Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hamilton) of a Conversation With the Counselor of the Japanese Embassy (Suma)

Mr. Suma called at his request and stated that in continuation of previous items of information which he had communicated to us he wished to inform us as follows:

1. He said that the Japanese Government was giving careful attention to the recent Sino-Soviet non-aggression agreement; that there were a number of unconfirmed reports to the effect that the Soviet Union was sending airplanes to China; that inasmuch as these reports were not confirmed the Japanese Government was not paying undue attention to them; that, however, the Japanese Government was of the opinion that there was special significance in that provision of the Sino-Soviet non-aggression pact which stated that the provisions of the past should have no effect in reference to agreements which either party may already have entered into; that in the opinion of the Japanese Government this provision meant, inter alia, that the Chinese Government recognized the agreement signed last year between the Soviet Union and Outer Mongolia;17 that such recognition by the Chinese Government represented a concession on the part of the Chinese Government in return for which the Soviet Union must have granted China some quid pro quo. Mr. Suma mentioned also the close relations which had developed following the Sianfu incident of last [Page 520] December between the Chinese Communists and the Nanking Government and between the Chinese Communists and the Soviet Union.

2. Mr. Suma referred to press reports in regard to the occupation by the Japanese Military at Shanghai of property belonging to the Seventh Day Adventists mission. He said that the Embassy had received no information in regard to this matter but he remarked that in general the Japanese military had found that some American properties were being used by the Chinese for military purposes and that in these cases the Japanese military felt impelled to drive the Chinese out of the properties.

3. He referred to the steamship Wichita18 which was carrying military equipment to China and said that the Japanese Embassy was watching this matter carefully and that he hoped that no unfortunate complications would arise.

4. Mr. Suma referred to press reports to the effect that Ambassador Bingham had returned to the United States and the Under Secretary of State had proceeded to Europe with a view to bringing about joint action between the United States and Great Britain in reference to the Far Eastern situation. I said that Mr. Hull had stated definitely that Mr. Bingham’s return to this country was a personal matter and that so far as I knew Mr. Welles had been planning this trip to Europe for some time. I referred to the statements made by the Secretary to the press in regard to consultation between the American Government and the British and other Governments.

5. Mr. Suma said that he wished to inform me for my “private information” that the French Ambassador to China had presented to the Japanese Consul General at Shanghai a proposition for neutralizing Nantao. Mr. Suma said that he thought that the French Ambassador had not informed his colleagues of this proposal. Mr. Suma remarked that the Japanese Government was desirous of effecting any practicable arrangements for demilitarizing or neutralizing areas in which non-combatants lived and that in reference to the French Ambassador’s proposal that Nantao be neutralized it might be practicable for the Japanese to agree to such neutralization provided that a certain portion of Pootung were also neutralized or demilitarized.

I said that with reference to Mr. Suma’s statement that the Japanese Government desired to see neutralized areas in which non-combatants lived I had noted that the Japanese Admiral at Shanghai had returned an unfavorable reply to the proposal put to him by the American, British and French Admirals there; that that proposal had been designed to protect a non-combatant area in which we and other Governments were specially interested and where many American [Page 521] and other foreign nationals had taken refuge; and that if any such scheme were to be put into effect it was of course necessary that the Japanese as well as the Chinese make some concession.

6. I said that in this general connection I had been very much disappointed at the reply made by the Japanese Government to an approach which we had made to that Government through our Ambassador in Tokyo in reference to the bombing of the Canton–Hankow Railway.19 I said that that railway afforded practically the only means of egress from central China and that to me it seemed highly important that Americans and other foreigners who wished to leave central China be permitted to utilize that railway. I said that the Japanese Government had taken the position that inasmuch as the Chinese were using the railway for military purposes the Japanese Government could give no assurance that the railway would not be bombed. I said that perhaps the American and other consular authorities on the spot might endeavor to work out some arrangement for an international train to carry Americans and other foreigners from Hankow to Canton and that if such a plan were worked out I earnestly hoped that the Japanese Government would undertake to refrain from bombing the train or the tracks while such international train or trains were proceeding to Canton. I told Mr. Suma that we might later approach the Japanese Government again in regard to this matter.

Mr. Suma brought up the question as to whether international airplanes might not be used for evacuating Americans and other foreigners from Hankow and the Yangtze Valley area. I told him that in my opinion it would be very difficult to mark airplanes in such a way as to insure against their being attacked and that it seemed to me much more practicable to arrange for Americans and other foreigners at Hankow to leave via the Canton-Hankow Railway.

M[axwell] M. H[amilton]
  1. The protocol of March 12, 1936, for mutual assistance against a third party was published in Moscow on April 8, 1936; see telegram No. 100, April 8, 1936, 4 p.m., from the Ambassador in the Soviet Union, Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. iv, p. 105.
  2. See vol. iv, pp. 522 ff.
  3. See Japanese Foreign Office note No. 108, September 3, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 495.