Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Johnson)

During a conversation with the Japanese Ambassador this morning, the Ambassador referred to an item which he had seen in the press telegraphed through a Japanese news agency from Peking to the effect that it had been stated in Peking that instructions had been issued through the Chinese Minister, Mr. Sze, to join with a representative of the Nationalist Government of Nanking in authorizing a joint delegation to represent China in discussions intended to lead [Page 404] up to the revision of the treaties between the United States and China. The Ambassador asked me whether we had any information to this effect.

I told the Ambassador that we had no official indication that any such instructions had been issued to the Chinese Minister here. I said to him I had reason to believe, however, that the so-called Nationalist authorities at Nanking, who were represented here in the United States by a Mr. Frank Lee, were making an attempt to organize some kind of a joint delegation representative of the various factions in China which would meet the requirements of the statement made by the Secretary of State on January 27, 1927, and I said that the Chinese Minister in the course of conversations at the Department had said that he desired, on his own personal responsibility and without instructions from his government, to state that he was cognizant of this effort on the part of the Nanking Government and desired to participate in it and wondered what attitude we would take toward this participation. I said the Minister was told on that occasion that we stood by the statement the Secretary had made on January 27; that the delegation would have to be the spontaneous action on the part of the Chinese themselves and capable of binding the several Chinese groups to the observance of any understanding which might be discussed with them. I told the Ambassador that beyond this we had no information on the subject and that it seemed to me that it would be a very difficult thing for the Chinese to organize any delegation that could accomplish anything while they were still engaged in national warfare among themselves.

The Ambassador remarked that the Japanese Government had engaged in informal discussions with the Chinese authorities at Peking looking to a revision of existing treaties between China and Japan. He said that these discussions had been carried on for a while, but that they had suddenly stopped last summer and he had heard nothing about them and he was not sure whether they had continued or not. He said it was a very difficult thing to accomplish anything by such negotiations at this time.

The Ambassador said that in his own mind in thinking over the situation in China, which was so complicated and seemed so hopeless, that he was constantly led back to the Resolution which was adopted during the Washington Conference, at the Fifth Plenary Session, on Wednesday, February 1, 1922, which reads as follows:

“Whereas the Powers attending this Conference have been deeply impressed with the severe drain on the public revenue of China through the maintenance in various parts of the country of military forces, excessive in number and controlled by the military chiefs of the Provinces without coordination.

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“And whereas the continued maintenance of these forces appears to be mainly responsible for China’s present unsettled political conditions;

“And whereas it is felt that large and prompt reductions of these forces will not only advance the cause of China’s political unity and economic development but will hasten her financial rehabilitation;

“Therefore, without any intention to interfere in the internal problems of China, but animated by the sincere desire to see China develop and maintain for herself an effective and stable Government alike in her own interest and in the general interest of trade;

“And being inspired by the spirit of this Conference whose aim is to reduce, through the limitation of armament, the enormous disbursements which manifestly constitute the greater part of the encumbrance upon enterprise and national prosperity;

“It is resolved: That this Conference express to China the earnest hope that immediate and effective steps may be taken by the Chinese Government to reduce the aforesaid military forces and expenditures.”

The Ambassador stated that he wondered whether the time would not shortly arrive when the powers would be compelled to act under this Resolution for the purpose of bringing to an end the ceaseless warfare which was going on now and which so far as the future seemed to promise would go on for many years to come. I said that it seemed to me that it would be a very difficult thing for the powers to step in for the purpose of aiding in the disbandment of the armies now working about in China, first because of the expense involved and second, because of the difficulty that such action would necessarily entail because of the obligation which the powers would assume to protect the authorities agreeing to such disbandment and the rehabilitation of the soldiers once they had been disbanded. I reminded him that once before this sort of thing had been attempted during the time of Yuan Shih-kai7 and great expense had been involved with little accomplished.8 The Ambassador said that this, of course, was merely a personal thought of his own and that he had not worked it out very carefully. Of course an expense might be involved in the matter, but he thought that that might be a situation which could be overcome. He had no definite plan in his mind.

N[elson] T. J[ohnson]
  1. Elected Provisional President of the Republic of China Feb. 15, 1912, following the abdication of the Manchu Emperor; see Foreign Relations, 1912, p. 46.
  2. See section concerning reorganization loan and other matters, ibid., pp. 112 ff.