The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
"It is a remarkable fact that, with the exception of a part of one session which was devoted to the situation in Siberia, the entire work of the Conference at Washington, so far as it dealt with political questions in the Pacific and the Far East, was concerned with the affairs of China."--W. W. WILLOUGHBY, China at the Conference: A Report, Preface, p. iii.
WHATEVER the future may hold in store, the work of the Washington Conference in reference, directly and indirectly, to the affairs of China and to the relations of the powers thereto has placed the whole problem of the Pacific and the Far East on a new basis and has given China an opportunity for self-salvation better than she has enjoyed at any time in recent decades.
The Conference committed the powers collectively to the principle of maintaining the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and administrative integrity of China; it reaffirmed and defined the principle of equality of opportunity and treatment for the commercial and economic interests in China of all nations; it condemned, circumscribed and took steps toward abolishing the practice in China of spheres of influence and interest. It did much more, but if it had produced only the Treaty between the Nine Powers Relating to Principles and Policies to be Followed in Matters Concerning China, this achievement alone would more than justify the efforts which it involved. A distinct advance must be recorded in international relations when the foremost statesmen of several great nations recognize that the giving of pledges to observe the principle of the "open door" and the prosecution of practices based on the assumption of special rights in "spheres of interest" are inconsistent, when they admit and affirm that the two courses cannot be reconciled, and when they undertake "not to enter into any treaty, agreement, arrangement, or understanding . . . which would infringe or impair the principles" of the open door policy and "not to support any agreements by their respective nationals . . . designed to create Spheres of Influence."
It has generally been understood that the term "open door policy" relates to the principle of equality of commercial opportunity--and so it does--but it involves not this principle alone. There is a necessary corollary. Equality of commercial opportunity can prevail in respect to a given territorial entity only while and so long as certain political conditions prevail within that territory and between it and other entities. Twenty-five years ago there was serious talk of partitioning China. Since then there have been in operation forces undermining that country's integrity, both administrative and territorial. As between partition and the inevitable tendencies of spheres of interest there is a difference only in degree. While spheres of interest are emphasized, while special interests are accorded special recognition, while exclusive and preferential rights are enjoyed by particular foreign countries in particular regions, so long as some nations contemplate the possibility that portions of another's territory may come ultimately within their political systems, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country thus under observation are menaced, and the principle of equality of opportunity is in practice impaired. Such at least are the conclusions to be drawn from the recent history of China. Shantung and Manchuria after 1898 afford obvious examples. The maintenance of the administrative and territorial integrity of China seems an indispensable condition to an effective general application of the principle of equality of economic opportunity in China. The two principles together constitute the essential features of a bona fide open door policy.
There has been a diversity of counsels as to what should be done with, to, about, and--occasionally--for China. Differences of opinion on these subjects have coincided in a measure with differences in theories and practices of foreign policy and with differences in opinions regarding what China is and what the Chinese people can, may and should be expected to do. There have been counsels of compulsion, calling for interventions; there have been counsels of conquest, by peaceful or by forceful means, looking toward partition; and there have been counsels of patient and sympathetic persuasion, of assistance, moral and material, to the end that the Chinese people may work out their own problems and resolve the perplexities of readjustment and reconstruction in their own way.
It has frequently been asserted in recent years that the United States has had "no Far Eastern policy," or has had "no China policy." The authors of this assertion have failed to distinguish between policy and plan of action. The United States has had a perfectly clear and consistent China policy, insofar as policy connotes principles. The chief obstacle to an easy realization of this has been the fact that this policy has had no peculiar and conspicuous objective which would give it a distinctive character; it has been simply a particular application of the traditional and fundamental general principles of American foreign policy. These principles are: (1) in general, respect for the legal and moral rights of other states and peoples--with expectation of like treatment in return; (2) in regard to commerce, equality of opportunity and treatment--on the basis of conditional most-favorednation practice; (3) in political relations, abstention from alliances and from aggression; (4) in diplomatic approach, persuasion rather than coercion. There have been some inconsistencies in practice, but they have been few and have been due to the lack of continuity which prevails in the American system of administration rather than to deliberate and conscious intent.
During the negotiation of the first treaty between the United States and China, Caleb Cushing stated in a formal memorandum to the Chinese: "We do not desire any portion of the territory of China, nor any terms and conditions whatever which should be otherwise than just and honorable to China as well as to the United States." Twenty years later, Anson Burlingame endeavored to secure concerted action on the part of the powers, with a substitution of "fair diplomatic action in China for force." The principles advocated and practiced in the China policy of the United States have been: recognition of China's rights as a sovereign state; effort to ensure equality of commercial opportunity; opposition to activities threatening to impair China's territorial and administrative entity; and cooperation on the part of the powers in dealing with China. Whether dictated by idealism or by considerations of self-interest, whether enlightened or unenlightened, these have been the constant features of a clearly traceable record of diplomatic effort.
There was no new principle involved in the proposal which Secretary Hay put forward in 1899 on behalf of equality of opportunity in "spheres of whatever influence or interest" in China. There was merely a specific application to a particular situation. For some time prior to and during the feverish "scramble for concessions" of the years 1894-1899, the staking out of spheres of influence or interest, the leasing of Chinese ports, and the acquisition of monopolistic grants and special privileges had been apparently the chief preoccupation of some of the legations at Peking. The United States had taken no part in these activities and had acquired no grants and no assurances. Some action was required, in defense of American interests, to remove uncertainty and to guard against possible misunderstandings. There were distinct limitations to what a diplomatic proposal by the United States might be expected to accomplish. Taking full cognizance of the complicated situation, of the network of commitments in which the rights and interests of the powers had been expanded and those of China compromised, Secretary Hay undertook simply to make the best of the situation and to secure some definition of the general rights upon which the United States and other nations might rely under the conditions actually prevailing.
The replies of the powers to the Notes of 1899 gave some measure of assurance. But there remained the possibility that spheres of interest would be developed into cessions and annexations. With the passing of any part of China into the political system of another power, tariff barriers would presumably go up and equality of commercial opportunity in that region would be, as between the annexing power and others, at an end. Therefore, when the events of 1900 placed the political future of China in doubt, Hay announced in clear terms that it was the policy of the United States to seek a solution which would "preserve Chinese territorial and administrative entity." He hoped that the other powers would declare themselves committed to the same principle. All the great powers forthwith affirmed, in one way or another, their devotion to this principle.
Thus formulated, the "Hay policy" was, like the Monroe Doctrine, not a rule of law, but a declaration of intentions. It had from the outset, however, what the Monroe Doctrine has not had, a quasi legal international status, in that both of its features were assented to and were positively affirmed not alone by the United States but by the other principal world powers.
It should be noted that the pledges of the years 1899 and 1900 did not have the character of treaties; still less were they embodied in a general international act; and they did not involve the consent and the participation of China. They were a collection of declarations, made by the United States in the first instance, and, at its suggestion, by a number of other powers individually.
In that respect, to begin with, the status of the open door policy during the twenty years which followed its enunciation must be compared and contrasted with the more formal recognition which has been given to its principles in the deliberations and formal declarations of the Washington Conference.
The events of 1899-1901--the decision of the Manchu Court to grant no more leases and to make no more concessions, the defeat of the attempt made by the Boxers and the Court to expel the foreigner and to destroy all of his works, the Hay Notes, the British-German agreement of 1900, the formulation and acceptance of the provisions of the Protocol of 1901 by the twelve powers chiefly concerned, including China, and the new frame of mind in which the Empress Dowager took up the task of reconstruction and reform--these in some measure clarified the situation but did not materially simplify the problems which were by that time inherent in it. The existence of the leased territories and the survival and extension of the principle and practice of spheres of interest were destined to be the roots of much political and economic difficulty. They were obstacles over which Hay's China policy was bound to trip and stumble; they became instrumentalities in whose presence it was repeatedly shown and declared to be impotent.
Over and over again during the years from 1901 to 1921 one or another of the powers repeated its pledges of adherence to the two principles of equality of commercial opportunity and maintenance of China's integrity. This was done sometimes unilaterally, in the course of routine diplomatic correspondence, sometimes in the form of administrative declarations, in the course of public explanations and justifications of given acts; more often it was done in the texts of bilateral agreements concluded for the furtherance of special objectives of the contracting parties.
So many times and in so many forms was fidelity to these principles affirmed, and so many, so varied and so well substantiated became the charges of infidelity in their application, that many believers in, and advocates of, the theory of the open door grew thoroughly skeptical of the efficacy of this policy. The alternative was a frank acceptance of the full implication of the spheres of interest idea and a resort without reservation to the principles of self-interest and self-help.
In spite of discouraging evidences of the ineffectiveness of the open door policy, and in spite of criticisms and suggestions that the policy should be scrapped, it was readily to be assumed that the United States at least would not voluntarily abandon the principles involved, for the very simple reason that it could not. The principles expressed in the Hay Notes were not discovered or invented on the spur of the moment. The doctrine of equality of commercial opportunity had behind it a century and a quarter of American diplomatic expression and effort; it required no explanation to the American people; it was representative of the average American's conception of justice and of his own and other countries' rights. The corollary was almost equally axiomatic in American thought. The average American believed, whether he could give reasons for his belief or not, that China's independence and integrity should be respected.
Any doubt as to the survival of the open door principles in the official esteem of the American Government is dispelled by reference to the note which issued from the State Department on May 13, 1915, addressed in identical terms to the Chinese and the Japanese Governments, in connection with the negotiations which were at that time being carried on between those two governments and which were concluded by the signing of treaties and agreements on May 25, 1915. Again, in the letter addressed by Secretary Hughes to the Chinese Minister at Washington on July 1, 1921, in connection with the protests which had been made against a wireless concession granted by China to an American corporation, Mr. Hughes said:
"Your reference to the principle of the open door affords me the opportunity to assure you of this Government's continuance in its wholehearted support of that principle, which it has traditionally regarded as fundamental both to the interests of China itself and to the common interests of all powers in China, and indispensable to the free and peaceful development of their commerce on the Pacific Ocean. The Government of the United States never has associated itself with any arrangement which sought to establish any special rights in China which would abridge the rights of the subjects or citizens of other friendly states; and I am happy to assure you that it is the purpose of this Government neither to participate in nor to acquiesce in any arrangement which might purport to establish in favor of foreign interests a superiority of rights with respect to commercial and economic development in designated regions of the territories of China, or which might seek to create any such monopoly or preference as would exclude other nationals from undertaking any legitimate trade or industry or from participating with the Chinese Government in any category of public enterprise."
In 1899 the American Government had not been alone in holding the beliefs which led to the first of the Hay Notes. Suggestions had come from other sources, particularly British. And thereafter Americans had not been alone in seeing the inconsistency between the open door principle and the spheres of interest practices. There had developed, however, during and after the War, particularly in connection with the Shantung question and the question of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, not a little uncertainty and doubt as to the views and intentions of the British Foreign Office.
In November, 1919, a Conference of the British Chambers of Commerce of China passed a series of resolutions, among which was the following: "This Conference is of the opinion that the time has come when the policy of the open door should be reaffirmed as an essential commercial principle and that reaffirmation be accompanied by an international agreement for the abolition of spheres of influence."
In the course of negotiations connected with the organization of the Four Powers Banking Consortium the position of the British Government began to be exhibited with some definiteness. In the correspondence it was repeatedly made plain that both the British and the American Governments were unwilling to permit the principle and practices of spheres of interest to stand in the way of cooperative international financial assistance to China. In a memorandum submitted to the Japanese Government, dated August 11, 1919, the British Government expressed this view emphatically: "One of the fundamental objects of the American proposals as accepted by the British, Japanese and French Governments is to eliminate claims in particular spheres of interest, and to throw open the whole of China without reserve to the combined activities of an international consortium. This object can not be achieved unless all the parties to the scheme agree to sacrifice all claim to enjoy any industrial preference within the boundaries of any particular sphere of influence."
On October 31, 1921--subsequent, it should be noticed, to the summoning of the Washington Conference, but before the Conference assembled--the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of the British Foreign Office made in the House of Commons the statement: "The policy of spheres of influence in China has been superseded by one of international cooperation, and the further development of this policy will no doubt form one of the subjects of discussion at the Washington Conference."
The deliberations of the Arms Conference, insofar as they were directed to the affairs of China, began with the presentation of an open door program by the Chinese. They brought out the fact that the China policy of the United States had not changed, except in that it was directed toward securing more definite assurances. They effected a clarification, with unambiguous enunciation, of British policy. They concluded with an agreement unequivocally committing all of the nine powers present to a straightforward open door policy.
In the course of the discussion at the fourteenth meeting of the Committee of the Whole of the Conference, Mr. Balfour said that, "so far as Great Britain was concerned, spheres of interest were things of the past." He suggested that it should be declared that, "no one wished to perpetuate either the system of spheres of interest or the international understandings on which they depended."[i] Mr. Root expressed the opinion that Mr. Balfour's statement had created a new situation in regard to spheres of influence; it was the most public, open, positive declaration that had come to his notice.[ii]
In a formal statement read at the fifteenth meeting of the Committee of the Whole, Dr. Wang, of the Chinese Delegation, said: "These spheres of interest seriously hamper the economic development of China"; "the whole system is contrary to the policy of equal opportunity for the commerce and industry of all nations"; they threaten the political integrity of China and give rise to international jealousy or friction; "the Chinese Delegation asks that the powers represented in this Conference disavow all claims to a sphere of interest or of influence or any special interests within the territory of China."[iii]
During the eighteenth meeting of the Committee, Mr. Balfour said that, "the British Empire Delegation understood that there was no representative of any power around the table who thought that the old practice of 'spheres of influence' was either advocated by any government or would be tolerable to this Conference. So far as the British Government was concerned, they had, in the most formal manner, publicly announced that they regarded this practice as utterly inappropriate to the existing situation."[iv]
At the twenty-third meeting of the Committee, a resolution was unanimously adopted which was later approved bythe Conference in plenary session and which appears, with slight verbal changes, in Article IV in the Nine Powers Treaty Relating to Principles and Policies to be Followed in Matters Concerning China, of February 6, 1922. This article reads: "The Contracting 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." It should be noted that this undertaking applies only to the future; it is not retroactive.
The other phase of the work of the Conference in direct application to the problem of general China policy appears in the reaffirmation and definition of the open door principles.
During the period 1900-1921, the Chinese Government on a number of occasions had referred with approval to the open door doctrine as applied to China, but not until the Washington Conference did it ever make a formal statement that it was itself prepared to accept and be bound by this doctrine.
In the statement of the Ten Points which the Chinese Delegation made at the first meeting of the Committee on Pacific and Far Eastern Questions, November 16, 1921, there appeared the following:
"1. (a) The powers engage to respect and observe the territorial integrity and administrative independence of the Chinese Republic.
"(b) China, upon her part, is prepared to give an undertaking not to alienate or lease any portion of her territory or littoral to any power.
"2. China being in full accord with the principle of the socalled open door or equal opportunity for the commerce and industry of all nations having treaty relations with China, is prepared to accept and apply it in all parts of the Chinese Republic without exception."
At the second meeting of this Committee certain remarks of M. Briand raised the question, "What is China?" In reply to this Dr. Koo said, in part, that, "the territories of the Chinese Republic were defined in its Constitution;" that these were to be considered an entity; that "so far as the outside world was concerned it would appear clear that the principle of administrative integrity should be confirmed for the Chinese Republic as one unit;" and that the principle of territorial integrity should apply not to "China proper alone . . . but all the territories of the Chinese Republic should be taken as a basis."[v] So far as is known, this statement was not effectively challenged and its substance became definitive.
The Conference ultimately adopted both the "integrity of China" and the "equality of opportunity" principles, the latter to apply "throughout the territory of China," first as numbers 1 and 3 of the Root Resolutions and then as sections of Article I of the Nine Powers Treaty of February 6, 1922.
When the Conference had declared itself opposed to the principle and practices of spheres of interest and had committed itself to a reaffirmation in general terms of the open door doctrine, it became advisable to give the principles agreed upon some greater measure of definition than they had formerly received. At the eighteenth meeting of the Committee of the Whole, Secretary Hughes, after quoting the third of the Root Resolutions, said that, "it was manifest that the granting of special concessions of a monopolistic or preferential character, or which secured a general superiority of rights for one power to the exclusion of equal opportunity for other powers, was in opposition to the maintenance and application of this principle of equal opportunity."[vi] He then read a draft of a resolution intended to give precision and definition to the open door principle. Mr. Balfour commented favorably upon the fact that the repudiation of the system of spheres of influence was "as clear and unmistakable as could possibly be desired."[vii] At the next meeting, Mr. Hughes introduced a revised draft of this resolution, of which the first three sections were in the end unanimously adopted.
The various provisions upon which the Conference had agreed in reference to the general features of China policy were assembled ultimately in the Treaty Between the Nine Powers Relating to Principles and Policies to be Followed in Matters Concerning China, signed on February 6, 1922.
In the introductory paragraph of this treaty, the nine powers declare it their desire "to adopt a policy designed to stabilize conditions in the Far East, to safeguard the rights and interests of China, and to promote intercourse between China and the other powers on the basis of equality of opportunity."
In Article I, the Contracting Powers, other than China, agree: (1) "To respect the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and administrative integrity of China; (2) to provide the fullest and most unembarrassed opportunity of China to develop and maintain for herself an effective and stable government; (3) 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; and (4) to refrain from taking advantage of conditions in China in order to seek special rights or privileges."
In Article II, all the Contracting Powers agree not to enter into any treaty or agreement which would infringe or impair the principles stated in the preceding article.
In Article III, the Contracting Powers other than China agree that they will not seek or support their respective nationals in seeking: (a) 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 (b) any such monopoly or preference as would be calculated to frustrate the practical application of the principle of equal opportunity. These stipulations are not to be construed so as to prohibit the acquisition of properties or rights which may be necessary to the conduct of a particular commercial, industrial or financial undertaking or to the encouragement of invention and research. China undertakes to be guided by the principles stated in dealing with applications for economic rights and privileges from governments and nationals of all foreign countries.
In Article IV the Contracting 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."
In Article V, China agrees not to exercise or permit unfair discrimination of any kind on her railways; and the powers other than China assume a corresponding obligation with respect to railways in China over which they or their nationals exercise any measure of control.
In Article VI, the Contracting Powers other than China agree fully to respect China's rights as a neutral during a war to which China is not a party, and China undertakes to observe the obligations of a neutral.
In Article VII, all the Contracting Powers agree that whenever a situation arises which involves the application of any of these principles and which renders desirable a discussion of the application, there shall be full and frank communication.
In its report to the President, of February 9, 1922, the American Delegation said: "It is believed that through this Treaty the open door in China has at last been made a fact."[viii]
The Conference did not, however, content itself with mere declarations of principle. Concurrently with the work of framing and adopting formulae of principle and policy, it grappled with the problem of devising ways and means to render the principles agreed upon effective. In this connection its efforts were both destructive and constructive--destructive of practices which have been inconsistent with the open door principle and of obstacles to its effective application, constructive of machinery calculated to prevent future inconsistencies and gradually to remove remaining obstacles.
Thus, to begin with, it was agreed in the Nine Powers Treaty Relating to the Chinese Customs Tariff not only that the schedules of the Chinese tariff shall be revised at once, and periodically in years to come, but that a Special Conference shall take steps to prepare the way for abolition of likin and for increasing the tariff rates. Furthermore, the inequalities in the customs duties which have prevailed upon the land frontiers are to be removed. The provisions of this treaty are to "override all stipulations of treaties between China and the respective Contracting Powers which are inconsistent therewith, other than stipulations according most favored nation treatment."[ix] A Commission has already sat at Shanghai to effect the first revision of the tariff schedules promised in this treaty, and the Special Conference is to give practical effect to other provisions.
It was agreed in a formal resolution that there shall be established a Commission to inquire into the present practice of extraterritorial jurisdiction in China, with a view to furthering the efforts of the Chinese Government to create conditions which will warrant the powers in relinquishing their rights of extraterritoriality. Elsewhere, the powers declared it their intention to withdraw their armed forces now on duty in China without authority of any treaty or agreement, whenever China shall be able to assure protection of the lives and property of foreigners in China. They adopted provisions substantially limiting the operations of foreign owned radio stations, both government and private, and they agreed that any such station maintained without authorization by the Chinese Government shall be transferred to or taken over by that government. They recorded their hope that the future development of railways in China shall be so conducted as to enable the Chinese Government to effect the unification of railways into a system under Chinese control, with such foreign financial and technical assistance as may prove necessary to the interests of that system. They expressed "the earnest hope that immediate and effective steps be taken by the Chinese Government to reduce its military forces and expenditures." The four powers which have postal agencies in China agreed to abandon these agencies.
Probably more important than any or all of these restrictive or corrective arrangements are two distinctively constructive measures which were agreed upon, the one to ensure publicity, the other to provide a procedure for dealing with certain types of possible controversy.
Declaring it "desirable that there should hereafter be full publicity with respect to all matters affecting the political and other international obligations of China and of the several powers in relation to China," the powers agreed to file lists of all treaties, conventions, exchanges of notes or other international agreements which they have with China or with other powers in relation to China and which they deem to be still in force and upon which they may desire to rely, and to file all such agreements which they may conclude in future. They also agreed to file lists, as nearly complete as possible, of contracts between their nationals and the Chinese Government or Chinese authorities and to give notification of every such contract which shall be concluded henceforth. The Chinese Government, for its part, took upon itself like obligations. This agreement, if lived up to--and disregard of it will tend automatically to invalidate arrangements which the offender seeks to keep under cover--may be expected to remove uncertainty and doubt, to terminate some and prevent other intrigues, and to promote fair dealing, straightforward competition and genuine cooperation.
To provide a procedure for dealing with questions arising in connection with the execution of Articles III and V of the Nine Powers Treaty it was agreed by resolution that there shall be established a Board of Reference to which such questions may be referred for investigation and report. A detailed plan for the constitution of this Board is to be worked out by the Special Conference which is to be created to carry out provisions of the Nine Powers Treaty Relating to the Chinese Customs Tariff. (The plan, when formulated, will have to be referred to the various governments of the Contracting Powers for approval.) The establishing of this Board will be a novel measure; the Board may be able to function as a clearing house for complaints and as a diplomatic shock-absorber; if it functions to advantage in dealing with questions referred to it, it is conceivable that the scope of its authority may in time be made more broad.
Toward clearing away debris and inconsistencies, the Treaty for the Settlement of Outstanding Questions Relative to Shantung --negotiated at, but not by, the Conference--provides for Japan's relinquishment of the Shantung sphere of interest, which has been the most productive of controversies of all the foreign spheres of interest. Mr. Balfour's announcement of the British Government's intention to restore to China the Leased Territory of Weihaiwei, and the statement of the French Delegation that France would be willing to enter into negotiations with the Chinese Government for the restoration of Kwangchouwan were further steps in the same direction.
Other impairments of China's sovereignty and independence are diminished by certain provisions of the Treaty Relating to Insular Possessions and Insular Dominions in the Pacific Ocean and by the Naval Treaty. The former carries the provision that as soon as the Treaty is ratified the Anglo-Japanese Alliance shall terminate. The Chinese have considered this alliance derogatory to their national dignity and a menace to their rights and interests, while some other states have felt that it interfered with the proper working of the principle of equal opportunity. The Naval Treaty, materially lessening the likelihood of war in the Pacific, greatly increases China's assurance of immunity from the hardships of a war which may not be of her making or of direct concern to her. Moreover, if by any chance such a war should occur the foreign powers have elsewhere (in the Nine Powers Treaty) specifically guaranteed China's neutrality and China has expressly promised to perform her obligations as a neutral. When it is remembered that the land operations of the Russo-Japanese War were fought almost wholly on Chinese soil, and that most of Japan's land campaign against Germany was conducted on Chinese soil, the importance to China of this provision becomes obvious.
Finally, one of the paradoxes of the diplomatic record of the open door policy, the Lansing-Ishii Agreement, is assumed to lose (by virtue of the adoption of the provisions of the Nine Powers Treaty,) if not all its force, at least such force as any of its provisions may have had in a sense contrary to the express terms of the new agreements. The Lansing-Ishii Agreement had been from the very first very distasteful to the Chinese, being regarded by them as a menace to their rights and interests. President Harding has stated to the Senate that it can henceforth "have no binding effect whatever . . . which is in any sense inconsistent with the principles and policies explicitly declared in the Nine Powers Treaty." "The negotiation of this treaty," he said, "is in itself a 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 contrary import."[x]
There are, and doubtless there will long continue to be, widely divergent views regarding both the quantity and the quality of the positive achievements of the Washington Conference. Extravagant praise and reckless criticism have marked the comments of publicists, editors, and political figures. In reference to much of the work, only time and the tests of practice will warrant conclusive judgments.
Certain things are, however, clear and incontestable. Whereas before the Conference it was doubtful which policy, that of the "open door" or that of "spheres of interest," had the practical approval of the majority of the powers, at the Conference all of the nine attending powers undertook henceforth not to seek or support any arrangements or agreements designed to establish spheres of interest and pledged themselves to an open door policy prescribed in comprehensive and specific terms. Whereas previously the open door policy rested upon unilateral declarations and bilateral agreements, to none of the latter of which was China a party, that policy is now incorporated and defined in a major international agreement to which nine powers, including China, are parties. Whereas previously the conditions in respect to other engagements and to the policy pursued by certain powers were such that the principle of equality of opportunity could not, in the nature of the situation, be expected to have substantial and vital effectiveness, there have now been prescribed conditions, limitations, prohibitions and positive courses of action; there has been developed a suggestion of a sanction; and a step has been taken toward providing preventive and remedial procedure.
That these provisions have given the open door policy a new and enhanced position in the realm of international commitments, that they place the problem of international relations in the Far East on a new basis, and that they offer China a vastly improved opportunity for solving her many and difficult problems of reconstruction, are propositions scarcely open to challenge. They do not purport to have made a new world, a new Far East, or a new China. They are intended to promote peace and to safeguard the rights and interests of all the peoples concerned.
During the next twenty years the value of these pledges will be tested. If the nine governments cooperate fully in the endeavor to enforce faithful observance of the principles upon which their representatives have agreed, and if the Chinese conduct their domestic affairs in such a manner as to justify the effort which has been made to afford them a fair opportunity to put their house in order, the judgment of the statesmen chiefly responsible for the determinations of the Washington Conference will be vindicated and the work of the Conference will be regarded by historians as marking a decisive turning point not only in the affairs of China, nor only in the annals of the Pacific and the Far East, but in the whole course of world politics.
[i]67th Congress, Second Session, Senate Document No. 126, "Conference on the Limitation of Armament," p. 563.
[ii]Ib., p. 567.
[iii]Ib., pp. 580-581.
[iv]Ib., p. 616.
[v]Ib., p. 452.
[vi]Ib., p. 613.
[vii]Ib., pp. 616-617.
[viii]Ib., p. 831.
[x]Congressional Record, March 8, 1922, p. 3984.