The Ambassador in China (Stuart) to the Secretary of State

No. 342

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Military Attaché’s13 Report No. R–576–48 of July 31, 1948,14 which should be available to the Department, regarding the refusal of the Ministry of National Defense to permit the Air Attaché’s15 plane to proceed beyond Lanchow en-route to Tihwa, even though prior clearance for the flight had been obtained, and to enclose for the Department’s information a copy of a memorandum on this subject prepared by the Minister-Counselor16 who was using the plane in question in an effort to inspect the Consulate in Tihwa and to carry supplies there.

Two things seem to stand out from the reports of this incident:

There exists a Sino-Soviet air agreement signed in Chungking, September 9, 1939, in a weak moment by the Chinese Minister of Communications with the Soviet Government, under which only Soviet and Chinese planes may fly in the China Northwest; and
The fact that the Chinese Government, in spite of the great scarcity of United States dollars, was prepared to expend about US$24,000 chartering a CNAC17 plane to carry the Minister-Counselor to Tihwa in order to avoid giving the Soviets an excuse for stirring up trouble in the Northwest.

In strict confidence we were informed that the Chinese Government about two weeks ago, or since this incident arose, has taken advantage of the provisions of the Sino-Soviet air agreement to denounce it so that it will cease to be in effect September 9, 1949. A copy of the agreement has been obtained in confidence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and forms the subject of the Embassy’s telegram No. 1489, August 12.18

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As matters now stand, and unless we are directed by the Department to pursue the matter further, no American planes will henceforth be allowed to proceed west of Lanchow on official flights of this Mission. We are reluctant at this stage to suggest that we be instructed to pursue the matter further in view of the fact that the Chinese, from the Generalissimo19 down, have intimated so clearly to us from time to time that China is just not prepared to take a strong stand in respect of the Soviet Union until it has a reasonable expectation of firm, effective and continued support from the United States.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Lewis Clark

Minister-Counselor of Embassy

Memorandum by the Minister-Counselor of Embassy in China (Clark)

General Soule in his report No. R–576–48, July 31, 1948, seems to have covered rather well the background of my unsuccessful effort to visit Tihwa, so I shall outline below only those things of which I have personal cognizance and which are not included in General Soule’s report.

In the telegram which I despatched from Lanchow to the Ambassador on Monday, July 26, I mentioned our information to the effect that our plane had been grounded under instructions from the Minister of National Defense himself and requested the Ambassador to intervene with General Ho Ying-chin to obtain permission for us to continue our journey.

At the dinner given by General Chang Chih-chung, but at which he was not present that evening, I gathered the distinct impression that it was General Chang who was holding up our flight because he had not been previously notified of our plans. Accordingly, the following morning I arranged to go pay my respects to the General at Hsi Lun Shan, about 65 miles outside Lanchow. General Chang supplied the transportation. When we arrived, he was most pleasant; did seem a little bit put out that he had not been notified in advance of our arrival, but showed every willingness to be helpful and promised to send a telegram to Nanking urging that we be permitted to continue our journey. He later telephoned: into Lanchow saying he had actually despatched the telegram.

Immediately upon my return to Nanking, and after consultation with the Ambassador, I sought an interview with the Foreign Minister20 [Page 736] to find out why I had been stopped. He was in Mokanshan, but immediately upon his return he gave me an appointment and I saw him on Saturday morning, July 31. With some heat or severity I told him of the cavalier manner in which I had been treated in Lanchow and insisted that in order to restore my prestige in my official position it was necessary that I return via Lanchow to Tihwa in the same airplane. He seemed much surprised that the plane had been Stopped after prior permission had been granted and promised to look into the matter and let me know. He endeavored to deny that there was any Soviet aspect of the problem, saying no Soviet protest had been made to the Foreign Office.

The following Tuesday Dr. Tung Lin, Director of the American Section of the Foreign Office, told me the Minister had asked him to see me regarding my flight to Tihwa. Dr. Tung said that he had been instructed to offer to send me to Tihwa in a plane supplied by the Chinese Government. After insisting for some time that my prestige could only be re-established by returning in the same plane, and pointing out that the four-motored plane had been specifically provided for the Embassy for such trips, and remarking that I was unwilling to risk my life over the mountains in less than a four-motored plane, I finally, under Dr. Tung’s insistence, agreed to consider the possibility of accepting passage in a four-motored plane to be supplied by the Chinese Government. (So far as I knew, and I mentioned it to Dr. Tung, the only suitable four-motored plane in the possession of the Chinese Government was the Gimo’s Skymaster.) I made the reservation, however, that I would have to obtain the Ambassador’s approval before accepting such transportation as the Ambassador felt rather strongly I should return in the same plane.

On August 9 Dr. Tung telephoned to say that he had been able to arrange for a DC–4 plane to take me to Tihwa, wait for me and bring me back on my revised schedule or at any time convenient. Further inquiry revealed that under instructions from the Prime Minister,21 the Chinese Government was preparing to divert from its regular Trun a CNAC Skymaster to take me to Tihwa and return at an estimated cost of around US$24,000. I immediately told Dr. Tung that I could not accept this arrangement until I had spoken to the Ambassador, particularly as it seemed to me a crime for the Chinese Government, short as it is of U. S. dollars, to be spending $24,000 just to prevent me from going to Tihwa in our own Embassy plane. I discussed this problem with the Ambassador who was seeing the Gimo that afternoon and promised to take the matter up with him. The Ambassador planned to suggest to the Gimo that the Chinese Government [Page 737] go informally to the Soviet Embassy and explain that the plane carried no armament whatsoever, was engaged in a peaceful mission, and could in no way be a threat to the Soviet Union. This he did, and the Gimo replied that it would be much better, he believed, for us as well as for China, if we would let the matter drop. The Russians had made no specific protest and he didn’t believe they would get themselves into the position of making a protest. There was some sort of an agreement, he said, between the Soviets and the Chinese which had been forced on the Chinese in a weak moment, under the terms of which the Chinese had agreed that no planes other than Soviet or Chinese planes would be allowed to fly in the Sinkiang area. He wasn’t sure whether the agreement was still in effect, but it didn’t make much difference as the Soviets considered it still to be in effect and if the Chinese continued to let our planes fly to Tihwa, the Soviets would not protest, but by various means they would make the life of the local officials in the Northwest so miserable that it really wouldn’t be worthwhile. He felt that he owed it to the local officials in the Northwest not to subject them to such indignities. He hoped, therefore, that we would consent to use only Chinese aircraft in flying personnel or supplies to Tihwa and suggested that I use the plane which was being put at my disposal under his instructions.

With this information I called at the Foreign Office on August 10 and saw Dr. Tung. I told him flatly that, having consulted with the Ambassador, we were unwilling to let the Chinese Government spend US$24,000 to get me to Tihwa and that, accordingly, he could cancel his plans for the charter of the CNAC plane. I then recounted to Mm what the Gimo had said to the Ambassador, and said I would try to forget the indignity to me if he would let me have a copy of the agreement to which the Gimo had referred. Dr. Tung promised to endeavor to secure a copy of the agreement for me and he telephoned later to say that he had checked with the Foreign Minister and there had, in fact, been an agreement back in the early days of the war with Japan, signed by the Minister of Communications with the Soviets. It was a Sino-Soviet air agreement dealing with the services of a single Soviet line between Hami, Tihwa and the Soviet Union. The term of the agreement was for ten (10) years and it was subject to cancellation on one year’s notice. Dr. Tung told me in confidence that a couple of weeks ago the Chinese had served notice on the Soviet Government that they would terminate that agreement in one year. On my insistence that he get me a copy of the agreement, he promised to see what he could do.

L[ewis] C[lark]
  1. Brig. Gen. Robert H. Soule.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Lt. Col. A. T. House, Jr.
  4. Lewis Clark.
  5. Chinese National Aviation Corporation.
  6. Infra.
  7. Chiang Kai-shek, President of the Republic of China.
  8. Wang Shih-chieh.
  9. Wong Wen-hao.