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Tuesday, 30 May 1939


Minister for External Affairs). - by leave - On the 2nd September, 1937, the Japanese naval authorities instituted a " pacific blockade " against Chinese shipping along most of the Chinese coast. The object, it was explained, was to prevent the movement of supplies by sea from Chinese ports to Chinese military areas.

Although an assurance was given in Tokyo that "peaceful commerce carried on by third powers " would be fully respected, the Government of the United Kingdom was warned that, if the Chinese resorted to action such as the misuse of the flag, foreign ships might have to be examined in order to verify their nationality. As the Government of the United Kingdom was anxious to avoid a situation in -which Japan might institute a regular blockade, and in order to prevent, as far as possible, the misuse of the British flag, it informed the Japanese Government that, while it did not admit Japanese rights in this matter, it would, in practice, permit verification of the nationality of British shipping on the following conditions : -

1.   If a, British warship is present, the Japanese warship undertaking the search should ask it to verify the right of the vessel concerned to fly the British flag.

2.   If no British warship is present and if there is genuine reason to suspect that the vessel is not entitled to fly the flag, Japanese naval authorities will be permitted to board the vessel and examine the certificate of registry, provided that they make an immediate report to the British naval authorities. The right was also reserved to claim compensation for damage sustained by the owners of British shipping delayed or stopped under this procedure.

The Japanese Government accepted condition 1, and, as regards condition 2, stated that there would be no objection to informing British naval authorites by the quickest available means if the vessel concerned was established as British.

This procedure was agreed upon after consultation -with the dominions. In the case of Australia, the Government of the United Kingdom was informed that no ships on the Australian register were engaged in passenger traffic or trade with Chinese or Japanese ports, although three ships owned by the Eastern and Australian Company Limited, and one by Burns, Philp and Company Limited, all on British registers, followed the Sydney to Hong Kong route.

No official information has so far been received of the circumstances of the recent interference by the Japanese with a Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company liner. According to press reports, the Japanese naval authorities have declared a " blockade " extending 200 miles from the Chinese coast "to prevent the delivery of military supplies to China ". The above-mentioned arrangement of 1937 is the only one recognized by the other powers concerned. There has, as yet, been no formal declaration of war in this Sino-Japanese dispute, and the question of belligerent rights has not arisen.

The position created by the reported action of Japan is receiving consideration by governments.

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