No. 3
Memorandum by the Secretary of State to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Eden)


At the President’s direction I submit this memorandum following the discussion between the President and the Prime Minister, with ourselves present, held on Saturday night, January 5th, aboard the Williamsburg, on the subject of China trade.1

The President expressed himself as seriously concerned over indications that the United Kingdom was continuing to give substantial assistance to Communist China through trade in strategic and other materials from British sources or carried on British flag vessels.

The information furnished the President by the Chief of Naval Operations,2 upon which he based his remarks, is as follows:

Between 1 July 1950 and 30 November 1951 a total of at least 167 British registered and British owned merchant ships have engaged in trade with Communist China. The total gross tonnage of these ships is over one million. British controlled shipping accounted for over half of the non-Communist registered shipping tonnage in the China trade in this period.

There are at least 163 ships registered in other non-Communist countries which were, between 1 July 1950 and 30 November 1951, engaged in trade with Communist China. The total gross tonnage of these ships is slightly less than one million.

Over the period stated above, the monthly average of voyages of British ships engaged in the China trade has been forty-eight. Since mid-summer there has been a reduction in the number of monthly voyages of these ships. In September there were thirty-six, in October thirty-one and in November thirty. This decrease in British owned tonnage is partially offset by an increase in Communist flag traffic to China, especially Polish. Communist charters of British registered shipping to handle normal trade to India and South America has released Polish flag vessels for the China trade. In addition continuing Communist ship purchases are being employed almost exclusively in China trade.

We estimate that Communist China imported a minimum of 600,000 short tons per month by ship during 1951. This compares with an estimated monthly eastbound capacity for the Trans-Siberian Railroad of 670,000 short tons.

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Although the voyages of British registered and owned ships in the China trade have decreased in the last few months, British citizens have sold to the Soviet bloc at least twelve ships through intermediaries. Negotiations are believed to be currently underway for the sale of at least four others.

Regardless of whether the cargo which is being delivered to China by sea comprises material which directly contributes to the war effort, it is clear that the interdiction of this sea-borne traffic would have a serious and probably critical effect on the Chinese economy which would, of course, directly affect China’s war making potential. In the absence of a sea-borne traffic China could not import more than a very small part of the equivalent tonnage by overland routes. The major route is, of course, the Trans-Siberian Railroad which is probably now already operating to near capacity.3

I would appreciate it if the appropriate authorities of your Government could look into the situation and take such measures as appear suitable in the circumstances.4

Dean Acheson
  1. President Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill held discussions in Washington, Jan. 5–8 and Jan. 18; for related documentation, see volume vi.
  2. Adm. William N. Fechteler.
  3. The preceding paragraphs were excerpted from a memorandum of Jan. 2 from Admiral Fechteler to the President. (Truman Library, Truman papers, PSF–General file)
  4. Subsequent discussions in Washington led to the preparation of a joint U.S.–British study of Apr. 17, 1952, on the effectiveness of trade controls against Communist China; the study has not been found in Department of State files, but see Acheson’s memorandum to the President, Document 54.