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Special Message to the Senate on the Effect of the Lansing-Ishii Agreement on China

March 08, 1922

To the Senate:

I have received the resolution (S. Res. 251) requesting me, if not incompatible with the public interest—to advise the Senate as to the present status and binding effect of what is known as the Lansing-Ishii agreement between the United States and the Empire of Japan.

Secondly, as to whether or not the Four-Power pact, now before the Senate for consideration, if ratified, will abrogate, nullify, or in any way modify such agreement, and as to what will be the status of said agreement after the ratification of said Four-Power pact.

The so-called Lansing-Ishii Agreement, signed November 2, 1917, was not a treaty, but was an exchange of notes between the Secretary of State of the United States and Viscount Ishii, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Japan on special mission. It was described in the notes themselves as a public announcement of the desires and intentions shared by the two Governments with regard to China. This exchange of notes, in the nature of things, did not constitute anything more than a declaration of executive policy. It is hardly necessary to point out that such a declaration, or exchange of notes, could not have any effect whatever inconsistent with treaty obligations whether existing or thereafter coming into force.

The statement in the notes in question which apparently called forth your resolution is as follows:

The Governments of the United States and Japan recognize that territorial propinquity creates special relations between countries, and, consequently, the Government of the United States recognizes that Japan has special interests in China, and particularly in the part to which her possessions are contiguous.

In the light of the other declarations of the notes in question, it has been the view of the Government of the United States that this reference to special interests in China did not recognize any right or claim inconsistent with the sovereignty or political independence of China or with our "open-door" policy.

That this was not an erroneous construction appears from the meaning ascribed to the phrase "special interests in China," which is found in the final statement made on behalf of Japan at the recent conference (S. Doc. No. 126, 67th Cong., 2d sess., p. 223). The phrase was interpreted to mean that propinquity gave rise to an interest differing only in degree, but not in kind, as compared with the interests of other Powers. It was said to intimate "no claim or pretension of any kind prejudicial to China or to any other foreign nation," and not to connote "any intention of securing preferential or exclusive economic rights in China.

Happily, as a result of the conference, it is not now necessary to consider any possible ambiguity in the expressions used in the Lansing-Ishii agreement of 1917, as any question which they might have raised has been completely set at rest by the treaty now before the Senate, to which the United States and Japan are parties. I refer to the treaty between the nine Powers which explicitly sets forth the principles and policies to be maintained by the signatory Powers in relation to China.

It is thus agreed to respect the sovereignty, the independence and the territorial and administrative integrity of China; to provide the fullest and most unembarrassed opportunity to develop and maintain for herself an effective and stable government; to use their influence for the purpose of effectually establishing, and maintaining the principle of equal opportunity for the commerce and industry of all nations throughout the territory of China; to refrain from taking advantage of conditions in China in order to secure special rights or privileges which would abridge the rights of subjects or citizens of friendly states, and from countenancing action inimical to the security of such states.

More specifically the signatory Powers agree that they will not seek, nor support their respective nationals in seeking, any arrangement which might purport to establish in favor of their interests any general superiority of rights with respect to commercial or economic development in any! designated region of China, or any such monopoly or privilege as would deprive the nationals of any other Power of the right of undertaking any legitimate trade or industry in China, or of participating with the Chinese Government or with any local authority, in any category of public enterprise, or which by reason of its scope, duration, or geographical extent is calculated to frustrate the practical application of the principle of equal opportunity.

And, further, the signatory Powers agree not to support any agreements by their respective nationals with each other designed to create spheres of influence or to provide for the enjoyment of mutually exclusive opportunities in designated parts of Chinese territory.

The negotiation of this treaty is in itself the most formal declaration of the policy of the Executive in relation to China, and supersedes any Executive understanding or declaration that could possibly be asserted to have any contrary import. If the Senate assents to this treaty, the principles and policies which the treaty declares will be supported and enforced by a binding international agreement.

My answer, then, to your first question is that the so-called Lansing-Ishii Agreement has no binding effect whatever, either with respect to the past or to the future, which is in any sense inconsistent with the principles and policies explicitly declared in the Nine-Power Treaty to which I have referred.

As to your second question, I may say that the Four-Power Treaty does not refer to China and hence does not directly bear upon the Lansing-Ishii notes which related exclusively to China. The Four-Power Treaty, however, is an essential part of the plan to create conditions in the Far East at once favorable to the policies we have long advocated and to an enduring peace.


THE WHITE HOUSE, March 8, 1922.

Warren G. Harding, Special Message to the Senate on the Effect of the Lansing-Ishii Agreement on China Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/329337

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