893.512/598: Telegram

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

708. 1. The matters reported in my telegrams 684, June 29, 5 p.m.; 689, July 1, 4 p.m.; 691, July 3, noon; 698, July 6, 5 p.m.; and 705, [Page 394] July 8, 3 p.m.46 involve, first, heavy excise upon certain tobacco products; second (though as to this reserve [received?] thus far very inadequate information), establishment of tobacco monopolies in Chekiang, and Kwangtung; third, imposition of surtaxes upon exports; fourth, imposition of surtaxes upon imports even in excess of those so-called interim surtaxes discussed at the recent Tariff Conference; fifth, increase by 50 percent of tonnage dues. These illegal exactions represent a considered policy of organized assault upon the system under which foreign trade with China has thus far been possible, as foreseen in the Legation’s telegram number 462, October 8, 8 p.m., particularly second paragraph, and 555, November 16, 2 p.m., particularly fourth to sixth paragraphs.47 While as stated in my number 695 [698] I feel that such violations of our rights should not be passed over without protest, it is quite clear that protests conveyed by consular or diplomatic representatives are recognized by the Chinese as being purely formal and are therefore not only futile but derisory and serve only to embolden those Chinese who seek to set aside American and other foreign rights to the fullest extent that the interested Governments will tolerate. The only protest which could be of any value would be one proceeding directly from the home Government. In the light of our concern to prevent destruction of the basis of our commercial intercourse with China, it seems to me clear that the time has come when an unequivocal announcement of our determination not to forego our rights, unless and until they may have been modified by mutual consent, should be made in behalf of our Government.

2. An announcement of this sort by you or by the President, while serving the purpose of authoritative protest against the illegal exactions being put into force against our trade, would have the future value of giving definiteness to the various enunciations of our Government’s policy with respect to the revision of the so-called unequal treaties. The several declarations made by the President and by yourself in that regard have of necessity been qualified by an insistence upon conditions not yet attained and perhaps not immediately attainable. I feel that the mere statement of definite and concrete matters which we would have to consider in connection with carrying out of our policy would make that policy more real in the minds of the Chinese. The statement of what we cannot tolerate would itself have the effect of lending greater conviction to our assurances of what we hope to do in behalf of China.

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3. I venture to suggest that the proposed statement might be along approximately the following lines:

“The American Government has patiently sought the opportunity to contribute in every practical way to the attainment by the Chinese people of their national aspirations on a basis consonant with actual conditions and with justice to the interests of the commercial and cultural activities involved. The American Government has taken into account the abnormal conditions now prevailing in China and in the absence of any Chinese authority which would be able to assure its carrying out of any such agreements as might be found mutually acceptable, our Government has nevertheless refrained from rigid insistence upon the strict letter of its treaty rights, and in various respects has acquiesced in certain concessions beyond those contemplated by the program of gradual modifications upon which it has been acting.

It is nevertheless essential that any substantial revision of the existing treaty status should be brought about by agreement between the representatives of the American and of the Chinese peoples, and not by any process of repudiation or of violence on the part of those demanding such revision. The Government of the United States witnesses with particular concern the new and unwarranted exactions upon American trade and shipping, which are being put into force by those authorities now in control of the ports through which passes the bulk of our trade with China. There are involved new and burdensome surtaxes alike upon imports and upon exports, a new and very heavy special excise tax upon tobacco products, and an increase of 50 percent in the tonnage duties levied upon our vessels touching at Chinese ports. These exactions are not only violative of existing treaty provisions but unfair in the abruptness of their application and involving in fact, though not in terms, discriminations against various American industrial and agricultural products.

The American Government is constrained to state its protest against this one-sided attempt to alter the basis of those negotiations for treaty revision which it still looks forward to undertaking wherever practicable. Such disregard or repudiation of existing obligations cannot but impair the confidence and good will with which this Government desires to approach such negotiations.”