The Minister in Switzerland (Harrison) to the Secretary of State

No. 7485

The American Minister at Bern has the honor to refer to the Department’s telegram No. 1500 of June 25, 1943,55 regarding the communication of a statement to the Japanese Government concerning the repeated violation by the Japanese authorities of American diplomatic and consular property in Japanese-occupied territory.

The Legation now desires to enclose, for the Department’s information and records, a translation of a note addressed on February 28, 1944 to the Legation by the Swiss Foreign Office.56 This communication has as enclosures the following documents from the Swiss representatives in China:

Report dated July 30, 1943, to the Swiss Legation at Tokyo by the Swiss Consul General at Shanghai regarding the violation of official American property in occupied China.
Report dated November 24, 1942, from the Swiss Consul at Canton regarding the violation by the Japanese military authorities of the American consular offices at Canton.
Report dated April 9, 1943, from the Peiping representative of the Swiss Consulate General Shanghai regarding the violation of the American Embassy there.
Report dated April 20, 1943, from the Peiping representative of the Swiss Consulate General Shanghai regarding his protest against the violation of the American Embassy there.
Report dated May 12, 1943, from the office of the Peiping representative of the Swiss Consulate General Shanghai regarding the second inspection of the American Embassy archives there on May 12, 1943.

These documents are also attached in single copy for the Department’s information and records.57

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The Swiss Consul General at Shanghai (Fontanel) to the Swiss Legation in Japan

Report on Violation of American Official Properties in Occupied China

I have the honour to submit to you the following facts on the subject which I have reported on from time to time to Berne and which have prompted the United States Government to request your intervention with the Gaimusho.58

1) United States Properties not taken over.

Following protracted negotiations with the Japanese Authorities immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, I took over during the months of April/June 1942 all American (as well as British and Dutch) diplomatic and consular properties in Occupied China with the exception of those at Tientsin, Swatow and Amoy.

a) American Consulates at Amoy and Swatow. At the time of the departure of the former American officials from these two ports, the latter handed over the keys to the respective Japanese Consulates and appointed caretakers to look after the premises and properties of the United States Government. It was not at the time possible for me to send any delegate to Swatow and Amoy for the taking over of these properties.

The arrangements made by the out-going American Consuls were therefore left to stand—only during April/May of this year was it possible to send a delegate in the person of Mr. Zulauf from Canton to visit these places, when it was ascertained by the latter that at Swatow all official American archives (as also the British) had been removed by the Japanese Authorities, while those at Amoy were found to be intact.

b) American Consulate General at Tientsin. As reported to you in my letter dated July 1st 1942, the Japanese Authorities in Tientsin agreed to hand over the American Consulate General (as also British official properties) to my representative, Consul O. Joerg, only on the condition that the latter agreed in writing to a Japanese memorandum on the subject which contained a clause that the Japanese Authorities reserved the right to inspect all official records and confiscate any documents they might consider necessary. Mr. Joerg having refused to accept custody of the American official properties under these conditions, the local negotiations on the subject broke down.

In your reply dated July 21st 1942, to my aforementioned letter, you stated that you would take this matter up with the competent [Page 1180] authorities, but so far I appear to have remained without further news.

The fact remains that up to this time, the official consular properties still remain in the custody of the Japanese Authorities.

In connection with some water damage and theft which occurred to some of this American official property at Tientsin, the State Department again asked for an explanation as to why these properties had not yet been taken over by my representative. I should greatly appreciate it, therefore, if you could offer me any further information on this matter.

2) Violation of American official Archives.59

Canton. During October and December 1942, the Japanese Military Authorities at Canton repeatedly approached my representative there, Consul Hoffmeister, for permission to examine the American (also British) archives stored at the American Consulate General, which some three or four months previously had been taken over by Mr. Hoffmeister. Acting under threat by the Military Authorities that entry into the premises would be forced, Mr. Hoffmeister finally was authorized by me to hand over the keys to the Authorities concerned. The Japanese officials actually entered the American Consulate on November 20th and 22nd 1942 and were seen removing from the premises several sacks of American official records. A copy of Mr. Hoffmeister’s report on the incident is herewith enclosed.60
Needless to say, Mr. Hoffmeister immediately filed a strong protest against the violation of the American archives.
American Embassy Peking. At the time of the departure of the American officials from Peking, the American Embassy Compound [Page 1181] was provisionally handed over to my representative, Dr. R. Hoeppli, while the American archives were jointly sealed both by my representative and the Japanese Embassy officials. According to arrangements made, the latter were to be handed over to the exclusive custody of Dr. Hoeppli at a later date.

Under the pretext of proceeding with the official handing over, Dr. Hoeppli was summoned by the Japanese Embassy to present himself at the American Consulate Compound on April 6th of this year. When he arrived at the appointed date and place, he found that besides the Japanese Embassy officials, there were a number of Japanese soldiers who received orders to examine the American archives and to remove certain records. Copies of Dr. Hoeppli’s and Dr. Vargas’ reports on the subject are herewith enclosed.61

As was the case in Canton, Dr. Hoeppli subsequently filed a strong protest against the action of the Japanese Authorities.

3) Eviction from American Embassy and consular premises:

a) Shanghai. Shortly after the taking over of the American Consular offices in Shanghai (March 7th 1942) consisting of four large floors and one Vice-Consul’s apartment in the Development building, the Japanese Consulate General informed me that owing to the lack of office space in Shanghai, the premises occupied by the former American Consulate were urgently needed and they accordingly requested me to vacate the offices as soon as possible. Upon my representations that the American consular offices should be duly respected, the Japanese consular officials stressed that as the lease for the premises in question had expired they were entirely in their right to demand vacant possession of the same.

Following further negotiations and with the approval of the State Department, it was finally agreed to vacate two of the floors as well as the Vice-Consul’s apartment and to remove all archives and properties into the offices on the two remaining floors in the Development building (4th and 5th floors). Accordingly a new lease was signed with the Japanese supervised Realty Company in charge of the Development building.

In the course of the last few weeks, the Japanese Consulate again approached me with the request to vacate also the two remaining floors now holding the American consular archives and properties. Negotiations are still pending, but in all probability I shall have no other alternative but to again remove all the properties in question to some other storage place.62

[Page 1182]

b) Nanking. The American Embassy in Nanking consists of a large leased property owned by a Chinese and administered by the Sin Hua Trust and Savings Bank Limited. The lease expires in 1947, but contains the option of renewal. For some time past the lessors have informed me that the Japanese Authorities are very anxious to take over the American compound in Nanking and requested that the existing lease should be cancelled. Being put under strong pressure by the Japanese Authorities and notwithstanding my demand that the lease agreement must be fully respected, the lessor, acting under duress, finally signed a new lease with the Japanese Embassy officials in Nanking. Cables exchanged with Berne on the matter elicited a reply from the United States Department [of State] that they wish to retain their premises at Nanking and that I should insist with the Authorities here that they should respect the latter in the same way that the United States Government respects all Japanese consular or Embassy properties, whether owned or leased, in the United States. Although I duly informed the local Japanese Consulate of the State Department’s wishes, the latter at the instigation of the Japanese Embassy in Nanking recently urged me to send a delegate to Nanking in order to arrange for the removal of the Nanking archives and properties stored there. Without in any way agreeing to this request, I sent one of my staff members to Nanking in order to examine the situation on the spot and to ascertain whether in case of need the American properties could be stored in the British Embassy compound.

To my surprise, my representative reported that the former American Ambassador’s residence and the American Embassy compound had already been occupied by the Japanese Ambassador towards the end of May of this year and that my caretaker had been forced to surrender the keys and leave the compound.

On being informed of these developments, the State Department replied via Berne that they had requested you to intervene with the Gaimusho in the matter and that pending a decision from the latter they expect that the Japanese Authorities would not take any further action. At the same time, they asked me to do my utmost to protect the Embassy archives and to arrange, in case of need, for their transfer to another place of safe-keeping.63

c) Hankow: Although the lease for the American Consulate General at Hankow was still in force, the Japanese Military Authorities there insisted that my representative remove all the archives and official properties for storage in the British Compound; they claimed that by military necessity they required the building in question (Shell [Page 1183] Building) and under these circumstances, I authorised my representative to effect the removal, which took place on December 5th 1942.

d) Tsinanfu: As in the case of Hankow, the Japanese Military Authorities at the beginning of December 1942 claimed to require the building housing the former American Consulate General at Tsinanfu for which the lease was still valid. In order to avoid the risk of seeing the property removed by the Japanese Military Authorities themselves, I instructed my representative to proceed to Tsinanfu and to supervise the removal to the British consular compound.64

[Emile Fontanel]
  1. Not printed; it requested that the following statement be communicated to the Japanese Government: “The United States Government has repeatedly protested against the violation by the enemy of American diplomatic and consular property, including archives, as a breach of international practice and has reiterated its own respect both for diplomatic and consular property. The United States Government would like to see both diplomatic and consular archives and other property respected, whether in the territory of the opposing belligerents or in the territory of third Powers. For its future guidance, the United States Government requests a specific indication of the Japanese Government’s policy in that respect.” (703.5493/90)
  2. Not printed.
  3. Nos. 2 through 5 not printed.
  4. Japanese Foreign Office.
  5. A note of July 21, 1943, from the Swiss Foreign Office to the American Legation in Switzerland gave the substance of a Japanese Foreign Office statement regarding Japan’s attitude toward the protection of archives of enemy governments: “The Japanese Government expresses in its acts its intention to respect the archives of the diplomatic and consular missions of … countries at war with Japan.… The Japanese Government is of the opinion that the special measures taken to protect these archives must be attributed to its desire to offer a spontaneous and generous protection … the decision of the Japanese authorities to inspect the archives before surrendering them to the Protecting Power constitutes a formality which is quite natural in handing them over to this country. It is on this opinion that the Japanese authorities at Peiping based their action in inspecting the archives of the former American mission and, as the number and the types of documents to be examined did not allow them to finish the inspection on the spot, they were temporarily removed. It is, of course, understood that the archives will be returned as soon as they will have been examined, so that the representative of the Protecting Power may be able to assure their protection.” (703.5493/111) A copy of the Swiss Foreign Office note was transmitted from Bern in despatch 5745, July 28, 1943. Telegram 5227, August 25, 1943, from Bern, reported further violation of American archives at Peiping on August 9 when large quantities were carried away and no receipt given (703.5493/112).
  6. Not printed.
  7. Neither printed.
  8. Telegram 4724, August 4, 1943, from Bern, reported that Mr. Fontanel had been obliged to consent to removal of the furniture and archives stored on the two floors (703.5493/106).
  9. Telegram 7408, Novemer 23, 1943, 2 p.m., from Bern, reported Japanese sale of perishable material and furniture which had been under seal in the former American Embassy in Nanking (703.5493/118).
  10. Airgram 305, August 30, 1943, from Bern, reported seizure by “Manchukuoan” authorities of “plot of land former American Consulate Mukden, using it partly for vegetable garden, partly storage material.” (703.5493 Manchuria/8) Telegram 431, January 19, 1944, from Bern, reported that the Japanese Consul at Chefoo had occupied the premises of the former American Consulate there since December 1, 1943 (703.5493/123).