The Chargé in Japan ( Dickover ) to the Secretary of State

No. 2091

Sir: With reference to the Embassy’s despatch No. 2069 of October 2, 1936,37 I have the honor to report that Soviet-Japanese relations have shown a tendency to slight but steady improvement during the past two weeks, the chief contributions to this improvement being the [Page 354] reported settlement of two outstanding causes of friction, namely the fisheries treaty question and the extension of the Japanese oil concessions in North Saghalien.

According to reports here the agreement regarding the fisheries question was reached at Moscow on October 2, 1936. As will be recalled the present treaty expired in May, 1936, and had been extended to provide further time for negotiations. It has now been agreed that the new treaty will run for eight years, which is a compromise between the Japanese demand that it be valid for twelve years and the Soviet Government’s desire to limit it to a five year period. The treaty, which it is predicted will be concluded by the middle of November, will provide for the continuation of the system of bidding for fishery grounds in certain areas, restrictions upon the amount of fish to be taken in the open sea, the protection of fish, and the prohibition of fishing in Kamchatka rivers. The value of the rouble for the payment of rentals on fishery grounds, a subject of great controversy heretofore, has been settled at 32.5 sen, but this provision is effective for only five years of the treaty, the rate being subject to revision by agreement at the expiration of that period.

The negotiations regarding the extension of the Japanese oil concessions in North Saghalien were successfully concluded at Moscow on October 10, 1936, between Vice-Admiral Masazo Sakonji, President of the North Saghalien Oil Company, and Mr. Lukinovitch, Vice-Chairman of the People’s Heavy Industries of Soviet Russia. The details of this agreement have not yet reached here but it is understood that it will run from [for?] five years from January 1, 1937.

With the fisheries and the oil questions apparently settled the attention of the Japanese is next turning to the question of the establishment of a commission for the settlement of border disputes and a clear definition of the Soviet-”Manchukuo” frontier.

There has been a disposition in the press lately to comment with satisfaction and at some length upon the “brighter and more cheerful aspect” of relations between Japan and Soviet Russia. The superficial and temporary improvement cannot be doubted and the elimination for a certain period, at least, of the troublesome fisheries and oil questions admittedly makes the conduct of pleasant relations more hopeful. The only untoward incident which has occurred between the two countries during the past two weeks is another border skirmish between a “Manchukuo” patrol and O. G. P. U. troops on October 11 at two points on the “Manchukuo”-Soviet eastern frontier; one halfway between Yangkuanping and Chiushaping on the Tumen River, and the other near Matita, near Hunchun, both points in the province of Cheintao. There were several casualties, including one Japanese soldier killed. On the following day a small Japanese detachment, [Page 355] searching for the body of this soldier missing in the previous day’s engagement, was met with further fire from Soviet troops and the Japanese officer leading the detachment did not return. While a protest was filed by the Soviet Government with the Japanese Chargé d’Affaires at Moscow and it is expected that similar action will be taken by the Tokyo Foreign Office, there appears to be no intention on the part of the Kwantung Army authorities to let the matter assume serious proportions. An official communiqué in the matter was issued by the headquarters of the Korean Army at Seoul which stated, in part: “The case will be transferred for diplomatic settlement to the Foreign Office authorities upon conclusion of the investigation on the spot. The army headquarters judge from the present circumstances that it will not assume proportions”.

Although the foregoing is evidence that the Japanese authorities were at first disposed to minimize the importance of these incidents, a few days later a further statement was issued by the Kwantung Army calling attention sharply to the evident purpose of the Soviet authorities to interfere with the pursuit of amicable relations between the two countries. A possible reason for this apparent change of attitude may be found in the Yomiuri’s Hsinking correspondent who, in reporting the Kwantung Army’s communiqué, suggested that the reason why the Soviets provoked the most recent incidents was to embarrass the Nanking negotiations which in the view of the Soviet Government were progressing too smoothly and might therefore lead to the establishment of a Sino-Japanese arrangement for the joint defense against communism.

To revert, however, to the recent comments in the Japanese press on the brighter aspects of relations between Soviet Russia and Japan, many reasons are advanced for this state of affairs; the Japanese take the view that the Soviet Government is beginning in general to display a more conciliatory attitude due to the developments in Europe which are tending to expose Russia to the threat of military action in the West. Added to this is the revelation this summer of the anti-Stalinist plots and the dangers to the internal structure of the Soviet political machinery.

One paper, the Nichi Nichi of October 8, 1936, says that the failure of the Soviet authorities to take a positive attitude in the question of border incidents is taken by the Foreign Office as proof that Soviet Russia has at last come to understand the real intentions of Japan’s continental policy. There is, however, no evidence that the Foreign Office authorities believe this; on the contrary this very point is one of the two main outstanding difficulties in the way of a real and basic improvement of relations between the two countries. It will be recalled that in his address before the Diet on May 6 last, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Arita, stressed the fact that the main obstacles to the [Page 356] conduct of peaceful relations with Soviet Russia were (1) the lack of clear border demarcation and, (2) the lack of comprehension on the part of Soviet statesmen of Japan’s position in East Asia, coupled with their baseless fears and suspicions. While there is talk at present, as stated before, of beginning negotiations regarding the border demarcation the presence of the large number of Soviet troops along the “Manchukuo” frontier together with the supposed number of airplanes and submarines at Vladivostok and the general militarization of the Eastern Provinces are proof enough that Soviet Russia is far from willing to abandon either their fears and suspicions of Japan or to alter their understanding of what Japan’s position in East Asia signifies.

Despite the disposition on the part of the Japanese press to credit the Russians with displaying a more conciliatory attitude at the present time, impartial observers are more inclined to feel that it is the Japanese who are contributing to the present generally easier situation because they wish to avoid trouble in the Far East for the next few years until their army program shall have reached completion.

Respectfully yours,

E. R. Dickover
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