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

No. 285

Sir: I am enclosing herewith clippings68 from the Tokyo Nichi-Nichi English Edition, of February 2 and February 5, 1933, and the Japan Chronicle of January 31, 1933, purporting to give the views of the Japanese Foreign Office and of Japanese authorities on international law regarding Japan’s right to retain the mandate over the South Sea Islands north of the Equator should Japan decide to secede from the League of Nations as a result of the League’s decision in the Sino-Japanese dispute. The question of the future of the mandate is, of course, only hypothetical at the present moment, but it is believed that the Department may find the enclosed information useful should the question become actual.

The Foreign Office (according to the newspapers) bases its claim to retention of the mandated islands on the following grounds:

Germany ceded her overseas possessions to the Allies, and the Allies, not the League, allotted the mandates under Article 22 of the Versailles Treaty69 and not under the Covenant of the League of Nations.70
The mandates are not necessarily limited to members of the League (as witness the request to the United States to assume the mandate over Armenia) and therefore should Japan cease to be a member of the League, this fact would not automatically cancel the mandate.
The division of the former German territories among the Allies had been fixed by secret treaties in 1917 but annexation was abandoned because of the objections of Mr. Woodrow Wilson. The system of mandates was adopted to camouflage what amounted to annexation.

[Page 750]

The authorities on international law quoted in the second clipping hold much the same views as the Foreign Office but also claim that actual sovereignty over the mandated territory is vested in the mandatory power and that the annual report required to be submitted to the League is only a measure of restriction of the sovereign authority.

The present discussions indicate, at any rate, that, should the Japanese withdraw from the League, they have no intention whatever of relinquishing control of the mandated islands, unless compelled to do so by superior force.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Not reprinted.
  2. Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols, and Agreements Between the United States and Other Powers, 1910–1923, vol. iii, pp. 8329, 3342.
  3. Ibid., p. 3336.