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

No. 1798

Sir: It has been known for a number of years past that there are in Japan two schools of thought in regard to the direction of Japan’s national expansion. One school, the “continental school”, led by the Japanese Army, advocates advance on the Asiatic continent, principally to the west and north, in order to acquire sources of raw material and markets for manufactured goods in Manchuria, Mongolia, Siberia and China Proper. The efforts of this school have resulted in the annexation by Japan of Korea, the formation of “Manchukuo” and the establishment of the semi-autonomous governments of North China, but they also brought about the abortive expeditions into Shantung and Siberia following the World War. On the whole, however, this school has been reasonably successful in its attempts to contribute to the expansion of the Japanese nation and consequently has held the center of the stage for a number of years past, thoroughly eclipsing the other school of thought.

The second school of thought is the “oceanic” or “blue water” school, which advocates Japanese expansion, not to the frozen wastes of the north, where it is difficult for Japanese to live and work, nor to the over-populated country of China, where Japanese cannot compete with the local labor, but to the south, whence, it is said, the principal portion of the Japanese racial root stock came many hundreds of years ago and where climatic and labor conditions favor Japanese expansion. This second school, as is to be expected, is led by the Japanese Navy, as any expansionist program to the south of Japan would inevitably mean that the primary participant would be the Navy rather than the Army. (In this connection please see strictly confidential despatch No. 125 of February 11, 1936, from the Consul General in Sydney, N. S. W.)

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There has been a marked recrudescence of opinion in recent months favoring the southward expansion theory. A large part of this has consisted merely of newspaper rumors, but it is believed that the rumors have been inspired by the younger officers in the Navy who are dissatisfied with the Navy’s place in the shade and wish to see the Navy take a more prominent position in the progress of the nation. These newspaper reports of the Navy’s opinions, therefore, are entitled to a certain amount of consideration, representing as they do the ideas of a large section of the Navy.

During September 1935, reports appeared in the Japanese press to the effect that the Navy had begun to advocate a general southward advance. The reasons for this proposed southward movement were stated as being both defensive and economic. It was claimed that it would be necessary for the Japanese Navy to offset the strengthening of American defenses in the Pacific Ocean, as represented by the establishment of commercial air routes and the rumored strengthening of the fortifications at Guam, by the extension of Japanese naval activities to the south. It was also claimed that it would be desirable for Japan, for national defense and trade reasons, to endeavor to acquire further supplies of rice, fish, petroleum, cotton, iron ores, wool, and rubber in the South Seas, as well as to provide outlets in that region for excess Japanese population.

In the early part of the year several persons, including naval officers, are reported to have stated, in articles in the magazines and in public speeches, that now that “Manchukuo” is well established, the time had arrived for the Japanese to turn their attention southward, in an effort to obtain concessions and increased trade in the Nether-land Indies and the Philippine Islands. On January 22, 1936, at a luncheon given by businessmen of Osaka, Vice Admiral Takahashi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, is said to have stated that:

“Manchukuo is experiencing sound development, and her economic basis is firmly established. We should, therefore, turn our attention southward, and strive for the acquisition of new markets …62 In such a case the cruising radius of the ships of the Japanese Navy will have to be increased to reach such locations as New Guinea, Borneo and the Celebes.”

(Note: Admiral Takahashi’s speech was never published in Japan, as far as the Embassy is aware, but a summary, which was later claimed to contain misquotations, was cabled to the United States by one of the news agencies and was used by Senator Pittman in his speech before the Senate on February 10, 1936. The above excerpts from Admiral Takahashi’s speech were obtained through indirect sources by the Naval Attaché of the Embassy.)

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On March 21, 1936, the Osaka Mainichi and Tokyo Nichi Nichi, English Edition, published what purported to be the Navy’s recommendations to the newly-established Hirota Government for reform of the national administration. Under the heading of “Foreign Policy”, the Navy is reported to have suggested the following:

  • “(1) Establishment of Foreign Policy. Centralization of diplomacy and enhancement of the self-initiative policy through the founding of a national policy of dealing with foreign nations.
  • (2) Protection of the North and Southern Penetration. As regards Japan’s continental development, we should not depend on Asia alone to maintain the life of our nation. We should expect a southward penetration for our national development in the future. But this southward penetration must be carried out by pacific means, rejecting all recourse to force.”

On April 17, 1936, the Yomiuri and Miyako newspapers published reports to the effect that the Premier, Mr. Hirota, had decided to abolish the present South Seas Government (which has jurisdiction over the former German islands north of the equator, now being held by Japan under mandate), and to place the islands under the jurisdiction of a bureau in the Formosan Government-General, “as a step in the execution of the so-called ‘southward policy’”. At the same time it was planned to establish a military government of Formosa and the South Seas Islands, the Governor-General to be an Army or Navy officer and the Vice Governor-General a civilian. According to the Asahi of April 25, 1936, however, Admiral Nagano, the Minister for the Navy, is opposed to the plan of placing the South Seas Islands under the jurisdiction of the Formosan Government General, because, instead of being abolished, the South Seas Government should be strengthened “to promote the Navy’s policy of southward advance”. The Admiral based his arguments against the incorporation of the South Seas Government into the Formosan Government General on the grounds that there is little economic connection between the South Seas Islands and Formosa, that the people of the two administrations are different racially and could not well be governed by the same administration, and that, as the islands are held under mandate from the League of Nations, they cannot be regarded as an integral part of the territory of Japan, as is Formosa, and cannot be governed under the same system. It does not appear that any decision has as yet been reached upon the question of the future administration of the South Seas Islands.

There appear to be several reasons for the sudden recurrence of propaganda in Japan for a “southward advance”. Some observers believe that the Japanese Navy is envious of the success obtained by the Army in promoting Japanese expansion and wishes to earn credit with the nation by itself undertaking new expansion schemes. [Page 132] With this is bound up the question of budget appropriations. The further afield the Navy extends its activities, the larger the appropriations which will be necessary for naval defense. Other observers believe that the Navy, in advocating a southward advance policy, is primarily in search of an assured supply of petroleum and is planning to obtain supplies eventually in Netherland India. This is the opinion of the Naval Attaché of the Embassy and of the Netherlands Minister to Tokyo, whose remarks will be given later in this report. The First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo, who naturally regards all developments in Japan from the Soviet point of view, believes that the recent advocacy of a southward advance policy is caused by the fact that the advance of the Japanese in northwestern Asia has been halted and cannot be resumed without serious danger of a major war. He points out that General Chiang Kai-shek has moved a part of his troops up into southern Shansi; that the Chinese Communist troops are advancing eastwards through Shensi and Suiyuan, with the slogan of “Down with Japanese Imperialism”; that Outer Mongolia, backed by the Soviet Union, is offering stout resistance to Japanese penetration; and that the Soviet Union can effectively prevent the Japanese Army from encroaching upon Soviet territory. The Japanese Army on the Asiatic continent is thus fairly thoroughly encircled and cannot advance without the risk of a serious war. Consequently the Japanese nation has turned its attention to the south.

While this Embassy cannot subscribe entirely to the thesis that the Japanese nation as a whole has turned its attention to the south, it does appear probable that the Japanese Navy, finding the efforts of the Army on the continent now being fairly consistently thwarted, believes the time ripe to make a move itself and thereby to draw the attention of the nation to the Navy rather than to the Army. It should be understood that there is in Japan a more or less persistent feud between the Army and the Navy, dating back to the days when one was controlled by the Choshu clan and the other by the Satsuma clan. The feud, of course, does not extend to the point where either party would let their quarrels endanger the Empire, but it is not only possible but probable that the Navy, finding that the Army has extended itself to a point where it is likely to involve the country in a war unless it stops, has taken advantage of the situation to show the nation that “Codlin is the friend, not Short”. In addition to that, there is no doubt that the Navy wished to extend its sphere of activities to cover the entire western Pacific north of the Equator and to include, if possible, in that sphere a section of the Pacific south of the Equator from which an assured supply of petroleum can be obtained under any circumstances. The present oil situation in Japan, [Page 133] brought on by the Army’s demand that the foreign oil interests carry stocks in the country amounting to six months’ supplies, is so uncertain that the Navy undoubtedly will endeavor to find an independent source of supply as soon as possible.

The Embassy has been endeavoring, for some time past, to ascertain exactly what was behind the sudden appearance of propaganda in favor of a “southward advance”, what are the objectives of the movement, and what effect the movement will have upon American interests in the Far East and especially in the Philippine Islands. Nothing very definite has yet been learned, but the following summaries of conversations and newspaper articles may serve to throw some light on the question.

On April 25, 1936, General Pabst, the Netherlands Minister to Japan, called on me and stated, in the course of our conversation, that he had telegraphed his Government to the effect that, if conditions in Europe remained in the present state, compelling the British fleet to stay in or near home waters, there was a “fifty-fifty chance” that the Japanese Navy would attempt a “coup de main” within six months, with the objective of taking possession of some part of the Netherlands Indies producing petroleum. The Netherlands Minister, however, is somewhat inclined to take an alarmist view of affairs, and, except for the propaganda in favor of a southward movement, I see nothing to indicate any sudden or drastic move by the Japanese Navy in the near future. I am therefore inclined to discount the Minister’s statement.

In a conversation with the First Secretary of the Embassy on April 21, 1936, Admiral Hasegawa, the Vice Minister for the Navy, commented on the “southward advance” policy of the Navy. He said that the policy was largely “newspaper talk” but that the Navy did advocate the extension of Japanese trade to the south. If important trade routes to the islands to the south of Japan were thus established, it would be necessary for the Navy to extend its operations further afield for the purpose of protecting these trade routes. The Navy’s policy, however, was purely pacific and implied no threat whatsoever against the Netherlands Indies or the Philippine Islands. It was the erroneous conception of the policy published by the newspapers which had startled various persons.

On April 25, 1936, Mr. Arita, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, received the foreign newspaper correspondents in Tokyo. In the course of the conversation, one of the correspondents asked the Minister to clarify the policy of southward expansion which had been mentioned in the press of Japan. According to the Japan Advertiser of April 26, 1936,

“The Foreign Minister said that he knew that the papers were ascribing an alleged intention of southward expansion to naval circles, [Page 134] but he did not know whether they were accurate. He could see nothing beyond economic expansion, for Japan has no ulterior ambitions.”

On April 30, 1936, Mr. Shigeru Yoshida, recently appointed Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain, called and stated, in the course of our conversation, that the population problem in Japan was becoming increasingly difficult and that foreign countries should realize the seriousness of the situation and endeavor to help Japan in finding an adequate outlet. He said that it was principally a matter of finding outlets for Japan’s trade, with opportunity for Japanese subjects to follow that trade. Upon being asked, he said that it meant peaceful penetration. Again upon being asked, he said that he thought that the “blue-water school” (i. e., the school advocating expansion to the south) would win out eventually over the “continental school”.

The Embassy will endeavor to obtain further clarification of this alleged policy of the Japanese Navy.63

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Omission indicated in the original.
  2. A further despatch on this subject was submitted May 15; not printed.