The Chargé in France (Wilson) to the Secretary of State
[Received 5:45 p.m.]
1468–1470. In the course of a conversation this morning with the Chinese Ambassador42 he said that he had been greatly disturbed yesterday to learn from the French Foreign Office that the French Government had prohibited shipments in transit through Indo-China of arms, munitions and war material destined for China. As soon as he had heard of this action he had gone to the Foreign Office and made representations. He was informed that a decision in this sense had been taken at a meeting last week of the French Ministers having to do with national defense (doubtless the inter-ministerial meeting which also considered the Mediterranean problem). The decision was taken on the ground that France was too exposed as regards her possessions in Indo-China to risk being placed in a position which might cause retaliation on the part of Japan, that the French Government would be prepared to continue to permit the transit through Indo-China of arms and munitions if there was some concerted agreement or action by the other powers which would protect France.
Wellington Koo said that he had protested against this decision pointing out that it ran contrary to the recommendation of the League Assembly, that nothing should be done which would weaken China’s power of resistance. Furthermore he had pointed out that under the arrangements concerning the railway between Indo-China and the Province of Yunnan it was provided that transit shipments would not be interfered with; also that in the treaty of 1930 between China and France relating to Indo-China43 it had been provided that the shipment in transit through Indo-China of arms and munitions for China would benefit from the exemption of customs duties. The Ambassador said that he took the position that since there was no war in the Far East according to the Japanese, the French were acting in violation of conventional obligations in prohibiting transit shipments. He said, however, that while he had obtained the impression that the prohibition would stand for the time being he had also been given to understand that the French would be prepared to discuss the matter at the Brussels Conference and to consider modifying their attitude if some agreement among the powers regarding the Far East should result from the conference which would protect the French Government.[Page 624]
Wellington Koo said that this was a serious matter for China. Since the Japanese blockade had been established China had been receiving shipments of war materials mainly through Hong Kong and through Indo-China. The damage done to the Canton–Hankow railway by bombing from the air had made it difficult to move the stock of munitions which had been piling up at Hong Kong. Furthermore there happened to be several ships en route at present for Indo-China with cargoes of munitions which it was important for the Chinese Government to obtain.
He said that he understood in the strictest confidence that there was a division of opinion in the French Cabinet regarding this matter. The Socialist Ministers were in favor of maintaining transit shipments through Indo-China; the Radical Socialists with the sole excepton of Daladier, the Minister of National Defense, insisted that with the present situation in Europe it was too risky for France to run any danger of incurring retaliation from Japan. He understood that the matter would again be considered at the Council of Ministers which was to take place this morning but he does not expect any modification in the French position prior to the Brussels Conference.
Wellington Koo said that he found surprisingly little interest being paid to the Far Eastern situation by the “higher ups” in the French Foreign Office. His impression is that the Foreign Office is so concerned with the Spanish and Mediterranean problems that it has not yet found the opportunity to think out carefully the problems arising from the conflict in the Far East. He went on to say that the attitude of the French Government in the matter of transit shipments through Indo-China had apparently been guided by the reports received from the French Naval Attaché at Tokyo of conversations with the Japanese naval authorities: The Naval Attaché had apparently become convinced that, unless these transit shipments were stopped, Japan would take some action against Indo-China. Wellington Koo said that he felt this was nothing but an attempt at blackmail as he did not believe that Japan would undertake any action against Indo-China: However, with the French Government so concerned with the Mediterranean, they were leaning over backwards in being cautious regarding the Far East.
I asked whether there were any developments regarding the attitude of Soviet Russia in the Far East. Wellington Koo said that, while the Soviet Government was not giving direct military aid, it was furnishing war material to China. He said that, prior to the adoption of the Advisory Committee’s report by the League Assembly, the Soviet Government had been reluctant to do very much in the way of funishing material: It desired to avoid any action which might give the appearance that Russia alone of the other powers was assisting [Page 625] China, thereby incurring the danger of serious difficulties with Japan. Since the adoption, however, of the Advisory Committee’s report at Geneva, providing that each country should examine the possibilities it might have of assisting China, the Russian Government had felt that it was “covered” and had increased its assistance to China. He also said that the Soviet Government had been particularly helpful in a diplomatic way, as for instance in the drafting and discussion of reports and resolutions at Geneva.
Wellington Koo said, however, that he saw no indication that the Soviet Government, at least for the present, intended to take any more of an active interest in the Far Eastern conflict than was involved in the furnishing of war material: If the conflict should drag out for some time and Japan show signs of becoming exhausted, then there might be a change in Soviet policy.