Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State

The Japanese Ambassador called to see me this morning at my request. The Ambassador told me that he was leaving today in order to visit the San Francisco Exposition and that on his trip west as well as on his return trip to Washington he would visit Japanese consular officers. I told the Ambassador I hoped that he would have a pleasant and agreeable journey.

I also took occasion to express to him my appreciation of the courtesies shown by the Japanese Government to the American officers and men on the U. S. S. Astoria. The Ambassador replied that his Government considered it a great privilege to receive the officers and men and that he had rarely known of any courtesies shown by one government to another which had created a more profound [Page 835]effect on public opinion than had the sending of the U. S. S. Astoria to Japan created in the minds of the Japanese people.47

I then told the Ambassador that I desired to read to him as in the nature of an oral conversation a relation of certain facts involving the interference with the legitimate movements of American citizens in China on the part of the Japanese military and other authorities. I said to the Ambassador that the United States Government could not agree to such entirely unwarranted interference with the legitimate and recognized rights of American nationals residing in China by any third power and that I felt sure that he was as anxious as I to remove causes of misunderstanding between the two countries. The Ambassador said he would be glad to undertake to do what he could to solve the various matters which I would present to him. I then read to him the following statement:

“American naval vessels were scheduled to leave Shanghai on April 15 for Hankow and because of long continued interruption to normal commercial shipping on the Yangtze, arrangements were made for the transportation on these American naval vessels of four American citizens. One was an employee of the American firm of Andersen, Meyer and Company who desired to proceed from Shanghai to Kiukiang for the purpose of residing at and looking after a manufacturing plant of his firm which is located there. In the absence there of an American employee Andersen, Meyer and Company is unable to obtain insurance for the plant in question. The three other Americans desired to proceed to Hankow. One of the Americans desiring to go to Hankow is the head of an American mission station there. The remaining two Americans are the wife and son of an American businessman at Hankow. Their home is at Hankow.

“The American Consul General at Shanghai called on his Japanese colleague on April 13, explained the situation and requested that passes be issued to the four Americans to enable them to land at their destinations.

“The Japanese Consul General was either unwilling or unable to discuss the request for a pass to enable the American citizen who desired to go to Kiukiang to land there and would offer no comment other than that passes could not be issued for Kiukiang and that no discrimination amongst nationalities was involved. In regard to the three Americans who desired to land at Hankow, the Japanese Consul General refused to issue landing permits for them but gave no reason for such refusal. A member of his staff, however, stated that Japanese naval and military officers refused to sanction the return of these Americans to Hankow because they had, when they departed from Hankow several months ago, signed declarations that they would not return.

“American officials and citizens have been very patient in regard to interference by Japanese officials with the movements of American citizens in areas in China where actual hostilities were in progress, [Page 836]but the Government of the United States recognizes no right on the part of the Japanese to interfere with the movement of American citizens in China. The cases of interference under discussion indicate a lack of consideration for American interests which is especially objectionable in that American officials had extended their assistance in connection with the journey and in that transportation on American naval vessels had been made available. No hostilities are in progress at Kiukiang or at Hankow. There is a large foreign community and a considerable number of American citizens at Hankow. In this connection it may be observed that an investigation at Hankow by an American consular officer has disclosed that these Americans did not, prior to their departure from Hankow several months ago, sign declarations that they would not return. This, of course, is entirely aside from the question of whether such a declaration, if it in fact existed, would have any validity or relevancy.

“The Department of State requests that instructions be issued immediately to the concerned Japanese officials and forces in China to cease interference with the movements of the four Americans in question, as well as with the movements of other Americans.

“The Department of State has received the impression that the attitude of the present Japanese Consul General at Shanghai toward the adjustment of cases affecting American interests is distinctly one of lack of interest and lack of helpfulness. In the cases described above and also in other cases taken up at the same time, involving the China Foreign Trading Corporation, the Palmetto Presbyterian Mission and attacks by Japanese soldiers on Miss Avett and Mr. J. E. Jackson, the attitude of the Japanese Consul General was unresponsive to a point bordering on discourtesy. All of the above-named cases had been outlined by a member of the staff of the American Consulate General at Shanghai to a member of the staff of the Japanese Consulate General at Shanghai specifically in preparation for the call of the American Consul General. Yet, upon the occasion of that call the Japanese Consul General was obviously totally unfamiliar with all the cases except the one involving the application for a permit to land at Kiukiang. The Japanese Consul General was apparently not inclined to interest himself in the cases or to be helpful in any way.

“The attitude of the Japanese Consul General at Shanghai is mentioned because the situation at Shanghai requires frequent communication between American and Japanese consular officers there and because the Department of State is confident that the Japanese Foreign Office will not condone the attitude of the Japanese Consul General at Shanghai as outlined herein.

“The cases mentioned herein are illustrative of interferences to which American citizens and their interests generally are being subjected in areas in China where there are Japanese armed forces. The cases of the American citizens seeking passage on American naval vessels especially emphasize the long continued interruption, referred to above, of the normal movement of commercial traffic on the Yangtze, although it is well known that Japanese commercial vessels move freely up and down the Yangtze between Hankow and Shanghai and transport commercial cargo. The urgency of a prompt rectification of the situation on the Yangtze is indicated by the fact that there are now at Hankow awaiting passage to Shanghai twenty Americans, some of whom have been trying for two months to obtain passage. With the [Page 837]exception of three consular officers, only one American has been able to proceed from Hankow to Shanghai since February 22 of this year. Since approximately the middle of February no American has been able to proceed from Shanghai to Hankow. In this general connection it is to be noted that the normal movement of commercial and passenger traffic is interrupted not only on the Yangtze but also in other parts of China.

“It is earnestly hoped that the Japanese Government will immediately take such steps as may be necessary to rectify the conditions outlined herein.”

The Ambassador listened attentively to what I had to say and asked if I would send him a written confirmation in the form of an aide mémoire so that he might be sure he had the details fully in mind before he communicated with his Government. I told him I would be glad to do so. The Ambassador said that I could be sure that he would make urgent representations to his Government in the sense desired, and that while he realized that so long as military activities were in progress it was impossible for the Japanese military authorities to permit the nationals of the other countries to move freely as they desired, nevertheless, in the light of the facts as I had stated them he could not see any ground for the restriction of the movements of Americans in the manner described.

The Ambassador then asked if he might stay for a few minutes to talk to me about some other matters, and inquired first how I viewed the present situation in Europe. I said that I could not venture to form any opinion as to what was going to take place in Europe but that naturally when one saw every day reported in the press greater activity, both naval and military, on the part of so many powers in Europe and when one read daily that more men were being called to the colors in this, that, or the other country, one could not help but be impressed with the profound gravity of the present situation. The Ambassador asked if we had received as yet any official reaction from Italy and Germany to the President’s message.48 I said we had none as yet. He asked what reaction we had received from other countries and I told him that while we had not attempted to obtain any specific reaction, a very great number of governments had voluntarily expressed their deep gratitude and their complete support for the constructive step undertaken by the President. Rather to my surprise, the Ambassador then said that he himself had the greatest admiration for the move made by the President, that he believed it offered a just and dignified way for the settlement of the existing controversy, and that he trusted [Page 838]very much that it would meet with the success which it deserved. He asked me if I would clarify for his benefit the type of conference which the President had in mind provided the peaceful atmosphere which was essential as a prerequisite were obtained. I explained to him the President’s thoughts in this regard in some detail, emphasizing the fact that this Government would not participate in purely political discussions between European countries. The Ambassador inquired whether we had consulted with any government prior to sending this message and I told him that I could inform him positively that not only had no other government been consulted, but that no other government had even been apprised of the message before it had been sent.

The Ambassador expressed the opinion that no major hostilities were imminent. I told him that I trusted that his point of view was accurate but that it seemed to me when so many countries could be compared at this moment to arsenals filled with explosives, there was always the possibility that some spark would set off the conflagration. I said it seemed to me imperative in the interest of modern civilization that the specific solution of the problems referred to in the President’s message must be undertaken in order that the danger to humanity which these arsenals created might be eliminated or at least reduced.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. The Astoria carried back to Japan the body of the late Japanese Ambassador to the United States, Hirosi Saito.
  2. On April 14, 1939, President Roosevelt addressed a communication to Chancelor Hitler proposing a 10-year guarantee of peace; at the same time the Secretary of State addressed an idential cablegram to Premier Mussolini.—Department of State, Press Releases, April 15, 1939 (vol. xx, No. 498), p. 291.