The British Ambassador (Lindsay) to the Secretary of State

No. 396

Sir: I have the honour to refer to the note which you were good enough to address to me on the 10th August in which you explained the procedure in force with regard to the export from this country of arms to China; and, under instructions from His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to make the following communication in reply:—

On Page 7 of your note you explained what the United States Government regard as military aircraft and you enquired whether His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom could see their way to adopt a similar interpretation.
The position in regard to the export of aircraft from Great Britain to China is that His Majesty’s Government do not require specific licenses to be obtained for the export of unarmed aircraft: and, consequently, the procedure of ascertaining whether the Nanking Government approve export is not applied to this material. His Majesty’s Government have in the past been content to divide aircraft into two categories only, namely, armed and unarmed. This practice is well established, and arose from the difficulty of obtaining any exact and comprehensive definition of military aircraft. It enables an objective test to be applied; and for that reason it has proved simple and administratively convenient. His Majesty’s Government are of the opinion that any definition which applied a subjective test, e. g. in regard to the aircraft being presumed to be destined for military use, would leave too much scope to the diversities of national or local interpretation.
His Majesty’s Government are glad to note that the practice of the United States Government conform so closely with their own in the matter of controlling the export of arms to China generally. [Page 522] However, while they sympathise with the aims of the United States Government in connection with the definition of military aircraft, they do not consider that under existing conditions the application of the stricter procedure in force in the United States is practical; and they therefore propose to continue to regulate the export of aircraft to China by their present export procedure under which a licence is not required for unarmed aircraft. They are convinced that it will be best for the present to concentrate on securing the agreement of other governments to the application of a uniform procedure to what is clearly war material.
The Chinese Government have not in fact so far addressed to His Majesty’s Government any representations with regard to the export of unarmed aircraft; but if, at any time, representations in this sense should be made, His Majesty’s Government will be prepared to reconsider the matter, provided that it is clear that a general international agreement for the further restriction of such exports could be obtained under conditions which could not be abused.
When on Page 5 of your note you mentioned that American exporters to China were placed at disadvantage in comparison with exporters of other nationalities, you stated that the Hong Kong authorities had appeared willing to permit shipments to China on the basis of import permits issued by local Chinese authorities. In order to remove any misunderstanding which may exist on this particular point, I have been instructed to explain that the Government of Hong Kong have, from the time that the regulations regarding the importation of arms were promulgated by the Chinese Government, most scrupulously discharged their responsibility so far as concerns arms imported into Hong Kong as stock, and subsequently sold to customers in China, i. e. in every case the firms concerned have been, and will be required to produce an authorisation from the Central Government of China. It is only in the case of arms ordered in China from some territory beyond Hong Kong, whether British or foreign, and passing through Hong Kong in transit from that territory to the customer in China, that the Government of Hong Kong have not concerned themselves with the authorisation of the Central Government of China. The reasons for this attitude lie in the Barcelona Convention on Freedom of Transit.
With reference to the last paragraph of your note, I have the honour to inform you that His Majesty’s Government have not yet completed their consideration of the subject of the export of arms to China, and that they will not fail to inform the United States Government of the conclusions which are finally reached in the matter. In the meanwhile they are continuing to apply the procedure described in Mr. Osborne’s note No. 265 of the 4th August.

I have [etc.]

R. C. Lindsay