The American Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs (Ugaki)56

I have not wished to bother His Excellency by frequent visits until he had had an opportunity to become settled in office.

I have therefore taken up either with the Vice Minister or the Director of the American Bureau the various issues and cases that have arisen.

Furthermore, I feel that the Minister has been making efforts on his own initiative to find solutions to various difficulties for American interests in China arising out of the present conflict.

I have wished to watch the working out of those efforts which I have reported to my Government and which are fully appreciated.

Now, however, I feel that the time has come for a talk along general lines.

I hope that the Minister will regard our talk today as concentrating what might have been said in several interviews since he assumed office.

I do not wish to present any diplomatic document, formal or informal. My representations will be oral. But if it will convenience the Minister in recording our conversation, I shall be happy to leave with him these rough notes, not as a diplomatic document but merely as an informal guide to what has been orally presented.

Respect for American Property Rights

At my first interview with the Minister when I asked what report I might make to Washington concerning the Minister’s attitude towards American interests in China, I was very much gratified when His Excellency replied that he would guarantee the protection of those interests.57

My Government has been informed of those assurances.

I now feel that the Minister would wish to be informed of the great and widespread injury to American property in China at the hands of Japanese military and naval forces during the year since the hostilities in China began.

[Page 612]

A list has therefore been prepared, which I shall leave with His Excellency, giving an accurate and itemized statement of some of these damages.

This list is however only partial and not complete.

The Minister will note that much of the damage has occurred through the indiscriminate bombing of buildings carefully and conspicuously marked with American flags.

This includes many hospitals, missions, schools, churches and colleges.

We believe that very few of these damaged buildings were situated nearby to any Chinese military objectives.

As a typical case, one of very many cases, I shall ask the Interpreter to be good enough to translate to His Excellency a recent letter from our Embassy in Peiping to Mr. Horiuchi, Counselor of the Japanese Embassy in that city. (Appended)58

Not only has American property been widely injured or wholly destroyed but American lives have been continually placed in immediate danger.

These incidents obviously have created a most unfortunate reaction in the United States, not only in the interested business circles and among the many millions of Christians whose churches, missions, schools and hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, but on American public opinion as a whole.

The deplorable effect on Japanese-American relations is obvious.

To overcome this effect and to carry out the guarantees which the Minister was good enough to give me in our conversation of May 31, I urge His Excellency, under the heading of respect for American property rights, to take concrete steps as follows:

to ensure the exercise of particular care by the armed forces of Japan in China to avoid damaging American properties by direct military action, especially through bombing activities from airplanes;
to ensure the restoration to American citizens of the full possession and unhampered use of their properties in the areas controlled by the Japanese wherein warfare has ceased;
and to ensure compensation for such loss and damage as have been caused by Japanese military operations in China.

Maintenance of the Personal Eights of American Citizens

Under this general heading, several important desiderata come into view.

First and foremost, of course, is the prime importance of avoiding danger to American lives by indiscriminate bombing operations.

[Page 613]

The charge that many of these operations in the past have been indiscriminate can hardly be denied, for the results have been clear.

The American buildings were clearly marked by American flags; many or most of them were widely separate from any Chinese military objectives.

Yet they were bombed nevertheless, and American lives were thereby placed in jeopardy.

Secondly, American citizens have been in various cases and localities molested or affronted by Japanese soldiers.

There have been, among other cases, the Allison incident and the Thomson incident in Nanking, and the Massie incident in Tsingtao, all cases of personal assault without good cause. The slapping across the face of American citizens, including the wife of an American naval officer, by Japanese soldiers, cannot pass unnoticed in my country. Were the positions reversed, I cannot believe that the Japanese Government would be inclined to tolerate such incidents.

Of an even graver nature was the Scovel incident in Tsining where an American missionary was shot by a drunken Japanese soldier.

I shall not now go into these cases in detail because they have been or are being dealt with individually, and today I wish to speak along more general lines.

But my Government feels very strongly that greater control and care should be exercised by the Japanese armed forces in avoiding injury and indignities to American citizens.

Finally, under this heading, I wish to speak of the rights of American citizens to visit and control their goods and properties and to resume their lawful occupations in the areas controlled by Japan wherein hostilities have terminated.

I know that the Minister has been making efforts along those lines and, in the case of Nanking, that passes are being issued in certain cases.

But in a locality where hundreds of Japanese civilians have already established themselves, we feel that the bars should be let down more generally and that American citizens, having lawful interests and occupations in Nanking and other localities in the occupied areas where warfare has ceased should be permitted to proceed forthwith.

The continued occupation by Japanese troops of the University of Shanghai, American property, is particularly to be deplored. I may say that there are some millions of Baptists in the United States keenly interested in that question today.

In this general connection there is a long outstanding case of the detention and partial destruction at Nanking of a cargo of wood oil belonging to an American concern, the Werner G. Smith Company, [Page 614] which the owners wish to ship to Shanghai, yet permission has been withheld for many months.

All of these situations and incidents have created an unfortunate impression on my Government and on American public opinion.

The smoothing out of these cases is essential in the interests of good relations between our countries.

Summarizing the desiderata under this heading, I would mention the following points:

avoidance of danger to American lives through indiscriminate bombing operations and other acts;
avoidance of assaults and indignities inflicted on American citizens by Japanese armed forces;
restitution of the rights of American citizens to visit and control their goods and properties and to take up their lawful occupations in the areas controlled by Japan in which hostilities have ceased.

Maintenance of Equality of Opportunity in Japanese Controlled Areas in China as Between Japanese and Others

Under this heading I refer to the avoidance of restrictions and obstacles to American trade and other enterprise as might result from the setting up of “special companies”, officially supported and granted preferred status;

Avoidance of the granting of monopolies;

And avoidance of the establishment of exchange control involving restrictions upon the trade between the United States and China while at the same time allowing the free movement of funds and goods between Japan and China.

In that respect the situation in Manchuria, where American enterprise and trade are subject to restrictions in favor of Japanese enterprise and trade, and in marked contravention of the principle of the Open Door, long assured in theory but denied in practise, is illustrative of what we do not desire to see occur elsewhere in China.

This is a point upon which I would particularly like to be able to communicate to my Government assurances from His Excellency the Minister.

Protection of Legitimate American Financial Interests

Included under this heading of desiderata are the preservation of the machinery of administration of the Chinese Maritime Customs and the continued servicing of American obligations secured upon the salt, customs and consolidated tax revenues.

These are subjects which I frequently discussed with His Excellency’s predecessor, Mr. Hirota, and upon which our views are amply recorded in notes and other documents filed with the Gaimusho.

[Page 615]

Avoidance of Interference With American Treaty and Prescriptive Rights in China

Under this desideratum we envisage non-interference with American extraterritorial and other rights arising from American-Chinese treaties;

Also avoidance of interference with the administrative functions and organization of the International Settlement at Shanghai,

As well as with the functions and organization of the Chinese Courts serving the International Settlement.

On December 27, 1937, the spokesman of the Japanese military authorities at Shanghai is reported as having stated to representatives of the press that nationals of third countries were subject in China to Japanese military law, officially reported by Domei.

On January 10, 1938, I informed Mr. Hirota in the course of a conversation which I had with him on this matter that the American Government would not recognize or countenance any attempt on the part of the Japanese authorities in China to exercise jurisdiction over American nationals in China.

I feel that, a Japanese official spokesman having again made a public statement on the subject of rights of nationals of third countries, I should make it clear to His Excellency that there can be no change in the position of my Government that the extraterritorial status of its nationals in China must be respected.

An unfortunate impression has been created abroad, and we feel that caution should properly be observed by Japanese spokesmen in touching on this important subject.

Japanese-American Relations

The foregoing points embrace certain litigated and tangible issues which have arisen out of the hostilities in China.

They represent important American interests, and to ensure the protection of those interests my Government would welcome the effective cooperation of His Excellency the Minister.

I know very well that His Excellency desires to work for the friendship and good relations between our two countries.

These various issues and incidents which I have mentioned have inevitably created a marked reaction and influence on public opinion in the United States. My Government must listen to public opinion within our country.

Therefore, in the interests of Japanese-American relations, now and hereafter, I earnestly appeal to the Minister to bring to bear the full and important weight of his own influence in ensuring the desiderata which I have mentioned.

[Page 616]

Those desiderata are of great importance, and I feel it my duty to try to convey to the Minister a full appreciation and understanding of those interests, concerns and anxieties of the American Government and people.

International friendship depends in large degree on international understanding.

An Ambassador must be an interpreter of his country’s views, opinions, sentiments and considered reactions.

Sometimes these interpretations may be welcome, sometimes not, but the Ambassador would be failing in his duty if he avoided the truth, or tried to minimize or obscure it.

The true friend in every walk of life is the friend who speaks frankly, not the friend who merely says the things which he thinks the other would like to hear.

I believe His Excellency to be a searcher after truth, and in the friendliest way I must portray the truth, even though the picture may be painted in dark colors, whereas we would both of us prefer to see nothing but a happy picture.

For long I have been seriously concerned about the relations between our two countries.

At times during the past year most serious incidents have occurred which required the most careful handling on the part of both of our Governments, lest the repercussions of those incidents should lead our relations into dangerous channels.

Incidents of a more or less serious nature are still taking place.

I constantly fear the occurrence of some further incident, or merely the amassment of many incidents, affronts, indignities, assaults, possible loss of American lives, loss or damage to American property, injury to legitimate American interest, the cumulative effect of which might create on American public opinion the most deplorable if not disastrous results.

I have had many evidences of the apparently sincere desire on the part of the Japanese Government, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to prevent relations between our two countries from becoming seriously impaired, and I appreciate the many assurances which I have received that incidents of various kinds will either be prevented or not permitted to recur.

However, there are continual indications that the armed forces of Japan in China pay little if any attention to the assurances given us by the Government in Tokyo.

Only yesterday we heard of a particularly glaring case of such lack of attention.

At the time of the sinking of the United States ship Panay, several vessels belonging to the Standard Oil Company were likewise sunk.

[Page 617]

On April 22 last the Japanese Government expressed a wish to salvage those vessels for conversion into scrap metal.

On April 25 we informed the Foreign Office that the Japanese Government might salvage the vessels on the understanding that representatives of the Standard Oil Company should be present when the vessels were raised and be permitted to recover books, documents and papers constituting official records of the company, as well as logs, registry documents et cetera for the purpose of turning them over to the American consular officers in China.

On June 2 we were informed that the salvaging of these vessels had already begun without the presence of representatives of the company.

On June 3 we were advised by the Foreign Office that the Japanese Government desired to deal with this matter in such manner as to meet substantially the wishes of the American Government.

We were at the same time informed that Commander Kami of the Japanese Navy was to arrive in Shanghai on June 6 and would be directed to ensure satisfactory arrangements for the presence of the Company’s representatives during salvage.

We are now informed that the vessels since that date have been blown into scraps without the presence of representatives of the Company, rendering impossible the taking out of the documents.

My Government has consequently asked me to make known to His Excellency the inability of the Government of the United States to comprehend how the Japanese Government could be so unmindful of its assurances.

I appeal to the Minister to bring to bear the full and important weight of his own influence to obviate the constant risks of which I have spoken and to prevail upon the Japanese naval and military forces in China to honor the assurances given by their own Government in Tokyo, both in regard to individual cases and along general lines involving fundamental international rights.

General Principles

But while the foregoing desiderata are of great importance, I feel it my duty to convey to the Minister certain interests and concerns of the American Government and people along broader lines.

These interests and concerns have from time to time been publicly expressed by Mr. Hull with admirable clarity.

I refer in this connection to Mr. Hull’s public statements of July 16 and August 23, 1937,58a making clear and applicable to the Pacific area the principles by which the American Government is being guided, principles with which Japan is in direct conflict.

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I furthermore refer to Mr. Hull’s speeches before the National Press Club in Washington on March 1759 and before the annual meeting of the Bar Association of Tennessee at Nashville on June 3, 1938.60

No doubt the Minister has seen these various published statements and speeches; if not, they must be in the files of the Gaimusho.

These statements and speeches by the American Secretary of State have, among many other clearly stated facts, indicated that the existence and circumstances of the present conflict in China is deplored by the American people who have become increasingly perturbed by the method employed by Japan to resolve its disputes with China.

During the entire conflict of the past year my Government has endeavored to follow a course of strict impartiality.

This attitude, we feel, entitles us to express our views without risk of misunderstanding.

In this world of ours no nation and no people can escape the effects of warfare anywhere.

The present manifestation of Japan’s foreign policy and the methods which the Japanese armed forces are employing in pursuit of that policy are looked upon with deep regret by the American Government and people.

Not only on grounds of humanity but also on grounds of the menace to American life and property, the widespread bombing of civilian populations in China has profoundly shocked both our Government and people.

There may be as has been claimed sanction under the rules of war for bombing defended areas, but it is my profound conviction that conditions have altered since the rules of war were formulated—in the days which preceded the invention of airplanes—and that the conscience of mankind abhors the wholesale destruction from the air of innocent non-combatants.

My Government is most deeply anxious that the conflict be concluded and that peace be restored at the earliest possible moment, with due regard for the establishment and maintenance of orderly processes in the relations of nations, along lines consistent with the provisions of existing international commitments and with principles of justice and equity with regard to all concerned.

These concerns of my Government and the American people are broad and fundamental.

I cannot too earnestly stress the public thought and comment that are being given to these matters in my country today, where acts and facts speak louder than words.

[Page 619]

Now I have spoken with the utmost frankness, but in all friendliness and friendship.

I shall say nothing of this interview to the press. Perhaps the Minister may wish to tell the press merely that I came to discuss Japanese-American relations in general terms.

Once again I earnestly appeal for His Excellency’s cooperation and most careful thought in considering the desiderata and facts presented.

  1. Statement left with the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs on July 4, 1938.
  2. See telegram No. 746, June 1, 1938, from the Consul General at Shanghai, p. 766.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Ante, pp. 325 and 355.
  5. Ante, p. 452.
  6. See extracts in Department of State, Press Releases, June 4, 1938 (vol. xviii, No. 453), pp. 645–647.