Memorandum of Trans-Atlantic Telephone Conversation67

Secretary: Hello is that you General. I have had no messages from you except a very brief one telling me that Sze had informed you that he was going to prepare a statement.

Dawes: That is all I sent because there has been no change.

Secretary: I would like very much to know what happened yesterday.

Dawes: Nothing happened yesterday.

Secretary: The papers reported that both Japan and China had agreed in principle.

Dawes: That is the newspaper’s idea. They are way ahead of the situation. The situation has not changed to the extent that they indicated at all. They had no reason to believe that they knew anything at all about China’s attitude. Some of these big fellows have been talking encouragingly about the situation when they do not know anything about China’s attitude and Sze came in this morning to see what we proposed to say and I suggested the whole thing was broken up. When I am talking to them I am saying nothing.

Secretary: That is right.

Dawes: But in the proposition that Sze was going to make, it all comes back to wanting to invoke Articles 10, 12, 15 and 16 and also to calling on the League to bring in the United States.

Secretary: What you are saying now is what China wants to do. This is what China wants.

Dawes: Yes that is what China wants to do this morning. She isn’t going to do that. Sze was going to be very reasonable and play on with this Japanese proposition and make a suggestion for a nonpartisan neutral commission like Japan [proposes?] coupled with troop withdrawal and it isn’t going to be unconditional troop withdrawal by saying that Japan should be protected. In other words, [Page 516] it was something if he hadn’t heard from his Government, would have put us a long way toward settlement. But he just sent word to me, not over half an hour ago, [apparent omission] which he had sent to China had not been approved and they wired back that it was not strong enough in what he said about troop evacuation and they wanted to put in … It doesn’t break the situation at all. It is just exactly where it was when Japan made this proposal and the reason why I haven’t cabled you was because I wanted to keep you exactly informed of the situation. The papers were wrong in talking about the members of a commission and all that sort of thing.

Secretary: I want to tell you about something else.

Dawes: They were talking from incomplete information.

Secretary: I want to talk a minute.

Dawes: I just want to tell you one thing more. I want to ask you a question. Matsudaira came in here about an hour or two ago and he showed me what purported to be a telegram that Tokyo had sent to you about your representations to Japan. He said that you had told the Japanese Government that you were anxious to see this thing peacefully settled but that public sentiment in the United States demanded that something ought to be done by them to indicate a willingness on their part to stand by these propositions they promised to make and that otherwise it might be necessary for you to make a statement, in which you ask them what they could do and this telegram, he said, was to the effect that they would try within the next day or so to have a proposition to remove the troops at Tsitsihar and to carry that out it was … and that he very much hoped that could be done. If that is so, it would have a great effect if it could be made known to Sze—if you could make it known in some way that in holding them off … because Japan wants to pacify public sentiment in their country. It would be very much easier if they should know that Japan would like to do that. I don’t feel authorized to do it without instructions from you. If I could tell him that I had gotten that from Matsudaira. I don’t want to create the impression that we are working with one more than the other. What was in my mind and what I have been thinking of was to read what I am telling you and ask if I could use it at my discretion here.

Secretary: I tell you this. Of course, the form of the report which Matsudaira gave you is rather exaggerated and it is hardly recognizable. Two days ago, however, when the Japanese had taken Tsitsihar, you know that city in the north, I called in the Japanese Ambassador68 and I told him that the situation looked to me as if in substance that the Japanese Army had run amuck and had seized all [Page 517] of these places and was holding them and that it was a violation of these treaties and that I looked at it as a very grave situation and I told him that I must now reserve all my rights to make public everything that had taken place between the American Government and the Japanese Government. Do you see? I have been holding in confidence the terms of my memorandum of November 5 and their reply of November 9, which you have, and I have been holding back our press. I told the Ambassador today,69 that it looked to me as though things had come to the breaking point and I couldn’t promise to do it any more; that I had to look after my own public opinion. That evidently scared them and this reply this morning has come from that. The Japanese Ambassador has been in with what I suppose is the same message that Matsudaira has given you. It is not in writing but it is a verbal assurance that they are doing their utmost to conform to all of our suggestions. They are firmly determined to withdraw from the Tsitsihar region and they already have withdrawn two battalions of infantry and one company of artillery and they tell me that they are sending over the Assistant Chief of Staff to keep a hand on the coat tails of General Honjo.

Dawes: That man is probably the one that Matsudaira refers to as the Deputy Chief of Staff.

Secretary: Yes, they have sent him over there to put a check on General Honjo and that he (Shidehara) assured me that the policy which he outlined in his memorandum of November 9 remained the policy of the Japanese Government and that I could rely upon it no matter what Yoshizawa said in Paris. I had pointed out to them the same day that Yoshizawa’s statement was entirely contradictory to Shidehara’s note. Do you see? So much for that. The most important thing was that he then went on to tell me that Japan was making a proposition for a neutral commission to go to China, including Manchuria, and to investigate all matters which are in controversy between Japan and China. I examined him very closely on that and he told me that it covered everything,—all of these old questions of treaties or anything they wanted to go into. It is quite comprehensive and general and it intends to cover the whole situation—the Japanese and Chinese situation.

Dawes: Does it include, if it comes before the League, an investigation into the grievances which China has against Japan as well as those which Japan has against China?

Secretary: Yes, it is so drawn as to cover that. I think that is quite plain. They assured me that in that respect it differs very radically [Page 518] from the proposition which you telegraphed me—the one as coming from Matsudaira.

Dawes: That is right, it does differ.

Secretary: It must differ because the other was entirely unsatisfactory. I asked him specially whether the Army has consented to this new proposal and he told me that the Army had been consulted and had consented to it. He said that.

Dawes: Do you mean Shidehara said that.

Secretary: No Debuchi said that as coming from Shidehara.

Dawes: Here is something for you to decide right now. If the Chinese could know that in some way it would be a big help. If you would allow Sze to know that.

Secretary: I haven’t any right to say that. They told me for my satisfaction and the only way you could do that would be for you to get Matsudaira to tell the others that.

Dawes: That is a sensible suggestion.

Secretary: Let me finish. He told me that the Japanese Government was taking steps to prepare public opinion for this step of a neutral investigation. I will say—this is my own opinion that I say now—it is a very long step forward by Japan beyond anything that I have ever known Japan to do before. Hitherto it has been contrary to Oriental opinion to have any neutral or impartial investigation into their affairs when they are in controversy. They always exclude the idea of a judicial or neutral investigation and Japan has consistently taken that position, particularly in regard to Manchuria. Do you see? I told Debuchi that if this was really done—if they had really made this proposition, in my opinion it would represent a very long step forward by Japan towards accommodating itself to western opinion, the opinion of the western world. Do you get that. Then comes this further fact. Debuchi went on to say that the League had proposed an armistice but that Japan had refused because it would admit the existence of a state of war. I told him that in my opinion that was a great mistake because it would destroy the value in a large part of the investigation unless it was accompanied by a cessation of hostilities and I told him that the agreement to suspend hostilities could be easily drawn so as to avoid any admission of a state of war. He listened very attentively and went away to telegraph my opinion to Shidehara on both those points, namely, that I thought that the proposition for a general investigation I would look on very favorably but that it certainly must be accompanied, in order to make it of any value, with an agreement to suspend hostilities.

Dawes: That is exactly the idea that you cabled in the note. That is the opinion over on the Continent—that it would not be any good at all unless you could get an agreement for a cessation of hostilities and [Page 519] Briand, when I was over there the other day and was talking about that, didn’t call it an armistice exactly but a cessation of hostilities. Here is what I have in mind. Sze is being assisted here by Robert E. Olds, who used to be Under Secretary of State.70 I haven’t known him but do you refer to him as a reliable man in every way.

Secretary: Yes, I have known him for many years and have regarded him as thoroughly reliable.

Dawes: I do too and he is very helpful in this thing. He is very helpful and I would trust him to be very discreet and he was the one that brought me the news of this despatch that Sze had gotten. I have just seen Sze and he read me what he proposes to do and China certainly has gone a long ways. Olds came over just about three quarters of an hour ago to tell me that when Sze put his proposition up to his Government, they said to make it stronger and to put in a time limit. I had gotten Sze to take out the time limit—the words about unconditional withdrawal—so it left the whole thing just where it was. Now if I could tell Olds and I was thinking of telling it so we could be safe against the impression of taking … from Japan or China would indicate that we were closer to Japan than China. I did not know how to do it. I have been thinking about this since we have been talking. I had thought about telling Matsudaira to tell him. Sze and Matsudaira are good friends. I don’t know whether Sze’s proposition … saying that makes certain that they are not going to do it—sort of an atmosphere. If you will let me tell Olds about the information you got—I can tell him personally and not officially and that he must not convey it to Sze in a way that comes from us and not to tell Sze at all until a day or so has passed so Japan’s withdrawal can come without telling him.

Secretary: You can avoid one part of that by having the information on which my opinion is based coming from the League because practically everything that I have heard from Shidehara is in line with what has taken place in the League.

Dawes: If that is so that is all right. I can tell Olds.

Secretary: If you can put it that way.

Dawes: The Japanese are going to try to remove the troops at Tsitsihar in a few days if possible and that will enable him to hold off Sze until they have that news.

Secretary: Yes that part.

Dawes: I would not make any other statement until I see what I can do.

Secretary: So far as the news about Tsitsihar is concerned, I think you can tell him that I had received that message of assurance—as I [Page 520] have just given it to you. Yes I think you ought to give them that message. The alternative is a break down.

Dawes: They should act quickly and the League has been very much worried. But as a matter of fact the papers do not know the whole thing and there is no foundation for it at all. I was very much surprised when I picked up the paper this morning, to find them talking about commissions.

Secretary: So far as the message about the Japanese Government informing me that it was firmly determined to withdraw from the Tsitsihar region as rapidly as possible, I see no harm in that message being conveyed if it will do any good.

Dawes: That is all I want.

Secretary: The thing I do not want you to quote me as saying is what I am saying to you about the merits of the general agreement of Japan to submit everything to a neutral commission.

Dawes: I won’t say that. I am very careful about expressing any opinion from you unless I get a wire over here.

Secretary: I can tell you for your information so you can tell any one if it becomes advisable to use it, that the President and I both think that such an investigation by a neutral observer accompanied by an agreement for a cessation of hostilities would be a wonderful thing to have happen—a very good thing, and either of these countries, in view of present public opinion, would be a fool to refuse it.

Dawes: Yes, all right.

Secretary: Did you get my telegram last night about the attitude we would take toward an American on the commission?

Dawes: Yes, I did. Of course, I have not said anything about that. No, I won’t do anything.

Secretary: Of course, we would have to know … in which the function of the commission was exercised whether it was a voluntary commission which Japan and China agreed to and also what the scope of its powers were.

Dawes: In Sweetser’s report——

Secretary: I do not have Sweetser’s report.

Dawes: I am wiring you what took place after I had conferred with Briand and you can see from Briand’s statement that he does not know how much cooperation that the League could expect.

Secretary: I should use Matsudaira, if I were you, as far as possible to communicate with Sze or Olds either one. Or he could tell Drummond and let Drummond tell Sze but I see no harm as far as the Tsitsihar information is concerned. I don’t see any harm in telling that.

Dawes: That is all that is necessary. We do not need anything more.

[Page 521]

Secretary: I can not guarantee that the promise will be kept but the promise has been made.

Dawes: That will keep Sze from trying to press the thing under pressure from the Chinese Government. They are protecting him in trying to work this thing out.

Secretary: You can use the information that they have represented to me that they are firmly determined to withdraw from Tsitsihar and that already two battalions of infantry and one company of artillery have gone over the railroad.

Dawes: That is all we need. That is what Sze … that is all that would be of help.

Secretary: I do not guarantee the accuracy of the information.

Dawes: All right. Mr. Secretary, as long as you do not hear anything from me, there is no change in the status quo. There is no change—it rests on talk of the newspaper fellows. They say whatever they please.

Secretary: My advice to you is to let Matsudaira understand very fully our opinion so far as that general investigation is concerned; I sent you a very strong message that the previous proposition of Matsudaira was highly unsatisfactory. I see no harm in your telling him that we regard this as an entirely different solution if they are willing to investigate the whole matter through a satisfactory neutral commission but that to make it at all valuable, it must be accompanied by a cessation of hostilities.

Dawes: Suppose it goes ahead—suppose they decide on a commission. I think if the committee is appointed that will make it possible for the United States if it goes on … That is what is in my mind. We do not want to fall [fail?] in this thing. … make it a concession that we come over there and sit with them. Isn’t it perfectly possible to get a committee that would not be a League committee—a neutral, non-partisan committee which had full powers in itself to be independent of the League?

Secretary: That might make it a little … but I would not turn it down for that reason alone.

Dawes: I understand Mr. Secretary, but I think they want to do everything they can to make good their position that way because I have been told that they do not think we are easy marks in the League by any means.

Secretary: On the other hand General, I am not at all adverse to having the League get all the prestige it can out of this thing.

Dawes: I know you wanted them to have it.

Secretary: I want them to have it. I am very anxious to have them get success out of this thing.

[Page 522]

Dawes: That is right and I am assuming that. Another thing … came over to see me and I told them that I thought the League had done right and that as a result of the methods they had followed, they had gotten the thing pretty well where it could be adjusted. Remember that is what you said. Even if the League fails, it has had a great opportunity in the opinion of the world to do a great service. In our case we should make a clear statement of just what the issue was and it should be prepared in the proper way. Don’t you remember you said that. I told … that I didn’t want that as coming from me but he is going to say it. I have to be careful.

Secretary: I think you have done very well; I have no criticisms, nothing but praise. The main thing is if we can settle this thing peacefully, I think it will be a great thing and if we can suspend hostilities and get an impartial investigation, it lays the foundation for the future of broadening Japan’s attitude towards western methods of investigation which I had been very despairing of before. It brings Japan much more into alignment with the methods of our peace treaties.

Dawes: When you do not hear from me, you know that there is no change in the status quo.

Secretary: When is the next meeting of the League? There are no more meetings of the League today?

Dawes: Yes, they are meeting now. I do not know what the outcome of it is and the Japanese have put in their proposition which they showed me but Sze is not putting his in because his government told him it was not strong enough—his present statement.

Secretary: I think that the vital thing now is to get word in some way to the Chinese not to make a fool of themselves. I leave that to your judgment.

Dawes: Sze is a good fellow and he has a very level head.

Secretary: You can say it any way you see fit but try not to bring us into it too far. It is the opinion of this section of the world that China had better not make a fool of herself.

Dawes: That is right. I don’t think she is going to. Sze won’t if he can help it.

Secretary: If anything dramatic happens—anything very important—at this meeting, you had better send it to me by telephone within the next four hours because I am thinking of going over to Baltimore for the night—just for the night. I shall not leave here until five and shall come back tomorrow morning. I will leave my telephone address so you can reach me.

Dawes: I don’t think it will be necessary to telephone you because what is going to result is just what we have been going over.

Secretary: All right. Goodbye.

  1. Between Mr. Stimson in Washington and General Dawes in Paris, November 21, 1931, 11:30 a.m.; omissions in this memorandum are indicated in the original and apparently show poor telephone reception.
  2. For memorandum of conversation on November 19, 1931, see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 44.
  3. For memorandum of conversation on November 21, 1931, see ibid., p. 46.
  4. July 1, 1927–June 30, 1928.