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

No. 1350

Sir: I have the honor to offer the following analysis and evaluation of the various causes which influenced the Japanese military in their recent successful attempt to exert pressure upon the Chinese administration in North China. Very little information has been given out officially by the Japanese governmental departments concerned as to the underlying causes and objectives of the action of the military—so little that it seems probable that the Japanese military authorities themselves were uncertain as to the exact scope of their immediate desires [Page 245] and the method of procedure. In view of this paucity of official information, the Embassy has had to base its analysis upon such unofficial sources of information as were available.

There now appears to be no doubt that the immediate objective of the Japanese military, in their activities in North China, has been to rid North China, especially the Peiping-Tientsin area, of all organized elements hostile to the Japanese, in order to avoid the annoyance and expense of constantly defending “Manchukuo” against the “bandit” menace and other subversive activities, and, as a corollary, to secure such political control over North China as to prevent such anti-Japanese elements from again obtaining a foothold in the district. It is impossible to say what plans the Japanese military have in regard to the eventual fate of North China—it is doubtful if even the military, who apparently have been following an opportunist policy, have any definite scheme in mind. It is possible that they may endeavor to create there a buffer zone in the form of an autonomous state friendly to Japan, as is known to be the wish of some of the younger officers, or they may even go so far as to attempt to restore the Dragon Throne to Pu Yi, thus creating a vast Manchuria-North China empire under the control of Japan. Such future steps, however, cannot be predicted, and for the present it can only be said that the immediate objective of the Japanese military was to eliminate from territory contiguous to “Manchukuo” all elements opposing Japanese interests and to ensure that elimination in the future by securing a degree of political control over the territory.

The Japanese military, however, have presumably had this objective in view for some time past, and therefore the question arises of the reasons which impelled them to take the action which they did at this particular time and which impelled them to ignore the usual diplomatic channels in their negotiations. The Embassy has been able to obtain no definite official information in regard to these reasons, but offers the following as the opinions of well-informed observers.

1. The Army’s Opposition to Hirota.

When Mr. Hirota assumed the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs nearly two years ago, his appointment pleased rather than displeased the Japanese military. Mr. Hirota had for long been associated with the Black Dragon and other ultra-patriotic and reactionary societies, and had the reputation of being a stanch patriot. For over a year past, however, the Army has been growing dissatisfied with Mr. Hirota’s diplomacy, because of its pacifist and conciliatory methods. The Army feels that the Chinese are insincere in their moves for reconciliation with Japan; that they have been deluding the Japanese and causing the Japanese to appear ridiculous in the eyes of the world; and that the only method of dealing successfully with the Chinese is by using the mailed fist. The situation as between the Japanese Foreign Office and the Army thus was much as it was in September of 1931, when [Page 246] the Army, disgusted with the peaceful and conciliatory methods of the “Shidehara80 Diplomacy”, decided to take matters in its own hands. The Army also believes, it is reported, that Mr. Hirota has ambitions in regard to the Premiership, and, with the idea that he can create fame for himself and thereby win the coveted post by settling Japan’s problems through peaceful diplomacy, is willing to sacrifice Japan’s best interests (as the jingoists see them) for the sake of his own prestige. The Army therefore decided to deal Mr. Hirota a blow from which it would take him long to recover by taking steps in contradiction to his conciliatory policy toward China, and at the same time to teach the Chinese, and especially Chiang Kai-shek, the uselessness of insincerity, procrastination and “two-edged diplomacy” in dealing with Japan.

2. The Raising of the Legation in China to an Embassy.

As is well known, the Japanese Army was distinctly opposed to the gesture of Mr. Hirota in raising the rank of the Japanese Legation in China to that of an Embassy, at least at the present time. The grounds for the Army’s objections have never been clearly defined, but it is the opinion of some observers that the Army does not relish the idea of having a Japanese civil official stationed in China whose rank will be higher than that of any Army officer on duty there, and whose position as direct representative of the Emperor would normally give him the authority necessary to control and perhaps curb the activities of the Japanese military in China. This was precisely the purpose of Mr. Hirota’s step. It is therefore possible that one of the impelling factors of the recent activities of the Japanese military in North China was the desire to demonstrate, both to the Japanese Foreign Office and to the Chinese Government, that the Japanese Army has no intention of relinquishing to a civil official the predominant voice which it possesses in Japan’s relations with China. This supposition is strengthened by the fact that in the early days of the recent Japanese activities in North China the Japanese Foreign Office was distinctly told by the Army not to interfere in the Army’s negotiations with the Chinese authorities in North China.

3. The Delayed “Crisis”.

The 1935–36 “crisis” in Japan’s foreign relations, which the Army has been predicting in order to maintain its commanding position in the Japanese Government, has as yet failed to develop. The final withdrawal of Japan from the League of Nations (one of the predicted causes of the “crisis”) was accepted by other nations with little comment and certainly without the rancor which the Japanese seemed to expect; the strained relations between Japan and the Soviet Union have been alleviated to a very considerable extent by the diplomacy of Mr. Hirota; and it appeared that consistent conciliatory effort on the part of Mr. Hirota was about to restore more amicable relations between China and Japan. It is true that the naval disarmament problem has not been settled, but this question alone is no more apt to create a crisis in Japan than in any other country party to the Washington naval treaty. The principal causes of a “crisis” in Japan’s national life were therefore being rapidly eliminated, and it is possible that the [Page 247] Army decided that it was advisable, in order to maintain the “crisis” atmosphere and thereby retain its commanding position in the Government, to take drastic steps which would bring down upon Japan the criticism of the Western nations and the hostility of China. This theory is widely held by foreign observers.

4. Budgetary Considerations.

The 1936–7 budget is now in course of preliminary compilation. Judged from the criticism which the large defense appropriations in the 1935–6 budget provoked in the last Diet session, it appeared possible that the Army would find it difficult to obtain approval of its 1936–7 monetary demands, which, it is rumored, will be even larger than those of 1935–6. It is possible, therefore, that the Army wished to demonstrate to the Japanese nation the continued necessity of maintaining the strength of the Army for the purpose of keeping the “peace of East Asia”.

It will be noted that the domestic factors which have been adduced as impelling causes of the recent activities of the Japanese military in North China are connected either with the Army’s desire to maintain its position of predominance over the civil authorities in the Japanese Government, or with financial considerations. In the Embassy’s despatch No. 1225, dated April 4, 1935,81 it was pointed out that the possibility always existed that the Japanese military might on their own initiative take drastic steps in order to preserve their position of predominance in the affairs of Japan. It appears probable that the recent Japanese military activities in North China constitute an example of such an action. It can hardly be claimed that the anti-Japanese elements in North China constituted any real menace to the safety of either Japan or “Manchukuo”, and, with all of Manchuria and Jehol to exploit, the Japanese nation can hardly lay claim to the immediate need of more economic elbow-room. It seems probable therefore that the recent steps taken by the Japanese military in North China may have been motivated more by domestic than by external considerations, although they were in line with the whole Japanese military plan of political control of northeastern Asia.

These recent developments have indicated once again, in no uncertain fashion, the divergence of the extremist and the moderate schools of thought and policy in Japan. It is known that both the Prime Minister and Hirota had audiences of the Emperor at the height of this crisis in North China and, according to general belief, counseled moderation. Signs were not lacking of a restraining influence at the height of the crisis, but whether this influence was exerted by the Emperor as a result of the representations by Okada and Hirota, or whether General Hayashi, the War Minister, and other older and saner heads among the military hierarchy called a halt to the extremist [Page 248] ambitions of the more chauvinistic elements in the Army must be a matter of speculation. It may at least be said with confidence that Hirota’s influence is still a positive factor in the councils of the nation.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Baron Kijuro Shidehara, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1924–27, 1929–December 1, 1931.
  2. Not printed.