Memorandum by the Secretary of State of a Conversation With the British Ambassador (Lindsay) at Woodley at 2:15 p.m.

I told the Ambassador that the situation which had arisen at Shanghai was giving me serious concern for potentialities that might come out of it. The main objective of the Japanese was evidently to kill the boycott of the Chinese. In their note in the early part of October47 they had protested against the boycott as an act of war. That had fallen flat. Now they were trying to attack it by action based upon the alleged violence to their nationals and their property which was involved in the boycott. I pointed out that instructions to the Japanese Admiral, however, had been to destroy the boycott. I thought that this presented a situation which was of both immediate and long-distance concern. The immediate concern was that it was likely to lead to further and further violence in the Yangtze Valley and thus to an ultimate state of war, out of which there would be very likely to grow a Japanese blockade of all Chinese ports, including the Yangtze, which would directly and most seriously affect British and American trade with China. I reminded the Ambassador of the issue of policy which had existed in China; Chiang Kai-Shek, the former President, had throughout been in favor of avoiding war with Japan and trusting [Page 62] to the public opinion of the world and the influence of the other powers to protect China. On the other hand, the resentment which had been caused by the failure of the powers to protect China had tended to throw power into the hands of those who were in favor of declaring war and taking more violent measures and had ultimately, for awhile at least, thrown Chiang Kai-Shek out of power. I pointed out that if the opposition policy of declaring war should be successful there would undoubtedly be a blockade at once by Japan with the attendant loss to us. Therefore, it was important to cut down the possibilities of violence and, so far as was proper, prevent any unlawful action by Japan against the boycott.

In the long-distance view I pointed out that it was probably much for the benefit of the world that China should not be deprived of her only weapon against an enemy—the boycott—and, if she were deprived of it, it would tend to destroy the balance of power. I pointed out that if China’s only present weapon were taken away from her she would probably have to do one of two things: either first, arm herself and become a military nation or she would be thrown into total subservience to a more military nation like Japan. Either of these results would be extremely injurious to the peace of the world and to the freedom of commerce which Britain and we had been striving for in the Far East. They would tend directly to destroy thus the work which we had been trying to do in the last thirty years in protecting the integrity of China and the Open Door.

Turning to the measures to be taken, the first thing I was thinking of doing, and which I shall probably do myself anyhow, was to call Japan’s attention to the particular situation which existed in the international settlement and to show her that we intended to back up the efforts of the local authorities there who were seeking to keep Japan’s landing forces out of that settlement. I pointed out that the international Doctrine which permits a nation whose nationals are imperiled to land in a defendant country was dependent upon the failure of the other nation where they were settled to afford proper police protection, et cetera. This was the excuse which Japan had made in Manchuria. In the international settlement at Shanghai, however, there was a perfectly efficient police force under white officers and largely consisting of white enlisted men.48 It was nonsense to say that this force could not protect Japanese life and property in the international settlement and its presence removed the last excuse for her intervention by landing forces.

As to further steps I said I was thinking aloud and desired to get the reaction of Great Britain. I felt I could do this because our interests [Page 63] were, so far as I could see, precisely parallel and similar. I said I should hesitate to act unless Great Britain approved and was planning similar action. I told Sir Ronald that our Consuls up the River were calling for additional war vessels because they anticipated the possibility that we should have to rescue and remove our nationals if this Japanese pressure went on.

The Ambassador asked me whether I anticipated that the effect of further Japanese action up the River would be to provoke general anti-foreign action by the Chinese. I said I thought it would; that the last time we had been obliged to lay down a barrage at Nanking49 the attacks on the foreigners had come not from any hostility to us but from the civil war of China itself and it would be even more likely to produce general danger to foreigners if the Chinese were fighting a foreign foe like Japan.

I told him that I did not intend any threat against Japan; our Asiatic squadron was not large enough to constitute a threat but I thought it might have a beneficial effect to send that squadron, in whole or in part, from Manila to Shanghai provided the British would do the same with some of their vessels. I told him we had only one cruiser and a couple of squadrons of destroyers and of submarines so they could be no menace to Japan, but I thought that their presence in Shanghai would tend, on the one hand, to convince Japan that we were seriously interested in the threat to our trade and our people arising out of the possibility of Japanese action, and also it would have a very wholesome influence on the Chinese themselves in proving that Chiang Kai-Shek was right and that the powers were interested in China and what happened to her. At present the Chinese are feeling very deserted and helpless. I thought that the presence of foreign ships would tend to strengthen the hands of Chiang Kai-Shek as against his foolish opponents who were trying to declare war because the foreign nations had deserted them. I summed up by telling him that I thought our main objective should be to try to prevent a sequence of steps by the Japanese which would tend to lead to war with China and a resultant blockade injurious to our neutral trade; that Japan had got hold of a bear by the tail and couldn’t let go and was being led along from step to step; that the only way to prevent her from taking these steps was to show as stoutly as we could that we were interested in it and it was leading her into a situation which we regarded as very serious to our interests.

H[enry] L. S[timson]
  1. Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 15.
  2. The enlisted men were usually Chinese or British Sikhs.
  3. On March 24, 1927; see Foreign Relations, 1927; vol. ii, pp. 146 ff.