Memorandum by the Adviser on Political Relations (Hornbeck) of a Conversation With the Chinese Ambassador (C. T. Wang)

The Ambassador called this morning at my request (authorized by the Secretary).

I expressed appreciation of the Ambassador’s having come in and said that I had asked him to come because I wanted to talk with him about the statement which the President had made yesterday17 on the subject of carrying by American vessels of arms, etc., to China and Japan, I said that I assumed that the Ambassador had seen accounts of the statement. The Ambassador said that he had seen the statement last evening and that, although he had had no word about it from his Government, he knew that it would be a great disappointment to China. Moreover, he hastened to say, it would have some effects in the nature of a “boomerang.”

I then said that we of course could not suppose or profess to suppose that we were not aware that the Chinese would feel badly about our having taken this step; but that we hoped that they would take account of the reasons which had led to our decision, would try to see this action in its full and true perspective, and would take full account of the constant and obvious good will of this country toward China; and that I hoped that the good will of the Chinese toward this country would show itself too substantial to be greatly impaired by this. I said that I assumed that the Ambassador had observed the development of public opinion in this country during recent years on the subject of trade in arms and munitions of war and on the subject of discouraging warfare and keeping this country out of war; I referred to the long period during which neutrality legislation was in process of enactment, to the discussions, and to the Act18 itself; then, to the demands which have come vociferously from various quarters since July 7 that the Neutrality Act be put into effect; and to the fact that the Administration has for more than two months refrained and is still refraining from putting the Act into effect. I said that the [Page 531] action taken yesterday was taken essentially as a matter of domestic policy and not for the purpose of affecting the course of the conflict between China and Japan. I said that its principal effects would be, first, to diminish the amount of insistence in this country that sweeping action such as is provided for in the Neutrality Act be immediately taken and, second, to diminish the likelihood of unfortunate complications which might be brought about if American ships proceeded with cargoes of arms and munitions into Far Eastern waters. The Ambassador stated that the effect would be to make more difficult for China the efforts in which the Chinese are engaged of self-defense. He said that he felt that the United States was “forgetting its moral obligations.”

I said that we had given a tremendous amount of thought to various questions which the Chinese-Japanese hostilities have created, that we have weighed a great many considerations, that I do not feel that we are forgetting or overlooking or disregarding any obligations, either moral or legal; but that the problems involved are complicated, some considerations come into conflict with other considerations, and we are trying at each moment and in each decision that we make to be considerate of the rights and interests of all concerned and to harmonize conflicting interests as far as that is possible. I said that this action covers only what it covers, the matter of carrying by American ships of arms and munitions; the possible adverse effect on China’s interests would not, in my opinion, be very great; the prohibition extends to carrying both into China and into Japan; public opinion in this country has already gone far toward discouraging many American would-be suppliers from engaging in the trade, either as regards supplying or as regards carrying; the possibility of Japan’s seizing such cargoes was in itself a deterrent to the trade; if we took no notice, the demand in this country for drastic action to prevent any supplying would become increasingly insistent. The Ambassador said that, regardless of all these considerations, he knew that our action would be a great disappointment to his people. (The Ambassador’s own attitude was one of impatience of explanation.)

The Ambassador then put abruptly this question. Will the American Government participate in the work of the Advisory Committee of the League? I replied that to the best of my knowledge no conclusion had been come to here on that subject; the League has just begun its meetings19 and has not indicated what course it intends to pursue; the Chinese have brought the matter to the attention of the League and it remains to be seen how the League will handle the matter; the initiative as between the League and this country lies [Page 532] with the League. The Ambassador said that China would very much like to know what is our attitude in regard to that matter. I did not attempt reply to that observation. I went on to say that a number of problems which have already arisen will call for patient and sympathetic handling over probably weeks and months to come and that hasty action and hasty judgments should be avoided. I said that what I had said to the Ambassador had been with the previous knowledge and approval of the Secretary; that we wanted the Ambassador and his Government to understand that this Government was animated by a desire to be helpful to other nations and with no desire whatever to injure any; that we wanted to be considerate of all interests; that we wanted to avoid drastic action; we wanted to act with care and with ample deliberateness; and that if the Ambassador would consider the matter in a comparative light he would see that the deprivation which our action may impose upon China is only a fraction of what might be the case if we acted impulsively or without balancing the many considerations involved.

I repeated that I had spoken about the matter which I had brought up under authorization. I suggested that, in reporting to his Government, the Ambassador say that this was the view presented to him by the Department without specifying by what officer it had been presented. The Ambassador indicated that the suggestion was agreeable to him.

  1. Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 201.
  2. Approved August 31, 1935; 49 Stat. 1081; as amended February 29, 1936, and Mar. 1, 1937, 49 Stat. 1152 and 50 Stat. 121.
  3. See pp. 1 ff.