the former Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs last September. [End paraphrase.]
Reuter message from London November 9 stated that Washington correspondent of the Times, in setting forth what he considered to be the view of the State Department as to the continuance of our 1903 treaty until 1934, went on to say that “the fact that the Sino-Belgian treaty apparently does not confer on China the right to initiate negotiations for revision, although it entitles the King of the Belgians to do so, is so radical a variation from the terms of the American treaty as to permit the American Government to refrain from participating though remaining an interested listener of the Sino-Belgian discussion.” I respectfully request to be informed what, if any, basis there may have been for this statement.
  1. Ante, p. 866.
  2. Ante, p. 671.