The Minister in China (Johnson) to the Secretary of State
[Received October 26—1:35 p.m.]
815. Legation’s 812, October 26, noon. British Legation informs me that it considers present situation an emergency warranting exceptional [Page 536] treatment; that Shanghai head offices of British shipping companies concerned are being informed of Legation’s general opposition to carrying of Chinese troops but are being told that present question is one of expediency rather than of any legal issue; and that firms after consulting with one another must decide what action they deem expedient, after consulting with British Admiral who is now in Shanghai. British Legation informs me that it will not oppose compliance by British companies with urgent requests of the Chinese authorities that exceptional treatment be accorded them in present case.
- In his telegram of October 24, 1 a.m.56 Consul General Adams referred to desirability of uniform action by American and British in present circumstances. Other shipping interests may not deem it expedient to follow lead of British companies if they decide to carry Chinese troops as requested. It is possible that in such case the Chinese would seek to commandeer American steamers or being prevented by American naval vessel at Chungking will seek to boycott American steamers for noncompliance with Chinese urgent request for germane action in present emergency. As indicated in second paragraph of Admiral Upham’s statement (in Cunningham’s October 25, 5  p.m.) in my October 26, noon, compliance may ultimately result in situation requiring interference by American naval vessel but noncompliance may similarly result. The situation is accordingly a difficult one but in the event that American shipping companies decide it expedient and to their advantage “to carry troops as an exceptional arrangement not to be considered as precedent” (as this has been designated by the Chinese authorities making [apparent omission]) I would be inclined not to interfere in such arrangement and to confine my action to advising American interests along the lines taken by British Legation. I am opposed to any alteration of our policy in this general matter but action of the British complicates matters and may make advisable exceptional treatment in the event that American companies feel constrained to carry Chinese troops if British do.
- This discussion of possibilities has been prompted by necessity for promptest possible action if situation becomes acute and by Admiral Upham’s statement of his position. I shall, of course, in any event keep in close touch with Admiral Upham, conferring with him before making any further representations.
Repeated to Hankow, Shanghai and the Admiral.