Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Chinese Affairs (Vincent)

Participants: Mr. Wei Wen-han, Manager of China Navigation Company,
Mr. Tswen-ling Tsui, First Secretary, Chinese Embassy,
Mr. John Carter Vincent.

Mr. Wei called this morning accompanied by Mr. Tsui. He stated that he had been sent to America by the Chinese Minister of Communications11 to study ship-building in this country, with particular reference to the possibility of American aid to China in solving its post-war shipping problems. I had known Mr. Wei in China. He is, in addition to his position with China Navigation Company, manager of Min Sheng, a private shipping company.

Our discussion brought out the following facts: China’s shipping problem divides itself naturally into three parts; river shipping, coastal and near sea shipping, and ocean shipping. A different type of ship is required for each of these services. For river shipping shallow-draught ships of 1,000 to 2,000 tons are normal. For coastal shipping vessels varying from 2,000 to 4,000 tons have been generally [Page 1044] used. Ships for near sea and ocean service would differ, of course, according to the service rendered. Prior to the war with Japan, there was in service on China’s rivers and along the coast approximately 1,500,000 tons of shipping (Dr. Wei’s statement— he did not make any division between coastal and river shipping). There were British, Japanese, Chinese and some American ships in these services. China now has on the upper Yangtze little more than 100,000 tons of shipping and it is not in good condition.

Apart from these general shipping services, Mr. Wei made reference to a special problem which he thought was deserving of attention; that is, the problem of coastal shipping in the event the Allies recovered south China ports (Canton, Swatow, Foochow, etc.) and there was a continuation of the war for a considerable period. He thought that provision should be made now for such ships and indicated that he intended to discuss the matter with the Navy Department if possible, and with officials of FEA12 and the Maritime Commission.

Mr. Wei said that he had visited shipyards on the West Coast and that he hoped to be able to visit yards on the Atlantic Coast and on the Gulf. He was informed that arrangements for his visits must be made with the Navy Department and that the State Department would be prepared to lend him appropriate assistance.

There ensued considerable discussion of the methods whereby the United States might be of assistance in China’s post-war shipping development. I asked Mr. Wei whether he was prepared to discuss such matters as the rules and regulations which would govern possible American participation in Chinese shipping enterprises. He indicated that he was not yet ready to do so but hoped to be in a position to discuss these matters after he had visited shipyards and talked with shipping and Government officials. He admitted that the river shipping would probably be exclusively Chinese but was not sure about coastwise shipping.

He brought up the question of trans-oceanic shipping; said that he had had discussions with Dr. Ling Ping and Mr. William Hunt, who had some months ago discussed the same problem with the Maritime Commission.

I expressed to Mr. Wei my conviction that China’s most urgent problem was the provision for river and coastal shipping; that there would be immediate need for such shipping at the conclusion of the war, whereas questions of oceanic shipping would not be so urgent. He admitted the correctness of this view. He agreed with me that the construction of suitable river ships in the United States, and their transfer to China, would be impracticable, and that the problem was one of obtaining the materials for the construction of these ships in [Page 1045] China. With regard to coastwise shipping, he thought that some of these ships could be produced in the United States or supplied from shipping available in the United States at the conclusion of the war. He thought that Liberty and Victory ships, although not ideal for coastal shipping, could be used for that purpose and for near sea and oceanic freight service.

  1. Tseng Yang-fu.
  2. Foreign Economic Administration.