741.94/216: Telegram

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

700. 1. My British colleague76 told me today that last summer an inter-departmental conference took place in London for the purpose of considering possible methods of retaliation against Japan as pressure to relieve Japanese encroachments on British interests in China. Three specific methods were discussed:

A resort to the same petty tactics employed by the Japanese in placing difficulties in the way of British trade and shipping through discriminatory delays and other not illegal annoyances.
Partial denunciation of the Anglo-Japanese treaty of commerce and navigation of 191177 by rendering it inapplicable to certain outlying possessions such as Singapore;
Total denunciation of the treaty.

2. Craigie and the British Ambassador in China78 were respectively instructed to study this question and to report their recommendations after consulting the British Consuls in Japan and China.

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3. A paraphrase of Craigie’s telegraphic report to London which was sent some 10 days ago follows:


The opinion has been reached, after careful consideration with the senior members of my staff, that no advantage would be gained by the gradual execution of a policy of reprisals working up from petty annoyances to denunciation but that the decision should first be made whether we are prepared to accept all the consequences of denunciation and if so prepared a denunciation in toto should be made after fair warning to Japan. The merit of this course is that it is justifiable on the principle that most favored nation treatment cannot continually be accorded to a country which does not fulfill its treaty obligation (i. e. Nine Power Treaty), and thus it is consonant with the recent note of the United States.79

I still stand by the view, however, with regard to the consequences of denunciation, that reaction would be very serious and I venture to express the view that the letter to the Departments of August 23rd somewhat underestimates the risks. As stated in paragraph 6 of that letter, I agree that the Japanese Government would be reluctant to add to their international complications but it is my opinion that in their present mood they might even take the risk of becoming embroiled with us if a step which would in effect be indistinguishable from sanctions were to be taken by us. Evidence of their present temper is the expedition to South China.

I doubt, however, if there is necessity of running this risk. Since denunciation cannot come into effect for a year, no practical results can be expected before the beginning of 1940. Although we cannot possibly say what the situation here will be then, the evidence before me makes it difficult to see whether China or Japan was nearer to financial exhaustion even before the Japanese expedition to South China. Since, by this expedition, the Japanese have so greatly extended their commitments, it is difficult to avoid the deduction that the pace at which Japanese resources must now steadily diminish will render unnecessary any effort on our part (at the sacrifice at best of friendship after the war) to hasten the end before 1940 at all events. At the same time as we continue to maintain our condemnation of Japan’s aggression and observe the terms of the League resolution,80 I presume that our object is to maintain friendly relations with both belligerents without giving justification to either when peace comes for making claims that the other has been unduly favored by us. I should prefer if my diagnosis is correct to put up with the temporary losses which British interests have suffered in China (many I understand have in fact not done so badly during the crisis) in order that during the peace negotiations and afterwards we may play our part. We can do this only if we do not leave a lasting grievance with the Japanese as we did with the Italians”.

  1. Sir Robert L. Craigie, British Ambassador in Japan.
  2. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. civ, p. 159.
  3. Sir Archibald Clark Kerr.
  4. Dated October 6, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 785.
  5. See second report adopted October 6, 1937, by the League of Nations Assembly, ibid., p. 394.