The Consul General at Dairen (Benninghoff) to the Ambassador in China (Stuart)36

No. 21

Sir: I have the honor to submit some comments and observations on the attitude of Soviet and Chinese officials with respect to this Consulate General. Much of the material contained herein has already been reported in various despatches; references thereto appear at the end of this despatch.37

It will be recalled that after Mr. Sturgeon and party were in Dairen in March 1946 they reported that they had been well received by the Soviet Commandant and other officials, and had been promised assistance and cooperation in setting up an American consular office in Dairen. They were apparently cordially entertained, and were given the impression that when a permanent American staff arrived in Dairen everything possible would be done to facilitate the establishment of the office.

It has since transpired, however, that Mr. Sturgeon and party were obviously carefully escorted on a prearranged schedule, as the Consul of Denmark and another Dane, both of whom knew Mr. Sturgeon several years ago, were unable to arrange to see him despite the fact that his party was in Dairen about a week. The only former acquaintance who saw Mr. Sturgeon was an emigrant Russian now acting as English interpreter for the Commandant, and possessing Soviet nationality. He has intimated in oblique terms that Mr. Sturgeon was sheltered from “foreigners”.

As this office has reported, the first contact of the second American party with the Russians was marked by “correctness” and a certain amount of superficial assistance. No objection was made to opening [Page 1180] the office or to taking up residence in the Bryner house, and coal and telephones were supplied. When the first shipment of coal was used up, however, the prevailing shortage was given as an excuse for the statement that no more was to be had at the official or any other price. Actually, coal at about $20 per ton is readily obtainable in the open market. Similarly, telephone service is bad, repairs are poorly done if at all, and the lines are obviously tapped.

The Russians have been completely non-cooperative in the matter of protecting American property. It has been impossible to inspect the two oil properties despite repeated oral and written requests, while replies to requests to visit the residence of Mr. Morgan, the only other American real property in Dairen, have been obstructionist. In the latter case, documents proving Mr. Morgan’s ownership have been demanded; meanwhile the house is occupied by Soviet officers and is understood to be in bad condition. The documents proving Mr. Morgan’s ownership are available to the Consulate General, but as he has no authorized agent here, this office is reluctant to pursue the matter in view of the probability that once the property is inspected the Russians will maintain that it has been “accepted” in its present condition, and will not entertain any claim which Mr. Morgan might make in the future. There is evidence that the first Russian troops to enter the city looted the district in which the house stands, but as Chinese looters also invaded the area, proof of Russian implication will be difficult or impossible to obtain.

The Consulate General has consistently tried to establish personal relations with the Commandant and staff. They were invited to attend the Memorial Day service, but did not even acknowledge the invitation. Similarly, they were also invited to the Fourth of July reception at my residence; the chief-of-staff, a colonel, was the only Soviet military officer to appear. The first Commandant, Lieut. (now Col.) General Kosloff, definitely avoided accepting social invitations, on the grounds of ill health (probably true), while the present Commandant, Major General Kozhanoff, has not seen fit to set a date for a courtesy call despite three requests made through the chief-of-staff and the interpreter mentioned above. There the matter now stands, and will probably not change until some incident arises which will make it necessary for the Consulate General to approach the “Commandantur”.

An interesting example of the attitude of the Soviet military occurred on the occasion of the birthday of the King of Sweden, when the Swedish Vice Consul held a garden party. The Soviet Vice Consul attended, and while talking to his host he pointed out a Soviet general commanding the local garrison who was passing by in the street, and who was a neighbor of the Swede. The Swedish [Page 1181] Vice Consul, with his Soviet colleague, went out and invited the general to attend the party. The general refused because of “urgent business”. He had just spent two hours witnessing an athletic contest.

Relations with the Soviet Consulate are more cordial personally, but just as unproductive of results. Until June 11, when the Soviet Consul and Vice Consul returned from an extended trip to North China and Nanking, the office was in charge of a minor “Secretary” who was obviously without any authority or standing with the military. The Consul and Vice Consul have proved to be cordial and friendly, but of very little actual assistance. They have returned official calls and have twice visited my residence, on invitation, but have made no attempt to reciprocate. Conversation is limited to very general subjects, and when questioned regarding such matters as the opening of the port, the repatriation of the Japanese, or the make-up of the local Chinese administration, they profess complete ignorance.

With the change in Commandants early in July, the impression has been gained that whenever problems arise this office will be expected to approach the Russians through the Soviet Consulate; this perhaps explains the new Commandant’s failure to set a date for an official call. Just how helpful the Soviet Consulate will be remains to be seen, but as it is anticipated that the problems will chiefly revolve around protection and possible claims, the outlook is not promising.

Relations with Chinese officials of the local administration have progressed along somewhat similar lines. At first the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and other officials were cordial and inclined to be helpful. They readily issued license plates for the Consulate General’s motor vehicles, endorsed certificates of identity for the office’s Chinese employees, and promised assistance and information. Subsequently, when information concerning labor conditions in Dairen, the political structure of the administration, and various statistical data were requested, the replies were vague and no information has been forthcoming. Moreover, on one occasion the Mayor’s secretary intimated to the Consulate General’s interpreter that as the present administration was purely a local one and not in contact with the Central Chinese Government, it would be better to keep relations on a friendly but not too close basis. The endorsement of the certificate of identity of a new Chinese employee is currently being held up pending “investigation” and other obvious excuses. It is interesting to note that the Mayor himself has always accepted invitations to functions, and apparently desires to keep in the good graces of the Americans, probably as “insurance” in case Central Government officials ever take over in this area.

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This change in the attitude of the Chinese officials—and the change is more noticeable than in the case of the Russians because of early evident Chinese cordiality—can probably be ascribed to two related factors. In the first place, it is almost a certainty that the requests for information were first referred to the Russians, who advised (or more likely directed) that the information be withheld. In the second place, the position of the Chinese Communists and Eighth Route Army, both in the municipal organization and in the city as a whole through the Labor Association, has apparently become stronger. Such Chinese are known to be anti-American, chiefly as a result of alleged American military assistance to the Central Government. They are in a position to make life difficult for Chinese who do not follow the party line or who appear to be pro-Kuomintang, and hence can intimidate those who might otherwise be disposed to be friendly to this office. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that the city government chooses to be distant. This attitude was so pronounced that the office’s Chinese interpreter was reluctant to request material for the Consular Sanitary Report despite the fact that information has been received that such material is being compiled by the city government. It is also significant that in the sixteen weeks since our arrival no Chinese of importance has called at the Consulate General.

In order to complete the picture, a description of relations with the approximately 1500 former emigrant Russians seems necessary. It is well known that during the years of Japanese administration these people were anti-Soviet, and there is no reason to suppose that, in general, they have altered their basic convictions. However, they have been forced to take out Soviet nationality; those who have refused have disappeared, including an employee of this Consulate General. The result has been that, probably through intimidation, the Russians who would normally be friendly to Americans are afraid to be seen in American company. For instance, this office received a letter from an American citizen in California seeking information regarding his father, a long-time resident of Dairen. The father was requested through a mutual friend to call, but he sent word that as a Soviet citizen he could not be seen entering the office. Eventually he called on legitimate Soviet business in connection with the shipping trust, of which he is an employee.

In view of the circumstances outlined above, this Consulate General has so far been unable to achieve more than the most formal relations with Soviet and Chinese officials, and with local residents other than the single American citizen and a handful of Danes, Czechs and Greeks. This condition is accentuated by the fact that there is no business to transact. There are no American ships, no telegraphic [Page 1183] communications, no American business men and no mutual problems. The protection of American property is the sole question at issue, and that cannot be discussed further until each side has received detailed instructions on how to proceed.

Respectfully yours,

H. Merrell Benninghoff
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department without covering despatch; received about October 16.
  2. List of references not printed.