The Consul General at Canton (Spiker) to the Minister in China (Johnson)67

Sir: With reference to this office’s reports concerning the recent visit to Kwangtung and Kwangsi of Major General Doihara for the [Page 203]purpose of making representations on behalf of the Japanese military party to the Kwangtung and Kwangsi leaders concerning Sino-Japanese relations, I have the honor to submit the following information based chiefly on that which was supplied to me in confidence just prior to my departure from Canton, by Dr. Kan Chieh-hou, Special Delegate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Provinces of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, in relation to the visit paid to the Kwangtung and Kwangsi provincial leaders by Mr. M. Matsumoto during the period May 27th to June 4th inclusive. Mr. Matsumoto was described in the Hongkong and Canton press as the “Envoy-at-large” of the Japanese Foreign Office while Dr. Kan informed me that Matsumoto was not only a special representative of the Foreign Office but was also persona grata with the Japanese War Office which considered him a dependable and impartial inquirer and observer—whose findings would be worthy of due consideration.

In considering Mr. Matsumoto’s visit, it is particularly interesting to note that upon his arrival in Canton on May 27th, he apparently completely ignored the Kwangtung leaders yet promptly called on Marshal Li Tsung-jen, the Kwangsi leader, and frankly discussed with him and with Dr. Kan Chieh-hou, the Nanking Government’s Foreign Office representative in Canton, the purposes of the visit. On the following day, without seeing the Kwangtung leaders, Matsumoto, accompanied by Mr. Tatsuo Kawai, the Japanese Consul General at Canton, left by a special plane for Nanning, the provincial capital of Kwangsi, in which province the two Japanese officials remained for three days and held conversations with Chairman Huang Hsu-ch’u of the Kwangsi Provincial Government and General Pai Chung-hsi, Vice Commander of the Kwangsi forces. The party returned to Canton by plane on May 31st and it was only after such return that Matsumoto called upon the Kwangtung leaders, namely Marshal Ch’en Chi-t’ang and Provincial Chairman Lin Yun-k’ai. This procedure caused considerable speculation in Canton, the local press commenting that Mr. Matsumoto’s disregard of the Kwangtung leaders would appear to indicate that Japan’s interest in South China lies in Kwangsi rather than Kwangtung.

Dr. Kan informed me that Mr. Matsumoto, in his conversations with him and with the Kwangsi and Kwangtung leaders, had been quite outspoken and frankly intimated that since the Japanese Foreign Office and the War Office in Japan had been unable to agree upon a common policy toward China, he had come, just as Major General Doihara had, in an effort to obtain directly from the Kwangtung and Kwangsi leaders a definite statement as to whether or not they were willing to cooperate with Japan. He stated that the attitude of South China toward Japan was of great interest to the Foreign Office in that [Page 204]the Japanese military authorities in China were constantly seeking to justify to the War Office, their sabre-rattling in China, by referring to recalcitrant South China as abundant evidence that the Japanese Foreign Office erred in seeking rapprochement with the Nanking Government since that Government has not sought to put an end to the anti-Japanese attitude of the South China leaders and thus furnishes to the Japanese military mind another evidence of the “insincerity” of Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Ching-wei.

Dr. Kan stated that Mr. Matsumoto appeared particularly interested in ascertaining whether or not there had been any change in the attitude of the South China leaders toward Japan as evinced by them to Major General Doihara at the time of his recent visit to Kwangtung and Kwangsi. To clarify this statement, I inquired of Dr. Kan if Matsumoto had also inquired as to the attitude of the South China leaders toward the Nanking Government and Dr. Kan replied that Matsumoto had only asked as to South China’s attitude toward Japan itself, thus apparently seeking to eliminate from the general picture as drawn by the Japanese militarists in China, the known strong personal dislike of the Southern leaders for Chiang Kai-shek, as long made manifest in the published statements of Hu Han-min and other Southern leaders. Dr. Kan stated that if, through Mr. Matsumoto, the Foreign Office and the War Office should be able to ascertain that the Kwangsi and Kwangtung leaders were willing to depart from their long maintained stand of opposition to Japan, it would greatly strengthen the hands of the Foreign Office and would help possibly more reasonably inclined elements in the Japanese War Office to withstand the clamors of the Japanese military leaders in China for direct action against Chiang Kai-shek and the Nanking Government because of its “insincerity”. Dr. Kan stated that Mr. Matsumoto indicated that these same military leaders were insisting that Chiang Kai-shek was merely playing for time, was not making any serious attempt to stamp out anti-Japanese activities in South China or elsewhere, as provided under the “rapprochement agreement” with the Japanese Foreign Office and that the only way to put an end to this unsatisfactory situation was by the direct application of military measures. Matsumoto then frankly implied that China is faced with the alternative of sincerely “cooperating” with the Japanese or taking the consequences threatened by the Japanese military leaders in China. He further pointed out that the attitude of the South China leaders toward Chiang Kai-shek and the Nanking Government, was obviously playing into the hands of the Japanese military leaders in China and making it increasingly difficult for the Japanese Foreign Office to persuade the country that adjustment of the strained relations between the two nations by diplomatic means is possible. Mr. Matsumoto [Page 205]also bluntly asked the Southern leaders if they for one moment harbored the belief that the League of Nations, the United States, Great Britain or any other great Power had the slightest intention of coming to China’s aid at this critical juncture when China has either to meet Japan’s wishes or face the weight of the hand of the Japanese military leaders in China.

In answer to my query as to the position of the South China leaders in the matter, Dr. Kan informed me that obviously South China could not fight Japan but that it was extremely doubtful if the Kwangtung and Kwangsi leaders could be persuaded directly to comply with Matsumoto’s request that they definitely inform him whether or not they would cease all opposition to Japan. Dr. Kan then observed that the Japanese military-in-China had promptly sought to counter every move made by the Foreign Office which would rob the military of excuses for further conquest in China; that when the Foreign Office made the “rapprochement agreement” with the Nanking Government, the Japanese military promptly staged the “Chahar Incident” as evidence of “China’s bad faith”; that with the success of the Japanese Foreign Office in persuading the Japanese Government to elevate the rank of its diplomatic mission in China to an embassy, and with other nations taking similar steps, the Japanese military-in-China started the movement which has already led to the ousting of General Yu Hsueh-chung from Tientsin with promise as a preliminary to probable further Japanese military aggression in North China. Dr. Kan pointed out that these two moves by the Japanese militarists-in-China, clearly show their temper and unwillingness to permit the Japanese Foreign Office to adjust Sino-Japanese relations by any measures which do not fully meet the wishes of a military group which is a power unto itself and which, in spite of its experience in seizing Manchuria, seems intent on adding to its burdens more of China’s territory “for the glory of Japanese arms”.

In view of this situation, Mr. Matsumoto’s visit to South China would appear to have been of very doubtful value in so far as the peaceful settlement of Sino-Japanese difficulties is concerned. It is possible, however, that coming from a non-military man, his words of warning to the South China leaders will cause them to adopt a more conciliatory attitude toward the Nanking Government, a situation which is apparently not desired by the Japanese military in China. As a concrete evidence of this attitude of the military, there is reported the following revealing incident of which I have just been confidentially informed from an entirely reliable source: About two weeks ago, the Customs authorities at Canton seized one thousand or more seditious pamphlets, one lot bitterly attacking Chiang Kaishek personally as a traitor, grafter and entirely “insincere” toward [Page 206]his own people, while a second series denounced the Nanking Government and urged the Chinese people without delay to rid themselves of these “perils to the peace, prosperity and happiness of the Chinese people”.

The pamphlets in question were intercepted by Customs employees who saw them being smuggled from a Japanese steamer into the launch of the local Japanese agent of the steamship company, the packages being addressed in Chinese and Japanese characters, to the Japanese military attaché resident in Canton. The Japanese Consulate General was evidently promptly informed of the seizure for the Japanese vice consul called at the Customs House and requested that the packages be handed over to the Consulate for its “inspection”. When told that the pamphlets were seditious ones and so had been confiscated forthwith, the consular officer was evidently embarrassed but subsequently blandly suggested that it was probably all a plot of some ardent young Chinese nationalist who, by addressing such pamphlets in care of the resident Japanese military officer in Canton, sought to create the impression that the Japanese military party is interested in keeping alive the opposition of the South to the Nanking Government. In relation to this general subject, it is interesting to note that the English language press at Hongkong shortly thereafter published a statement to the effect that “a vigorous denial has been made in Tokyo that Japanese military attachés in China have made ‘personal attacks’ on General Chiang Kai-shek”.

Another part of the same general picture of Japanese machinations in South China, is found in the following incident related to me by Dr. Kan Chieh-hou during our conversation on June 3rd. Within the past ten days, a fleet of eight large Japanese fishing vessels, escorted by a Japanese armed vessel, arrived at the small group of islands lying off the island of Hainan and Kwangtung, this group being known as the Tung Sha Chuan Tao (translation, East Sand Group Islands). From the eight vessels, 300 or more men were landed, allegedly for the purpose of gathering seaweed. The men put up tents and other shelters on the islands and began to harvest seaweed, in spite of protests lodged by the local Chinese authorities when the matter was reported by Chinese fishermen residents of the island group. The eight vessels later sailed away but left camped on the islands approximately 300 Japanese “workmen”, who announced to the islanders that 16 vessels will shortly return and that 400 additional men will camp on the island “during the seaweed harvest season”. Dr. Kan stated that he had just lodged with the Japanese Consul General at Canton an emphatic official protest at this gross violation of China’s sovereignty. Dr. Kan then added that there was a somewhat similar occurrence several months ago when a Japanese steam trawler landed a large [Page 207]number of men, some of them armed, at a deep bay on the island of Hainan. These men drove the fishermen and local inhabitants away from the bay and remained in the vicinity for several days, during which time it is believed that they made soundings and thoroughly surveyed the bay which the Chinese believe to be one well adapted for the shelter of submarines. Dr. Kan added that during the recent visits of two Japanese admirals to Canton, they both expressed a desire to visit Hainan officially but did not press the matter when the Chinese authorities dared to use the Japanese formula and stated that such visits “would not be convenient” at just that juncture.

In this relation it is to be noted that during the past month there have been repeated rumors that the Portuguese are planning to grant to Japanese firms certain extensive land leases at Macao but this has been flatly denied by the Macao authorities. The rumors persist, however, and it is definitely known that the place has been visited by a number of Japanese naval vessels in recent months and shore parties of officers and men have been observed taking notes, pacing off general dimensions of certain reclaimed land, et cetera. There are also reports that a Japanese firm has offered to construct a new water works at Macao near the shore on very liberal terms. My efforts to substantiate these reports by inquiries in Canton and Hongkong failed to meet with any success.

Owing to lack of proper facilities on board the Japanese steamer on which I am travelling, these pencilled notes will have to await typing at the American Consulate General in Shanghai, if the stay of the steamer permits, or at one of our offices in Japan. To expedite transmission to the Department, copies will be mailed direct to the Department via the diplomatic pouch of the Embassy at Tokyo.

Respectfully yours,

C. J. Spiker
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Consul General without covering despatch; received June 29.