Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The Japanese Ambassador called to see me this afternoon at my request. I handed the Ambassador the “oral statement”70 which the Far Eastern Division had prepared as a reply to the memorandum which the Ambassador had left with me on August 23.

The Ambassador read the memorandum very attentively, but before he had an opportunity of commenting upon it, I told him that, as he would see from the last paragraph of the statement handed to him, I had found it necessary to express regret for the tone of the language used in the document which the Ambassador had left with me and I felt that it was necessary to emphasize the fact that I did not believe that the friendly and equitable solution which the Ambassador and I both desired of the questions at issue between the two Governments could be advanced by the employment of the kind of language employed by the Japanese Government in this recent communication.

The Ambassador immediately said that if the tone or the language employed seemed to me discourteous, this was far from the intention of his Government and that it should be attributed solely to the faulty vocabulary and knowledge of the English language of those responsible for the drafting of the document. I told the Ambassador that I was very glad to accept this explanation.

The Ambassador then said that he noted with great regret that no progress was made in the solution of the July 7 incident70a or in the adjustment of the Sector question.70b He stated that in his opinion both of these questions were of relatively minor importance and that he could not but feel that a satisfactory compromise could be found should the Government of the United States desire to find it. He stated that he was informed that in 1931 and 1934 the commanding officers of the International Settlement Forces had recommended that Sectors D and B be policed by the International Police Force with the temporary assistance from time to time of the Volunteer Force should these additional services be required. He urged that a compromise of this nature now be agreed upon.

I told the Ambassador that I was not prepared to make any comment upon this suggestion beyond saying that this suggestion had not been found acceptable by our authorities in the past because of [Page 878]our belief that it was not a practical suggestion, but that I would convey the Ambassador’s remarks to the appropriate authorities of the Navy Department.

The Ambassador then said with regard to the July 7 incident that it seemed to him that all that was required was an agreement on the language of some expression of regret on the part of the American authorities.

I called the Ambassador’s attention to the fact that in the oral statement which I had just handed him, it had been made entirely clear that the United States did not believe that any apology from its officials was called for.

I then said that to my very great regret, the Ambassador’s mission in Washington was soon to terminate and that I wanted to tell him again how sorry I was to see him leave because of my recognition of the constant efforts which he had made to work towards an improvement in the relations between our two countries.

I said that as he was now leaving, it was all the more regrettable to me to note that the divergences of opinion between the two Governments and the serious misunderstandings which had arisen between Japan and the United States were not only not diminished in scope, but appeared, unfortunately, to be increasing materially both in volume and character. I said it must be evident to him as it was to me that no matter how much men of good will in both countries might try to prevent it, if this situation continued no one could prophesy with any assurance that the result might not be of a very serious character.

I said that the Ambassador was undoubtedly aware of the information which had reached this Government that the Japanese military representative in French Indo China, General Nishihara, had been instructed yesterday to present an ultimatum to the French Governor General making demands which were tantamount to a demand for complete occupation of French Indo China, with the threat that if these demands were not accepted before ten p.m. Sunday, September 22, the Japanese military forces would at once invade Indo China.70c I said the Ambassador was likewise in all probability further informed that the French Governor General had refused the demands in question. I said that therefore the civilized world was confronted with a spectacle which in all probability meant that in the immediate future the Government of Japan, in addition to the acts of aggression which it had committed against the Government of China during the past nine years, especially during the past three years, was now about to commit an act of aggression on a colonial possession of the Government of France.

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I then read to the Ambassador from a memorandum which had been prepared by the Far Eastern Division71 the various official utterances of Japanese statesmen and spokesmen during the past six months in which they had repeatedly reiterated as the official position of the Japanese Government the desire of the latter to maintain the status quo in the Far East and in the course of which statements they had upon repeated occasions indicated their entire concurrence with the United States in the expressed desire of the latter that the status quo be maintained. I said that here was once more presented a flagrant case where the official announcements of the Japanese Government were completely counter to the policies and acts of its military authorities, and I concluded by saying that I was, of course, fully aware that the Japanese Ambassador himself could be under no misapprehension as to the very serious disquiet and very open opposition which the action threatened by the Japanese Government would create in the minds of the members of the United States Government and on the part of public opinion in general in this country.

The Japanese Ambassador at first attempted to say that all that the latest demands made by General Nishihara amounted to was compliance with the agreement reached on August 30 between the Vichy Government of France and the Japanese Government. I immediately stated that this obviously was not the case since the demands had been rejected by the French Governor General of Indo China on the specific ground that they were entirely outside of the scope of the agreement of August 30. The Ambassador then said that he had not been informed of the exact terms of the ultimatum presented and that he had not been advised of the confirmation of this information which had been given to Ambassador Grew by Foreign Minister Matsuoka the night before.71a

The Ambassador said that I should bear in mind the fact that there was a very great likelihood that Japan was undertaking the occupation of French Indo China not only as a means of expediting a conclusion of the hostilities in China and solely as a temporary measure with no thought of a permanent occupation of the colony, but also as a means of preventing the German Government, should Germany now prove victorious in her battle with Great Britain, from occupying the French, British, and Dutch possessions in the Far East.

To this I said that it would seem to me obvious that if the Japanese Government found it necessary, for reasons of which we were not aware, to consider taking precautionary measures as a means of preserving, rather than disrupting, the status quo in the Far East, this [Page 880]Government would not only have been willing, but glad, to discuss these possibilities with the Japanese Government since, as I had said before, it had repeatedly been stated by this Government as its considered policy that it would support the whole structure of international treaties and agreements covering the maintenance of the stability and the status quo in the Far East, except in so far as modifications thereto might be agreed upon through negotiation and peaceful processes. I said that I could hardly accept with any sincerity the argument that Japan was now occupying French Indo China solely in order to prevent Germany from undertaking such occupation.

The Ambassador then said that this Government only recently, as a means of insuring its own security, had obtained air and naval bases on British possessions in the Western Hemisphere.71b

I said to the Ambassador that I was sorry to have to say that I could imagine no parallel less well chosen than that he mentioned for the action which the Japanese Government contemplated in French Indo China. On one side—the Anglo-American side, we had an agreement freely entered into on a basis of give and take, and reached because of the belief of the two Governments that the bargain so consummated enhanced the security of the two nations involved; whereas on the other hand, we had a demand presented by Japan to French Indo China stating that if the local authorities would not immediately pave the way for complete occupation of the entire territory by Japanese troops, the Japanese troops were going to walk in and take charge by force through acts of aggression. I said I could not for the moment accept any parallel between the two questions.

In conclusion I said that I felt it necessary for me to remind the Ambassador of the policy which this Government had publicly announced as the policy which it would pursue with regard to Great Britain, namely, a policy of furnishing to the utmost measure of its ability all material supplies, munitions, et cetera, to Great Britain in order to assist the latter nation to defend herself against the aggression of Germany and her allies. I said that in the Pacific region where this Government likewise desired in its own interest to see peace maintained, the United States was confronted by a series of acts of aggression committed by Japan against her neighbor China, and now in all probability, against the adjacent colony of Indo China. I said that I would be lacking in candor if I did not make it clear to the Ambassador that, consistent with its policy with regard to Great Britain, the United States would likewise feel it necessary to furnish such means of assistance in the way of supplies, munitions, et cetera, for these victims of aggression in the Pacific area as might be required. I said that in view of the violation by Japan of the structure of international [Page 881]law in her dealings with her neighbors in the Far East and her infringement of the legitimate rights of the United States and of American nationals, the Government of Japan could certainly have no ground for complaint because the United States lent assistance of the character I had indicated to China, and to Indo China in the event that the latter was attacked.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Infra.
  2. See telegram No. 671, July 22, 1940, 1 p.m., from the Consul at Shanghai, vol. ii, p. 101.
  3. See statement by the Secretary of State, September 4, 1940, vol. ii, p. 111.
  4. See telegram No. 357, September 19, 1940, 9 p.m., to the Ambassador in Japan, vol. ii, p. 294.
  5. Not printed.
  6. See memorandum by the Ambassador in Japan, September 20, 1940, vol. ii, p. 295.
  7. See exchange of notes at Washington, September 2, 1940; Department of State, Bulletin, September 7, 1940 (vol. iii, No. 63), p. 199.