793.94111/83: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State51

1488. I discussed with Chautemps last evening the domestic and foreign situations. He was more tranquil and happier than at any time since his Cabinet was formed.

1. Far East: I asked Chautemps if it were indeed true that the French Government had forbidden all shipments of munitions of war through French Indo-China to China.

He replied that this was true; but that the decision was subject to revision if the meeting of the Nine Power Conference in Brussels should prove that an alteration should be practicable.

He went on to say that the French action had been taken for two reasons. In the first place the railroad from French Indo-China to China was owned by Frenchmen and the Japanese had threatened to bombard that portion of the railroad within Chinese territory unless shipments of munitions to Chiang Kai-shek should be stopped at once. [Page 630]Furthermore the Japanese Ambassador in Paris had called on him and “in a most polite way but letting him feel they were inexcusable [the iron]” had pointed out to him that in case France should be engaged in a European war, French colonies in the Far East would have no means of protection and that the Japanese were a people who remembered those who had been friendly and those who had been unfriendly and that it would be a very good thing for France to have a friendly Japan in case she should be at war in Europe.

Chautemps then went on to say that the French Government would be prepared to reverse its decision with regard to shipment of munitions across French Indo-China (adding that he knew it was a matter of life and death for Chiang Kai-shek to receive munitions by this route) provided the Nine Power Conference in Brussels should decide on such joint action as to make the position of French Indo-China safe. France herself had no means whatsoever of protecting herself.

I asked him what action he envisaged and he replied that any action depended entirely on the United States. The United States alone of all the great powers was in a position to apply both its moral influence and force in the Far East. Whether the Nine Power Conference did anything or not would depend entirely on what action the United States was prepared to take in the Pacific. So far as he was concerned he had been giving very little thought to the Far East which was extremely remote from France. There was an old French proverb in which he believed which ran as follows: “you sweep your own door step before you sweep the street”. France was so occupied by grave problems in Europe that she could not occupy herself today with the remote problem of the Far East.

Chautemps did not ask me what action if any the United States would propose at the Brussels Conference and I of course made no statement whatever on this subject. He asked me however if the oil and rubber supplies of the Dutch East Indies would be sufficient to keep Japan adequately supplied with oil and rubber if the Japanese should attack and capture the Dutch East Indies. I said that it was my impression that these supplies would be adequate. He then said that would mean that before the Dutch could join in any action displeasing to Japan they would have to be assured that the American Fleet would protect their colonies in the East Indies.52

Bullitt
  1. The four sections of this message were transmitted as telegrams Nos. 1488–1491. For sections 2 and 3, dealing with Germany and Spain, see vol. i, p. 147. Section 4, on the domestic situation, is not printed.
  2. Later in the same conversation, “Chautemps expressed the opinion that no effective action could be taken in the Far East unless and until a genuine peace had been established on the continent of Europe so that England, France, Germany and Italy could cooperate as friends.” (Telegrams Nos. 1489–1490, October 22, vol. i, p. 147.