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

No. 974

Sir: As misunderstandings have arisen concerning the policy of this Government in regard to the export of arms or munitions of war to China, and in regard to the duties of consular officers in relation thereto, it is deemed advisable to set forth, for information and future guidance, the following statements concerning the position of this Government and the attitude to be observed by officers of this Department in China.

The export of arms or munitions of war from the United States to China is governed by the President’s Proclamation of March 4, 1922, issued in pursuance of the Joint Resolution of Congress approved January 31, 1922.74

Under the provisions of the Joint Resolution, it is unlawful to export to China “except under such limitations and exceptions as the President prescribes, any arms or munitions of war from any place in the United States” until otherwise ordered by the President or by Congress. The Proclamation authorizes the Secretary of State to prescribe the limitations and exceptions to the application of the Resolution.

Under existing regulations issued pursuant to the authority indicated above, export licenses are required for the shipment to China of the following articles:

Aircraft when fitted with armor, guns, machine guns, bomb-dropping or other military devices, or mountings for such guns or devices.
Apparatus which can be used for the storage or projection of gases, flame acids, or other destructive agents capable of use in warlike operations.
Arms, small arms of all kinds other than those classed as toys, together with spare parts of such arms.
Camp equipment for military purposes exclusively.
Explosives as follows: Gun powder, powders used for blasting, all forms of high explosives such as dynamite, nitroglycerine and TNT, blasting materials, fuses, detonators and other detonating agents, and smokeless powders.
Guns, machine guns, and spare parts thereof, and gun grease.
Gun mountings and limbers; tanks, armored motor cars, armored trucks, and armor plate.
Machinery—such as cartridge-making machines, specially manufactured for use in making arms and ammunition.
Mines (submarine) and their component parts.
Projectiles, charges, cartridges, and hand grenades of all kinds with their component parts.
Range finders and their component parts.
Shot, shells and cartridges for small arms, both loaded and empty, and their component parts.
Warships, including boats and their component parts of such a nature that they can be used on war vessels.
Radio apparatus designed expressly for military use.

The Department provides a form for application for license and requires that applications be submitted to it on such forms fully filled out by the prospective exporters.

With regard to airplanes, licenses are required for military planes. Licenses are not required for commercial planes except in cases where there is substantial reason to believe that the planes can be easily converted into military planes and that the planes are intended for military use, in which event export licenses are required.

In view of present political conditions in China, it is the Department’s opinion that arms or munitions of war consigned to Hong Kong or Macao are presumptively destined for China. Unless this presumption can be overcome by the exporter in the United States, an export license is required. Arms or munitions billed to Hong Kong or Macao but with ultimate destination a point in China require export licenses.

In the case of arms or munitions of war to be exported for the use of the Chinese Government (that is, the National Government of the Republic of China) including Chinese officials or Chinese official agencies, licenses are granted when (a) an application for license to export has been submitted by the firm or firms in the United States which desire to make shipments and (b) the Chinese Legation at Washington has informed the Department that it is the desire of the Chinese Government that export of the shipment be authorized. (Note: In connection with (b), a channel other than the Chinese Legation has been used and may again be used, under special circumstances and when the Department has suggested or assented to its use, for communication of the Chinese Government’s desire that a license be issued.) The matter of obtaining the authorization or request of the Chinese Government for a shipment of this character is one between that Government and the interested persons.

In the case of arms or munitions of war to be exported not for the use of the Chinese Government or its subdivisions but for the use of the trade in China, an export license is required but no notification from the Chinese Legation. Each such application for license to [Page 561]export is considered on its merits and the limitations prescribed operate to restrict very closely exportations of this character.

In the case of arms and munitions to be exported for the use of the municipal police of the International Settlement at Shanghai, a license is granted when the application is accompanied by a covering indent from the Shanghai Municipal Council, duly countersigned by an officer of the American Consulate General at Shanghai.

In the case of American citizens desiring to carry with them from the United States to China as personal baggage a limited quantity of arms and ammunition for sporting purposes or for purposes of self-defense, the requiring of an export license has been waived.

It is not the policy of this Government to encourage the export trade in arms or munitions of war. The export of such articles to China is, however, in no wise illegal if it is carried on within the limitations of the procedure outlined above.

American consular officers in China should not, therefore, proceed on their own initiative to promote American trade in arms or munitions of war, and should not endeavor to create trade opportunities for American exporters of such articles. They should, however, when requested to do so by American exporters of arms or munitions of war or their agents, or by prospective buyers in China, follow the same procedure in regard to giving information and advice as they would follow in respect to the trade in any other commodity, except however that they should decline to use official channels for the communication of inquiries or offers between prospective purchasers and sellers, unless a refusal of such assistance would be manifestly inappropriate—the purpose of this limitation being to disassociate the American Government from promotion of export trade in these commodities.

The Department desires to emphasize this authorization, as qualified, in view of the fact that certain consular officers in China apparently have misinterpreted the Department’s previous instructions in regard to this subject, as a result of which the replies of such officers to inquiries from American exporters of arms or munitions of war have, in certain instances, been confined to a brief statement that, in view of the nature of the articles under reference, no assistance could be rendered.

The Department desires to receive any information which the Legation or Consulates in China may have, or which they may be able from time to time to obtain, in regard to the importations into China, from any source, of arms or munitions of war.

It is the Department’s desire that you make use of the foregoing as a basis for the issuance of a circular instruction to all consular offices in China and to the Consulate General at Hong Kong; also [Page 562]that a copy of your instruction be sent to the American Embassy at Tokyo for its information.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
W. R. Castle, Jr.