Locked in a pitched battle for survival, the government issued these bonds into 1940. As part of its wartime financial aid, the U.S. government further provided a $500 million credit to China in March 1942, shipping gold there and helping to stabilize the currency. In return, it appears that the U.S. government redeemed some of these dollar-denominated bonds. But China doesn’t appear to have repaid this debt either, according to State Department records, and the declaration of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 ended decades of political, military and financial cooperation.

While successor governments are usually bound by the debts of predecessor governments, the new Communist government refused to pay any of these claims. The issue lay dormant for decades, just as the bilateral relationship did. Then, in 1979, as part of normalizing relations, Washington released government financial claims regarding the expropriation of American property and appears to have dropped the matter of the war debt entirely. However, it is one thing for government decision-makers to let go of government debt, however questionable that is.

And it is entirely another thing for individual citizens to press their claims. Some U.S. investors tried to sue the Chinese government in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act makes it very hard for any U.S. citizen to sue a foreign government in U.S. courts because the law generally says that U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction.