711.93/160: Telegram

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


1127. Department’s 418, December 18, noon.

1. Your telegram was received on the 22nd. Up to that time nothing had come to my attention in regard to this subject other than a speculative and ill-informed article in a local Chinese paper of December 21 purporting to give an account of the efforts by Lee to associate himself with Sze for the object of seeking treaty revision. The article in question alleged that Lee had been rebuffed in these efforts.

2. One of the counselors of the Peking Foreign Office, who is particularly well known to the Legation, called on me during the evening of December 24 in behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in order to inquire as to the accuracy of a report emanating from a supposedly credible source to the effect that agents of the Nanking Government asserted that they had received assurances that you were prepared to negotiate with a joint delegation of Southern and Northern representatives with a view to a complete revision of the treaties. He was informed by me that this was not substantiated by the information [Page 369] received by me from you to the effect that you were willing only to consider the claims of a joint delegation presenting itself to you as having authority and as being competent to negotiate on the basis of your statement of January 27, 1927.

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

3. The present proposal, as I understand it, contemplates negotiations in conformity with your statement of last January for a general revision of our treaties, including both extraterritoriality and tariff matters. There is a radical difference between this and the suggestion which I made to you and which you approved. See the memorandum outlining my suggestion, presented to you October 21,17 and your undated minute of our conversations on this subject.18 The suggestion I made was limited to the matter of tariff restrictions and in fact was a very good ex post facto limitation. Furthermore, it contemplated that negotiations would be carried on in China. In my opinion, both of these conditions are essential.

4. In regard to the scope of the negotiations, the principal issues are extraterritoriality and tariff. Considering that our policy is to get rid of our existing rights in regard to tariffs and to impose in return no safeguards, obligations, or conditions other than an assurance that our trade shall not be subjected to any discriminatory treatment, I believe that, as to tariff questions, it would be reasonably safe for us to accept as competent for that purpose any negotiators whose representative character can be made plausibly apparent. In the matter of extraterritoriality, however, your January statement presupposes the establishment of safeguards corresponding with the development of Chinese law and judicial institutions. For this purpose it would be necessary to require that China assume and effectively carry out obligations and responsibilities. Obviously no group of Chinese representatives is in a position effectively to bind China or any portion of China to such obligations. Therefore, no negotiations in regard to extraterritoriality could be anything but a delusion at this time.

5. Moreover, the very fact of such negotiations would again stir up agitation, now almost quiescent, against the “unequal treaties”. Such agitation in the past has not been directed particularly against us, but that would be the case now if we undertook to initiate negotiations and then stopped short of a complete and unconditional relinquishment of our rights of extraterritoriality.

6. It is my opinion that the holding of negotiations in Washington [Page 370] rather than in China would give to them a wholly different aspect. Assumptions on the part of Chinese that treaty questions are abstractions unrelated to actual conditions in China as affecting foreigners and their interests would tend to be emphasized. Thus would be obscured the necessity of even an effort on the part of the Chinese to set their own house in order as a basis for the most satisfactory treaty relationships. I am apprehensive lest a greater stress on the hope of striking off the books all American treaties would distract the attention of the Chinese from the substantial and concrete project already the subject of formal discussion between the North and South, through the intermediation of the Customs Administration (in regard to which I am submitting a separate report), whereby the two principal regimes would reach a mutual understanding upon customs and tariff policy. The latter is a project which I consider the most constructive possibility yet presented as a means of developing community of action between the North and South in relation to questions of national scope and as a means of establishing a basis of ultimate unification.

7. Incidentally to be considered is the fact that, in view of the efforts made through more than two years to negotiate in China a solution of such matters as are actually negotiable, a transfer of the negotiations to any foreign capital would signify to the Chinese that the government which consented to such transfer had so far lost confidence in its diplomatic representation here as to justify it in pursuing a procedure unprecedented hitherto in the case of China. This situation would be emphasized by the fact that Belgium, although allowing itself to be forced into a one-sided revision, stood firm, nevertheless, in insisting that the negotiations be carried on through its Legation here. This Legation would be so far discredited by the adoption of other procedure in this case as to deprive it of all influence or possibility of usefulness in behalf of the interests of Americans.

8. I strongly recommend, for the reasons stated, against the undertaking of any negotiations in Washington with a nominal all-Chinese representation. I urge instead that you reaffirm your oral instructions to me to seek an opportunity for negotiating informally with the several regimes in China solely in regard to customs restrictions and the treatment of American trade; and that, for that purpose, you authorize me particularly to lend all possible influence and support to the furtherance of the project now under discussion (as referred to above) for an agreement between North and South on customs and tariff matters.

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. Ante, p. 363.
  3. Not printed.