811.30 Asiatic Meet/444

Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hamilton)

It has been the practice for many years for units of the United States Asiatic Fleet, whose headquarters are at Manila, to spend the summer season, from early in May to early in November, in north China waters. The flagship and the destroyer squadron, usually comprising some eleven or twelve units, generally base on Chefoo, and the [Page 146] submarine flotilla, usually comprising seven or eight units, generally bases on Tsingtao. It is, of course, considered very desirable, from the point of view of health and general welfare, that the personnel of these vessels pass the summer months in places where the climate is fresher and more bracing than it is in Philippine waters.

During the past few months both Chefoo and Tsingtao have been occupied by the Japanese army. Apparently this step has taken place with little disorder, and there is at present little indication of any organized resistance on the part of the Chinese inhabitants. It is possible, therefore, that a visit of the fleet to these cities during the coming summer would be accomplished without any serious difficulty. Furthermore, a failure of the fleet to pay its customary visit to these ports might lead to the undesirable impression that we were unduly influenced by political changes in that area to which the American Government objects.

On the other hand, if the fleet should visit north China this year, the Government might be subjected to criticism on the ground that it had failed to exercise sufficient precaution toward avoiding a possible incident. There have been indications that the long campaign in China has tended in certain instances to affect adversely the morale and conduct of various units of the Japanese army. The bombing of the U. S. S. Panay 95 and other recent incidents involving Japanese and American military units may also have tended to ruffle the tempers of the rank and file of the American fleet. In the circumstances, the possibilities of friction at Chefoo and Tsingtao between the personnel of the two armed forces should be given serious consideration.

Tsingtao is one of the main ports of north China. It is the terminus of a railway which joins at Tsinan with the Tientsin-Pukow railway, the main artery of communication between north and central China. Although it is understood that this railway has been cut in several places by Chinese agents, yet it will probably be repaired and in good running order before summer. Offering better port facilities than Tientsin, Tsingtao is an important port for the landing of troops and munitions from Japan. In view of the recent increased activity of the Chinese air force, it is within the range of possibility that an effort will be made to bomb the city. The presence of American vessels in the port might then be a source of serious embarrassment to this Government.

Although no port in North China is completely free from political tension and an extended visit from the United States Asiatic Fleet [Page 147] to any North China port would therefore be attended by some risk of incidents affecting Japanese-American relations, it is felt that, in as much as (1) there is no railway communication between Chefoo and Central China, (2) there has been an almost complete absence of disturbances at Chefoo during the present crisis, and (3) there would seem to be slight probability that large contingents of Japanese troops will be stationed at Chefoo, the risk of incidents at that port would be considerably less than elsewhere in North China. It is therefore recommended, if it is decided that the advantages of a visit by the Fleet outweigh the disadvantages, that the Fleet confine its regular summer visit to Chefoo. Units of the Fleet might pay occasional visits from Chefoo to Tsingtao. Consideration might be given also to arranging that the number of units of the Fleet visiting north China be smaller than usual and that the period of the visit be shorter than has been the case in the past.96

M[axwell] M. H[amilton]
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. iv, pp. 485 ff., and Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, pp. 517 ff.
  2. These recommendations were followed substantially by the Asiatic Fleet.