The Minister in China (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

No. 2147

Sir: The situation here in Asia which has been brought about by the activities of the Japanese Army on the mainland since September 18, 1931, furnishes a number of problems for the powers which will require consideration and must inevitably bring about a reorientation of their policies vis-à-vis one another.

Perhaps the power most immediately concerned is Soviet Russia. Russian interests are at this moment being gradually but effectively eliminated from North Manchuria by the Japanese. In a conversation which I had on May 25th with Mr. Vladimir Barkov, Counselor of the Soviet Embassy, the latter stated that it was increasingly necessary for the Soviet Government to liquidate its interests in North Manchuria, as it was impossible for Soviet Russia to retain these interests in North Manchuria without danger of conflict with Japan, an eventuality that Soviet Russia desires to avoid at all costs. We may expect to see Japanese influence extending westward through Inner Mongolia, with consequent threat to Soviet interests in Outer Mongolia, and it is the opinion of those who know conditions in Sinkiang that the recent break-down of Chinese authority there may be expected to bring about a revival of Russian interest in that area.

American policy in the Pacific and the Far East may be expected to be vitally affected by Japanese expansion on the continent, and particularly by the Japanese attitude toward the various treaties under which American policy in the Pacific—in matters relating to naval armament, the status of the Philippines and freedom of opportunity for American business enterprise in China—has been based. The Japanese have served notice upon the world, and upon the United States in particular, that they do not intend to be bound by treaty restrictions when they consider their national interests to be involved.

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On May 31st Mr. Roy Howard, of the Scripps-Howard newspapers and editor of the New York World Telegram, came to see me. He informed me that he had come to the East for the purpose of acquainting himself with the situation, in order that he might adapt the editorial policy of his papers to the realities growing out of developments in the Far East. Mr. Howard continued his journey to the Philippines and then is to return home by way of Japan. I gathered from Mr. Howard’s statements to me that he feels that the potentialities of direct American trade with China and Asia are not of sufficient importance to justify the United States in undertaking the expense that would be necessary to maintain a naval force in Pacific adequate to maintain the United States in the Philippines, and keep open under all conditions access to Chinese ports by American goods in American ships.

It is my personal conviction that northern Asia, densely populated as it is in all of its habitable parts by Chinese, will never satisfy the needs of the Japanese in so far as colonization and relief from pressure of population are concerned, and that the departure of the United States from the Philippines will be the signal for the beginning of a Japanese advance southward. Therefore, American policy as regards the future of the Philippine Islands is a matter of first importance to the British and to the French, and also to the Dutch, who hold valuable colonies in that area.

This fact is brought out in three conversations which I have had within the last few days with Admiral Sir Frederic Dreyer, the newly-appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Asiatic Fleet, and his Chief of Staff, Commodore Thomson. Memoranda of these conversations are enclosed.72 The statements made by the Admiral and his Chief of Staff were not sought by me, but were voluntary in the course of ordinary social meetings, and while both officers insisted that the views stated by them were their personal views I have no doubt that they clearly indicate the tenor of reports which they are making to their own authorities at home responsible for British naval and national policy in the East.

I would invite particular attention to the statements made to me by Admiral Dreyer. While he purposely couched his statements in a somewhat vague and indirect way, I distinctly drew the inference that Great Britain might consider the occupation of the Philippines and the valuable naval harbor of Manila Bay by a friendly power so necessary that there would be a probability of her taking over the Philippines to prevent their falling into the hands of the Japanese.

It is my understanding that the Hawes-Cutting Bill73 provides [Page 362] for the retirement of the United States from the Philippines at the expiration of a period of nine years, after the Philippines have adopted a Constitution, and that arrangements are to be made whereby the United States will retain a naval base in the islands,—the islands to be neutralized by agreement among the interested powers.

The value of Japanese participation in any international arrangement for the neutrality of the Philippines naturally becomes somewhat questionable in view of the utter disregard of Japan for its obligations under the treaties of 1922 and the Kellogg Pact; and it would not be unnatural for the British and the French also to take this fact into consideration in any realignment of their policies vis-à-vis Japan as the result of the American intention to withdraw from the East. Great Britain and France, and also the Netherlands, must be prepared either to align their policies with that of the Japanese, or to resist Japanese advance southward.…

It is of further interest to note in this connection the following quoted from a personal letter that I have received from General Crozier, informing me of a conversation that he had at Tokyo recently with Zumoto:74

“He laid the principal stress on Japan’s economic position, not on the grievances against China or the Russian threat. Said that in modern times a nation must not be economically limited to its political boundaries. Continental Europe was proposing an economic bloc; England had such a bloc in the British Empire, and the United States was so big that it was a bloc in itself. Japan could not survive without one, and so it had been necessary to create it out of Manchuria and herself. He admitted that Japan’s actions could not all be defended in argument, but claimed that she had been impelled by imperative economic necessity.”

Respectfully yours,

Nelson Trusler Johnson
  1. None printed.
  2. Approved March 24, 1934; 48 Stat 456.
  3. Motosada Zumoto, Japanese newspaper publisher.