Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hornbeck)

Press despatches from London and from Tokyo today indicate that moves are being made by and between Great Britain and Japan with regard, on the one hand, to naval questions and, on the other hand, Far Eastern relations.

Although the press reports do not give a clear picture, the heavy smoke thus rising simultaneously from London and from Tokyo indicate that there is fire in one or both of those capitals. The possibilities thus indicated should be considered in the light of and against the background of attitudes manifested and events which occurred during and immediately after the naval conversations held in London at the end of last year.

The present stories relate to a “proposed Anglo-Japanese conference to be held in Tokyo this autumn” “to seek a solution of naval, economic and other issues.” A Tokyo report states that the British Government has proposed such a conference. A London report states that this has surprised British authorities, but that the Tokyo visit of Ambassador Matsudaira has given “the signal for the opening of a campaign in Britain for closer collaboration” between Japan and Great Britain “especially in view of the determination of the United States forcefully to maintain the present 5–5–3 naval ratio.” Another London report by the same Service states that “negotiations are under way for an Anglo-Japanese conference in the fall to discuss all outstanding problems between Britain and Japan, it was stated in reliable quarters today”; and says that it was officially admitted that “the British had been in touch with the Japanese Government on several subjects recently, particularly naval and economic;” that Leith-Ross will sail for the Orient on Saturday; that it is taken for granted that he will confer in Tokyo; and that it is felt in authoritative circles that his visit “would be the prelude to a conference in the fall dealing at least with Anglo-Japanese problems in the Far East.” A Tokyo report states that “Matsudaira was approached with a proposal for an Anglo-Japanese discussion of pending fundamental trade issues and Chinese questions” and that Hirota “will accept the proposal”; and that “the British Ambassadors to China and Japan and Sir Frederick Leith-Ross, …72 will represent their country”; and that Leith-Ross “will not visit Washington, as was reported some weeks ago.”

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Whatever there may be of truth, of mere conjecture or of falsehood in the reports referred to above, we are confronted with several facts:

The British Government has been talking about the holding of a naval conference this fall. From Japan there have come conflicting reports some to the effect that Japan desires that a conference be so held, some to the effect that Japan does not so desire. The British Government is sending one of its foremost financial experts to China as a “financial attaché” to the British Embassy there; it has asked (and the Chinese Government has likewise asked) that other governments do likewise; the French Government has indicated its willingness to follow suit provided the American Government does so; and the American Government has thus far followed an unresponsive course, neither saying “yes” nor saying “no”.

The Chinese Government has solicited both of the British Government and of the American Government (and of other governments) aid in connection with its present financial difficulties and perplexities. The American Government has replied that it wishes to be helpful and would be glad to cooperate and would like to discuss with the Chinese Government its difficulties and perplexities. The British Government suggested that the various governments interested consider, collectively, ways and means for being of financial assistance to China; and the American Government said that it would be glad to consider and to discuss possibilities. Yet, the British Government having thereafter proposed that financial experts of the various governments concerned be attached to the missions, respectively, in China of the governments concerned, the American Government has not only been unresponsive but has indicated that it is unwilling even to have any of its officials talk with the financial expert whom the British Government is sending to China for the purpose of looking the situation over.

If the British Government and/or the Chinese Government have come to or should come to the conclusion that the American Government merely talks about being “helpful” and about “cooperation” but has no desire and no intention of being helpful or cooperating, we could scarcely accuse them of mental astigmatism. For their erroneous conclusion, if it be such, we could blame only ourselves.

If the British Government were to decide, as it has during the past year shown some inclination to do, that it cannot formulate and regulate its policy and course of action with regard to its Far Eastern interests on the basis of an unassured, an uncertain, and a not-to-berelied-upon willingness to cooperate on the part of the United States, we could not with warrant complain of its having done so.

If the British Government—in the absence of any indication of any willingness on the part of the American Government to take constructive [Page 330]steps toward dealing with critical developments in the Far East, and in the presence of the pursuit by the American Government of a course of action (our silver purchasing) which, no matter what the facts, is in many quarters believed to have complicated and adversely prejudiced the situation in China and throughout the Far East—were to decide that it must cooperate with a power which is willing to cooperate (in some respects at least), namely, Japan; and if, in consequence, Great Britain and Japan were to make agreements (formal or informal) which are not to our liking and which prove to be to our disadvantage, we would have little if any warrant for complaint.

There is a possibility that just such developments are impending.

If this in any way disturbs us, and if we feel moved to do anything toward preventing such developments, the present is the moment at which to act.

Whatever the merits or lack of merit, in regard to the financial situation in China, of the proposal to send “financial attachés” to the missions in China, there is merit, if we desire to cooperate with Great Britain, in the idea of taking a step similar to that which they are taking and which they have asked this and other governments to take, and, if we desire to help China, in the idea of making at least a gesture, which they have requested, in that direction. If we do not do this, both the British and the Chinese can say that we have refused to cooperate in an effort to be helpful; the British can turn to the Japanese and can discuss matters with them without our being party to the discussions or having knowledge, except as they may choose to inform us, of what takes place in the discussions; and the British and the Japanese can conclude agreements without contribution on our part either constructively or restrainingly.

Should not this Department and the President give very serious thought to this situation and come to some definite conclusion at an early date with regard to the course which this Government shall pursue in regard to it?

S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]
  1. Omission indicated in the original memorandum.