793.94112/39b: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Johnson )

381. Department’s 375, September 3, 10 a.m., and previous.

1. On September 4, an officer of the French Embassy presented an informal memorandum to the Department to the effect that the French Government considered that it would be dangerous to permit the hailing by Japanese men-of-war of merchant ships because such a procedure would be equivalent to acknowledging that a state of war existed in the Far East and would have serious repercussions in the Mediterranean; that the French Government was of the opinion that some other procedure which would not be in contradiction to the principles of international law would be more advantageous; that the French Government proposed that the entry of merchant vessels into the area controlled by the Japanese be notified to the Japanese naval authorities, such notice to cover the names of the ship and of the master and data with regard to the nationality of the vessel, and to be made by the master of the vessel or by the ship owner to the admiral of his nationality at Shanghai; and that the admiral at Shanghai would transmit this information to the Japanese admiral there, at [Page 448] the same time stating that he intended to defend the merchant ships of his country. The memorandum concluded with the statement that the procedure suggested by the French Government could be effective only if simultaneously adopted by the French, British and American Governments and that the French Government would appreciate being informed as soon as possible with regard to the attitude of the American Government toward the French proposal.

2. On September 2, the American admiral at Shanghai received a letter from the Japanese admiral there in which the Japanese admiral stated inter alia as follows: “Deprecating any misunderstanding in connection with the ships of a third power, I earnestly desire that advance notice of ships entering into or exiting from the prescribed area, stating their movement, names and their captains as well as matters concerning the capital invested in them, will be given either to me or to the appropriate officer under my command stationed on the spot.” So far as the Department is aware, the American admiral has made no reply to the Japanese admiral’s letter. We incline to the view that the request of the Japanese admiral for advance notice need not be objected to, especially as such notification to both parties would serve as a valuable safeguard to merchant vessels against attack, particularly from the air, when they are near the coast; and this Government is considering authorizing the American admiral at Shanghai to make reply to the Japanese admiral to the effect that although the American admiral is not in position to give a commitment it will be our procedure, for the safeguarding and serving of American interests, to give the Japanese and Chinese authorities advance notice whenever such action is practicable.

With regard to that phase of the French proposal which contemplates an affirming to the Japanese admiral at Shanghai by the American, British and French admirals there of intention to defend the merchant ships of their respective countries, our attitude remains as indicated in the Department’s 374, September 1, 7 p.m. The concept and the procedure indicated in that telegram are, in the opinion of the Department, free from the objections which the French Government entertains toward certain features of the original British proposition and in our opinion offer the most satisfactory procedure for dealing with the present situation.

3. We have informed the French Embassy here that the Department will make reply to the French Government through the American Ambassador at Paris. Therefore please repeat this telegram to the American Embassy at Paris with the request as from the Department that the Ambassador inform the French Foreign Office orally and in confidence of the Department’s attitude as set forth in this [Page 449] telegram and in the Department’s telegrams 374, September 1, 7 p.m., and 375, September 3, 10 a.m., which you should also repeat to Paris. Please repeat to Paris also your 573, September 2, 7 p.m.95

  1. The French Minister for Foreign Affairs on September 9 replied “that the French Admiral in China had already received orders to inform the Japanese Government with regard to the approach of French vessels.” He also expected the Chinese case to be presented to the League and believed the Advisory Committee would be called and the United States asked to take part. (852.00/6413)