811.0141 Phoenix Group/9a

The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: I have received, and read carefully through, your memorandum of July 26, with regard to the incident at Canton Island, which I return herewith.30

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Before proceeding to occupy the Island as you instruct I feel that I should call your attention to one or two facts with which you may not be familiar.

On March 18, 1937, some two months before the Eclipse Expedition reached Canton Island, the British Government issued an Order-in-Council by which Canton Island and the other islands in the Phoenix Group were formally incorporated in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.
The British Government has sent us two notes on the subject recently, the first informing us of the Order-in-Council, the second asking us to remove the emblems left by the Avocet. Moreover, an opening for discussion was given by an oral remark made by a member of the British Embassy in presenting the notes that if we had any observations to make on the other islands in the group we should do so.

The alternative courses, then, which may be followed are:

We can proceed to permanent occupation of Canton Island by landing settlers, without notification to the British. However, for us to go ahead in the face of the British notes, particularly without having answered them, might be so resented as to render final adjustment of the conflicting claims to the island or islands more difficult than need be. I feel that we might put ourselves in the position that we could also be charged with bad faith if we sent settlers without giving an indication to that effect in the replies which we must make shortly to the British notes.
We can proceed to permanent occupation of Canton Island, by landing settlers, but with advance notification to the British in reply to their notes of July 16 and July 22, together with a statement that we did not recognize the validity of the British Order-in-Council but were prepared to discuss with them the final disposition of all the islands.
Without proceeding to permanent occupation of Canton Island, by landing settlers, we can take advantage of the opening given in the oral statement of the British Secretary and propose the negotiation of a final settlement of the conflicting claims to the eight islands of the Phoenix Group.

In the opinion of the Department’s Legal Adviser, our claim to Canton Island is distinctly weak,—much weaker for instance than to three other islands in the group. Our best prospect, therefore, of establishing our right of ownership to at least some of the islands might be through negotiation. I should like to have your instructions as to which alternative you wish followed, in order that I may be guided as to what action I should take in respect to the two British notes.

Faithfully yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. Supra.