Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hornbeck) of a Conversation With the British Ambassador (Lindsay)

Mr. Hornbeck made reference to the conversation between the British Ambassador and Mr. Castle of December 23, 1931,18 and to the [Page 929] memorandum which the Ambassador left with Mr. Castle.19 He said that the Department was replying, with a memorandum—the original of which he handed to the Ambassador;20 but that there were one or two points in the incoming memorandum with regard to which the Department wished that he inquire and one or two features of the Department’s reply concerning which he was to make comment. He wished to inquire whether it was to be understood that Sir Miles Lampson was to speak to the Chinese in advance of the occurrence, if and when, of an attempt by the Chinese to assume jurisdiction over an extraterritorial national.

To that question, Sir Ronald replied that he inferred that it was so intended. He asked whether we had had any word from Minister Johnson of Sir Miles having communicated in this sense with the Chinese.

Mr. Hornbeck replied that we had not had such word; that it was his understanding that both the British Minister and our Minister were away from Nanking at present; and that it would seem that it might be assumed that Sir Miles had not acted as yet, in view of the pending reorganization of the Chinese Government at Nanking. He said parenthetically that he had just heard from a newspaper correspondent that word had come that the new Cabinet had been formed and that Eugene Chen was to be Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Ambassador said that in all probability Sir Miles had not yet acted and that he would probably inform the American-Minister before acting.

Mr. Hornbeck said that we had been discussing here the question of the advisability or inadvisability of taking the initiative in this matter and that we were inclined to the view that it might be best to await the approach of January 1 in silence, leaving it to the Chinese to take the initiative, if any. We thought it might reasonably be hoped that, preoccupied as they are with other matters, and disorganized as they are, they would avoid gratuitously raising this embarrassing question under present circumstances. We recognized, of course, that there was no telling what they might do.

The Ambassador said that it was of course a matter for hope.

Mr. Hornbeck referred to the statement in the British memorandum that the British Government would expect to employ “what measures are open to them” by way of combating an attempt on the part of the Chinese to exercise jurisdiction in advance of conclusion of an agreement. He said that the Department would welcome such indication as the British Government might feel it could make of the measures which might be possible to it.

[Page 930]

The Ambassador said frankly that he did not know how far they might be willing to go, but it might be that all they could do would be to voice their objection. He said that, after talking with Mr. Castle, he had reported to his Government that the terms in which it mentioned this matter were so vague that it could not be expected that the American Government would make any definite commitment as to its readiness to take concurrent action. He said that he thought that the view expressed in our memorandum that it would be necessary to consider the circumstances, if and when a case arose, was the correct position.

Mr. Hornbeck then said that he was authorized to introduce a suggestion informally and quite off the record: there had been some discussion here of the possible advisability of arrival at an informal understanding on the part of the powers most interested which would enable them to prepare in advance for simultaneous and identical or similar action in case the Chinese should attempt to take jurisdiction over an extraterritorial national and in connection therewith cite the Mandate of May 4, 1931. He said that it might be quite impracticable, but that we wondered whether the British Government might feel inclined to canvass that possibility, taking it up with, perhaps, the French and the Japanese Governments, with the thought that, if and when the Chinese cited the Mandate, the powers might all express their non-assent.

The Ambassador said that he had thought of some such possibility, but that, in view of certain current situations, he felt that if anybody made such a suggestion and if the attempt were made to formulate in advance an understanding with regard to action to be taken, there would be danger of disclosure and consequent disadvantage to all concerned. He felt that it was better to confine the discussion of the problem to the British and the American Governments.

The conclusion was reached that the Department would inform the American Minister to China with regard to the memoranda exchanged and it would be expected that the American and the British Ministers would confer. It would be understood that both Governments would expect to object to any attempt by the Chinese to assume jurisdiction in the absence of conclusion of agreements.

Mr. Hornbeck said that it must be kept in mind that the American Government had outstanding an informal undertaking on the part of its Minister that it would be ready to resume negotiations whenever the Chinese requested that they be resumed; he referred to the fact that the British negotiations were more advanced than the American negotiations and that it might be difficult for the British, in case the Chinese indicated a desire to conclude the matter, to decline to carry the negotiations through. The Ambassador assented. The [Page 931] view was expressed that no one could predict what Eugene Chen might attempt.

Mr. Hornbeck said that in any event it could be understood that the British and the American Governments would not readily assent to abrogation of their extraterritorial rights by Chinese unilateral action. The Ambassador said that that was his view.

The conversation there ended.

S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]
  1. See memorandum by the Under Secretary of State dated December 23, p. 926.
  2. Memorandum not printed.
  3. Supra.