Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)
The Chinese Ambassador came in to see me at his request. He referred to the legislation which the Maritime Commission had been sponsoring in respect to permitting deportation of Chinese seamen to the country of the registry of their ship, where they cannot be deported to their own country. He said that some indication had been given by Representative Halleck in the House of Representatives that the Chinese Embassy had consented to this, whereas they had not. I said I would endeavor to see what could be done and that I was unable to see how a misunderstanding could arise, since when we had been asked on the point by the House Committee, it had been made very clear that the Chinese Embassy, if asked, undoubtedly would not assent.
The Ambassador then said that this was a difficult business. They wanted to remove any discrimination as between British and Chinese seamen, after which they thought that the government would be in a stronger position to prevent desertions. But now only a narrow margin remained between the pay given to Chinese seamen and to British seamen and he thought that there was no real reason why the British Government, having taken a big step, should not take a little one. I told him that, as he knew, our steady policy had been to remove any discrimination, and indeed it was due to that that the discrepancy had been in a large measure removed. I said that as to the larger plans the Maritime Commission could not get itself into a position where Chinese seamen could desert without danger of deportation when every other seaman in the world had the same privilege.
The Ambassador said that he realized that we are in a difficult position as between the British and the Chinese Government, but he hoped for a general solution which might be helpful to the whole situation.
Note: What the Ambassador meant by the last statement was that the Chinese Government’s bargaining power as against British would [Page 802] be diminished if we enforced against the Chinese laws similar to those enforced against all other seamen. I am told that the Chinese Ambassador has made this point in conversation with the people of the Maritime Commission. We have endeavored to be cautious, lest the Chinese play the liberality of our laws against the British.