The Secretary of State to the Minister in Switzerland (Harrison)
51. Before you proceed to Geneva, I think it well to give you an outline of my views on certain current problems, in order that you may be guided during the conversations you may have during the Assembly.
Please reread with care my public statements of July 16th19 and of August 23rd.20 You will find that the first statement lists those principles which the American Government considers fundamental and essential to peaceful intercourse between civilized nations and that the second shows that the American Government believes that such principles apply to the Pacific areas, as well as to the rest of the world. The American Government has maintained a strictly fair and impartial course as between Japan and China. Nevertheless, it cannot but feel that these essential principles are being grossly violated. It is a pity that other nations have not more generally realized how such public utterances and the public reiteration of these principles would strengthen the principle of validity of treaties and foster [Page 14] the growth of a world-wide determination to resolve international differences by peaceful means only.
You will doubtless be asked why, under present conditions, the United States Government has not put into effect the Neutrality Act. You will find, on consulting the Act, that the opening paragraph thereof reads as follows: “Whenever the President shall find that there exists a state of war between, or among, two or more foreign states, the President shall” et cetera. Thus a question of fact shall determine the application of the Act and the Act must be put into force when such a state of facts arises. In the case of the conflict between Japan and China, intermittent acts of hostility have occurred over a long period of time and the present conflict, while greater in volume, appears to present in their minds a difference in degree rather than in character. Both parties to the conflict claim they are not at war; both parties to the conflict maintain in the other’s territory diplomatic and consular representatives. Japan claims that its action is in the nature of a punitive expedition and repeatedly has disclaimed the intention of acquisition of territory.
For your confidential information, we are daily considering the application of the Neutrality Act and conditions in China may at any moment render it essential to apply it. We can adopt only a temporary policy and one of day by day application.
The Chinese have sent a communication both to the League and to members of the Advisory Committee in the dispute between China and Japan. At the inception of the Advisory Committee in 1933 and subsequently Wilson was designated to sit with the Committee without the right of vote. If it is decided that the same committee is still in existence and a meeting is summoned, you may be authorized to attend under the same instructions as Wilson received. In any case, you are requested not to give the impression that we will necessarily participate in any discussion of the present problem in Geneva. We prefer to reserve judgment entirely in this matter.