The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of War ( Woodring )

My Dear Mr. Secretary: Reference is made to the radiogram, dated May 22, 1937, received by the War Department from the High Commissioner in Manila in regard to a circular letter dated May 8, 1937, addressed by the High Commissioner’s office to foreign consular officers in the Philippines asking them to send through that office all official communications addressed to the Commonwealth Government or any of its agencies. A copy of that telegram was sent to this Department informally on May 22, 1937, by the Bureau of Insular Affairs.

This Department notes that the German Consul has invited the High Commissioner’s attention to the provisions of Article XXI of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights, concluded between the United States and Germany on December 8, 1923, relative to the treatment of consular officers; that the Japanese Consul has discussed the matter with the High Commissioner’s office; that the British and Italian Consuls have referred the matter to their Governments; and that the High Commissioner desires the comment of this Department.

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Reference is also made to this Department’s letter of May 12, 1937, enclosing a draft of a memorandum in regard to the relationship of foreign consular officers in the Philippines with the United States High Commissioner and officials of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, and to your reply of May 17, 1937, expressing concurrence in the memorandum as drafted. That memorandum was the result of considerable study by this Department which had no intimation that the High Commissioner contemplated action on his own initiative. The procedure outlined therein recognizes the right of foreign consular officers to address and appeal to the local authorities for the purpose of protecting the rights and interests of their nationals. This right is based on specific provisions in many of our treaties, of which the article in the treaty with Germany quoted in the High Commissioner’s radiogram is typical. Also, through the operation of the most-favored-nation clause, this right would accrue to still other powers. Moreover, this Government has consistently maintained that its own consular officers should be accorded the right to address the local authorities within their respective consular districts for the purpose of protecting their countrymen.

This Department had originally planned to send a copy of the memorandum to each of the diplomatic missions in Washington whose governments maintain consular representatives in the Philippine Islands, with the request that the text thereof be communicated through their respective governments to their consular officers stationed in the Islands. Inasmuch as the High Commissioner has already written directly to those officers, it is believed that it would be preferable for the High Commissioner to continue to deal with the matter himself, and that, particularly in view of the publicity which has been given his letter, any action taken by this Department through diplomatic channels might cause him further embarrassment.

In view of the above circumstances, it is suggested that the High Commissioner send a further letter to foreign consular officers in the Philippines, the substantive portion of which would consist of the text of the penultimate paragraph of the memorandum. He may care to mention the fact that the letter from the German Consulate was referred to the Department of State and that his revised letter is based on a ruling from the Department of State. This Department would appreciate receiving by air mail a copy of the revised letter.

The High Commissioner should be requested to refer future questions involving international relations to the Departments of War and State before taking action.

This Department also suggests the desirability of sending a copy of this letter and of the memorandum by air mail to the High Commissioner.

Sincerely yours,

Sumner Welles