500.A15A5/252: Telegram

The Chairman of the American Delegation (Davis) to the Secretary of State

32. For the President and the Secretary. Although the Japanese proposals were unacceptable to both the British and ourselves, the [Page 329] British, as I have reported, favored continuing the discussions in the hope of persuading the Japanese to agree to accept a new treaty embodying the essence of the Washington Treaty, with some face-saving formula, or minor changes, which would not substantially alter the relative ratio. The British proposals to the Japanese in this connection were reported in my 26, November 9, 6 p.m., and a reply from Tokyo is daily awaited. It now seems evident that the Japanese will not be satisfied with anything of the kind. Hence, it is probable that within a few days we will have to decide whether the conversations shall be continued, and if so, upon what basis and to what end, or whether to discontinue them for the time being, and if so, how this should be done.

The fundamental situation which confronts both the British and ourselves is that Japan has officially informed us68 that she will in any event denounce the Washington Treaty before the end of the year and that she is determined not to continue naval limitation on the present principles. The basis on which the present conversations began thus no longer exists and to attempt to press Japan just now to alter her decision as to ratio would, in my opinion, be unreal and perhaps unwise. It tends to weaken our position vis-à-vis the Japanese by giving the impression that we are afraid to face the situation created by their stand and that we desire by all means to keep the discussions alive. Moreover, it tends to confuse the issues in the public mind and to give free play to the imagination of the press, particularly as to purported Anglo-American differences.

If we continue to hold conversations in the face of the Japanese denunciation of the Washington Treaty it would mean in essence that we concentrate on an attempt to find a new treaty to replace the old. In other words, we would seek to salvage what we could from the wreck of the Washington Treaty in the hope of getting Japan to define and limit her policy in such a way as to avoid a complete break and keep the militarists within reasonable bounds. While I question the wisdom of this course, I may point out that the British, anxious to placate a group here which favors conciliating Japan, now hold a different view.

When I reached London early in October a minority and extreme Tory group here were the only elements of the Cabinet with definite views as to a solution of the problem and they were prepared to propose that, particularly in view of the troubled European situation, an agreement must be concluded with Japan on the best terms possible in order to define and limit her course of action in the Far East during the ensuing years. Such a policy was also supported by commercial elements seeking favorable trade promotion. However, this policy has [Page 330] not gained any fresh adherents and mature considerations have crystallized the judgment of other elements in the Cabinet as well as political and Empire opinion, to maintain that cooperation with the United States even without a treaty must be a basic policy and negotiations with Japan must only be carried to a point where they do not run contrary to complete accord with the United States. This, together with the recent elections which are construed as an overwhelming mandate from the American people to the President, has given renewed faith in the power of an American Government to adopt and pursue a definite policy, all of which has strengthened the hand of the saner element here.

The chief benefit that has come from the conversations has been to crystallize British opinion in our favor. The reaction in the Liberal and Labor section of the press today to the recent despatches from Washington showing suspicion of British activities, and from Mac-Donald’s denial,69 is distinctly favorable and helpful. Otherwise, speech last night was most timely and I am satisfied will have a very far-reaching effect. Finally, the adamant stand of the Japanese themselves has discouraged those elements which favor placating the Japanese.

In spite of the present desire of the British to go on with the conversations, there is a possibility that the Japanese reply to the inquiries the British have made in an effort to smoke out the Japanese position, will be unsatisfactory, and that the British will be forced to the conclusion that the conversations cannot be carried on usefully much longer, and that it would be advisable to terminate them for the present either through British initiative, as hosts, or in agreement with us, and possibly the Japanese. A substantial consideration in support of such determination is that Japan may be more inclined to be reasonable if conversations should be resumed some time subsequent to formal denunciation. Thus, Matsudaira told Wilson70 yesterday that he and Yamamoto had been discussing whether or not it was wise to continue the conversations or to resume at a later stage. In this connection, Matsudaira indicated to me in a talk some days ago, that once Japan had denounced the treaty it might have a calming effect in Japan and make it possible to meet later under more auspicious conditions.

If the conversations are thus to be ended, it should be done in such a way as not to give cause for recrimination in the press, to avoid the appearance of a complete termination of negotiations and leave the way open for future negotiations.

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If, however, events do not develop as we anticipate, and there is no desire on the part of the others to terminate the conversations, then it becomes necessary for us to consider what we shall do under the circumstances.

It would be helpful for me to have your views.

  1. See Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, pp. 253 ff.; see also telegram No. 214, September 25, 7 p.m., from the Chargé in Japan, post, p. 405.
  2. London Times, November 13, 1934, p. 14.
  3. Hugh R. Wilson, member of American delegation; Minister to Switzerland.