893.801 Search/1: Telegram

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

48. Department’s telegram No. 203, September 22, 1 p.m., 1926.30

Following from Shanghai:

“January 19, noon. Through the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs the Woosung fort notifies the Senior Minister [Consul] that

‘The official duty of this fort is to protect the capital. As the bad characters have not been removed and as the winter defence is very important, all incoming or outgoing, river or sea, vessels passing the entrance to Woosung shall be subjected to inspection (by this fort) when it is deemed necessary, in order to pay due regard to the guard duty.

In accordance with the usual regulations, whenever this fort wants to search a vessel a signal flag is to be hoisted. If this is ignored, three signal guns will be fired.

However, recently when signal flag was hoisted and signal gun fired, the various incoming or outgoing vessels paid no heed to the signals. They not only despised the rules and orders but also greatly violated the regulations of this fort.

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In view of the fact, I have to request you to take note and notify all foreign vessels plying along the river or on the sea to the effect that in the future they should stop at once to await inspection as soon as this fort hoists a signal flag or fires a signal gun, in order to carry out the established regulations of and to pay due regard to the guard duty.’

I do not consider that American vessels should submit to search by other than Customs and hope that I can be authorized so to inform the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs. However, instructions are solicited as to the correct reply to be made to the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs and also correct advice to be given to American shipping.”

Legation has replied as follows:

“January 23, 6 p.m. Your number 11, January 19, noon.

Copy of your telegram has been handed to Senior Minister with request that matter be discussed at an early meeting of the diplomatic body.
In the meantime, you are authorized to make informal representations to Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, pointing out the fact that under the general provisions of extraterritoriality, American merchant vessels are not subject to detention and search by military authorities.
As regards naval vessels of the United States, you should inform the authorities concerned that, under existing treaties, naval vessels may not be in any way obstructed or detained in the carrying out of their official duties, and that such vessels will not submit to any attempt on the part of military authorities to search them.
During 1926, Chinese authorities at Hankow attempted during the siege of Wuchang by Southern forces to institute regulations that would enable them to stop and search all foreign vessels; and the position was taken by the Admiral and Consul General, and approved by Legation and Department, that, as a temporary measure, merchant vessels would submit to search but that naval vessels would not recognize such regulations. This decision was in part based upon the attitude of merchant vessels which were unwilling to run the risk of being fired upon by the military authorities and in view of the fact that the practical difficulties in the situation made it impossible adequately to protect such merchant vessels in the event they refused to comply with the regulations. Please inform Legation of the attitude of the American shipping interests in Shanghai as to the present proposal.”
  1. Telegram in three sections.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. i, p. 638.