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AMERICAN “GOOD OFFICES" IN ASIA
By TYLER DENNETT
The first article of the American treaty with China, June 18, 1858, reads:
There shall be, as there have always been, peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Ta Tsing Empire, and between their peoples, respectively. They shall not insult or oppress each other for any trifling cause, so as to produce an estrangement between them; and if any other nation should act unjustly or oppressively, the United States will exert their good offices, on being informed of the case, to bring about an amicable arrangement of the question, thus showing their friendly feelings.
This solemn engagement, the clumsy language of which leaves open the inference that insults and oppressions are not prohibited if the cause is more than trifling, and also involves the United States, in offering good offices, in prejudgment of the case, appears in slightly different phraseology in Article 1 of the American treaty with Korea, signed May 22, 1882, at the mouth of the Salee River.
By these treaties, therefore, the United States assumed toward the two nations respectively, a peculiar relationship. No other treaty with China contained such a provision, and, while the other treaties of Korea with foreign powers substantially copied from the American treaty the provision for good offices, it was to the United States, as a thoroughly disinterested yet friendly power, that both Korea and China began to look in times of adversity. While no similar provision was included in any treaty between the United States and Japan, nevertheless, the very intimate and friendly relations of Japan with the United States served a similar purpose so that the United States for many years occupied towards Japan a position very similar.
Before tracing the subsequent actions of the government of the United States, in the fulfillment of this peculiar relation, it will be well to review the circumstances which led to the insertion of these clauses into the treaties.
The awkward phraseology of the clause in the treaty with China is accounted for by the fact that it was written by a secretary of the Chinese Commissioners.
The circumstances were tragic. For fourteen years the Chinese Empire had held the foreign powers at bay, limiting them to the five open ports, and treating their representatives as well as their subjects or citizens with very little respect. Meanwhile, the Empire had been torn with the greatest rebellion the world has ever known. At length England and France rose in wrath. Russia and the United States, while pledged to use only peaceful measures, were in entire agreement that the disdainful, conceited, exclusive policy of China must end. The English and the French occupied Canton, sailed north and reduced the Taku forts in the Pei-ho, and presented themselves at Tientsin with the threat that only the appearance of Chinese plenipotentiaries could prevent an advance upon Peking and upon the Emperor himself. The Russians and the Americans, whose negotiations with the Chinese had been interrupted by the battle of Taku, followed Lord Elgin and Baron Gros to Tientsin, and resumed the negotiations under circumstances made more favorable by the recent Chinese defeat.1
Lord Elgin was inexorable. Relentlessly he forced the Chinese Commissioners to retire from one contention after another until it seemed that they were about to sign away their sovereign rights. He demanded the right of diplomatic residence in Peking, and the opening of the Yangtse for trade; it was plain to the Chinese Commissioners that the troubles of China would be multiplied as the foreigners overran the Empire and the possible points of irritation were infinitely multiplied. While the Chinese were in this mood, the Americans brought the final draft of the American treaty to them for approval. A Chinese secretary seized his brush and wrote into the American treaty the clause to which our attention is called.
The circumstances under which a similar clause was inserted into the American treaty with Korea were equally dramatic. The United States made its first effort to negotiate such a treaty in 1871.
Before approaching the government of the country directly, Mr. F. F. Low, the American Minister at Peking, had taken the matter up with the Chinese authorities in Peking, inviting their approval and good offices. This seemed important because of a somewhat evanescent claim to suze rainty over Korea which was asserted by China whenever it did not involve the assumption of any liability for Korean bad behavior. The expedition of 1871 failed utterly, and Mr. Low became convinced that this was in no small part due to the failure of the Chinese Government to give it a sincere approval.
1 Journal of S. Wells Williams; Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XLII, 1911, p. 61; W. A. P. Martin, Cycle of Cathy, p. 185, gives a different and probably inaccurate account of the incident.
2 For the details of the negotiations of William B. Reed, the American Minister, and 8. Wells Williams, the secretary of the legation, see Reed Correspondence, 8. Ex. Doc. 30, 36-1; also the Williams Journal.
3 William Elliot Griffis, Korea, the Hermit Nation, Chap. XLVI; Foreign Relations, 1871, p. 73, Low to Fish, Nov. 22, 1870; p. 111, Low to Fish, Apr. 3, 1871; p. 116, Low to Fish, May 31, 1871; p. 121, Low to Fish, June 2, 1871; p. 124, Low to Fish, June 15, 1871; p. 142, Low to Fish, July 6, 1871.
Having tried to approach the Koreans through China, and having failed, the next attempt to make a treaty with Korea was directed through Japan. In 1880, Commodore R. W. Shufeldt entered the harbor of Fusan in the U. S. S. Ticonderoga, armed with credentials to negotiate a treaty, and fortified with letters of introduction from Japan. These letters were significant, for four years before the Japanese had succeeded in negotiating a treaty with Korea in which was inserted: “Chosen, being an independent state, enjoys the same sovereign rights as does Nippon." In other words, , Japan had secured from Korea a statement which undermined the assertion of suzerainty made by China. The attempt of Shufeldt to deal with Korea through Japan, was an indication that the United States shared, with reference to Korea, the views held by China's rival.“
The first Shufeldt Mission failed as completely as the Low-Rodgers Mission had failed, and many well informed people believed that it had failed because the Japanese did not, any more than the Chinese, desire to see Korea opened freely to the trade of all nations.
At any rate Li Hung Chang did not overlook the implications to be found in the fact that an American Commissioner to Korea had carried a letter of introduction from Tokio. Already the relations between China and Japan were becoming strained over Korea. Russia was also pressing down upon China; the Kuldja dispute was not settled. The astute Viceroy foresaw the struggle with both Japan and Russia in which China would have to engage at no very distant day in order to maintain the asserted suzerainty over Korea. Looking at the peninsula with a soldier's eye, Li Hung Chang saw in Korea the outer ramparts of the Chinese Empire. Whoever held Korea could be a formidable menace to China. But the Viceroy knew that, if the matter were to come to blows with either Japan or Russia, China unaided, would be quite unable to maintain its claim over Korea.
Facing this difficult political situation, Li lost no time in sending an invitation to Commodore Shufeldt to come to Tientsin. Even before a conference took place, he intimated to the American Commissioner that China would give assistance in securing a treaty between the United States and Korea. The Viceroy would appear to have been moved by the following considerations: (1) the opening of Korea could not long be postponed and therefore it was better that the first treaty, which would be the model for the others, should be with the United States; (2) it might also be possible to effect a treaty by which the United States would in some measure become a guarantor that Korea would not be conquered, or sequestered by a Commodore Shufeldt returned to China in the latter part of 1881 and spent the winter in Tientsin where he had frequent conferences with Li Hung Chang and various drafts of a proposed treaty with Korea were drawn up and compared. The Viceroy's first draft contained the good-offices clause, and in all the various revisions it was retained. The treaty was approved in its final form by Li Hung Chang, sent to Korea with his approval, and Shufeldt followed a day later. He experienced no difficulty whatever in securing the signatures of the Korean Commissioners. The Chinese, as well as the Koreans, were delighted; the Japanese were in equal measure aggrieved. A few years later, however, the Japanese were well pleased for they saw in the treaty, the text of which assumed the independence of Korea, an underwriting of their treaty of 1876.
- Charles Oscar Paullin, The Opening of Korea by Commodore Shufeldt, Pol. Sci. Quart. Vol. XXV, No. 3, pp. 478 ff.; China Despatches, Vol. 55, No. 21, Angell to Secretary of State, Sept. 27, 1880; Vol. 57, No. 30, Holcombe to Secretary of State, Dec. 19, 1881.
Such, in its briefest form, was the situation when the United States engaged to use its good offices for Korea.5
The impression is so wide-spread that the United States proved a false friend in these engagements to two weak and defenceless states that it is especially important to note the actual history relating to them.
In the summer of 1859, the representatives of Great Britain, France and the United States met in Shanghai prepared to exchange the ratifications of the treaties of Tientsin. The British and the French were intent upon proceeding to Tientsin, with naval and military escorts suited to their dignity, and thence advancing to Peking where the ratifications were to be exchanged. The Chinese were equally intent on preventing the missions from proceeding to Peking by way of Tientsin, and were hardly less reluctant to have the missions accompanied by more than a very modest guard. The British were very insistent, and very impatient. It is, indeed, difficult to resist the conclusion that they were bent upon picking a quarrel. They accused the Chinese of bad faith and of being unwilling to admit the passage of the missions to Peking. The Chinese replied that they were
5 Reports of the Shufeldt negotiations with Li Hung Chang and with the Korean Commissioners are to be found in the China Despatches, Vols. 55, 57, 58, 59, filed according to dates; Angell to Secretary of State, No. 30, Oct. 11, 1880; No. 33, Oct. 22, 1880; Holcombe to Secretary of State, No. 30, Dec. 19, 1881; No. 37, Dec. 29, 1881; Shufeldt to Secretary of State, July 1, 1881, Jan. 20, Jan. 23, Mar. 11, Mar. 28, April 10, April 28, May 13, May 22, May 24, May 29, June 8, June 12, and June 26, 1882.
For the international relations of Japan throughout the period under discussion see article by Nagao Ariga on “Japanese Diplomacy” in Alfred Stead [Ed.], Japan by the Japanese, London, 1904, Chap. XI. This chapter, an unblushing account of the motives and methods of Japanese diplomacy from 1860 to 1900, contains evidence of having been prepared from official records, and may be accepted as semi-official in its statements. References to this chapter in the following pages would be so numerous as to be wearisome, and are, therefore, except in a few cases, omitted.
willing that the ratifications be exchanged in Peking, but the path by way of Tientsin was barred.
The British and French envoys attempted to force their way up to Tientsin past the Taku Forts. On June 25, 1859, the batteries opened upon each other and after a bloody battle in the midst of which was born the famous “blood is thicker than water” incident,' the allies forced to retire. The United States Minister, John E. Ward, who was by no means an impartial spectator of the battle, and yet who was bound to the strictest neutrality by his instructions, succeeded in getting into communication with the Chinese and experienced little difficulty in reaching Peking by a route which the Chinese had selected.
Meanwhile, the Chinese, becoming alarmed by their success at Taku and by the ominous silence which followed, invited the good offices of Minister Ward to mediate with the representatives of England and France, with a view to peace. Ward replied that even before his services had been requested he had tried to mediate, but that at that time there had been no one willing to receive his message. He was still disposed to use his good offices if they were requested, but suggested that it would be well for the Chinese first to ratify the treaty. Notwithstanding this apparent desire to deal with the United States on a basis of peculiar friendship. Ward and his party were miserably treated at Peking. When he returned to the South, he wrote in a private letter to Secretary of State Cass, February 13, 1860,9 that he felt it to be his duty to keep aloof from the approaching struggle unless his good offices were again requested. But the Chinese were at that time too distracted to think of such measures and as for the British and the French, they would have scorned any other than military measures. They were determined to administer to China such a chastisement as the Empire would never forget, and they succeeded completely in the autumn of 1860.
The second occasion for the mediation of the United States in Asia did not fall directly under the provisions of any treaty and yet a note of it is important for it shows that in its desire to seek peace and the welfare of the
6 The British despatches, and the British and French historians all unite in the indictment of bad faith on the part of the Chinese. See, Correspondence with Mr. Bruce, 1859; correspondence respecting China, 1859-60; Cordier, Expedition de Chine, 1860; Douglas, Europe in the Far East, p. 113 ff.
The American records, however (see Ward Correspondence, S. Ex. Doc. 30, 36-1, pp. 575 ff., particularly p. 611; Williams Journal, p. 143), make it practically certain that the Chinese were acting in all sincerity and according to the provisions of the treaty.
7 For brief account, see U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 40, p. 1085. 8 Ward Correspondence, Desp. of Aug. 20, 1859, p. 594. Williams Journal, p. 153. 9 China Despatches, Vol. 19, Ward to Cass, Feb. 13, 1860.