793.94119/384: Telegram

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

29. Department’s 10, January 12, 7 p.m.; and my 28, January 14, 5 p.m.

The situation which has faced all of us here, whether representatives of foreign governments or foreign press correspondents, has been one of extraordinary obscurity. I have endeavored in my recent telegrams on the Imperial Conference to indicate trends and to resist the temptation to associate myself with various theses with regard to what further action might be taken by Japan such as declaration of war, withdrawal of recognition of the Chinese Government, et cetera. However, some of the correspondents, in order to cover themselves and from a desire to avoid being scooped, have played up the imminent likelihood of various drastic measures being taken by Japan and I understand that their despatches have been so recast by news editors as to give the American public the impression that the Imperial Conference was called primarily to adopt measures to prolong, extend and intensify the hostilities. There has been available no authoritative information with regard to the agenda and the decision of the conference which would warrant any such conclusion. During the last 2 [Page 24] days we have been sifting out various rumors and reports and we present the following as our estimate of recent developments.
Ever since it became apparent that Nanking was about to fall, consideration has been given by the Japanese Government to the question of Japan’s future procedure and among the measures which have been studied was that of a declaration of war. The Panay and the Ladybird incidents39 occurred and brought about in the highest Japanese quarter a realization of the danger of involvement with the United States and Great Britain. The series of discussions between the Government and Imperial Headquarters which began at about that time then sought to formulate principles of a basic policy toward China that might be acceptable to all influential elements in Japan. Although it was not expected that these principles would be such as to modify objectives in China there was reason to believe that the methods to implement these principles would be such as to reduce to a minimum consistent with successful conclusion of the hostilities the possibilities of becoming involved with the United States and Great Britain. It now appears that the question of resorting to a declaration of war was at that time thoroughly discussed and was then tabled until dragged out again by Suyetsugu at the Cabinet meeting on January 9. Confirming the statement quoted in paragraph 3 of our 25, January 13, 6 p.m., the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs40 informed me at luncheon today that this question neither was considered by the Imperial Conference nor is it an active one at the present time.41
The conferences between the Government and Imperial Headquarters were progressing toward a final conference in the presence of the Emperor at which time the principles of a basic policy toward China were to be adopted when the Germans offered to act as a channel of communications between the Chinese and Japanese Governments. This move by the Germans was entirely fortuitous and was not a link in the chain of events which led to the conference on January 12. That conference would have taken place in any event as soon as the necessary agreement of views between the Government and Imperial Headquarters was reached.
The principal purpose of the conference, as pointed out in our number 25, was to expose any further agitation and argumentation with regard to the basis of a peace which would be acceptable to [Page 25] Japan: it was not to formulate or to adopt measures to prolong or intensify the hostilities. The basis of peace which was adopted will determine the Japanese terms whether negotiations for peace should eventuate now from the German good offices or at any time in the future. In this sense the statement in my 23, January 12, 9 [11] p.m., that the conference was on “peace rather than on war” is substantially correct.
It is in the field of future developments that the principles of policy decided upon by the conference, whatever they may be, offer grounds for apprehension. We believe that the primary principle is that China shall cooperate with Japan to combat communism; but we take it that this does not mean any association of China with Japan to combat the mere propagation of a doctrine but that it will entail some form of political and military coordination between the two countries which will permit Japan to eliminate China as a hostile factor in the event of a war between Japan and Russia. If the reply which is shortly expected of the Chinese Government should be—as is probable—such as to eliminate any chance of a peace conformable to the principles of Japan’s basic policy and if China should manifest beyond all possibility of doubt its determination to continue the struggle the way has now been left open for the Japanese Government, in the exercise of its prerogatives, to consider whether it should not withdraw its recognition of the Chinese Government and to support and perhaps eventually grant de jure recognition to some regime which is prepared to accept the Japanese terms.
You may wish to review my strictly confidential telegram 634 of December 15, noon.42
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. iv, pp. 485 ff.; and Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, pp. 517 ff.
  2. Kensuke Horinouchi.
  3. In reviewing the formulating of Japanese policy, Ambassador Grew, in despatch No. 2746, January 22, stressed the importance of civilian leaders checking military action which tended toward war, not only with China and the United Kingdom, but also with the United States. “This trend toward declaring war passed,” he concluded. “The change would appear to have been brought about through a disposition on the part of the Throne to avert suck risks.” (793.94119/397)
  4. Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. iii, p. 800.