123 Benninghoff, H. Merrell

The Consul General at Dairen (Benninghoff) to the Chargé in China (Robertson)19

No. 1

Sir: I have the honor to submit an account of my initial activities in Dairen since the arrival of myself and staff on the M. V. Check Knot on April 7, 1946. It was apparent from the moment the ship tied up at the dock that our arrival had been anticipated, as a group of Russian and Chinese officials, including the Harbor Master, the Chief of Police of the Port Area, and a representative of the local Soviet Commander, boarded the vessel and made us welcome. Two trucks were made available to transport our baggage and supplies, and within two hours we were installed in the former Yamato Hotel, now known as the Red Star Hotel.

Courtesy Calls

It was not until eight days later, on April 15, that I was able to arrange a call on Lieut. General G. K. Kosloff, Commanding General of Soviet Forces in Dairen. The General was cordial in his welcome, and stated that he had been apprised in advance of our arrival and that we would be permitted to open a consular office. The various subjects discussed in this conversation are covered separately below. During the conversation, the General was at particular pains to point out that the Soviet Union, by virtue of its Treaty with China of August 14, 1945, enjoys special rights in the “Port Arthur Naval Base Area” (somewhat smaller than the former Kwantung Leased Territory), and that, as provided in the agreements concerning Port Arthur and Dairen attached to the Treaty, Soviet military regulations are applicable in the free port of Dairen as long as a state of war exists between Japan and the Allied Powers.

On April 20, a call was made on the Mayor of Dairen, Che Tse-hsiang, and the Vice Mayor, Chen Yuan-tou. The conversation was largely of a formal character, and after the usual introductory amenities, was devoted to such generalities as the desirability of reopening the port to commerce and shipping as soon as possible.

Calls have also been made at the Soviet, Danish and Swedish Consulates, the only other such establishments now in Dairen. I have also indicated a desire to call on the Commanding General at Port Arthur, but have been informed that he is indisposed and will receive me at a later date.

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Communications

Dairen is practically devoid of normal communication facilities. Postal services are completely suspended and the only telegraphic facilities are those controlled by the Russians. There is a Soviet passenger air service to Harbin, but this no longer calls at Mukden or Changchun. Ships do not sail to other than Soviet ports, and the railway to Mukden is not operating because of “plague” to the north.

During my call on General Kosloff, I raised the question of sending telegrams to the Embassy, as well as to other consulates in China and to the Department, stating that it would be impossible for me to carry out my duties unless I was able to communicate freely with the Embassy and with the Department. The General replied that as the Chinese Government had not yet opened commercial telecommunication facilities in Dairen, the only channel remaining was that provided by the Soviet Army. He admitted that his operators could very easily get in touch with non-Soviet radio stations, but he added that he could not authorize them to do this without specific instructions from Moscow. He suggested that I follow the example of the Danish and Swedish Consulates and ask the Soviet Consulate to transmit a message through the Soviet Foreign Office to the American Embassy in Moscow, requesting that the problem of communications be taken up at the government level. (It will be recalled that the General made this same suggestion to Consul General Leo D. Sturgeon when the latter visited Dairen early in March). Accordingly, the Soviet Consulate on April 17 accepted a message in the Russian language from me to the American Embassy in Moscow reporting my arrival and requesting that the question of telegrams be taken up with the Soviet Government. A reply thereto has not yet been received.

When I raised the question of whether this office could bring in and use its own radio transmitter, the General referred to the special treaty position of the U. S. S. R. in this area and said that the matter would have to be arranged between the governments concerned. In a later conversation, the representative of the Soviet Consulate raised the question of the attitude of the Chinese Government, but I assured him that as American offices elsewhere in China had radio facilities, I did not believe that the Chinese Government would object to their being installed in Dairen.

Courier Service

General Kosloff, as well as the representative of the Soviet Consulate, gave every indication that facilities would be extended to diplomatic couriers, and offered to arrange plane priorities for a courier, or for a member of my staff acting as such. As stated above, [Page 1165]however, Soviet aircraft do not stop between here and Harbin, and at present I know of no advantage to be gained by sending a messenger to that city. From the tone of the General’s conversation, I believe that properly accredited couriers will experience no difficulty with the Russians as soon as rail and other travel facilities are again available.

Protection of American Interests

During my call on the General, I said that as one of my duties was the protection of American properties, I should like to inspect them as opportunity offered. I mentioned that the most important were the installations of the Standard Vacuum Oil Company and the Texas Company (China) Ltd., but that there were other American properties which I was then endeavoring to identify. The General in reply gave me the “freedom of the city” with the exception of the port area where the oil installations are located. He said that the question of visiting these properties would have to be referred to his superiors. A few days later he sent me a message which, while not an absolute refusal, expressed a desire to “keep the question open” for the time being. (I became familiar with this device during the Joint U. S. Soviet Conference in Korea.) The message added that the installations were intact and not in use, which information is apparently accurate insofar as it can be checked by observation from a distance.

When American properties are identified and their condition ascertained, individual reports thereon will be submitted.

Quarters

This office has been temporarily installed in the offices of Bryner and Company, a Swiss transportation and shipping firm, now doing practically no business. The company’s godown, in which the American consular property was stored during the war, occupies the ground floor with the offices just above. The arrangement is convenient in that it gives us easy access to the equipment, which, for lack of space, cannot be moved upstairs, but eventually more commodious and private office quarters must be found.

Messrs. Hope, Coffey and myself have rented the home of Mr. Felix Bryner, which is located in the best residential section of the city. The question of housing will become acute when Foreign Service families are permitted to come to Dairen. The influx of the Red Army with no corresponding decrease in the Japanese population has created a serious shortage.

The question of rental or purchase of realty is complicated by the apparent lack of any policy or program concerning Japanese property, and by the possibility that any contract negotiated now might be invalidated by future action of the Chinese Government.

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Opening of Office to Public

I have not yet opened this office to the public, in the sense of performing routine consular services. The chief reason is that it has so far been impossible to open the safes containing the seals, legend machine, and the rubber stamps for passports, visas and the like; the safe combinations were supposed to be among the papers handed me in Shanghai, but such was not the case, and I received no reply to my urgent telegram on the subject to the Department from Tsingtao. Local locksmiths are endeavoring to open the safes, but so far without success, and I hesitate to have them blown or drilled open until such drastic measures are warranted.

This delay in opening the office is not of great importance, however, as the only persons requiring routine services can well afford to wait for their passports, visas, notarials et cetera until such time as transportation and communications are again available.

In the meantime, I am calling on officials and receiving callers and otherwise making the reappearance of American officials felt in Dairen.

Respectfully yours,

H. Merrell Benninghoff
  1. Addressed to Walter S. Robertson as technically Chargé. Mr. Robertson was actually in Peiping as American Commissioner of Executive Headquarters set up in connection with efforts to stop fighting between Chinese Nationalist Government forces and Chinese Communists.