393.11/1048: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Minister in China ( Johnson )

47. Your 1147, December 14, 4 p.m.,63 Department’s 39, January 29, 11 a.m., and intervening communications.

In regard to the use of the armed forces of the United States for purposes of protection at Shanghai, the Department submits, in recapitulation of instructions which have preceded, its conception of principles which should be given consideration by the Legation, the Consulate General and other agencies of the United States which are or may be concerned.

1. In general, it is believed that all officers in the service of the American Government understand that when the American Government sends or maintains abroad armed forces in times of peace the intention is that the activities of those forces be limited to the fulfillment of peaceful missions and are not to extend to acts of force or combat except under circumstances in which their proper mission can be carried out by no other means. Hackneyed as the instruction may be it needs always to be borne in mind that the first act of violence often [Page 86] precipitates conflict and the commencement of violence is to be avoided by our armed forces up to the last moment of safety.

In China the American Government maintains armed forces for the protection of the persons and the property of American nationals. Where local agencies of law and order prove inadequate for the performance of the tasks which are properly theirs, and at points where it is deemed practicable, under such circumstances, to afford to the persons, and, in connection therewith, to the property of American nationals, the protection of American armed forces, the employment of those forces is warranted. In their use, the primary objective should be that of protecting the persons of American nationals. It is the desire of the American Government that armed conflict with the Chinese, whether in organized forces or in unorganized groups, be avoided as far as possible and that the disposal of American armed forces be such as to give the minimum of provocation and no reasonable basis for political agitation on the part of the Chinese.

2. In reference particularly to problems presented at Shanghai, there may exist or develop situations in which protection of American lives and property may only be effected or may best be effected by appropriate cooperation with armed forces of other countries. Such situations may exist or develop on the Whangpu and may there call for appropriate cooperation with the armed forces of other countries with the objective of keeping that stream open from Shanghai to the sea. It is believed that the naval forces of the various Powers there represented, acting in the spirit of friendly cooperation, should be able to effect this objective and to protect foreign shipping on that highway without actual conflict with Chinese forces.

3. In reference especially to the International Settlement, the Department feels that:

(1) The responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in the International Settlement rests upon the Municipal Administration; (2) if a situation arises in which the Municipal Administration is unable with the means at its disposal to maintain law and order, the situation becomes one of rightful concern to any or all Powers whose nationals or the property of whose nationals are menaced; (3) in such a situation, the armed forces of the United States, as of any or all of the Powers concerned, may rightfully go to the aid of the Municipal Administration; (4) in so doing as a matter of voluntary participation in cooperative measures for the maintenance of the peace and order of the Settlement, the responsible officers and forces of the United States will as a matter of course take such steps, in conformity with the general policy of the American Government as heretofore and now stated, as they consider necessary for the protection of the persons and property of American nationals; (5) all American nationals are entitled without distinction to the benefits of general protective [Page 87] measures taken by the Municipal Administration or such forces as come to its assistance in so far as protection may be practicable; (6) when the Municipal Administration believes that the general interests of the community are specially menaced in a particular case in a manner and to an extent with which the Municipal Administration cannot cope, it would seem logical that the facts be made known by that Administration to the Senior Consul and that the latter take up the problem as a matter of joint concern with the senior officers of the foreign armed forces present; (7) the distribution to be made of armed forces available, in reference to the problem of protection thus presented, should be decided upon by the officers concerned in the exercise of administrative discretion with full recognition of the fact that factors both of the general or community interest and of the separate interests of the various nations must be given consideration; (8) at any time, in the event of failure on the part of the Municipal Administration or of any other authority which may have the direction of measures for the maintenance of order to give due protection to American nationals or American property, the armed forces of the United States may rightfully, on the responsibility of their own Government, through the proper officers, and without request or authorization by any other government or administration, address themselves to the particular problem of protecting American nationals and American property, while at the same time rendering or continuing to render such assistance as may be practicable in connection with any general plan which may have been adopted for the maintenance of law and order; (9) in case the Settlement should become endangered by the proximity or approach of Chinese armed forces or a threat of use of force by the Chinese Government, the matter should at once be reported, in so far as the United States is concerned, by the Consul General to the Legation and the Department, whereupon the views of the American Government with regard to the use of American armed forces will be expressed in the light of the situation then prevailing and reported upon; (10) the nature of the action to be taken in particular situations must be decided upon with due knowledge of the factors when and as emergencies develop, and plans which may be made in advance should involve as complete allocation as possible of administrative responsibility and channels of official communication but should not be rigid with regard to the employment and distribution of the armed forces which may be involved.

4. The Department’s views should be made known to the Consul General at Shanghai and to the Commander-in-Chief and should be regarded as a statement of principles for guidance rather than as a mandatory instruction.