Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Sir Arthur Salter13 came in to see me, at my request.

I said that he doubtless was aware of the state of the record in connection with the amendment to the Immigration Act. This permits deportation of deserting Chinese seamen, as well as other aliens, who cannot be deported to the country of which they are nationals.

I said, as he knew, the bill having been passed by the House and the Senate was now lying over on a motion to reconsider by Senator LaFollette.

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Sir Arthur said that he had followed the bill closely and knew the situation.

I then said that the Chinese Ambassador had presented a protest—a rather mild one to me, and a stronger one to the Secretary. We had this before us. I said that the ground for this protest was that Chinese seamen ought not to be deported, under these circumstances; and that the real issue was equality of treatment as between Chinese seamen and British seamen, serving on British boats. The actual difference in treatment between the two seemed not to be great; and I wished to inquire whether steps could not be taken quickly to equalize the difference.

I said that this seemed to me the only way of avoiding debate on the bill, which probably would consist in airing Chinese grievances against the British, and so forth—which would not be helpful in the general situation.

Sir Arthur said that he likewise had been considering the matter. He said that he had an opportunity to approach T. V. Soong14 on the matter; and that he proposed to do so in conjunction with Lord Halifax.15 He outlined a strictly personal idea as to how the matter might be handled, which, however, he asked me not to record, because he said that it was merely his personal idea and he had not cleared it with his Government.

I told him that I thought that the bill would lie in its present stage for ten days or two weeks, but probably not longer than that.

Sir Arthur said that he would keep me advised. I told him likewise that I would give him, for his confidential information, a copy of the protest which the Chinese had presented to us. I said that, plainly, we were in between, in a problem chiefly between the British and the Chinese.

Sir Arthur said that he realized this. He said, further, that they were concerned about two aspects of the matter. One was that the Chinese were in the position of having broken their contract and then asking for negotiations to revise it. Nevertheless, Sir Arthur was prepared to recommend waiving this feature and entering into negotiations with Soong. The other aspect was that while they were prepared to equate with the Chinese, they did not wish this to be used as forcing the British to equate their pay to the pay of all other United Nations seamen. He said that practically every nation when it came into the war had more or less frozen seamen’s pay. The rates of pay largely reflected the date when the various countries had come into the war; since, between the time when Britain entered the war and the time when the other nations were attacked, their shipping had had the [Page 806] benefit of very high wartime earnings, which were reflected somewhat in the seamen’s rate. He hoped it would be understood, therefore, that by endeavoring to equate with the Chinese this would not be used as a lever to force them to bring the British wage standard up to the standard of other countries.

He explained in some detail the technical difficulties about equating the British pay scale with the Chinese. The Chinese seamen get two months’ bonus at the end of each year; whereas the British do not. The British pay insurance and otherwise pay for their own medical treatment; the Chinese pay no insurance and get free medical treatment. The British pay their expenses while ashore; the Chinese have their expenses paid for them. These, he said, would take more than ten days’ time to work out; but he thought that a method might be worked out which would resolve the present debate.

I said I was glad he felt he could tackle it.

A[dolf] A. B[erle], Jr.
  1. Of the British Merchant Shipping Mission.
  2. Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs, temporarily in the United States.
  3. British Ambassador in the United States.