Memorandum of a Conversation between the Secretary of State and the Japanese Ambassador (Shidehara), June 30, 1921

The Japanese Ambassador stated that he had called merely to present a proposed statement which he desired to make public, with respect to the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, in case the Secretary had no objection; that his Government had instructed him not to publish it if there was objection. The Ambassador then handed the attached statement to the Secretary who read it. The Secretary said that he would not undertake to interpose any objection to the publication of the statement; he would like to have it clearly understood that the statement if made public by the Ambassador was to be made exclusively on his own responsibility and not with the concurrence of this Government; this Government did not desire to make any statement regarding the publication or to assume any responsibility whatever in the matter. With this understanding the Secretary had no objection.


Statement by the Japanese Ambassador (Shidehara)55

Negotiations looking to the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance have not yet begun. In the meantime, a campaign seems to be actively at work misrepresenting the possible effect of the Alliance upon the United States. By no stretch of the imagination can it be honestly stated that the Alliance was ever designed or remotely intended as an instrument of hostility or even defense against the United States.

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, in its history for nearly twenty years, has twice been renewed. In each case, the fundamental policy underlying it has remained unchanged. It aims permanently to preserve and to consolidate the general peace of the Far East. The original Agreement of 1902, in line with that policy, was calculated [Page 317] to localize any war which might be forced upon either Contracting Party in defense of its defined interests or vital security. It was made when China was under menace of foreign aggression; and the United States, showing the utmost friendliness towards both parties to the Alliance, viewed the compact with sympathy and approval.

In 1905, when the Alliance was renewed and revised to meet the changed conditions that followed the Russo-Japanese war, no thought occurred to the statesmen of either country that the United States might possibly become a potential enemy of either, and for that reason, and that alone, no provision was inserted taking so remote a contingency into consideration.

The Alliance was again revised in 1911, and Article IV of that Agreement contains the following provision:

“Should either High Contracting Party conclude a treaty of general arbitration with a third Power, it is agreed that nothing in this Agreement shall entail upon such Contracting Party an obligation to go to war with the Power with whom such treaty of arbitration is in force.”

This provision, in its relation to the United States, has often been made the subject of conflicting interpretations. To a practical mind, however, the circumstances which led up to its inclusion should at once serve to remove all doubt regarding its significance. The idea of revising the Alliance in 1911 was conceived primarily with the object of facilitating the negotiations which were known to be then in progress between London and Washington for the conclusion of a general arbitration treaty. Neither Japan nor Great Britain has ever contemplated, under the Alliance, any casus foederis prejudicial or inimical to the interests of the United States; and any plan designed to remove the possibility of an armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain was of course agreeable to Japan. It was in pursuance of this policy that the quoted provision of Article IV was adopted.

The same policy inspires Japan as strongly today as ever before. It has not, in any degree, been affected by the fact that the Anglo-American general arbitration treaty56 failed to secure the approval of the United States Senate. Nor is it practically necessary to carry on the legal analysis of the question as to whether the Peace Commission Treaty, signed and ratified by the United States and Great Britain in 1914,57 should be construed as a general arbitration treaty within the meaning of Article IV of the Anglo-Japanese Agreement. For, apart from that question, it was already well understood at the [Page 318] time of negotiating the existing Agreement that the Alliance should in no case be directed against the United States.

In explanation of Japan’s attitude, Count Uchida, the Japanese Foreign Minister, made the following statement to the Budget Committee of the Japanese House of Representatives on February 4, 1921.

“As far as I understand, when Article 4 of the treaty (Anglo-Japanese Alliance) was inserted, the United States was specifically in mind, and therefore, as a practical matter, the question whether the general arbitration treaty mentioned in Article 4 has been ratified by the United States Senate or not makes no particular difference. In other words, looking at the matter from a broad point of view, we can safely say that already at the time of the conclusion of the treaty (Anglo-Japanese Alliance) it was understood that there should be no application of this treaty to the United States.”

Japan is naturally anxious to strengthen the ties of friendship and loyal co-operation between herself and the British Empire, which she regards as of the utmost importance to the stability of the Far East. At the same time, it is the firm and fixed determination of Japan to permit nothing to hamper her traditional relations of good will and good understanding with the United States. She is satisfied that these two affiliations are in no way incompatible, but, on the contrary, complementary and even essential to each other.

Charges have sometimes been made that the Alliance tends to encourage aggressive designs on the part of Japan in China. If this were the case, it would be contrary to the preamble of the Agreement, which provides for,

“The preservation of the common interests of all Powers in China by insuring the independence and integrity of the Chinese Empire and the principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations in China.”

Japan fully realizes that any such venture of aggression would be not only hopeless of attainment but destructive of her own security and welfare. She sincerely wishes for China an early achievement of peace, unity and stable government. She desires to cultivate her relations with that country along the path of mutual respect and helpfulness. Her vast commercial interests alone, if for no other consideration, point unmistakably to the wisdom of such a policy. This is a basic principle of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. In no adverse direction has the Alliance ever exerted its influence.

  1. The statement appeared in the New York Times of July 4, 1921.
  2. Signed Aug. 3, 1911; for text, see S. Doc. 98, 62d Cong., 1st sess., p. 47.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1914, p. 304.