793.94/3918: Telegram

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

184. Following from American Consul at Hankow:

“February 2, 4 p.m.

The Hankow consular body held a meeting yesterday to discuss the question of possible danger to Wuhan from a communist attack. The meeting was attended by all career consuls except the Japanese. The conclusion reached by the meeting was that consideration of [Page 471] safety measures immediately desirable because of the increase in strength and boldness of communist forces whose obvious aim is the capture of Wuhan, and because the release of some of the Government troops here is deemed to be questionable. The point was made that in former periods of emergency evacuation was the aim of most safety plans, but that now the situation is somewhat changed in that the threat confronting us is from outside. The British Consul General stated that the Public Safety Bureau had requested him to have British forces maintain order along the bund of the ex-British concession in the event of an attack by communist bandits [upon?] Hankow. He said that he would go into the matter with the British Rear Admiral upon the latter’s return to Hankow today.
The senior consul (German) asked me whether American forces would undertake the maintenance of the order on the advance [along the?] bund. My reply was that the plan of maintaining a water front of unbroken orderliness appeared to me to have much to recommend it. I said I would take the question up with the Legation and the Commander of the Yangtze Patrol.
The water-front section in which foreigners here are principally interested lies in an up-river direction from the Japanese concession and along the following areas in the order named: Japanese concession, ex-German concession, French concession, ex-Russian concession, ex-British concession.
If, as seems probable, the British agree to police the water front of their former concession in the event of attack by communist forces upon Hankow, there will be gaps in the foreign-defended water front consisting of the ex-Russian and ex-German concessions. If we were to undertake the defense of a water-front area, our logical share would be the water front of the ex-Russian concession extending from and including the American Consulate General for about half a mile to the British Consulate General. This area includes the United States Navy godown and the National Aniline and Chemical Company and the Texas Company. The National City Bank is in the ex-British concession. The Italian Consul indicated that the Italian naval forces could probably defend only the bund in front of the Italian Consulate which is in the ex-German concession. He said, however, that considerable section of the ex-German concession bund could be controlled from the point in front of the Italian Consulate.
If the American authorities were to consider the plan favorably, I believe that I could obtain a request from the Chinese authorities that the American Navy defend the water front of the ex-Russian concession. The area back of the British Consul [ate] General fronting on the bund would become the responsibility of the Chinese authorities excepting the existing concession areas.
I discussed the matter tentatively with Rear Admiral Williams and he is giving it consideration from the viewpoint of the places and the naval forces available, having in mind the requirements of Shanghai. The safety of the installations of the Texas Company and the Standard Oil Company as sources of naval fuel would have to be considered.
In any consideration that may be given to the proposal here [Page 472] that [sic] we need [not?] be particularly concerned about the present Japanese situation as our area would be considerably removed from the Japanese concession.
The British, however, would be policing the water front off former concession area which adjoins the ex-Russian concession. See my confidential telegram to the Legation No. 630 of November 30, 1927, entitled ex-British concession at Hankow.
If the proposal proves to be practicable from naval point of view I am inclined to look upon it with favor because of the area of stress [relief?] it would afford to American business interests which are hard pressed by frequent and extended periods of stress and because of the steadying effect which such an arrangement would have on the whole situation here. Such an undertaking on our part would, however, have to contemplate the possibility of the complete collapse of the present Chinese Government in this area.
I am withholding for the moment any definite recommendation as no actual emergency exists now. I shall be grateful for any comment which the Legation may feel able to make with the above information before it.”

Legation’s comments will follow.

For the Minister:
  1. Telegram in five sections.