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

No. 3392

Sir: Confirming my telegram 691, October 29, 1 p.m.,72 I have the honor to report the appointment on October 29 of Mr. Hachiro Arita as Minister for Foreign Affairs in succession to Prince Konoye, the Prime Minister, who also concurrently held the Ministry of Overseas Affairs.

The selection at this time of Mr. Arita for the Foreign Office gives no direct information on the question whether there is to be any change, whether for better or for worse, in the future policy of Japan toward the Western Powers. As for Japan’s China policy, that, as has been so truthfully said recently by Japanese leaders, is “immutable”. Mr. Arita is a thoroughly honest person and will not compromise with his convictions; but one is never quite certain whether the convictions which he holds today will last the morrow. It is an open secret that, when Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, a post which usually immediately precedes an ambassadorship, he chose to go as Minister to Austria in preference to subscribing to Japanese policy in Manchuria. Since then, he has gained the confidence of the Army, and he returns to the Foreign Office to support a policy in comparison to which the Manchuria policy was child’s play. Presumably he, like most liberal Japanese, realizes that for Japan there is no road back.

Most Japanese observers were of the opinion that when the decision was taken against the opposition of General Ugaki to set up the China Organ, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to find a senior diplomatist prepared to associate himself with that decision as a condition precedent to appointment to the Foreign Office; for to give assent would be tantamount to acquiescence in transferring the direction of Japan’s relations with the Powers as well as with China from the Foreign Minister to the committee of five cabinet [Page 355] ministers who are to be the governors of the China Organ. It might be said with a certain amount of truth that the grant of wide powers to the China Organ would merely regularize an existing practice; yet, the fact remains that a Foreign Minister who has no power of initiative in matters affecting foreign relations is not far from being an anomaly. One fair assumption to be drawn from these circumstances is that Mr. Arita, in consenting to be one of five persons who are hereafter to direct foreign relations, has views on foreign policy which do not materially differ from those of his future colleagues on the board of governors of the China Organ.

The statement made by Mr. Arita on appointment and the speculations of the press on the policy to be pursued now that Hankow has fallen are not at all informative. The statement to be issued by the Government on November 3rd73 may clarify matters somewhat, but at the moment few persons outside the small group within the Cabinet are able to make any prediction which sounds convincing.

During a call which the counselor of the Embassy74 made on Mr. Yoshizawa, Director of the American Bureau of the Foreign Office, he inquired whether any progress was being made in drafting a reply to my note of October 6, 1938,75 with regard to American rights and interests in China. Mr. Yoshizawa said that lantern processions were still being held to celebrate the capture of Hankow and that, with a Minister just coming into office, he had no idea when the reply would be ready. Mr. Dooman observed that Japan had reached a fork in the road, and that she would have to choose between giving full respect to the rights in China of the United States and Great Britain, along with other Powers, and returning to a condition of seclusion not unlike that which she maintained for two hundred years under the Tokugawa Shogunate. He believed that Japan’s well-being was bound up with cooperation with the United States and Great Britain, and that, although she could subsist on China, she could not expect to maintain even the present Japanese standard of living. Mr. Yoshizawa said that even the military had begun to realize that the industrial and economic development by Japan of China would be impossible without the help of American and British capital. Mr. Dooman replied that the grant of loans by Americans should hardly be given serious thought so long as the loans, if made, served only to maintain and perpetuate conditions which excluded the principle of equality of opportunity. Mr. Yoshizawa’s concluding remark was significant in the light of our speculative appraisal of Mr. Arita’s views: it was that he saw no solution of the issue with the United States over China [Page 356] unless the United States were to recognize the new situation in the Far East.

With an important official statement on policy promised in two days, further speculation at this time on the possibility of a change in Japanese attitude would not seem to be called for. But long experience with official statements issued by the Japanese Government gives me no grounds to expect that we shall have a clear-cut definition of Japanese attitude and objectives. If, as we expect, the announcement will consist largely of generalities, including the points enunciated by former Foreign Minister Hirota—economic cooperation between Japan and China, joint opposition to communism, and so on—a formula said to be much favored by Mr. Arita, assurance of respect for foreign rights in China, and emphasis on recognition by the Powers of the new situation in the Far East, we shall be forced by subsequent events to interpret the announcement as notice that there is to be no reversion by Japan to the conditions contemplated by the Nine-Power Treaty. The jubilation over the fall of Hankow and the confidence that dissention among the Chinese leaders will develop in the near future, coupled with the animosity toward Great Britain and to a less degree toward France, dispose me to believe that, whatever the language of the promised declaration of the Japanese Government may be, its intent will be to affirm Japanese paramountcy in the Far East.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew