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

No. 2419

Sir: It cannot be denied that Japan’s policy toward China has undergone a marked change during the past few months, but many [Page 97] observers doubt that there has been any real change in Japan’s basic policy. This basic policy was, and now is, to dominate China in one way or another, thereby dominating the whole of the Far East south of Siberia. Japan formerly sought to attain this end through aggressive attempts to obtain political and economic control of China, but China’s apparent determination, exhibited in various ways during the past few months, to resist such attempts at control, has caused Japan to alter its method of approach. As near as the Embassy can judge the present situation, Japan now hopes to attain and maintain a strengthened position on the Asiatic mainland through friendship and economic cooperation with China, rather than by actual political control of that country.

There have been many indications in recent months of this change in Japan’s methods of attaining its ends. The reaction in Japan to China’s growing strength and unity was one of astonishment and consternation. However, the Japanese are intelligent enough to realize the changed conditions in China and to appreciate the wisdom of shaping Japan’s policy in such a way as to be able to deal with the altered situation. The demand for a policy of friendship and cooperation with China has come from many quarters of the Japanese nation. It was perhaps the Japanese diplomats and consular officers stationed in China who first realized the changed conditions and advised their Government accordingly. They were followed by businessmen engaged in trade with China, and later even a section of the Japanese military realized the fact that the blustering, aggressive tactics of the past were no longer effective. Since then, politicians in Japan, and most of the Japanese newspapers and magazines have come to appreciate the situation and are urging a changed policy toward China. It is true that some sections of the Japanese nation, who have been badly informed or who are reluctant to relinquish their former views, still cling to the idea that China can be coerced into compliance with Japanese demands, but the bulk of the nation now realizes that this course is dangerous.

During recent months three men of considerable prominence in Japan have advocated a changed policy toward China. The Embassy has already reported by telegraph and despatch the views of Mr. Naotake Sato, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in regard to China. It will be remembered that he advocated treating China “on a basis of equality” and indicated that past errors in negotiations with China had been due to the fact that Japan had a sense of superiority in its dealings with that country. It is true that Mr. Sato later was compelled, presumably by the more chauvinistic elements in the Government, to modify his statement so far as to say that he did not mean that Japan should deal patiently with China if China broke the rules of international justice, but nevertheless it appears to be certain that [Page 98] Mr. Sato still hopes to be able to deal with China in much the same manner as he would deal with the United States or Great Britain. Mr. Sato apparently is fully aware of the realities of the situation and has shaped his course accordingly.

Mr. Kenji Kodama, the chairman of a recent Japanese economic mission to China, on his return to Japan, according to the press, expressed the view that Japan should realize that China is now a strong, unified nation and must be dealt with accordingly. The press assumes that Mr. Kodama advised the Foreign Office to adopt a changed policy towards China more in keeping with changed conditions, in order to improve economic relationships between the two countries.

Mr. Shigeru Kawagoe, the Japanese Ambassador to China, was recently recalled to Japan to confer with the Foreign Office on China policies. The press has been hounding Mr. Kawagoe in an attempt to discover what advice he has given in this connection, and it appears reasonably certain that his views were along the following general lines:

China is progressing rapidly, and national unity of that country is becoming a reality.
Japan should realize that the actual power in China lies with General Chiang Kai-shek and a section of the national army.
The actual control by the Chinese Government of China is great and extensive, “comparable to that of the Japanese Government in Japan”.

These three men represent the Japanese Foreign Office, the Foreign Service in China, and Japanese industrialists and financiers. As such they speak with a certain amount of authority, and the Japanese nation appears now to be considering and adopting their views. The Japanese press is inclined to urge the Government to seek the friendship of China and to “reconsider its aggressive policies”. There seems to be little doubt that with this pressure a new policy toward China will evolve, but this is not held to mean a loss of prestige to the Japanese Government. It simply means that Japan is adapting its policies to meet changed conditions. It is true that the idea of treating China on a basis of equality and reciprocity is very different from Japan’s aggressive policy of only a few months ago, but, as the Japan Times pointed out editorially, the policy is different because China itself is now different. It was impossible previously to deal with China, according to the Japanese view, on a basis of equality, because China was not, in strength, unity, and stability of Government, on a par with other great nations. Now that China has attained a degree of unity and stability, Japan sees no disgrace in altering its policies accordingly.

It is difficult to say what attitude the Army will take toward the policy of conciliation and friendship with China, as the Army spokesmen [Page 99] have been silent on the subject during recent months. There is no doubt that a section of the Army believes that a “weak policy” toward China will only result in the stronger determination of Nanking to resist Japan, but there also appears to be a section of the military, represented by the men in high positions at the present time, who are inclined to adopt the civilian view of treating China more or less on a basis of equality and reciprocity.

However, it will undoubtedly be very difficult to persuade the military to surrender the gains they have made in North China, such as the Hopei-Chahar Political Council, the East Hopei Autonomous Régime, the Tangku Truce Agreement,7a and the Ho–Umezu Agreement.8 The opposition of the Japanese military to any relinquishment of such gains now appears to have caused a compromise between the liberal policies of Mr. Sato and the chauvinistic policies of the past. After the return of Mr. Kawagoe to Japan to confer on China policies, there was a meeting of the representatives of the Foreign Office and the War and Navy Ministries to discuss the proposed “new deal for China”. The results of the discussion have not been officially announced and the versions of the proposed “new deal” published in the press vary somewhat in detail, although all express the same general theme. The Kokumin outlines the new China policy as follows:

  • “1. Japan will not selfishly fail to appreciate that the Nanking Government’s power is gradually expanding as long as the special position of Japan in North China is not infringed on.
  • 2. It will guard closely, however, against the growing tendency for peace and order in North China to be disturbed as a result of the compromise between Nanking and the Chinese Communists.
  • 3. Negotiations for adjustment of relations shall be started as soon as possible. The first matters to be negotiated on shall be exclusively economic, and political questions shall be avoided for the time being.
  • 4. For smooth trade and economic co-operation in North China, the lowering of high tariffs against Japanese goods shall be made an urgent question for negotiation.
  • 5. Abolition of the East Hopei régime and acquisition of the political power in North China, which Nanking reportedly means to demand of Japan, if brought up by the Chinese at this time would tend to aggravate relations further. Thus the prudence of the Chinese regarding these matters is fully anticipated.
  • 6. Japan will co-operate with China against any nation attempting to sacrifice the latter and will reject any negotiations that would bring China under international control. At the same time, it will avoid friction with the other countries interested in China.”

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It will be observed that these policies provide for Japan’s recognition of China’s increasing strength and unity, but nevertheless do not contemplate the relinquishment by Japan of its “special position” in North China. The policies also do not contemplate the immediate abolition of the East Hopei Autonomous Régime or the further consolidation of Nanking’s influence in North China. As the abolition of the East Hopei Autonomous Régime and the extension of Nanking’s control over North China appear to be the principal demands made by China as a preliminary to further negotiations, it does not appear likely that the proposed “new deal for China” will be acceptable to China as a basis for negotiations. Japan apparently proposes to inaugurate negotiations with China with a “clean slate” and on a basis of equality, but does not propose to abolish the results of past aggression. It is difficult to see how this compromise policy can be effective in promoting friendship between the two countries.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Agreement between the Chinese and Japanese military authorities, May 31, 1933; for text, see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 120.
  2. Alleged secret agreement between the Chinese War Minister and the Japanese Commander in North China, May–July, 1935; see despatch No. 332, March 27, 1936, from the Ambassador in China, Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. iv, p. 89.