793.003/855: Telegram

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

126. Department’s telegram No. 55, March 17, 6 p.m.

As the Department is aware, the recent plenary session of the Central Executive Committee adopted a resolution calling upon the [Page 638] Government to conduct negotiations for the early abolition of extraterritorial jurisdiction. This resolution, quoted in an instruction to the Executive Yuan dated March 6, was published in the National Government Gazette of March 9. Otherwise it has received little publicity although it was commented upon as early as March 6 by the “spokesman” of the Japanese Foreign Office. I have received no intimation from anyone as to what action the Chinese Foreign Office will take in response to the instruction from the Executive Yuan but I think we may expect at any time now to receive a communication from the Foreign Office on the subject.
We are therefore offered a choice of two lines of action on the part of this Government.
We may await the expected communication from the Foreign Office, which will probably be in line with its communication of January 18, 1934,32 or we may take the initiative and go back to our negotiations of 1930 and 31 offering the Chinese the draft of July 14, 1931.33
The first alternative has the obvious advantage of putting the Chinese into the position of petitioner and would permit us to ask for a complete showing of their proposals and would tie the whole subject up with the general question of treaty revision. The second alternative might be advantageous provided we were prepared and were able to carry negotiations through to a mutually satisfactory settlement retaining throughout the initiative. To take the initiative would be in line with our general policy of treating with China as an independent and sovereign nation and would presumably enhance our good will, but if no agreement were reached the effect of the gesture would be lost. From the point of view of Sino-Japanese relations our initiative in this matter would without doubt tend to strengthen the hands of the Chinese Government and aid it in building up its prestige among its own people at a time when it is seeking the support of a unified China and of foreign powers in an effort to withstand aggression.
I do not believe that any step which we might take in support of China’s claim to administrative sovereignty would have a disturbing effect upon the general situation in the Far East. It would be consistent with our general policy in the Far East at this time when we are contemplating turning over to the jurisdiction of the Filipinos (a people who have never enjoyed independence of government) a greater American material investment and interest than we possess in China. I conceive that our initiative in this matter in China might be of value in helping our people to adjust themselves to developments [Page 639] in Manchuria where preparations are being made to abolish several extraterritorial privileges.
Our liberation of the Philippine Islands has, I believe, gained for us increased esteem among oriental peoples. A similar gesture to the largest of oriental nations would assist in capitalizing this gain. The Chinese will undoubtedly insist upon an agreement from [for?] a much more far reaching relinquishing of American extraterritorial rights than was envisaged by us in 1931 but I believe much progress has been made in Chinese laws and the administration of justice since then. The question of the efficiency of Chinese law and administration seems less important to me now, however, than a more satisfactory treaty arrangement on behalf of privileges for trade, cultural activities and protection of intellectual property.
On the whole I feel that with China’s demand for unqualified abrogation of extraterritorial jurisdiction sent to us 3 years ago and with the publication of the recent instruction to the Executive Yuan we could expect no great advantage from a spontaneous proposal of a compromise. I think it would be better to await a new communication from the Chinese Government. In the meantime we should consult with the British Government and possibly with the French but I would deprecate any intimate discussion with the Japanese Government. Their heralded change of attitude toward China has yet to be proved and identification with them would prejudice our position in Chinese popular opinion.
Finally, I feel confident that if we allow the Chinese Government to bring up the extraterritoriality issue as part of a general treaty revision, we shall be better able to utilize the inevitable partial relinquishment of past privileges in bargaining for it affects trade which is now threatened by numerous restrictions. Advantages thus gained will render the changed situation more palatable to American interests in China.
  1. See telegram No. 56, January 23, 1934, 5 p.m., from the Minister in China, Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. iii, p. 525.
  2. Ibid., 1931, vol. iii, p. 893.