Extract from Address Delivered by the Under Secretary of State on “Some Aspects of Our Foreign Relations” at New York on January 27, 193942

In our relations with the countries of the Far East the policy of this country is in no way different from our foreign policy in general. We have the same objectives there and we apply the same principles as elsewhere. The situation, however, and the problems that arise in our relations in the Far East have their individual peculiarities. Thus, for instance, in their relations with other powers, practically all Far Eastern countries at one time accorded to the former, rights of extraterritorial jurisdiction; also, the Far Eastern countries agreed to and applied certain restrictions in the making and the administering of their tariffs. In many treaties to which countries of the Far East, especially China, have been parties—treaties, most of which have been bilateral but some of which have been multilateral—there have been special provisions which were formulated and adopted in special reference to special situations and problems.

As the situations in those countries have changed, the United States has, by processes of negotiation and agreement, voluntarily agreed to the alteration or the removal of these special features. It did this [Page 829]in the case of its relations with Japan. It has done this in the case of its relations with Siam. It had gone far with the process of doing this in the case of its relations with China before, in 1931, there developed a conflict between China and Japan one result of which has been to divert the attention of the Chinese Government from such matters to more urgent and vital problems.

Under the aegis of the general principles and rules of international law and of treaty provisions, nationals of the United States have gone to countries of the Far East, have developed trade with the nationals of those countries, have made investments there, and have engaged in a variety of legitimate activities beneficial and profitable both to themselves and to the peoples of the Far East with whom they have carried on these activities. As is well known, many American citizens have gone to China and to other parts of the Far East solely to engage in philanthropic and educational work.

In 1921 the nine powers most interested in the problems of the Far East, including the United States, Japan and China, met in conference at Washington. After 3 months of full consideration of the various rights and interests and problems involved, treaties were signed, and subsequently ratified, which provided for the resolution of existing controversies and the regulation of the situation in the future in such a manner as to diminish existing friction and to prevent the arising in later years of even more serious issues. These treaties were negotiated in a spirit of give and take. Certainly the United States would not have agreed to certain provisions in those treaties which represented concessions and commitments on its own part without the inclusion of equivalent concessions and similar commitments on the part of the other nations involved.

Among the principles agreed upon in the treaties then concluded was the principle of equality of commercial opportunity in China. This is a principle for which the American people and their Government have contended not only in China but equally in every other portion of the world throughout this country’s history, a principle which has been widely, almost universally, accepted throughout the world. It is a principle, respect for which, no matter where, makes for amicable relationships and peace. It is a principle, disregard for which makes for controversy, irritation, a sense of injustice, and conflict. It is a fixed and fundamental principle of American foreign policy, not only in the Far East but in all parts of the world as well.

Treaties, like contracts in municipal law, are not subject to amendment or termination simply at the will of one of the individual parties thereto. If principles embodied in treaties and agreements are to have effect, and if law and order are to prevail, treaties must be respected. Neither the American people nor their Government can assent to acts by other countries in disregard of this principle.

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In this country’s relations in the Far East we are confronted today with a difficult situation and a perplexing problem. One country is endeavoring by armed force to impose its will on a neighboring country. In extenuation of these aspects of its efforts, it has declared that there exists a “new situation” and that it intends to produce or to bring about the production of a “new order.” It has to all intents and purposes given notice that it will henceforth be bound by treaty provisions only insofar as it may find it convenient to it to be so bound. It has indicated that it alone will determine what constitutes equality of commercial opportunity in China. It has made it clear that it intends that it alone shall decide whether the historic interests and the treaty rights of American citizens in China are to be observed.

The Government of the United States does not admit that any other country has the right arbitrarily to abrogate the treaty rights of the United States. The principles to which we are committed are the principles of law, order, and justice—for ourselves and for those with whom we have relations. Our policy is to safeguard by appropriate measures, methods, and means the legitimate rights and interests of the people of the United States, including our interest in the objectives and principles which I have just mentioned.

We have informed the Government of Japan, as we have informed in other situations the Government of China, of the position of this Nation, and at the same time we have made it clear that this Government always has been, and is now, disposed to discuss with all of the nations who have a direct interest in the Far East, including the Governments of Japan and China, any proposal based on reason and justice which may be advanced for a modification or an elimination of existing treaty provisions. This Nation, when difficulties arise and conflicts of interest occur, prefers as a means of solution methods of conciliation and negotiation. But that as a people we will continue to stand by our principles and persist in our policies I, for one, am convinced.

  1. Before the annual meeting of the New York Bar Association; reprinted from Department of State, Press Releases, January 28, 1939 (vol. xx, No. 487), pp. 45, 49.