Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hornbeck) of a Conversation With the Counselor of the Japanese Embassy (Taketomi)21

V. League of Nations “Assistance” to China

After the exchange of statements with regard to the subject of “a Japanese spy in Panama”, Mr. Taketomi said that, with regard to the matter of Mr. Marriner taking part in the meeting of the League committee at Paris last week, the Japanese Embassy would like to have information. Mr. Hornbeck said that the Secretary General of the League had indicated some two or three days in advance of the meeting of this committee that the presence of an American representative would be welcome; on the basis of an entirely informal invitation, we had indicated informally our willingness to have an American official present at the meeting, and we had sent Mr. Marriner as an unofficial and non-participating observer. After a moment of reflection, Mr. Taketomi said: “Then that is all that the American Government will do in that connection?” Mr. Hornbeck said that he could not make any affirmation with regard to future [Page 503] attitude or action of the American Government, but that this was all that the American Government had thus far done in that connection. Mr. Taketomi then said that the Japanese were unfavorably impressed; that the powers were apparently embarked on an enterprise for the assistance of China from which Japan was excluded; and that it could scarcely be expected that such an effort would have Japanese approval or be successful. Mr. Hornbeck said that he had gained the impression from the newspapers that, so far as this meeting of the committee was concerned, Japan had deliberately abstained from attendance; it would be interesting to have, and he would like to have, accurate information on that point; surely, in connection with the project in general, which is of several years standing, Japan, as a member of the League and being represented on the Council, has had full knowledge of and has at least assented to the steps which the League Secretariat had taken (at least until recently) in that connection. Mr. Taketomi then made a lengthy statement about Japanese psychology and temperament and said that the Japanese people did not think that the time is ripe for the powers to be engaging in an enterprise of assistance to China. Their doing so makes things more difficult for Japan. For some time since, Chiang Kai-shek and his group at Nanking have been showing themselves favorably disposed toward coming to an agreement with Japan; at the same time, T. V. Soong and his group do not want to come to an agreement with Japan; if the powers assist China, it makes it more difficult for Japan and China to come to an agreement—without which there can be no progress in the Sino-Japanese situation. Mr. Hornbeck said that the efforts of the League have apparently been confined to the supplying of experts whose function is to assist the Chinese toward economic and social progress; that the enterprise neems to be non-political and directed toward the laying of foundations for order and internal progress in China. Mr. Taketomi said that this was true, but that it has an inevitable political effect. He then referred to the credit which the American Government has given to China:22 he said that the Japanese Embassy here realizes that this is strictly a “credit” and constitutes a strictly business transaction and that they have so reported to Tokyo, but that in Japan the people regard it as a “loan” to China and as something that is meant to assist China and as therefore directed against Japan. Mr. Hornbeck said that he was glad to hear that the Embassy had correctly appraised this transaction and was sorry to hear that the Japanese people took the view which Mr. Taketomi had thus reported. He [Page 504] wondered whether the Japanese Government might not readily combat any erroneous impressions which the Japanese people might have with regard to such a matter. Mr. Taketomi said that the Japanese Government often finds it very difficult to get the Japanese people to accept the Government’s view of facts or of what are the correct conclusions to be drawn. Mr. Taketomi then reverted to the subject of Japanese psychology: he said that the Japanese people felt great concern with regard to China and that they would not tolerate Japan’s being excluded from any efforts made with regard to assistance to China; that, in fact, Japan wanted to make an agreement with China and the world ought not make it more difficult for her to do so. Mr. Hornbeck asked whether he might inquire with regard to Japan’s thought with regard to the contents of an agreement. Mr. Taketomi said that Japan wanted to make peace with China. Mr. Hornbeck inquired whether that meant peace on the basis of the status quo. Mr. Taketomi replied that it did. Mr. Hornbeck asked what was the attitude of the Nanking Government. Mr. Taketomi said that Chiang Kai-shek wanted to make such a peace but that T. V. Soong and others did not. He said that T. V. Soong was endeavoring to stir up the world against Japan and to get financial assistance everywhere which he could interpret to the Chinese people as tantamount to political assistance for China in furtherance of opposition to Japan. He then abruptly inquired whether the American Government in making its credit of $50,000,000 to China had gotten a “definite assurance” that the proceeds would not be used for political purposes. Mr. Hornbeck replied that, as everybody knows, the transaction had called for purchase by China of cotton and wheat in this country, and that the controlling authorities at Nanking had adopted a resolution to the effect that this $50,000,000 should in no way be used for political or military purposes. Mr. Taketomi asked whether we had any “guarantee”. Mr. Hornbeck remarked that the question of “guarantee”, if by it one means an absolute insurance, is a thing that is almost impossible of attainment: in such matters there has to be a certain amount of reliance upon good faith no matter between what parties the transaction takes place. Mr. Taketomi indicated concurrence. Mr. Taketomi then reverted to the subject of the League’s effort to assist China. He said that it was ill-advised and ill-timed. Mr. Hornbeck asked what Mr. Taketomi thought the world should do. Mr. Taketomi replied that the world should desist. Mr. Hornbeck remarked that the League has been working on the project for several years, that it has a number of its experts already in China and that its most recent step has apparently been directed to the coordinating of the work of those experts: thus the project has a certain momentum; when something has gained momentum there are certain alternatives: there can be a [Page 505] certain amount of deflecting as regards direction or there can be a putting on of brakes or an attempt to come to a complete stop; what did Mr. Taketomi think should be done? Mr. Taketomi said that the thing should be “stopped”. He thought that the League should let the matter alone and that if the League persisted the United States at least should let it alone. Mr. Hornbeck asked whether that did not amount to a suggestion that the world, in deference to Japanese susceptibilities and opinions and/or policies, should give up its own views (almost unanimously held among the nations) and abandon its wish and effort to be of assistance to an important and numerous population, the Chinese, who are struggling with a great variety of what to them are new and difficult problems. Mr. Taketomi said that it amounted to practically that.

Mr. Taketomi then made a series of observations with regard to the duty of governments and especially of diplomatic officials to try to maintain conditions, especially in the field of public opinion, conducive to peace and national and international quiet. Mr. Hornbeck said that he thoroughly concurred in that view.

S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]
  1. This is No. V of a series of memoranda covering conversation with the Counselor of the Japanese Embassy on July 25. No. II is printed on p. 746; others in the series are not printed.
  2. A press release was issued on June 4, by the Reconstruction Finance Corp. regarding its extension of a $50,000,000 credit to China for the purchase of U. S. cotton and wheat (893.48/708).