Memorandum by Mr. Everett F. Drumright of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs
Subject: Should American Representation be Established in Central Asian Areas
Consideration of the above-mentioned subject poses various pertinent questions. Among these are: (1) the purpose of such representation; (2) the nature of such representation; (3) the areas within which representation might be established.
These questions are discussed below.
(1) The purpose of such representation. American consular or other official representatives have not hitherto been stationed in Tibet, [Page 688]Sinkiang, Outer Mongolia or other central Asian areas, although they have from time to time traveled in certain of these regions. The absence of American official representation in these areas has apparently been due to a want of concrete American interests therein. There appear to be neither American residents nor American property interests in Tibet or Outer Mongolia. A very few American missionaries have resided in Sinkiang, but it is believed that the last of these withdrew from that province in 1940. The number of Americans traveling in central Asian areas has never been large, and in recent years the number has decreased. So far as is known, no American has traveled in Outer Mongolia for several years, and only two Americans are known to have traveled during recent years beyond Gyangtse in Inner Tibet.
It may not be inappropriate at this point to discuss the official representation maintained by certain Powers in central Asia:
Great Britain. The British maintain a Trade Agent at Gyangtse, a few stages across the Indian border on the route to Lhasa, the function of whom it appears to be to keep in contact with the Tibetan authorities. It appears that the Trade Agent has made trips to Lhasa from time to time. It is not known whether the British maintain permanent representation in Lhasa at this time, although it appears that they have not done so in the past. The British have for some years maintained a consular office in Kashgar, heart of the rich oasis country of southwestern Sinkiang, where a few hundred Indian subjects have apparently resided for purposes of trade. In all probability it has been one of the chief functions of the British consular representative at Kashgar to keep the British and Indian governments apprised of internal developments in Sinkiang, and also of Soviet Russian activities in that province. The British maintain no official representation in other parts of Sinkiang Province, nor in any part of Outer Mongolia. The British formerly maintained a consular office in Tatsienlu, but it was withdrawn in the early nineteen-twenties.
Soviet Union. The Soviet Union does not appear to be represented in Tibet, and few if any Soviet citizens seem to have traveled in that region during recent years. Soviet relations with the province of Sinkiang have been close during the past ten years or so, and it appears that Soviet consular representatives have been stationed in Tihwa, Kashgar and perhaps other cities in Sinkiang. Soviet relations with the Mongolian People’s Government in Outer Mongolia are based on certain treaties concluded between the two governments during the past twenty years, which among other things provide for an exchange of official representatives.
China. China considers that Tibet and Outer Mongolia form a part of the territory of the Republic of China and has accordingly claimed [Page 689]suzerainty over these areas. Great Britain and the Soviet Union have by various treaties concluded with China acknowledged Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and Mongolia, but Great Britain and the Soviet Union have apparently interpreted “suzerainty” to include a wide degree of local autonomy. It is believed, but not definitely known, that there are representatives of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission of the Executive Yuan of the National Government of China in Lhasa. It seems probable that there are no other Chinese officials stationed in Inner Tibet unless they are to be found along the Indian frontier. The provincial administration of Sinkiang has been Chinese in composition, but since the establishment of the Republic has been largely autonomous in character. During the last decade Soviet Russian influence appears to have been dominant in the province and there seem to have been no officials of the Chinese National Government regularly stationed there, although a few prominent Chinese officials have made visits to the province from time to time. In this connection, the recent visit of General Chiang Kai-shek to Tihwa indicates that the Chinese Government is beginning to reassert its influence in Sinkiang. A recent radio announcement from Chungking reported the appointment by the Chinese Government of a Special Commissioner for Foreign Affairs in Sinkiang. As regards Chinese relations with Outer Mongolia, it appears that these have been nebulous if not non-existent since the formation of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1921.
In the absence of concrete or substantial American interests in central Asia, particularly in the way of residents and property, it appears that the establishment of American representation there would be useful chiefly for purposes of observation and the submission of reports. Present-day world developments, with particular reference to the fall of Burma, the German drive into the Caucasus, and the potential danger of the conjunction of Axis forces in central Asia, suggest for consideration the question whether or not American observers should now be sent to central Asian areas to submit reports relating not only to potential Axis activities in these areas but to the geography, communications, politics, military affairs and economics thereof. The stationing of American observers in Tibet and Sinkiang at the present time might be valuable for purposes of investigating possible transportation routes into China. As to Outer Mongolia, the dearth of material now available in regard to that area and Manchuria and the possibility of a Russo-Japanese military clash point to the desirability of having qualified observers in that area.
(2) The nature of such representation. Representation might be established in central Asian areas on a permanent or a temporary basis. Permanent representation, while perhaps desirable for purposes [Page 690]of thorough observation and contact with the local authorities, would, if feasible, require the setting up of offices in remote and isolated areas. One of the most difficult problems in connection with permanent representation relates to the question of agrément. In the case of Tibet and Outer Mongolia, it would appear necessary to obtain the sanction of the Chinese authorities as the sovereign power, while at the same time it would seem necessary to receive the permission of the Tibetan and Mongolian authorities for the stationing of American representatives in these areas. American representatives proceeding to Tibet would probably travel through India, which would require the sanction of the British and Indian authorities. American representatives proceeding to Outer Mongolia would probably travel via Siberia, thus necessitating the approval of the Russian authorities. A formal request for the permanent stationing of American representatives in Tibet and Outer Mongolia might raise embarrassing questions in regard to the political status of these areas.
Apart from the complex problem of sovereignty, it is doubtful whether the Tibetan or Outer Mongolian authorities would welcome the establishment of permanent American representation in Lhasa or Ulan Bator (Urga). It is a probability that such a request on the part of the American Government would be rejected, particularly, in reference to Outer Mongolia. As regards Tibet, it may be pointed out that with the establishment of an American mission at New Delhi, American representatives in India are now in a much better position than formerly to observe and report Tibetan developments.
With reference to the establishment of permanent American representation in Sinkiang, it is believed that endeavors to carry this into effect at the present time would prove a source of embarrassment to the Chinese Government. While the Chinese Government appears to be regaining a certain amount of influence in Sinkiang, the Chinese-Soviet relationship in Sinkiang remains a delicate one.
It is believed that temporary assignments, which might be more accurately described as in the nature of occasional visits or trips, would appear to offer a more satisfactory means of observing and reporting on conditions in central Asian areas. It is believed that temporary visits could be made to certain of these areas without raising troublesome and complex issues of sovereignty. It seems likely that the granting of permission for temporary visits, at least to certain areas of Tibet and Sinkiang, could be arranged on short notice and on an informal basis. It seems likely, too, that temporary visits of American representatives to central Asian areas would occasion much less speculation in various official quarters as to American motives than would be raised by American endeavors to seek permanent [Page 691]representation. Temporary assignments or visits would result in economies of staff and expenses. The policy of excluding third-power nationals, apparently followed in the past by the Soviet and Mongolian authorities, renders it highly unlikely that American observers will be permitted to visit Outer Mongolia in any capacity.
(3) The areas within which representation might be established. Areas in central Asia within which American representation might be sought comprise Tibet, Sinkiang and Outer Mongolia. Each of these areas is discussed below in the light of its availability as an area in which American representation might be established:
Tibet. Under existing conditions there appears to be little reason for the permanent stationing of American representatives in Tibet. Rather than endeavor to establish permanent American representation in Tibet at this time, it would perhaps be preferable to explore the possibility of sending American representatives from time to time on observation trips into Tibet. Representatives sent from India would probably be in the best position to obtain permission to travel in Tibet and they would be most accessible to Lhasa, capital and heart of the country. Travel from Chungking or Kunming into Tibet would involve formidable difficulties and would probably not be warranted under existing conditions.
Sinkiang. With the loss of the Burma Road, Sinkiang has assumed increasing importance as a route for the shipment of supplies to and from China. Sinkiang is also a key to the future development of Chinese-Soviet relations. For these reasons it may be desirable to consider the establishment of American representation in Sinkiang. Such representation, it is believed, might be either permanent or temporary. If it is deemed desirable to establish permanent representation, it might be located at Tihwa (Urumchi) or at Kashgar. Of these two cities it would seem that Tihwa, the capital and center of Soviet influence, would offer the best opportunities for political observation, particularly with reference to Soviet activities. Tihwa is an important junction on a highway between Alma Ata and Lanchow and is also a stopping point on the China-Russia air route. At present Kashgar would appear to possess only secondary importance from the point of view of the establishment of American representation. It is probable that it is too remote from Tihwa to be of much value in reporting developments taking place in Tihwa, and at present it is not an important center for the transshipment of supplies to and from China, although it may assume growing importance in this respect.
Endeavors to station an American representative at Tihwa in a permanent capacity at this time would, in view of the peculiar political conditions that obtain in Sinkiang, likely meet with Chinese objections [Page 692]and perhaps with outright refusal. In all probability a proposal to establish permanent American representation at Kashgar would be more favorably received by the Chinese authorities, since both the British and the Russians appear to have consular representatives in that city.
Having in mind the potential importance of Sinkiang, it would appear that the periodic detail of an American representative to travel in the province would be adequate to supply the American Government with independent, factual information in regard thereto. In all probability a request made to the appropriate authorities for the travel of American representatives in Sinkiang would meet a far more favorable reception than would a request for permanent representation. The Embassy at Chungking would appear to be in the best position to detail a representative to travel in Sinkiang; or in the event that an officer is to be stationed at Lanchow, he might be available for periodic trips to Hami, Tihwa and other cities in Sinkiang.
Outer Mongolia. Although the paucity of authentic information at present available to this Government in regard to Outer Mongolia and Manchuria and the possibility of a Russo-Japanese military conflict in the Far East point to the desirability of stationing American representatives in Outer Mongolia, it is believed that endeavors to post representatives in this area, either in a permanent or a temporary capacity, are likely to fail, it apparently having been the standing policy of the Soviet and the Mongol authorities to exclude third-power nationals, including officials, from Outer Mongolia. In view of this attitude on the part of the Russian and Mongolian authorities, it is highly questionable whether it would be advisable that an endeavor should be made to send an American representative to Outer Mongolia. Should it prove feasible on investigation to send an American representative to Outer Mongolia, it is believed that he could best be detailed to proceed from Moscow or Vladivostok, and that he should endeavor to proceed to Ulan Bator, the seat of governing authority. Here again a request for travel in Outer Mongolia would in all probability be more favorably received than would a request for permanent representation.
Since travel through Russia would seem to be necessary to reach Ulan Bator, presumably Russian permission would be needed before an American representative could proceed to Outer Mongolia.
Recommendations. It is accordingly recommended:
- That consideration be given to the temporary detail of an American representative or representatives to be sent from New Delhi to proceed to Lhasa for purposes of observation and the submission of pertinent reports.
- That consideration be given to the temporary detail of an American representative or representatives to be sent from Chungking to proceed to Hami, Tihwa (Urumchi), Kashgar and perhaps other cities in Sinkiang for purposes of observation and the submission of pertinent reports.
- That consideration of the detail of an American representative or representatives to proceed to Outer Mongolia be deferred for the time being unless it appears on discreet investigation that the Soviet Russian and Mongolian authorities would be disposed to look with favor on a proposal for the travel or residence of American representatives in Outer Mongolia.
- That as a preliminary step the missions at New Delhi and Chungking be instructed to investigate the feasibility of sending an American representative or representatives to Tibet and Sinkiang, respectively, and to submit recommendations in regard thereto.
- That as a preliminary step the American Embassy to Russia be instructed to investigate the feasibility of sending an American representative or representatives to Outer Mongolia and to submit recommendations in regard thereto.