Open Door Policy


After the victory the Spanish American War, the United States became more involved in the politics of China. It demanded that all the major powers support an open door policy, trade should be equalto all the powers. No one wanted to oppose the US and they all agreed.


The United States had been trading with China since the middle of the 19th century. China had always fascinated Americans. American missionaries began going to China in the 1830’s, and the United States had been key in opening up Japan for trade. America’s victory in the Spanish American War had transformed her into a Pacific power, and such she felt more comfortable promoting her own policies and agendas in China.

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, there was a fear that China might be partitioned among the major powers, each with their own interests and each with their own agreements with China. The US interests at the time were two-fold. Continued access for missionaries and open access for American business interests. Two American experts on China, Alfred Hippiseley, and William Rockwill convinced the US Secretary of State John Hay that an open door policy would in the US interest. Hay then sent a letter to all of the great powers that had some interest in China proposing that trade be free and open to all. He called on all the powers to treat all traders equally and allow China to collect its own tariffs.

None of the powers were willing to oppose the American proposal. Hay’s first got the British and Japanese government to agree. Once he had the French agreement he was able to pressure the Germans and the Russians who were more reluctant to agree. They too agreed with caveats. Hay was able to state that he had convinced all of the major powers to agree to his Open Door Policy.


John Hay, U.S. Secretary of State to Andrew D. White
Washington, D.C.
September 6, 1899

At the time when the Government of the United States was informed by that of Germany that it had leased from His Majesty the Emperor of China the port of Kiao-chao and the adjacent territory in the province of Shantung, assurances were given to the ambassador of the United States at Berlin by the Imperial German minister for foreign affairs that the rights and privileges insured by treaties with China to citizens of the United States would not thereby suffer or be in anywise impaired within the area over which Germany had thus obtained control.

More recently, however, the British Government recognized by a formal agreement with Germany the exclusive right of the latter country to enjoy in said leased area and the contiguous "sphere of influence or interest" certain privileges, more especially those relating to railroads and mining enterprises; but as the exact nature and extent of the rights thus recognized have not been clearly defined, it is possible that serious conflicts of interest may at any time arise not only between British andGerman subjects within said area, but that the interests of our citizens may also be jeopardized thereby.

Earnestly desirous to remove any cause of irritation and to insure at the same time to the commerce of all nations in China the undoubted benefits which should accrue from a formal recognition by the various powers claiming "spheres of interest" that they shall enjoy perfect equality of treatment for their commerce and navigation within such "spheres," theGovernment of the United States would be pleased to see His German Majesty's Government give formal assurances, and lend its cooperation in securing like assurances from the other interested powers, that each, within its respective sphere of whatever influence--

First. Will in no way interfere with any treaty port or any vested interest within any so-called "sphere of interest" or leased territory it may have in China.

Second. That the Chinese treaty tariff of the time being shall apply to all merchandise landed or shipped to all such ports as are within said "sphere of interest" (unless they be "free ports"), no matter to what nationality it may belong, and that duties so leviable shall be collected by the Chinese Government.

Third. That it will levy no higher harbor dues on vessels of another nationality frequenting any port in such "sphere" than shall be levied on vessels of its own nationality, and no higher railroad charges over lines built, controlled, or operated within its "sphere" on merchandise belongingto citizens or subjects of other nationalities transported through such "sphere" than shall be levied on similar merchandise belonging to its own nationals transported over equal distances.

The liberal policy pursued by His Imperial German Majesty in declaring Kiao-chao a free port and in aiding the Chinese Government in the establishment there of a customhouse are so clearly in line with the proposition which this Government is anxious to see recognized that it entertains the strongest hope that Germany will give its acceptance and hearty support. The recent case of His Majesty the Emperor of Russia declaring the port of Ta-lien-wan open during the whole of the lease under which it is held from China to the merchant ships of all nations, coupled with the categorical assurances made to this Government by His Imperial Majesty's representative at this capital at the time and since repeated tome by the present Russian ambassador, seem to insure the support of the Emperor to the proposed measure. Our ambassador at the Court of St.Petersburg has in consequence, been instructed to submit it to the Russian Government and to request their early consideration of it. A copy of myinstruction on the subject to Mr. Tower is herewith inclosed for yourconfidential information.

The commercial interests of Great Britain and Japan will be so clearly observed by the desired declaration of intentions, and the views of the Governments of these countries as to the desirability of the adoption ofmeasures insuring the benefits of equality of treatment of all foreign trade throughout China are so similar to those entertained by the UnitedStates, that their acceptance of the propositions herein outlined and theircooperation in advocating their adoption by the other powers can be confidently expected. I enclose herewith copy of the instruction which I have sent to Mr. Choate on the subject.