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

I venture to express the opinion that in the field of foreign relations the most important problem confronting the United States for the year 1935 is that of relations with Japan.

In the field of relations between the United States and Japan we are confronted with a much more obvious possibility—I do not say probability—of war than in the field of relations with any other country. Inasmuch as the most important single objective in our foreign policy is that of peace; and as a breach of the peace by Japan, whether in the form of an attack upon us or of an attack upon some other country, would be a distinct setback to the cause of peace; and inasmuch as a war between ourselves and Japan could not fail to bring to us more of disadvantage than of advantage; and inasmuch as our action in relations with Japan will contribute substantially toward the molding of tendencies on the part of of the Japanese either toward or away from war, the problem of action by the American Government in the field of relations with Japan and, in connection therewith, in relations with the countries of the Far East in general is and will be of outstanding importance. I firmly believe that this problem transcends in importance any other one problem with which this Department is dealing or will have to deal during this year.

I ventured a few weeks ago to state what I thought should be in broad outline the policy of the United States with regard to the Far East. I said:

“That which should be the policy of the United States with regard to the Far East can readily be summed up in one sentence: (a) to act with justice and with sympathy, as a ‘good neighbor’ …23 (b) to speak softly; and (c) to carry a big stick.”

I still think and shall continue to think that the points (a), (b), and (c) set forth in that sentence should stand as the cardinal principles by which we should be guided at every step and in every act in our conduct of “Far Eastern relations” during the critical year which lies ahead.

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A. With regard to courses of action:

It is believed that we should make it our resolve to avoid as far as possible the injection by ourselves of new questions or the raising by us of new issues in relations with Far Eastern countries, especially relations with Japan. If new questions or new issues are brought forward by others, we should take plenty of time to consider the factors involved and should expect to employ “Fabian” strategy and tactics.

It is believed that we should plan to avoid being drawn during this year into any new commitments of a formal or quasi-formal character with regard to questions of the Far East. It is quite likely that we will be approached by the Japanese with suggestions or proposals looking toward a non-aggression pact or some agreement approximating such. It is possible that we will have some proposals from Great Britain envisaging agreements with regard to Far Eastern policy. In any such event, it would be well for us to give to the matters and factors involved ample scrutiny before committing ourselves in any way.

The London naval conversations have served a useful purpose in having brought Japanese thought and British thought into clearer perspective, in having compelled the governments most concerned to take careful stock of their positions, and in having focused the attention of the world upon the realities of the problem of limitation of naval armament. Day by day the American people are being enabled to take clearer cognizance of the facts which need to be known and to be weighed in and with regard to the situation in the Far East and the problems which confront the American Government in connection therewith. We should welcome the support which the anticipated termination of the Naval Treaty gives to the policy which this Administration has adopted and with which it expects to proceed of enlarging and improving our naval equipment. We should not, for the moment at least, regret the fact that there is in prospect the possibility that we shall have, along with other countries, entire freedom of action in regard to our naval building program. It is better that there be no treaty than that there be a treaty the provisions of which irk and irritate one or more of the parties thereto and tie the hands of others in connection with matters which are vital (as is the matter of national security).

We should be very cautious about suggesting any new agreements or receiving suggestions for any such. The only kind or kinds of agreements that would be likely to be susceptible of conclusion under existing circumstances would be such as would consist either of mere platitudinous statements and/or equivocal provisions and/or high-sounding [Page 831] but meaningless pledges entered into with mental reservations on the part of one or more of the signatories. Such agreements would solve no problems.

It is a fact that Japan has broken various of her pledges with regard to matters which are important and which, some at least, she regards as vital. It is a fact that the Japanese conceptions today of legality, of morality and of expediency differ from ours. Whatever may be the situation a year from now or later, we should avoid action which, if taken, would in fact or by implication give countenance to or condone those of Japan’s recent acts which we believe to be unlawful and/or inconsistent with the general principles of international morality in which we believe. There is no question in existence today between ourselves and Japan which calls for any early settlement, any early gesture or any early concession on our part. We can afford to be deliberate in relation to any advances which it may some day become desirable for us to make or any approaches which may be made to us.

The thing most needed now is that we be and that we show ourselves quietly self-confident as regards attitude and definitely strong as regards military preparedness and domestic factors, both political and economic, which relate thereto. What Japan aspires to today is national strength. What Japan will respect on the part of others, and particularly on the part of the United States, will be national strength. To be, in relations with Japan, secure, and to have, in relation to our legitimate interests in the Far East, influence, we must possess both the fact and the appearance of political and economic and military strength, especially the strength of a powerful and adequately equipped Navy.

B. With regard to certain particular questions:

1. The “Open Door Policy”. The expression “open door policy” has, unfortunately, become attached to our policy of equality of opportunity in relation to China in particular and our policy of championing the idea of maintaining the integrity of China. Certain observers and givers of advice are suggesting that we “scrap” or “give up” the open door policy. But as a matter of fact, our policy of seeking to observe and to obtain respect for the principle of equality of opportunity and, in connection therewith, seeking to obtain respect for the principle of territorial integrity in regard to China, is merely a particular application of certain principles which are general as regards our foreign policy. Our “Far Eastern” or “China” policy is not peculiar in regard to these matters. Nor do the principles which we advocate (and to which we pay respect) in that connection differ from the principles professed (but not in all cases scrupulously lived up to) by the other powers, especially Great Britain. Moreover, both of these principles are written into a number of treaties to which we are party, [Page 832] especially the Nine Power Treaty24 (which has fourteen signatories); they are comprised within the covenant of the League of Nations;25 and they may be said to be more or less underwritten by the Pact of Paris.26 For us to scrap or give up the open door policy would mean that we either change our whole foreign policy in regard to equality of opportunity and territorial integrity of existing states or make a definite and specific exception as regards the Far East. We certainly will not do the former. To do the latter we would have to go back on our treaties, indicate that our policy is out of line with that of the League, and put ourselves in the position of starting a general movement in a direction exactly opposite to that in which we have traditionally led the world. If we did this without making an announcement, we would produce all sorts of misunderstanding and confusion. If we did it by and with an announcement, our announcement would be tantamount to a declaration that, so far as we are concerned, Japan may do as she pleases in and with regard to China. If we did that, we might please Japan, but we would disappoint Russia, fill several other nations with disgust, utterly alienate China, and deprive ourselves of any effective influence as champions of the principle of cooperation among the powers in pursuit of policies based on principle and directed toward reliance on law and on treaties and on concepts of international morality as distinguished from those of mere self-interest and casual expediency. It may be well for us to indulge in some publicity with regard to the true character of the so-called “open door” policy; but give up the policy which, in reference to China, is so designated, we cannot. We can be slow to initiate contention with regard to the “open door”; but, noting that the British Government does not hesitate to object to violations of the principle of non-discrimination we should be at least as firm as is that Government with regard to that principle.

2. “Non-recognition” doctrine. The position taken by the previous Administration in 1932 and thus far adhered to by this Administration in regard to developments in Manchuria is one in which we should persevere. The “non-recognition” notes of January 7, 1932,27 were sent before the political entity now called “Manchukuo” came into existence. The history of the “non-recognition” doctrine is well-known: this Government had made use of the “non-recognition” formula in [Page 833] 191528 and in 1921;29 we used it again in 1932; the League adopted it in 1932;30 it has since been used by us and by Latin American states in new political contexts. A year ago the Secretary of State was constrained, in reply to inquiries formulated by press correspondents, to say that the question of recognizing “Manchukuo” was not under consideration by this Government and that our position with regard to the principle of “non-recognition” was in no way changed. Since that time nothing has occurred in the light of which we need to consider or to reconsider this question. The British Government has indicated recently that it continues to be its intention to abide by the resolution of the League. Were we in no way whatever committed by previous statements and practice, it would still be a fact that diplomatic recognition by us (or by any other state) of a political entity such as “Manchukuo” is today would be unwarranted and could in no way bring great advantage to the recognizing state. (Note: “Manchukuo” is today in military occupation by the Japanese Army; it is controlled by the Japanese Ambassador accredited to it—who is at the same time both Commander in Chief of the Japanese forces present (approximately 100,000 men) and Governor of the Japanese-administered areas in Manchuria—together with the seventeen hundred Japanese advisers who direct the activities of the Chinese officials at Hsinking). Therefore, the thing for us to do about the “non-recognition policy” is to do nothing about it: we should refrain from statements with regard to it but should persevere in the stand-pat position which is its essence.

3. Relations with China. It may reasonably be doubted whether we need expect in the near future much trouble in relations of a political character between this country and China. The nationalist exuberance of the Chinese which attended and ensued upon the Kuomintang conquest of the country, in 1926–1928, has undergone substantial modification. The Chinese have come to a realization that there are other matters to which they need to devote their thought and attention more urgently than to the question of getting rid of the so-called “unequal treaties.” The Nanking Government is more and more directing its energies to constructive efforts in the domestic field, to meeting the “Communist” menace within China’s own borders, and to safeguarding its own position against pressure from Japan. It seeks to be on as good terms as possible with the United States and Great Britain.

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To one question, however, in its relations with China, the American Government should give immediate and most thoughtful and sympathetic consideration: the question of silver.31 The present silver purchasing program of the American Government, under Act of Congress,32 is not consistent with the principle—insofar as China is concerned—of the “good neighbor policy.” Our action in regard to silver is doing great and immediate injury to China and may produce an economic cataclysm in that country. Our course in this connection should be altered.

4. Philippine Islands. In the shaping of our course and the choosing of our steps, it is of course necessary that we make certain assumptions with regard to the future of the Philippine Islands. It is necessary that we assume that the provisions of the Act of March 24, 1934,33 “to provide for the complete independence of the Philippine Islands … et cetera” will be carried out. However, we should not assume that those provisions have been carried out and we should not fail to take into account the fact that many things, even to amendment or repeal of the Act, may occur before the date of intended conferring upon the Philippines of “independence” shall have arrived. Some at least of our plans wherein items of long swing are involved and wherein the status of the Philippines is a factor must be tentative and must be formulated with a feature of adequate elasticity.

In regard further to the Philippines, it is believed that we should for the time being at least refrain from proposing or being receptive to the suggestion of a neutralization agreement. The future of the Philippines is still a very uncertain matter. A neutralization agreement, if entered into, would unquestionably have certain advantages; but it would with equal certainty have, for this country, certain definite disadvantages. The matter of concluding or not concluding such an agreement is not urgent. If and when in the natural course of events it comes up, we will have ample time to consider it and we should take all the time that may be needed to give it consideration from every angle.

5. Japanese Immigration Question. The question of amending that provision of the Immigration Act of 192434 the effect of which is “Japanese exclusion” is always more or less before the American people.

The present Japanese Ambassador here mentions this question, and various Americans urge action with regard to it, from time to time.

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We know that the Japanese Government has in recent years definitely taken the position that it will not formally raise the issue but will leave it to the people and Government of the United States to take steps, when and as we may, toward removing from our laws this feature of “discrimination.”

The present Administration has, wisely, taken the position that this question is one which falls primarily within the legislative field. It has declined to be drawn into controversy or to become involved in any commitment with regard to the matter. Alteration of the law so as to remove the discriminatory feature would upon its intrinsic merits be a helpful measure. But, if the raising of the question resulted in acrimonious discussion in Congress, and if, after alteration of the law, there ensued a recrudescence of anti-Japanese feeling in those parts of the United States where the Japanese reside in considerable numbers, or if, after debate, the law were not amended, we would be worse off in relation to the whole matter than we are now.

When the question was before Congress in 1924 the executive branch of the Government got itself gratuitously into trouble by injecting itself into the matter. While it is probable that, if the President asked the present Congress to change the law, the Congress would do so, it nevertheless is believed that the result would be an acrimonious discussion before the matter was voted upon and, after the altering of the law, a new and vehement outcry, in an anti-Japanese sense, on the part of a considerable number of people on the Pacific Coast, with the secondary result that there would be danger of acts of violence in consequence of which there would arise new issues between this Government and the Japanese Government.

It is believed that removal in that manner of this “discrimination” against the Japanese, although it would give Japan a certain amount of psychological satisfaction, and although it would eliminate one of the talking points in the arsenal of argumentative weapons with which the Japanese attack the United States, yet would contribute little if anything toward the solving of the major issues, that is, issues which arise out of and rest upon differences in political and economic concepts and objectives, between the two countries.

It therefore is believed that the Administration should continue as hitherto to avoid becoming involved in this question.

6. “Gestures”. It is believed that we should avoid the making of “gestures”, whether of special friendliness or of menace. We should not go out of our way toward expressing mere “good will” either to China or to Japan. We should be neither more cordial nor less cordial toward either of these countries than we are toward other countries. At the same time, we should avoid undue parading of our naval strength and undue discussion of the problem of maintaining [Page 836] peace and of avoiding war in the Far East. We should unquestionably have a “big stick”; but we do not need to wave it or to talk about it, and we should refrain from doing the one and should be careful in our use of words in doing the other.

7. Cooperation with Great Britain. We should cultivate in relation to problems of the Far East conditions of close harmony and the maximum of practical cooperation between ourselves and Great Britain. Toward doing this, we should go out of our way to inform the British Government of our views, to consult them with regard to theirs, to give them notice of our intentions, et cetera, et cetera, in regard to matters where there is involved a community, a parity or a similarity of interest. We should, in dealing with them, coordinate our moves and methods with regard to Far Eastern matters with our moves and methods in regard to other matters. We should try to cultivate an impression on their part that they lead and we follow. We should avoid dissenting from or rejecting their suggestions when their views and ours differ by but a small margin and at points which are not of great importance. When and where there are large issues, we should make clear to them just what is our position and that we will not move or be moved from it, thus avoiding long and futile discussions and misunderstanding and disappointment arising out of unwarranted expectations or vain hopes.

8. Cooperation with the Soviet Union. We should find it possible to cooperate on commercial and economic lines with the Soviet Union with consequences directly advantageous to us not only in those lines but indirectly in the political field as regards our problems in the Far East. Increments of economic strength by the Soviet Union will tend to divert the attention of Japan and to discourage reckless adventuring on Japan’s part. It would probably be to our advantage to reach with the Soviet Union a settlement of claims on as favorable a basis as may be possible and to encourage trade between the two countries. We should be cautious, however, about any movement toward the developing of political bonds or appearance of diplomatic rapprochement between ourselves and the Soviet Government. Developments of those types would give us nothing upon which we could definitely rely and would, on the other hand, increase suspicion among the Japanese of our intentions with regard to the Far East, thereby injecting a new cause of irritation into our relations with Japan; and they might also be misleading to the Russians, causing them to expect more in the way of support from us, in the event of their getting into difficulty with Japan, than would be warranted. We should keep in mind the fact that to the Soviet Union a war between Japan and the United States would probably be looked upon with gratification, on the theory that these two combatants would weaken each other and [Page 837] thus relieve the Soviet Union of its fear of Japan and at the same time of its reason for apprehension of the influence of the leading capitalist state, the United States.

9. Cooperation with Japan. We should seek opportunities to cooperate with Japan in fields where the Japanese understand or can be really convinced that cooperation will be to their advantage as well as to ours. To do this, we must take full account of the conditions in and around Japan and of the needs and problems which confront the Japanese Government and people.

Japan’s population problem has assumed serious proportions and aspects. It is obvious that Japan either must have access to enlarged markets for her goods and must further develop an industrialized economy or must starve. The inherent virility and vitality of the Japanese people preclude any expectation that they will passively accept the latter alternative. Nor will these same qualities, stimulated by the present wave of intense nationalism, permit the Japanese people to accept arbitrary blocking of pathways to what they consider their “destiny” in world affairs. The Japanese are convinced that the years 1935 and 1936 are “emergency” years, and the tenseness of their feelings, if aggravated by ill-advised opposition, might easily carry them over the breakwater of reason into a war regardless of prospects of success.

It would seem, therefore, that we should avoid consistently any suggestion of seeking to suppress or to coerce Japan. At the same time we should let it be clearly understood that in matters where our views in regard to important principles are in conflict with those of Japan we cannot give consent or assent to the courses which they seek to pursue. The Japanese are at heart realists who can appreciate straightforwardness and tenacity. While avoiding any attempts at pressure which we are not thoroughly prepared to maintain or to carry through, we should nevertheless bear in mind that a military people are most impressed by military strength, and that the most effective preventive of a resort to force by a people so minded is the presence of greater force at the disposal of those to whom they are in opposition.

10. Naval Strength. We should speed our efforts toward possessing a navy so strong that no other country will think seriously of attacking us; and we should let it be clearly seen that, while not wanting to fight and having no reason for attacking any other country, the people of this country not only are not “too proud to fight” but, given certain situations, would be too proud not to fight.

S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]
  1. Omission indicated in the original.
  2. Signed at Washington, February 6, 1922; Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 276.
  3. Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, p. 3336.
  4. Signed August 27, 1928; Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 153.
  5. For note to Japan, see telegram No. 7, January 7, 1932, noon, to the Ambassador in Japan, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 76; for note to China, see telegram No. 2, January 7, 1932, noon, to the Consul General at Nanking, Foreign Relations, 1932, vol. iii, p. 7.
  6. See telegram of May 11, 1915, 5 p.m., ibid., 1915, p. 146.
  7. See memorandum to the Japanese Embassy of May 31, 1921, ibid., 1921, vol. ii, p. 702.
  8. See resolution of March 11, 1932, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 210.
  9. See section entitled “Problem of China’s Economic Reconstruction and the Attitude of the United States and Other Governments Respecting Financial Assistance to China,” pp. 526 ff.
  10. Approved June 19, 1934; 48 Stat. 1178.
  11. 48 Stat. 456.
  12. Section 13 (c), approved May 26, 1924; 43 Stat. 153, 162.