Mercantilism rather than openness flowed from this convoluted state of affairs, and not only on the part of the American government but also that of the British and other governments, as well as the dominant corporate actors who sought, and largely obtained, state support for their international forays. As a case in point, the State Department focused mainly on breaking foreign, and mostly British, cartels in Central and South America, and in China.
In the former region, there was a concerted US campaign to break the Eastern cartel’s Western Telegraph monopoly on the east coast of South America, notably in Brazil. In 1916, the Brazilian Supreme Court had, against British opposition, allowed an All-America Company subsidiary to have connections between Argentina and Brazil, a decision which ultimately allowed the subsidiary direct, if circuitous, communications with the US. Historian Michael Hogan notes that, in such circumstances, there was no way that Pender fils, chief director of the British Eastern interests, was going to allow a further diminution of his control of cable traffic between Europe and South America which ran via the Portuguese-owned Azores. Here he was:
. . . supported by the Foreign Office, the General Post Office, and the British
Admiralty, all of whom hoped to protect Pender’s interests and, equally
important, prevent an independent Europe–South American connection that
would make British censorship of this traffic impossible in a new war. (Hogan,
Hence, a bevy of British lobbies in Portugal successfully blocked US cable companies’ attempts to get landing rights in the Azores, which would have allowed US companies roundabout connections, via European cables, with South America. Meanwhile, this complex labyrinth of power plays was typically punctuated by Western Telegraph’s use against All-America Cables of discriminatory rates on traffic between Buenos Aires and Brazil (US Library of Congress, 1920: 29) – a policy which, as mentioned, was anathema to Rogers and other internationalists.
[ . . . ]
Throughout the 1920s, despite images of Britain’s economic decline, that country remained remarkably effective at defending its political and strategic interests in the face of policy drives which the US government often defined as ‘Open Door’ and anti-imperialist but which, as suggested earlier, often looked to others like old-fashioned economic imperialism.27 So it was in China, with which the US admittedly had a strong case for improved communications but where, in a whole series of economic arenas, demands for equality of treatment by the US government were seen in London, Tokyo and Beijing as a chance to overwhelm an enfeebled
economic state by ‘the astounding American industrial machine’ (Dayer, 1981: xvii). In the case of electronic communications, the already noted domination of the British and Danish cable cartel made radio-telegraphy seem the most effective alternative for direct US communication with China. Indeed, in 1920, Owen Young of RCA suggested a Latin Americanstyle consortium among the various foreign radio concessions in China, with RCA again playing a lead role in supplying equipment and finance. However, having initially supported both RCA and the Federal Telegraph Company of California in their abortive efforts to develop radio in China, the State Department’s approval for Young’s plan came too late (see Aitken, 1985: 492).
Not surprisingly, there was growing Chinese opposition to Western exploitation, and also opposition to the consortium idea, from the British, Japanese and Danish governments, especially within the context of the Washington Conference on Disarmament in 1921–2. Thus, only in 1927 was RCA able to relay radio traffic through to Hong Kong from a station in the Philippines (Aitken, 1985: 492). Quite evidently then, while Latin America had been opened up to direct electronic communications with the US, including the potential for a greater flow of press material, the US made little progress in China. As with the ‘Open Door’ Latin American cable policy, the US government proposed, and the private US corporations disposed. This was particularly so in the field of banking where J.P. Morgan & Co. thwarted a State Department plan to supplant British bankers as major financiers in many ‘underdeveloped areas’ including China. Morgan & Co., like Western Union, was on excellent terms with the British government, and much preferred to cooperate rather than compete with its foreign counterparts for established spheres of influence (Dayer, 1981: xvii).