893.0146/550a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in China (Johnson)

138. In the light of a considerable amount of apprehensive speculation in certain quarters with regard to the safety of American nationals at various points in China and of concern regarding the mission of and possible involvement of our armed forces there, we are trying to make clear, in responsible circles, this Department’s concept of the mission and function of the United States armed forces in China.

It should be realized and be kept in mind at all times that the mission of these forces has not been and is not one of offensive action against authorized armed forces of China or of any other country; and it is not one of coercion of the Chinese or any other foreign governments. The primary function of these forces is to provide special protection for American nationals. Incidental to protection of life comes protection of property, but protection of property as such is not a primary objective. These forces are in no sense expeditionary forces. They are not in occupation of an enemy territory nor are they defending territory of the United States. They are expected to protect lives but they are not expected to hold positions regardless of hazards. [Page 253] They would be expected to repel threatened incursions of mobs or of disorganized or unauthorized soldiery, but they would not be expected to hold a position against a responsibly directed operation of occupation on the part of armed forces of another country acting on express high authority. Situations may arise in which, for the protection of lives, the logical procedure will become that of evacuation. Confronted with such a situation, the function of American official agencies would become that of calling for and making possible evacuation in an orderly manner and with a maximum of safety; the function of the armed forces would become that of assisting in the making of arrangements, of providing armed escort, facilities (including, where possible, means of conveyance, etc.), and of general assistance in the activities of evacuation as such. Presumably the necessity for such action, if it develops, will be sufficiently foreseeable, as regards time factor, to permit of appropriate communication between and among the appropriate agencies of the American Government concerned. Presumably, also, such necessity as may confront any one of the foreign countries concerned will likewise confront all, and constant consultation among their representatives on the spot and with their own governments in regard to developments will contribute toward making possible common and simultaneous action if and when called for in this connection.

It cannot be too often or too emphatically stated that the primary purpose for which American armed forces are maintained in China today is protection and safeguarding of the lives of our nationals. Protection of property may be incidental and in some situations directly contributory to safeguarding of life, but is a secondary objective and should in no circumstances be permitted to stand in the way of the carrying out of the primary objective.

In the performance of their respective functions, officers of the various agencies of the Government, aware of the concept outlined above, will conduct the operations for which they are respectively responsible on the basis each of his own best judgment, in cooperation with other agencies, of ways and means appropriate to his agency under the circumstances with which they find themselves confronted.

Please promptly repeat this telegram to Peiping, Tientsin, Shanghai, and Tsingtao, and instruct the officers in charge at those places to bring the contents of this telegram informally and in confidence to the attention of the commanding officers of American armed forces at those places, with explanation that this material is for general orientation of all American agencies concerned and is believed to be in no way inconsistent with but merely expository of existing orders [Page 254] or instructions from the various Departments under which the various agencies respectively function.