FCO 21/671 Information about history and use of term unequal treaties in China






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27 JUL 1972











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FEC 4/1


Far Eastern Departmen

5 February, 1970

Research Department have done a paper on the Chinese use of the term "unequal treaties", which we found of considerable interest and which I think you will find equally useful. You will see that the conclusion is that the Chinese have extended the use of the phrase, which originally was confined broadly te treaties granting foreign powers extra-territorial rights for which China did not have reciprocal facilities, to include treaties whereby the Chinese were obliged to make conosssions through weakness,

(L. V. Appleyard)

0.0. H. Ealden, Esq.,


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J. D. I. Boyd, Esq., WASHINGTON C. J. Howells, Esq., HON KONO

5. Clark, Éaq., Moscow



WERK. 31-7406




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JOI Borld Witen

CT Howe Derning

G-E. Clank. Moscow

letter to LGH Walder

Chimm and the "tuequal Treaties

Researce departing in have dare a paper on the Annene use of the term "nequal treaters" which are found of considerable interact and which I think you mil find

egnally useful. You will see that


the inclusion is their the Chimera

have extended the use of




phrase, which difinally' infined broudly to treate's groei in

granting foreign powers


eston teritorine nights which Chris did not have reciprocal facilitito, to include treaties whereby Unnese were obliged to mance

inncessions through weakness.




--------- ---


L.V. Appleyard,

Far Eastern Department.

China and the "Unequal Treaties".


We thought that it would be useful to review what the Chinese both Communist and Nationalist have said about "unequal treaties". Mr. Hoare has done the research into this and the attached note is the result. I am sending copies to those who may be interested in Whitehall. You may wish to send copies to Peking, Hong Kong and Washington.



(F. Brewer)

Far Eastern Section, Research Department.

3 February, 1970.

I am also rending a copy


This is of considerable winter want.

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Inter upta

to Moscow.

infreund 572





In the course of the Sino-Soviet dispute, the nineteenth century treaties between Russia and China which determined the present Sino-Soviet border have been described by the Chinese as among the "unequal treaties" forced upon China in that period. This goes beyond the usage of the term by the former Republican Governments of China when they were demanding the revision or abrogation of the offending treaties. Moreover, there are statements by Mao Tse-tung to show that in the past for him, too, the term hed a narrower application.

2. There is no universally accepted usage of the term; the concept of a treaty being "unequal" has been rejected by some international jurists and some nations. Nevertheless, in relations between the European powers and the United States on the one hand, and countries of the Far East on the other, the term "unequal treaties" acquired a particular meaning which was understood, if not formally accepted by all those concerned. It was used to refer to those treaties which provided for unilateral extraterritorial rights and treaties and agreements which amplified and extended such rights. These included those which controlled a country's tariff, custom's service, or granted special residence rights or economic concessions to one side only.

3. Between 1872 and 1896, Japan conducted a campaign to revise the treaties which had been made between 1854 and 1869, all of which provided for extraterritoriality and its attendant privileges. These treaties were referred to in publicity in Japan as "unequal treaties", The Chinese Republican Government set out to revise its extraterritoriality treaties after the first World War, raising the question without success at the 1919 Peace Conference and at the 1921 Washington Conference.

The treaties were not then referred to as "unequal" but were described as detracting from Chinese sovereignty and as being out of place in the changed conditions of the twentieth century; in new treaties, such as that with Germany in 1921, it was laid down that the principles of perfect equality and absolute reciprocity should apply.





4. In 1924 the Soviet and Chinese Governments signed an Agreement which provided, inter alia, for the annulment of Conventions, Treaties, Agreements, etc. concluded between the Chinese and Tsarist Governments and for their replacement by new treaties etc on the basis of equality, reciprocity and justice; the annulment of Treaties and Agreements made between the former Tsarist Governments and third parties affecting the sovereign rights of China; the redemarcation of national boundaries, the renunciation by the Soviet Union of any special rights and privileges relating to concessions in China, and the relinquishment of extraterritorial rights. This Agreement fulfilled the intentions of the Declarations made by the Soviet Union in 1919 and 1920 expressing willingness to reach such an agreement with China.

5. In 1926 the Chinese Government was again pursuing the question internationally and began to use the term "unequal treaties". A Statement issued on 6 November, 1926, explaining the termination of the Sino-Belgian Treaty of 1865 which it was claimed was due to expire, observed:-

"The unequal treaties' which were extracted from China nearly a century ago have established between Chinese and foreigners discriminetions that are now sources of endless discontent and friction with foreign powers

there does not seem to be any valid reason to justify international relations which are not founded on equality and mutuality

"To attain this desire the Chinese Government have repeatedly sought through diplomatic channels and international conferences to put an end to the unequal clauses contained in China's treaties with the Powers which seriously restrict the free exercise of her legitimate rights in such matters.as customs, tariff, jurisdiction over foreign nations etc the Chinese Government have consistently refrained from concluding new treaties unless they were based on equality, reciprocity and mutual respect for territorial sovereignty. Treaties on this new basis have been steadily growing in numbers: they now include those with Austria, Bolivia, Chile, Finland, Germany, Persia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.


"In pursuance



"In pursuance of this policy, the Chinese Government are endeavouring to revise the existing treaties which are as 8 rule terminable by notice after a certain period, so that all unequal and obsolete provisions may be omitted from the new treaties to be negotiated upon the expiration of the specific periods."

This Statement thus made clear that the Chinese Government regarded as "unequal" those treaties which contained provisions which placed limitations upon China's political, Jurisdictional and administrative freedom of action and so

The constituted an infringement of China's sovereignty. intention of the Chinese Government was to eliminate these provisions either by negotiating amendments to existing

The most treaties or by the negotiation of new treaties. comprehensive statement of Chinese aims was given two years later in a Declaration issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 7 July, 1928:-

"The Nationalist Government, with a view to adepting themselves to the present day circumstances and with the object of promoting the welfare of and the friendly relations between China and different countries, have always considered the abrogation of all the unequal Treaties and the conclusion of new Treaties on the basis of equality and mutual respect for territorial sovereignty as the most pressing problem at the present time. These aims have been embodied in declarations repeatedly made by the Nationalist Government.

"Now that the unification of China is an accomplished fact, it is the task of the Nationalist Government to make every effort to fully realize these aims. While they will continue to afford protection to foreign lives and property in China, according to law, the Nationalist Government here by make the following specific declaration with regard to all the unequal Treaties:

"(1) All the unequal Treaties between the Republic of China and other countries, which have already expired, shall be ipso facto abrogated, and new Treaties shall be concluded.

"(2) The Nationalist Government will

immediately take steps to terminate, in accordance with proper procedure, those unequal Treaties which have not yet expired, and conclude new Treaties.

"(3) In the case of old Treaties, which heve already expired, but which have not yet been replaced by new Treaties, the Nationalist Government wili promulgate appropriate interim regulations to meet the exigencies of such situation."

Mao Tse-tung and "Unequal Treaties".




Mao Tse-tung and "Unequal Treaties".

Between 1936 and 1949 Mao delivered some observations

on "unequal treaties". Edgar Snow asked him in 1936

whether his people were in favour of cancelling such treaties. He replied only briefly on the general question:-

"With friendly powers, China will peacefully

negotiate treaties of mutual advantage."

But, at that time he was clearly preoccupied with Japan and went on to say:-

"So far as Japan is concerned, Chine must by the act of war of liberation cancel all unequal treaties, confiscate all Japanese imperialist holdings, and annul Japan's special privileges, concessions end influence in this country."

In reply to a further question about territory lost to Japan whether the aim was to recover all the territories lost to Japanese imperialism, or only to drive Japan from North China, and all Chinese territory above the Great Wall - he indicated, however, that his aims were limited to recovering territories seized or occupied in the 1930's and not other territory obtained by Japan by treaty:-

"It is the immediate task of China to regain all our lost territories, not merely to defend our sovereignty below the Great Wall. This means that Manchuria must be regained. We do not, however, include Korea, formerly a Chinese colony, but wher we have re-established the independence of the lost territories of China, and if the Koreans wish to break away from the chains of Japanese imperialism, we will extend to them our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies to Formosa. As for Inner Mongolia, which is populated by both Chinese and Mongolians, we will struggle to drive Japan from there and help Inner Mongolia to establish an autonomous State."

It is of interest that the Treaty by which Taiwan was ceded to Japan (Treaty of Shimonoseki 1895) contained clauses providing for the extension of privileges to the Japanese in China which would bring the Treaty within the designation "unequal". According to Mao's replies to Snow those privileges would have to be relinquished by Japan.




7. In his booklet "The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party" (December, 1939), Miao listed ten ways in which China had been "oppressed" by the imperialist powers and in so doing differentiated between territorial annexation and the imposition of "unequal treaties". The first of the measures of oppression was described as the starting of wars of aggression by which "meny states bordering on China thut were under her protection" were occupied, and

The second part of her territory seized or leased. and third measures were described thus:-

"2. They forced China to conclude numerous unequal treaties by which they acquired the right to station their land and sea forces in China and to enjoy consular jurisdiction, and China has even been divided up into spheres of influence among a number of imperialist powers.

3. The imperialists have gained control of all the important trading ports in China by unequal treaties and have marked

off parts of many of these ports as concessions under their direct administration


It seems clear from this that Mao, like the then Government of China, regarded as unequal the treaties, or clauses in treaties, which infringed China's sovereignty by placing restrictions and limitations upon her political, jurisdictional and administrative freedon of action. The term was not applied to the provisions in treaties governing the cession or lease of territory.

8. Six years later in "On Coalition Government" (Mac's political report to the Seventh National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, April, 1945) Mao referred again to the unequal treaties and once again brought out that China 'e aim was to free herself from restraints imposed upon her freedom of action and the exercise of her sovereignty, and to achieve full equality with other independent nations:-

"The Chinese people welcome the fact that many foreign governmente have renounced the unequel treaties and concluded new, equel trenties with China. We believe, however, that the conclusion of equal treaties does not mean that China has actually won genuine equality but should win it chiefly through their own efforts efforts aimed at building China into a new democratic State politically, economically and culturally, otherwise independence and equality will be only apparent and not real."




Mao drew particular attention to the Soviet Union among those countries which hed renounced unequal treaties:-

"We hold that the Kuomintang must end its hostility towards the Soviet Union and immediately improve Sino-Soviet relations. The Soviet Union was the first country to renounce unequal treaties and sign new, equal treaties with China.'


Mao again referred to the treaties after the Chinese

Communist victory, on his arrival in Moscow on 16 December, 1949. On this occasion, he repeated that, "the Soviet Government guided by Leninist-Stalinist policy, was the first to proclaim null and void the Unequal Treaties with China that had existed in the time of Tsarist Russia."

9. The extension of the use of the term to cover treaties and clauses in treaties providing for the cession or lease of territories was made in the Chinese reply to the Khrushchev taunt made in December 1962 about the continued existence on Chinese territory of the colonies Macau and Hong Kong. The Chinese comment on this was conveyed in "A Comment on the Statement of the Communist Party of the U.S.A." (People's Daily 8 March, 1963.) Reference was made to past agression of the imperialist and colonial powers resulting in China being compelled to sign a number of unequal treaties by which the powers annexed "Chinese territory in the north, south, east and west and held leased territories on the seaboard and in the hinterland of China". Reference was also made to the declaration made at the inauguration of the People's Republic of China to the effect that the treaties concluded by previous Chinese Governments would be examined and that they would be recognised, abrogated, revised or renegotiated according to "their respective contents". Some of the treaties had already been abrogated or replaced by new ones, but with regard to outstanding issues, China's position was that these should be settled by peaceful negotiations when the conditions were ripe. In the category of questions left over by history were:-

"the questions of Hong Kong, Kowloon and Macao and the questions of all those boundaries which have. not been formally delimited by the parties concerned in each cаве. H

Treaties with Tsarist Russia (Aigun, 1858; Tientsin, 1858; Peking, 1860; and I11, 1881) were included in a list of unequal treaties, but the description of the questions to be settled by peaceful negotiation seemed to suggest that what needed to be negotiated with the Soviet Union in connection with the Treaties was border delimitation. This may have been the implication intended in another observation that "our policy towards the socialist countries is fundamentally different from our policy towards imperialist countries".


/But the article


But the article went on to warn the Soviet leadership that they could be making trouble for themselves in raising questions about territory which had been taken from China by foreign powers:-

"You are, no unaware that such questions as those of Hong Kong and Macau relate to the category of unequal treaties left over by history


may be asked: In raising questions of this kind, do you intend to raise all the questions of unequal treaties and have a general settlement? Has it ever entered your heads what the consequences would be? Can you seriously believe that this will do you any good?"


10. The extension of the application of the term "unequal treaties" was thus a product of the Sino-Soviet rift. boundary questions came to play an increasingly important part in the dispute, so the Chinese laid increasing emphasis upon the extent of territory acquired from China under the Tsarist treaties. This has given rise to the impression that the Chinese might wish to negotiate more than outstanding border questions, an impression also fostered by Mao's reported remark to a visiting delegation of the Japan Socialist Party in July, 1964, in reference to territory taken from China by Russia that "we have not settled these matters with the Soviets". The Statement issued on 7 October, 1969, by the Chinese Government announcing agreement to open negotiations with the Soviet Union jeclared, however, that the Government had never claimed the return of the territories annexed by the Treaties. The Chinese still insist, nevertheless, that the Tsarist treaties relating to boundary agreements were unequal end demand that the Soviet Union acknowledge this. The Soviet leadership, apparently with some justification, points out that the Chinese have departed from the use of the term unequal treaties" as previously understood, and that the question of these treaties had been disposed of long ago. The Soviet side does not, nonetheless, appear to be on such firm ground in maintaining that the border treaties were in no way involved in the renunciation of Tsarist treaties. The provision in Article III of the 1924 Agreement for the annulment of all Treaties, etc.and their replacement with new treaties etc., and the provision in Article VII for the redemarcation of national boundaries "and pending such redemarcation, to maintain the present boundaries", together strongly suggest that it was recognised in 1924 that boundaries were involved in the annulment of the treaties and would need to be given new legal sanction.

Far Eastern Section,

Research Department, F.C.O.

3 February, 1970.