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21, 1922 241
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 Vnited 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 suzerainty 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.3
i Journal of 8. Wells Williams; Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XLH, 1011, p. 61; W. A. P. Martin, Cycle of Cathy, p. 185, gives a different and probably inaccurate account of the incident.
* 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, S. Ex. Doc. 30, 36-1; also the Williams Journal.
s William Elliot Griffis, Korea, the Hermit Nation, Chap. XLVI; Foreign Relations, 1871, p. 73, Low to Fish, Nov. 22, 1870; p. Ill, 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.