The Chargé in Japan (Neville) to the Secretary of State

No. 1366

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s instruction No. 630 of October 23, 1929 in which I was directed to discuss informally with the Foreign Office the question of visits by American men-of-war to places in the islands under mandate to Japan not open to foreign commerce.

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Since the receipt of the instruction under reference, I have had two opportunities to discuss this subject with the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs. I told him that my Government did not wish to raise the question of legal right, but that the United States had consistently permitted foreign public vessels to visit all ports under its jurisdiction except such military or naval ports as are definitely closed to foreign vessels, and that we believed reciprocity in these matters was desirable.

The Vice Minister told me that the Japanese Government was by no means a unit on the policy of shutting up the islands, but that some of the departments were obsessed with notions of secrecy. In a subsequent interview he told me that the objection came principally from the South Seas Bureau. It seems that visits of foreign men-of-war proved disturbing to the native population of the islands; that these people associate visiting war ships, or foreign ships of almost any kind, with wars and governmental changes, and get very excited in consequence to the great disturbance of their own peace of mind, and that of the Japanese officials in those parts. He said that, of course, if the American Government insisted, and raised the legal question of treaty rights, the Japanese Government would have to consider the whole matter from that standpoint, but that the Japanese would be greatly obliged if we would not do so. I also learned that the Navy Department here does not like the idea of men-of-war visiting the Mandated Islands, but its opposition is not so decided, apparently, as that of the South Seas Bureau.

The fact of the matter appears to be that the administration of the Mandated Islands is proving troublesome and expensive. The Bureau concerned does not like to have foreign ships come to the out-of-the-way islands, largely because they are afraid that such visitors might carry away unfavorable impressions of conditions and publish or otherwise report them. The Navy wants to keep the islands segregated, if possible, not because there is anything much there, but out of a habit of secrecy to no very great purpose.

If it is desired to press the matter, there are, it seems to me, two methods of procedure, each of them somewhat troublesome: one, insist as a matter of treaty right, which will raise the whole question of mandates and our relation to them (but we could probably gain our point if worth while to do so); second, refuse permission to Japanese vessels to enter ports under our jurisdiction except such as they have a clear treaty right to enter. This would probably have a decided influence on the Japanese Navy; it would be a drastic step and a departure from our historic policy, but it very likely would be effective in the long run. As a final suggestion, it might be worth while for our delegation to the London Conference to take the matter up informally [Page 261]with the Japanese, if occasion should arise (as it very well may) in connection with a discussion on ports and armaments in the Pacific.

I have [etc.]

Edwin L. Neville