793.94112/183: Telegram

The Consul General at Shanghai ( Lockhart ) to the Secretary of State

697. Following from Tokyo:

“May 20, 11 a.m. Embassy’s despatch No. 2914, May 2, 1938;98 interference with British shipping on the Yangtze. My British colleague has just given me the Japanese reply to his memorandum of April 11 the pertinent portion of which reads as follows:

‘That it is the intention of the Imperial Government to respect the freedom of navigation of shipping of third powers on the Yangtze and other inland waterways in Central China was stated in my note referred to above and there has been no subsequent change whatever in the intentions of the Imperial Government in this respect. It goes without saying then, that, when the safety of navigation of general shipping on these waterways can be guaranteed and the necessities of strategical considerations disappear, the freedom of such navigation will be restored. But, according to the information of the Imperial [Page 150] Government, conditions of peace and order in the Yangtze area are not yet restored and the state of affairs is such that the free navigation of general shipping would as before be attended with considerable danger. Especially are the Tungchow and Tsungming island regions still infested today by large numbers of stragglers of the defeated armies and by bandits, which the Japanese forces are doing their utmost to suppress and to maintain order. Not only can it not yet be said that the military operations in these areas have reached a decisive stage, but also the course of the Yangtze from Shanghai to Nanking and Wuhu, constitutes one of the most important strategic lines of communication of our forces in Central China. To open this section to navigation by general merchant shipping would be to court the grave danger of our strategic secrets falling into the hands of the Chinese and, in the above circumstances, it is not yet possible to open the Yangtze to the free navigation of the shipping of the powers.

Further, the permit system, which was enforced on the 21st March covering navigation on the internal waterways of the Central China region, is a provisional arrangement based upon consideration of the dangers attending free navigation and upon strategical necessity. It is therefore earnestly hoped that the British side will also appreciate the above facts and cooperate in the smooth enforcement of the system and will see to it that British ships intending to navigate the rivers in the area in question will acquire the permits issued in conformity with the system by the military and naval authorities.’

Please repeat to Hankow and to the Department as our 320, May 20, 11 a.m. Grew.”

  1. Not printed.