The Ambassador in Japan (Morris) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 428

Sir: I have the honor to report as follows on the Japanese press comment with reference to the recent developments in China resulting from the recognition by the Peace Conference of Japan’s claims in Shantung.

[Page 705]

An outstanding feature of the Japanese attitude is the inability to understand why the award of the Peace Conference should have aroused such opposition among the Chinese. The comments in this connection are illuminating evidence of the genuine conviction that prevails in Japan as to the justice of its position and the uprightness of its aims. Japanese believe that they are striving to promote cordiality between the two nations and to secure the safety and well being of China, and they are accordingly pained at China’s “ingratitude “. Very few can see any other side to this question. They justify their desire for territorial footholds on the plea that from such points of vantage they can the better guard China from Occidental aggression, and they base their eagerness to secure mining and other concessions on the necessity of providing for the sinews of war to “preserve the peace of the Far East”. They seem to be actually at a loss to account for the “folly “of the Chinese, who repel their friendly advances and court “dangerous “friends like England and America. The following observations from the Herald of Asia are typical of the viewpoint of the average Japanese:—

“It is unfortunate that all Japan’s efforts in trying to discourage western aggression in China should be interpreted by that country as aiming at aggression on the part of Japan herself. Japan, of course, does not pretend to be wholly unselfish in her policy towards China; but it is a self-interest that is as good for China as for Japan. Japan is protecting China chiefly for the sake of her own security, for the more China gives way to western nations, the more Japan’s safety is menaced. The point is that Japan cannot allow China to barter away her birthright even if she is simple enough to engage in such folly. If China wants to test Japan’s sincerity let her refuse all further concessions to Occidental nations and secure for all time the inalienation of her territory, and Japan’s task in regard to China will be finished. It is a question, however, whether China is yet able to do without the assistance of Japan in keeping foreign nations at bay; and this help, strange to say is what China does not want. Is it that China would rather be a slave of the white races than the equal of Japan? There is no need for China to be anxious about the return of Kiaochow. Japan has promised to restore the territory to China just as soon as China is able to guarantee that it will not again fall into the hands of a third party.”

The inability of the Japanese to appreciate the Chinese point of view makes them all the more ready to attribute the Chinese agitation to British and American instigation. Various exaggerated and entirely unfounded reports of the sinister activity of British and American agents in inflaming students and others to organize boycotts and commit acts of violence against Japanese are given credence and widely circulated in the Japanese press. Unfortunately, the anti-Japanese feeling prevailing among the majority of [Page 706]foreign residents in China, which frequently finds expression in the foreign language press of that country, lends color to these reports. The resolution passed by the Anglo-American Association at a meeting when both the British and American Ministers were said to be present and the resolution of the American Chamber of Commerce at Shanghai denouncing the Shantung settlement, have added to the resentment in Japan against the attitude of the British and American residents in China. The Kohumin in its issue of the 19th reports that the barracks of the American troops, as well as Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. rooms are being used as meeting places by Chinese and Americans engaged in anti-Japanese propaganda, and that the American Legation has distributed sums amounting to five million yen for financing such movements.

The Asahi’s views as to the origin of the disturbances are saner than those of the majority of the press. It ascribes them to the prevailing belief among Chinese that Japan is behind the reactionary military clique, thus standing as an effectual bar to political progress, and to a desire among a section of the merchant class to check Japan’s economic encroachment. The journal, however, also admits that it is quite conceivable that the direct and indirect assistance given by foreigners has had the effect of swelling the anti-Japanese agitation to its present dimensions, and alludes to the opinion prevailing among certain Japanese business men that Americans are taking advantage of this movement to extend their markets.

At first, there was a tendency in Japan to minimize the seriousness of the situation in China, which was largely due to the optimistic note of official reports. The general attitude was that as Japanese goods were indispensible and the passions of the Chinese short-lived, the boycott would soon be over. Later on, however, as the disturbances increased in intensity, the attitude changed to one of alarm. Moreover, it furnished anti-Government elements with a capital weapon for attacking the Ministry’s Chinese policy, and accordingly they lost no opportunity to paint in lurid colors the tribulations of Japanese residents.

The Jiji, which is better informed on China than most vernacular papers, not only believes that there are no immediate prospects of the disturbances being quelled, but anticipates a further aggravation of the situation, which may spread to all sections of the country, in view of the conflicting political ambitions which lie at the roots of the movement. It also hints that there are Bolshevik influences at work fomenting the spirit of revolution and anarchy.

As to measures for meeting the situation, the Japanese press has various suggestions to offer. As is to be expected, the chauvinistic [Page 707]and anti-Government elements call upon the Government to take energetic measures to protect Japanese interests. The Kokumin says:

[“]Japanese goods have been burned; Japanese in China have been insulted and outraged, and the leaders of the pro-Japanese Chinese have been excluded. Japan’s honor has thus been set at naught by all possible means. If no steps are to be taken to remedy the situation, what about the prestige of this country?”

The Hochi demands, if the Chinese Government is powerless to deal with the situation, that Japan should land troops herself. Also that it should take appropriate measures against British and American officials in China, should they prove to have participated in the resolution of the Anglo-American Association. A correspondent of the Yamato, who suffers from chronic anti-Americanism, has been so impressed with America’s responsibility for the demonstrations, that he has become convinced that the solution of the troubles lies in an appeal to arms against the United States.

The Nichi Nichi believes that the Arms Loan should be revived, in order that the Peking Government may be supplied with arms and money to combat Bolshevism, which it alleges is now undermining the country, thanks to the efforts of Russian emissaries. It observes that it is only natural that the powers who have despatched troops to Siberia and Russia to contend against Bolshevism, should render the necessary assistance to China in freeing her from this evil, and that Japan should take the lead because of her special position.

In view of the general tendency to attribute the causes for the troubles to conflicting ambitions of Chinese politicians, Anglo-American instigation, Bolshevik propaganda and in fact everything except Japanese aggressiveness, and to seek remedies accordingly, the views of the Chuo Koron (Central Review) are like a voice crying in the wilderness:

“The short cut to quieting the anti-Japanese agitation in China would be for the Japanese to restrain the Chinese policy of the bureaucrats and capitalists, so that the genuine peaceful requirements of the Japanese nation may be laid frankly before our neighbors. It should not be attempted to suppress the dissatisfaction of the Chinese people by rendering assistance to Tsao, Chang and other so-called pro-Japanese.

“For many years we have been striving for the emancipation of Japan from the grip of the bureaucrats and militarists. In this respect the object for which the Chinese students are struggling must be described as the same as our own object. In this sense it must be said that the success of the Chinese agitation would mean the success of our own efforts for the emancipation of Japan from [Page 708]the baneful influence of the bureaucrats and militarists. If this be done, it will be possible to found the real national friendship between Japan and China on a sound and secure basis. It will be observed that all attempts at the promotion of Sino-Japanese friendship tried in the past have proved more harmful than beneficial.[”]

I have [etc.]

Roland S. Morris