Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Phillips) of a Conversation With the British Ambassador (Lothian)13


(3) Lord Lothian talked at length about the British attitude towards the Far East; he did not present anything particularly new. He [Page 293] reminded me that the British public was not interested in the Japanese situation; that their vision was centered upon Europe and, especially, upon Germany; that the British could not hold the front ranks everywhere; that they were required to hold the front in Europe, in the Mediterranean, in the Suez Canal and in India, but there was a limit to their capacities. They could not, therefore, be expected to occupy a predominant position vis-à-vis Japan in the Far East. That, they felt, was something which came close to the responsibility of the United States. He spoke about the division of opinion in the British Cabinet on this point without mentioning any names, but left with me the impression that the British could not, even if they desired, exert “power” against Japan. There were too many other fronts that had to be maintained. Consequently, there was the possibility that if the Japanese offered the British some solution guaranteeing peace, etc., in the Far East and the “open door”, the British might accept it without further ado. He admitted that this might be driving a wedge between the British and American Governments in the Far East and felt that it was a source of danger. More probably, however, the British Government would not commit themselves definitely to the Japanese until after the next meeting of the Imperial Conference, when the various dominions would be consulted. At this point he mentioned the attitude of Canada and that of Mackenzie King.14 He told me that Bennett15 had probably discussed the subject in London during his recent visit and he was confident that Mackenzie King, who was now in London, was discussing it. He told me that recently he (Lord Lothian) had been talking with Vincent Massey,16 who felt strongly the importance of cooperation between the British and American Governments in the forthcoming naval conversations. At the moment of this conversation there had been no suggestion of Mackenzie King proceeding to London; that within ten days Mackenzie King was on shipboard bound for London and that, therefore, some new development must have taken him over there. Lord Lothian thought that the British Government might have sent for him on the ground that having talked over matters with Bennett, it was important to discuss them with the probable new Canadian Premier. At any rate, Lord Lothian thought that Mackenzie King could be counted upon to urge the closest cooperation between the British and American navies should Japan undertake to drive a wedge between them.

W[illiam] P[hillips]
  1. Copy of this excerpt was transmitted on October 22 to the Chargé in China (No. 1492) and to the Ambassador in Japan (No. 619). (500.A15a5/205.) The conversation also dealt with personalities in the British Government and the war-debts problem. Copy of memorandum was transmitted in full on October 17 to the Ambassador in Great Britain (No. 585). (711.41/280.)
  2. W. L. Mackenzie King, Canadian Liberal, Leader of the Opposition.
  3. Richard Bedford Bennett, Canadian Prime Minister.
  4. Former Canadian Minister at Washington.