The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State

No. 2936

Sir: Certain significant statements concerning the hostilities in China and Japan’s relations with other countries were made by Mr. Hirota, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in an interview with foreign press correspondents at his official residence on May 9. In [Page 465] the course of a newspaper interview with reporters on the same day Prince Konoye, the Premier, made several interesting declarations with regard to the Sino-Japanese conflict and Japan’s internal political affairs.

With respect to China, the Minister for Foreign Affairs reiterated the Government’s often announced policy, namely, that Japan would not deal with the Chiang Kai-shek Government since it was past the power of General Chiang to separate himself from the “communist elements” surrounding him; that the elimination of the Chiang Kai-shek regime, the greatest anti-Japanese force in China, was of the utmost importance for the promotion of “good relations between China and Japan”; and that the “reform of Chiang Kaishek” was impossible, and hence the incident would probably be protracted. Asked if dealing with Chiang Kai-shek might eventuate if some friendly Power should offer to mediate, Mr. Hirota observed that Japan’s attitude was understood by all the Powers and that therefore, in his opinion, no third Power would take steps towards mediation between Japan and General Chiang. Despite this clearcut statement, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, was reported by Domei to have declared in the House of Commons on May 11 that Great Britain would be glad to offer its services, either singly or jointly with other powers, in order to bring about an equitable peace between China and Japan, but that no useful purpose would be served by offering mediation until both sides had indicated willingness to accept it.

Queried as to whether Japan had territorial ambitions in China, Mr. Hirota asserted that, since the main purpose of the “incident” was to make it possible for the peoples of China and Japan to cooperate economically and socially, it was “a small matter” whether the territory was Chinese or Japanese. He added that the test of the matter was the present Japanese “policy of letting the Chinese govern themselves” in territories occupied by the Japanese army. The Minister for Foreign Affairs stated further that recognition by Japan of the anticipated new Government to be formed in China by amalgamation of the Peiping and Nanking régimes would not be possible until it controlled “much more territory” than the two regimes did at present, and that recognition of the amalgamated Government would come when that Government had become strong enough to be recognized as the central Government of China, at which time China would be “a practically independent country and on a position of complete equality with Japan”. In reply to a direct question, Mr. Hirota said that the proposed amalgamated Government in China would be asked to pay indemnity for acts committed under the Government headed by General Chiang Kai-shek.

[Page 466]

As regards the Powers’ rights and interests in China, Mr. Hirota asserted that although Japan was making no plans for a change in the status of the International Settlement at Shanghai after the close of the incident, it was very much to be desired that some formula be found which would take cognizance of the increase in the number of Japanese residents there; that not only Italian capital but also other foreign capital would be welcomed in the development of North China; and that China must be powerful enough “to put itself in order” before extra-territoriality and “unequal treaties” could be abolished in that country.

In addition to his observations concerning China, the Minister for Foreign Affairs commented on Japan’s relations with Soviet Russia, Great Britain, and the United States, and on affairs in Europe. The Soviet Union, he said, was insisting that only urgent pending questions be discussed between the two countries, while Japan wished that as many questions as possible be taken up, including that of the fisheries; no break with the Soviet Government was anticipated, even if Soviet-Japanese negotiations for the settlement of outstanding problems should fail; and Soviet assistance to China, although conspicuous, had been less in extent than expected by China; and, in his (Mr. Hirota’s) opinion, the Soviet Government would stop such assistance, realizing that it had been extended in vain. According to Mr. Hirota, Japan’s relations with the United States and Great Britain had improved and were “very smooth”, while Germany by its actions in China had increasingly shown its friendship for Japan. He stated that the recently concluded Anglo-Italian agreement and the Anglo-French talks that followed were both welcomed in Japan because of their effect on peace in Europe. According to the Nichi Nichi version of the interview, when questioned with regard to the international effect, especially that on the anti-comintern pact, brought about by the Anglo-Italian understanding, Mr. Hirota replied that “for Britain to reach an accord with either Italy or Germany is for her to approach the anti-comintern pact”.

While en route to Kyoto by train on May 9, Premier Konoye granted an interview to newspaper correspondents, the principal object of which appeared to be a desire to dispel apprehension arising from reports of Japanese reverses on the Hsuchow front in Kiangsu Province. The Premier declared that the China incident was progressing smoothly in the desired direction; that in his belief the progress of the present hostilities would be even more important than the capture of Nanking had been; and that the Chinese propagandists, taking advantage of the comparative inactivity in the last few weeks, had been circulating false rumors concerning Chinese successes in the war zone. Premier Konoye’s remarks concerning the protraction [Page 467] of the conflict were of the same tenor as Mr. Hirota’s, his principal point being that the hostilities must go on to a finish and that the Japanese Government would have no dealings with General Chiang Kai-shek, even if that leader were to sue for peace. However, the Premier added that the only course now open to the Chiang regime was to abandon its existence and to join hands with the Peiping régime.

Taking up the question of the establishment of an organ in the Japanese Government for directing the China policy, Premier Konoye said that it might be expected that a new phase in the hostilities of such a nature as to facilitate the fusion of the North and Central China régimes would develop in the course of the present month and that by that time the Government would have reached a final decision on the plan for such an organ. He admitted that there was still some difference of opinion in the Government on the fundamental nature of Japan’s China policy and that opposition was anticipated from various quarters, no matter what form of central machinery the Government should desire to set up.

The Premier concluded his remarks by stating that he wished to deal for the time being with the China incident and only with those domestic issues which had a direct bearing on the incident, with the exception of plans for reforming the Government system and the Diet system, which would be taken under consideration “without any loss of time”.

There are enclosed clippings from the Japan Advertiser of May 10 and the Nichi Nichi of May 11,81 which give the substance of the statements made by Mr. Hirota and Prince Konoye.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Neither printed.