The Counselor of Legation in China ( Peck ) to the Chargé in China ( Gauss )82

Dear Mr. Gauss: In the course of a conversation I held with Dr. S. S. Liu, Director of the Department of European and American Affairs of the Foreign Office, on February 13, he said he would like to take the occasion to say to me that the Ministry had been very disappointed at the tone of the Legation’s note of January 30, 1935,83 replying to the request of the Foreign Office that instructions be issued to American commercial vessels on the Yangtze to assist in the transportation of troops to Szechwan to take part in the anti-Communist campaign. Dr. Liu said he wondered whether Vice Minister Dr. Hsu Mo had ever remarked to me that the Ministry could not but be struck by the habit of the American Legation of continually referring to the stipulations of the treaties.

I replied that since Dr. Liu had raised this subject, I would like to give him some of the background of this matter of troop transportation on the Yangtze. I then recalled the fact that during the past ten or fifteen years there had been constant factional warfare in Szechwan and explained that foreign nations had felt that the only way to protect their vessels from becoming embroiled in these factional struggles was to dissuade them from carrying troops and to protect them in their treaty right to object to being commandeered for this purpose. I recalled that it is common knowledge that the business of the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company on the Yangtze had been ruined by the frequent compulsory use of its vessels for troop transport. Dr. Liu said he thought the loss of the Company had been caused by the failure of the Government to pay for such use, and not by the use itself.

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I said that I inferred from the phraseology of the note of January 30, 1935, that the Legation wished to confine itself to the statement of a plain fact, that is, that under American law no authority was vested in the Legation to instruct American commercial vessels to carry Chinese troops. I pointed out that the Legation had not expressed any opinion whether the American vessels would or would not be willing to carry troops on this occasion if asked to do so.

I inquired whether Dr. Liu had any information regarding the actual state of affairs, that is, whether troops were being carried to Szechwan by any foreign vessels.

Dr. Liu said that the British Legation had returned an oral reply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, substantially to the effect that the Legation thought that British ships would be willing to assist by carrying troops, provided that no military equipment was offered for cargo. He did not, himself, see how this would be of any great benefit to the military authorities, and he did not know whether foreign vessels were carrying troops or not. I said that rumors had come down from Hankow that some foreign ships, at least, were actually carrying troops of the National Government, but I had no authentic information on the point.

I inquired whether the Japanese Legation had returned any reply to the Foreign Office note of January 25, 1935, and Dr. Liu said it had not.

Dr. Liu said that he was grateful to me for giving him the background of this subject.

Incidentally, I might say that on February 11 I met the French Minister and casually inquired whether he had replied to the note of January 25. He said he had not and he added that there was actually very little French capital in the steamship companies which are known as French companies.

Yours sincerely,

Willys R. Peck
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Minister in China in his despatch No. 3373, February 19; received March 23.
  2. Not printed; see paragraph 2, telegram No. 47, January 29, 5 p.m., from the Chargé in China, p. 668, and Department’s telegram No. 27, January 29, 6 p.m., p. 669.