793.00/188: Telegram

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


563. Referring to your telegram 267 of November 16 [15].

The reference made to nonrecognition of Russia in relation to the suggestion in third paragraph of my number 544 of November [Page 999] 12 was by way of illustrating the workings of a policy now being adopted by the Chinese in emulation of Russia, and was not intended as an intrusion by me into the field of our relations with the Soviet regime. Perhaps my suggestion lacked clearness because of its being phrased on an assumption that by chance my previous reports had conveyed to the Department a realization of the struggle here between two rival doctrines of nationalistic thought upon China’s foreign relations with regard particularly to the so-called unequal treaties, i. e., the evolutionary and the revolutionary.
So rudimentary is China’s political development that even yet she is incapable of satisfactorily exercising certain functions of sovereignty that are essential, as jurisdiction over foreigners and their interests. And so chaotic are her internal conditions that in matters such as customs and other forms of taxation, an unrestricted exercise of sovereign rights would not conduce to the advantage of anybody except those desiring the funds to carry on civil warfare against one or another disjointed military leader. I have held conversations with many Chinese, Chinese of all classes, among them nationalist agitators and, recently, the Kuomintang leaders in Canton. All of them would doubtless make prudent denials if I quoted their remarks, but, without exception, every one of them who has at any time allowed himself, in intimate conversation with me on the problems of China, to go further than meaningless generalities has acknowledged his realization that today this is the state of affairs. Yet, while in their hearts recognizing the presence of conditions so deplorable in their national life, all Chinese who are politically minded desire that the treaties which determine their relationships internationally be modified for the purpose mainly of taking away what, in their view, is a stigma of racial inferiority. (Concerning this, see my number 293 of July 28, 1925, 9 a.m.89) Conservative leaders and radical Cantonese Red leaders have alike stressed to me the very significant, although not practical and sometimes not sincere, view that they would gladly have the nationals of the treaty powers, as a patently necessary safeguard for foreigners against the cupidity and the arbitrariness of the greater part of the leaders in China, continue to enjoy all of their special privileges, at least for the present, provided only that they save China’s face by giving their consent to some apparent renunciation of their special treaty rights.
A differentiation appears at this point. The facts are accepted by the saner, more constructive elements, who propose going ahead on a basis that while conditions in truth are bad, there has been appreciable progress made—to which the report of the Commission on Extraterritoriality [Page 1000] bears witness—and that the making of modifications of our treaty position ought to be carried through by mutual consent, so that account of the progress really made will be taken and new progress encouraged and stimulated. Those who adhere to this theory want the people of China to earn their own salvation, as was done by the people of Japan and Siam, first of all by making themselves sovereign in their own domains and by proving themselves capable of bearing a sovereign nation’s responsibility, merit recognition as such. It was this theory that the Washington Conference proceeded upon and which was the basis of the treaties and resolutions that resulted. It was also the inspiration of the Special Conference on the Tariff and of the Commission on Extraterritoriality which were held under its terms. (In this regard, see my number 270 of July 10, 1925, 11 [10] p.m.90 and the reply from the Department, number 148, July 14, 1925, 5 p.m.91) The Washington Conference resulted in our leadership of a cooperative activity among the powers most interested in a policy of self-abnegation and of cooperation with China to enable her by evolutionary processes to achieve her own political destiny.
The failure of China to use her opportunities effectively, in combination with the powers’ deplorable failure over a period of more than three years to induce France to take action essential to putting into effect the Washington treaties, opened the way for the Soviet’s disruptive influences, aided by enormous propaganda and subventions, to bring together a very large group of Chinese adhering to the Third International’s avowed policy of harassing the imperialist and capitalist powers by the method of arousing an anti-foreign feeling in the so-called semi-colonial nations of the East, particularly China, persuading them to see as the way of gaining freedom from the oppression of foreigners—responsible for their militarists fighting wars and attempting to grind down the poor—is to do as Russia: declare a debt to be an injustice which therefore must not be paid, and declare a treaty obligation to be a curtailment of sovereignty which must be repudiated by a self-respecting people.
In respect to these two doctrines, China at present is at the crossroad; she has gone a step upon the road of repudiation. Before China makes her choice irrevocably, it is my feeling that we are obliged both to China and ourselves to speak some friendly words of warning. I stoutly venture again to make my suggestion. In addition, since I am unable to avoid having contacts and occasionally intimate conversations with Chinese in the course of which a refusal on my part to give my opinion would be taken as inferring an approval of the violation of Belgian rights by China, I beg, for my own guidance, [Page 1001] to be authorized to cast whatever influence I have in favor of China’s carrying out the international responsibilities and obligations she has.