Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Johnson)

  • Conversation
    • Mr. Sao-Ke Alfred Sze, Chinese Minister.
    • The Secretary of State.
    • (Mr. Johnson present.)

Subject: The Chinese Situation.

The Chinese Minister called at 12 o’clock today and stated that he had two urgent messages from his Government to communicate to [Page 53] the Secretary. The first one related to the reports of additional forces being sent to China by the United States and Great Britain. He stated that his Government wanted to know whether this Government knew whether the British Government in adding to its forces in China was pacifically minded. He stated that instructions had also been sent to the Chinese Minister at London to inquire on this point. To this question the Secretary stated that he had no information. He stated that we were not in consultation with the British as to their purposes and he had no information as to what their plans were. He assumed that the British were taking such measures as they considered necessary to protect British life in China against attack.

The Minister stated that he had been given to understand in a previous conversation that the United States had not added to its forces in Chinese waters; that recent statements in the press had given his Government some worry and he wanted to get any information that we could give him on this subject. The Secretary stated that he was not aware that we had increased the number of our vessels in Chinese waters. Mr. Johnson explained here that the American Asiatic Fleet was based at Manila; that portions of the Fleet were constantly in Chinese waters and that during recent events several destroyers from Manila had gone to Shanghai and other ports, as had also the Admiral’s Flagship. The Secretary stated that the United States had no desire to make war on China; that it was necessary for us to give such protection as we could to American citizens residing in China when the Chinese authorities would not protect them; that to this end our Admiral was in Shanghai and our gunboats were at Shanghai and other places. The Chinese Minister referred to the fact that the Germans had been able to go about unprotected without the necessity of German war vessels; that he thought there ought to be some way in which Americans should distinguish themselves so that they would not be subject to attack. The Secretary asked the Minister whether he did not think that the Chinese Government ought to see to it that no foreigners were attacked whatever their nationality and pointed out to the Minister that at Shanghai American citizens were scattered about in a large community composed of British, Germans, Japanese, French, Spaniards, and others, and that it was very difficult to see how these people could be segregated. He also stated that American naval vessels must do what they can to protect these citizens and that they would cooperate with other Powers in this regard as was customary in such matters. He wanted to know whether the Chinese Minister knew whether the Chinese intended to attack the International Settlement at Shanghai and precipitate a general attack on foreigners there. The [Page 54] Chinese Minister stated that he felt certain that the Chinese did not intend to do such a thing, but that he was not informed of their plans.

The Minister said that the other message which he had to communicate to the Secretary was in the nature of an appeal from the Foreign Minister, Mr. Wellington Koo, to the Secretary to take the initiative in breaking away from the old unequal treaties.43 He said that Mr. Koo had, in making this appeal, referred to previous acts of friendship on the part of the United States and hoped that the United States at this time would again come to the front in making it possible for China to have a new deal in the matter of treaties. The Secretary stated that he was not prepared to make a reply to this appeal; that the Minister might inform Mr. Koo that he was considering making a statement with regard to the American policy which the Minister believed would be satisfactory. The Secretary then informed the Minister that he was considering making a public statement and that he was very anxious to know what the Minister wanted him to say. The Secretary asked the Minister whether it would be satisfactory if he stated that we were prepared to negotiate with anyone representing China for a revision of the tariff provisions of the treaty with a view to granting complete tariff autonomy to China. The Chinese Minister stated that this would be very satisfactory. The Secretary stated that, of course, in such negotiations the United States would desire to ask for most-favored-nation treatment; that the goods of American citizens and their business would not be taxed greater than would be the goods or business of other nationals. The Chinese Minister stated that, as regards to most-favored-nation treatment, he felt sure that his country would be glad to grant such terms. He stated that the experience of China in connection with the most-favored-nation clause of the treaty had been most disastrous and that they would wish to make it certain that these clauses would not react unfavorably to them in the future. The Secretary stated that, as regards extraterritoriality, the United States would be ready to discuss the questions therein involved with the Chinese. Of course we would expect that the Chinese would guarantee the protection of their courts for American citizens; he wondered if this would be satisfactory to the Chinese, to which the Chinese Minister stated that he could without hesitation say it would. The Secretary stated that he did not wish this conversation to be reported or in any way made public, but that he desired to ask these questions of the Minister for his own information.

[Page 55]

The Chinese Minister expressed some regret that he was not able to give some more definite message to Mr. Koo’s appeal to the Secretary, as he felt that some reply to that would do very much toward relieving the tenseness of the situation now existing. The Secretary stated that he was not prepared to make any reply other than that which he had given him, namely, that the Minister might telegraph Mr. Koo and state that he had seen the Secretary who had listened sympathetically to the appeal of Mr. Koo and that he was considering a statement of policy which the Minister felt would be quite satisfactory. The conversation ended here.

N[elson] T. J[ohnson]
  1. For correspondence concerning the revision of Chinese treaties regarding tariff control and extraterritoriality, see pp. 341 ff.