861.77 Chinese Eastern/1268

The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State

No. 560

Sir: Referring to my telegram No. 157 of October 11, 7 p.m. and 160 of October 13, 5 p.m.,63 and to recent despatches on the subject of Soviet-Japanese Relations*, I have the honor to report that the events of the past two weeks appear to justify the contention that Japan does not wish hostilities at the present time. Nevertheless it can be said that these events may react sharply on the internal political situation and have served to demonstrate to a wider public the likelihood of an eventual recourse to arms to solve the Russian problem.

The acute situation which arose last week developed from the [Page 435] Chinese Eastern Railway problem. At the time of the reported seizure of the Pogranitchnaya and Manchuli stations, the arrest of Soviet officials of the Chinese Eastern Railway and the ineffectual protests of Slavutsky, U.S.S.R. Consul-General at Harbin, Ambassador Yureneff in Tokyo is said to have threatened the Japanese Government with the publication of documents “revealing Japan’s complicity in an alleged plan to seize the Chinese Eastern Railway”. On October 8 the Soviet Government carried out its threat by publishing four documents allegedly written by Japanese officials in “Manchukuo” and purporting to indicate illegal intentions prejudicial to Soviet rights in the Railway. While Rengo declined to circulate the text the local Soviet Tass representative proved more obliging and through his efforts digests appeared in the vernacular papers which led to widespread publicity and discussion.

It is hard to determine the motive for the Soviet action in publishing these alleged documents. Obviously it could not have been hoped that the publication would expedite the sale of the Railway. Various theories have been advanced stating that Soviet Russia was endeavoring to expose to her own advantage Japanese Imperialism before the world; that she was trying to strengthen the hand of those in Japan who favored acquisition of the road by reasonably honorable means; and that she was striving to destroy the fiction that the Chinese Eastern Railway problem concerned only “Manchukuo” and Soviet Russia. Only in respect to the last theory was her extraordinary diplomacy successful for Japan could not, of course, ignore a direct accusation of illegal intent. Perhaps the basic motive for publishing the alleged documents was that they provided the only material to hand with which to carry on the apparent new policy of resistance to Japan. Moreover, Soviet Russia apparently was convinced of a Japanese-”Manchukuo” plan to seize the railroad, and her démarche may be interpreted as a consequent attempt to stave off seizure.

Whatever the motive the reaction in Japan was instantaneous. Army circles were highly indignant, and the War-Office spokesman issued a sabre-rattling statement which was offset by remarks of General Araki who, three days later, declared that the Japanese Army had no intention of going to war with Soviet Russia. It seems certain that the Army realizes the value of the latest developments for furthering the cause of national defence, but to date, no aggressive anti-Soviet propaganda has appeared.

The Foreign Office immediately denied the receipt of any documents similar to the alleged ones. Various projects were discussed such as deportation of the Tass representative in Tokyo, withdrawal [Page 436] of Japan’s “good offices” in the conference in Tokyo for the sale of the Chinese Eastern Railway, and a demand that Soviet Russia retract her accusations. The Foreign Minister, however, minimized the importance of the incident on the grounds that, after long experience in Moscow, he had concluded that acts of the Soviet Government were frequently irresponsible and unintelligible. Apparently his view has prevailed for no drastic action has been taken pending receipt of a full report from Ambassador Ota in the Soviet capital. A second Foreign Office statement merely concluded that the Soviet action was unsuccessful propaganda and advised the U.S S.R. to “reconsider its attitude”.

The press reaction was at first violent, the Yomiuri stating on October 10:

“If Soviet Russia should not alter her antagonistic attitude and continue to commit unwarrantable actions against Japan, there would be no alternative for Japan but to take a decided step against Soviet Russia”.

Later editorials, however, are more in the vein of the Kokumin, which on October 14 acknowledged that Japan is directly concerned in the Chinese Eastern Railway controversy and stated that “Japan is called upon to see that the railroad is acquired by “Manchukuo” in a manner which will serve to remove the impression that Japan is bent on making mischief”. The Nichi Nichi has several times in recent weeks pleaded for Soviet-Japanese rapprochement and the Fukuoka Nichi Nichi on October 16 aptly stated that there is no need for Japan to fight Soviet Russia and inquires “What is all the fuss about”?

It is difficult to determine whether the “fuss” has occurred over authentic or forged documents. The Polish Minister recently told me that he was convinced of their authenticity, but, as he had just called on the Soviet Ambassador, his opinion can scarcely be taken at face value. However, the question is immaterial as may be deduced from the fact that Mr. Ohashi, “Manchukuo” Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs who is at present in Tokyo, intimated to a foreign correspondent that if the documents did not in fact exist they might just as well exist. It appears certain that “Manchukuo” with Japan behind her remains determined to have the Railway and that, therefore, the issue will soon be squarely put up to the Soviets.

With the principal event of the last two weeks at the stage outlined above there are a number of new petty incidents of Soviet-Japanese friction which are here reported for the sake of record. On October 2 surprise and resentment were expressed by the Moscow press that one Hajime Suritame who broke into the office of the Soviet Commercial representative in Tokyo with a samurai sword last summer received only six months imprisonment with a stay of execution [Page 437] for five years. On October 7 in Vladivostok and Khavarovsk civilians and troops carried out special defense manoeuvres specifically designed to combat possible Japanese air attacks. Two hundred airplanes and 100,000 soldiers are said to have participated. It was reported on October 15 that the Foreign Office was greatly annoyed by the delay of the Soviet authorities in granting visas to three Japanese Consuls-General appointed recently to Vladivostok, Alexan-drovsk, and Khavarovsk. On October 13, Mr. Amau, the spokesman of the Foreign Office, in discussing the intentions of the Soviets in publishing the alleged Japanese documents used the Japanese proverb “Cowardly dogs bark loudly” which provoked an immediate protest from the Soviet Embassy which the Foreign Office declined to accept. Mr. Amau, however, remarked that brave dogs also bark. A more serious cause of friction is a dispute over the yen-rouble exchange in connection with pilotage, tonnage taxes, and official fees, at Vladivostok and other Soviet ports. It is said that the existing agreement in connection with payment of rents on fishing grounds in northern waters provides for an exchange rate of 32.5 sen per rouble whereas the above-mentioned fees are now being claimed at the rate of Yen 2.75 per rouble. As the result of a resolution of the Hokkaido Ship Owners Conference it is stated by Rengo that the Foreign Office will lodge a strong protest with the Soviet Government. Recently there have been frequent reports of excessive activity on the part of OGPU agents in the harbor of Vladivostok as well as complaints against the new and allegedly unnecessary requirement of a pilot for all foreign ships.

In appraising the significance of the events outlined above it is evident first that reasonable proof has been offered that Japan does not wish to provoke hostilities with Soviet Russia at the present time. Moreover, with every day that passes, likelihood of military action in the bitter cold of the far north grows more remote. In the second place it is clear that the Soviet-Japanese situation has come before the public in a more menacing light than heretofore and that the Soviet démarche has added to the friction which at present characterizes the relations between the two countries. The question has received extensive publicity as a major issue for the first time and a state of mind has been produced which may readily be molded by the military to suit their purpose. It is probably in connection with the plans of the military for the immediate future that the aggravation of the Soviet-Japanese situation is most serious at the present time. The serious difference of opinion which appears to have developed in the Cabinet seems to indicate that the Army Minister is engaged at the moment in a struggle to dominate not only the question of national [Page 438] defence but national policy on diplomacy, finance, agriculture, and social reorganization. It is evident that Soviet-Russia has provided the War Minister with ammunition which, adroitly used, might entail far-reaching consequences.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Embassy’s despatch No. 536 of September 29, 1933. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. See enclosure No. 1. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  4. Embassy’s telegram No. 156, October 11, noon. [Footnote in the original; for telegram under reference, see p. 710.]