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

No. 1485

Sir: I have the honor to recall that, in the course of consultation with the officers of the Department last autumn, I was instructed by the Secretary to seek opportunity to negotiate concurrently with the representatives of the several factions in China, with a view to an agreement on the subject of tariff arrangements, along the general lines indicated in a memorandum which I had submitted to the Department on October 21st last.11

On my recent visit to the Yangtze Valley Region, I had various conversations with General Hwang Fu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the so-called Nationalist government established at Nanking, and [Page 409] in one of the earlier of these conversations which took place at Shanghai on February 26, he raised the subject of negotiations for the revision of our treaties with China. A memorandum summarizing this conversation is enclosed herewith. I endeavored to make clear to General Hwang my readiness to negotiate on tariff matters with a unified Chinese government (whether under Northern or Southern control), or with a commission or other body simultaneously representing North and South, or concurrently and along parallel lines with the North and with the South; and I indicated that, while holding no brief for the so-called Edwardes plan,12 I felt that something along that line would afford the readiest means for such negotiations as the American Government has in view. General Hwang, while speaking in general terms of appreciation of the friendly disposition of the American Government, made no concrete response with regard to any of the alternatives suggested.

On my return to Shanghai after my trip up the Yangtze, I again saw General Hwang in Shanghai on March 29, for the purpose of arranging with him a settlement of the Nanking incident of March 24, 1927.13 The subject of treaty revision came up incidentally to the second exchange of notes additional to the exchange actually covering the settlement of the Nanking incident. In the discussion of my proposed reply to his note requesting treaty revision, General Hwang queried the necessity of my replying so guardedly as I proposed to do, saying outright that we need not be afraid that the Nationalist government would actually press us too hard by demands for radical revision of the treaties. During the same phase of our discussions, it appeared that a very strong objection which he had made to my inclusion of the phrase “an administration so far representative of the Chinese people as a whole” was based upon the apprehension that this phraseology might be construed as implying the existence or the prospect of some understanding between North and South—a possibility to which the Political Council and the military authorities of the Nanking regime were definitely opposed in view of the concentration of all their efforts upon the prosecution of the military campaign against the North. In this connection, he further stated that the Edwardes proposals had failed largely because of this same feeling against any rapprochement with Peking. It was quite clear that under existing circumstances he was not prepared to entertain in behalf of the Nanking regime any offer to carry on negotiations with the Nanking and Peking regimes, either jointly or concurrently.

[Page 410]

It may well be that the attitude thus indicated to me by the Minister for Foreign Affairs was at least in part dictated by the fact that there exists no coordination whatsoever between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance of the Nanking regime…

I should add that, before leaving Peking on my recent visit to Central China, I had taken occasion to discuss the tariff question with Mr. Wang Yin-t’ai, then Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Peking regime, along the same lines as those on which I later presented the matter to General Hwang Fu. Probably because he was not in a position to commit himself with regard to the Edwardes proposals which were still a matter of debate among the interested authorities of the Peking regime, and because of an unwillingness to entertain a proposal for concurrent negotiations which would have implied a parity between the Northern and the Southern administrations, Mr. Wang likewise made no concrete response to my suggestions in this matter.

It is evident that, however desirable it would be to find as soon as possible an adjustment of the tariff question which seems certain to become acute by the close of the present calendar year, the time has not yet come when either the Peking or the Nanking regime is prepared to enter into such negotiations as we have contemplated to that end.

I have [etc.]

J. V. A. MacMurray

Memorandum by the Third Secretary of Legation in China (Bucknell)

At four p.m., Mr. MacMurray went to tea at the residence of Mr. Chang Hsi-ao,14 and met there General Huang Fu with whom the following conversation took place:

General Huang dilated upon the long continued friendship which had existed between the two Governments without being marred by misunderstandings and quarrels. He expressed his entire appreciation of the consistently friendly attitude of the United States vis-a-vis China, and his realization that America desired no spheres of influence or any other special advantages. He explained that the Nationalist Government desired America as a friend among the family of nations, and that that Government’s sole ambition was [Page 411] to be able to assume an equal place among such family of nations, and that General Huang would be glad to hear Mr. MacMurray’s views upon the question of Treaty Revision.

Mr. MacMurray replied that it must of course be understood that many of the so-called unequal provisions were embodied in the treaties for the purpose of meeting definitely abnormal conditions, some of which still existed, and that a change in such provisions could only follow a change in the conditions in question.

General Huang said that he realized this was true, and that he did not expect a sudden change in such provisions in the treaties, but rather a gradual change as the unusual conditions became corrected. He said, however, that there were some provisions that could be changed without affecting the position of American citizens in China, especially those relating to the tariff, and that he hoped the American Government would take the lead in such change.

Mr. MacMurray explained that any treaty between the United States and other countries had the force and effect of law, and could only be altered by the negotiation of a new treaty. He said that at the Tariff Conference in Peking, the American Delegation had definitely set forth our Government’s position as to the revision of the treaty restrictions upon the Chinese Tariff, but that that conference had simply run down without accomplishing its purposes. Since then, we had encountered conditions which had thus far made it impossible for the American Government to proceed as it would have desired in the matter: in the first place, there had been created conditions very unfavorable for trade, which had made it at any rate difficult to deal with tariff questions; in the second place, the attitude taken by the Chinese (and more particularly by the Nationalists) in the matter of taxation and other questions of treaty rights, had been openly one of repudiation and defiance rather than of cooperation, so that we had had no reason to expect either the good-will or good-faith with which it would be necessary for them to meet us in any negotiations for treaty revision; and in the third place, in the present unsettled state of affairs in which there is no Governmental Entity actually representative of China, we had been confronted with the impossibility of finding anyone with whom to deal in such matters.

General Huang asked if the American Government would agree to such a procedure as outlined in the Edwardes proposal if accepted by the Nanking Government, without any further negotiations. Mr. MacMurray informed him that this could only be done through a new treaty, that no doubt General Huang was familiar with the American attitude toward tariff autonomy as shown at the Tariff Conference, but that the difficulty lay in the fact that there was [Page 412] no one group in China with which such a new treaty could be negotiated; that in the event that the Nationalists should unify China, he would be ready at once to discuss such an agreement with them; or that he would be equally ready to discuss such a new treaty with the Northern Government in the event that they should be able to bring the country under one unified Government; or that in the event that both failed to unify the country, he would be prepared to discuss the matter with any such joint commission of both Governments as the American Government might be convinced upon careful investigation, was not a purely formal body, but one representing an actual agreement between the Chinese factions on the subject-matter, and competent to bind the entire country to any provisions agreed to. He said that in any such negotiations the American Government was prepared to be as helpful as possible, and would make for its part no demands beyond such obvious conditions as the assurance of non-discriminatory treatment for our nationals, and that meanwhile it was not a question of unwillingness on the part of his Government to negotiate, but of actual impossibility of finding actually representative and responsible parties with whom such negotiations could be carried on.

General Huang said that Mr. Frank Lee had reported that the State Department held the same views as Mr. MacMurray had outlined, and that he was sincerely grateful for the fair attitude of the American Government in this regard.

Mr. MacMurray replied that he was extremely glad to hear the views expressed by General Huang with regard to the gradual modification of the so-called unequal provisions of the parties [treaties?] by means of friendly negotiation, and that General Huang could rest assured that he would be glad to institute discussions with regard to tariff as soon as the requirements explained by him had been met.

H[oward] Bucknell, Jr.
  1. Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. ii, p. 363.
  2. See telegram No. 1134, Dec. 29, 1927, from the Minister in China, p. 376.
  3. See pp. 323 ff.
  4. Vice president of the Bank of China.