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

No. 3408

Sir: On various occasions during the course of the present hostilities between Japan and China, I have discussed in my telegrams and despatches the relations between Japan and Great Britain as they have been affected by the hostilities. These relations have received during the past two or three months renewed attention on the part of the general public by reason of the conversations which were initiated during the month of August by the British Ambassador, Sir Robert Craigie, with the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, General Ugaki. The failure of the Japanese Government to respond favorably to the solicitations of the British Government that Japan respect British rights and interests in China has, paradoxical though it may be, resulted in exciting the press and publicists to denouncing Great Britain in as unmeasured language as though substantial concessions had been made to Great Britain. The reasons adduced for this animosity against Great Britain, which in most cases could be adduced with equal cogency against the United States, do not explain why Great Britain has been singled out for attack. There is now available a large volume of literature on this subject, but as these writings generally conform to a certain pattern, selections here and there may serve to give the Department a general idea of the reasons which are presented for the present animus against Great Britain.

There appears in the current issue of the magazine Japan and the Japanese an article by Dr. Oyama, who was at one time Japanese consul general at San Francisco, arguing the need for modification by Great Britain of its attitude toward Japan. He contends that it is all very well for Great Britain to insist that her rights and interests in China be respected, but that prior consideration must be the enjoyment by Japan of absolute freedom to carry on military operations in China. He states that Great Britain has:

placed at the disposal of the Chinese Government every available facility to spread anti-Japanese propaganda;
it has supplied arms and munitions to the Chinese Government;
hampered Japanese military operations by refusing to remove warships and merchantmen from areas of operations.

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Typical of the more able and thoughtful articles is one contributed to Review Diplomatique by its editor, Dr. Hanzawa. The writer, after citing the three points mentioned in the article by Dr. Oyama as evidence of British animosity towards Japan and of undue friendliness towards China, pronounces Britain’s relations with China to be so close as virtually to constitute an alliance. Dr. Hanzawa then presents several other reasons, which probably suggest the real grounds for Japanese resentment against Great Britain. He asks whether there is not need for Great Britain to review its actions of the last twenty years against Japan. He states that he finds no great difficulty in appreciating Great Britain’s desire to promote peace, to establish a system of collective security, and otherwise to promote the maintenance of the status quo; but he insists that it has been Great Britain which has been the ring-leader in promoting various means, such as the Washington Conference treaties and the London Naval Treaty, to bring pressure on Japan. He asks whether it is not, after all, Great Britain which has been conducting a worldwide campaign against Japanese commerce. He points out that it was free trade which made possible the evolution of Great Britain into a great commercial empire, and he asks whether it is compatible for a nation which has everything to owe to free trade to attempt to block Japanese commercial expansion in all parts of the world, but more especially in China.

In this connection my attention was recently drawn to an article which appeared in the London Times of September 1, 1938, from its correspondent in Japan. It is the thesis of the correspondent that the anti-British movement in Japan is one manifestation of a revolt by the younger elements in the Army and Navy and in the civil service against the older generation. He states, “In its essence, however, it has become a struggle between youthful dynamism in all departments of the national life and what is called generally the elder clique, that capable, temperate, and none too numerous oligarchy that has ruled Japan since her emergence as a modern state.[”] The correspondent seems to refer in the sentence quoted to the struggle which was described in my despatch No. 2722, January 6, 193886 as one between “medievalism” and Western thought. It is, however, difficult to subscribe to the correspondent’s thesis that the anti-British movement is primarily a manifestation of that revolt (I say “primarily”, as the greater part of his article is taken up with the development of this particular thesis), for the reason that during the past thirty or forty years the impact of the United States on Japan has been far greater than that of Great Britain and American thought and tradition exercise among the older generation as much influence as do [Page 363] British thought and tradition. The correspondent then ascribes as the secondary reason for the animus against Great Britain the familiar contention that Great Britain has been unduly helpful to China.

Even after reviewing the debate which wages back and forth between British and Japanese organs of public opinion, one is still left with the impression that the present state of feeling in Japan against Great Britain is one of the political curiosities of the moment. Quite apart from those factors which are being daily stressed by the Japanese publicists, such as the supply of arms and munitions by Great Britain to China, it seems to us that what has contributed more to the present state of affairs than any other are, first, the accumulation of Japanese grievances against Great Britain which began with the termination of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and concluded with the various measures taken by or at the instance of the British Government to restrict Japanese trade, and second, the consciousness that Great Britain is determined to remain permanently a political and economic factor in the Far East.

Although my British colleague has not informed me that, in his various conversations with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, there was made clear to him the intention of the Japanese Government to avoid a separate settlement of British complaints against Japanese actions in China, I have been told by a well-informed Japanese that there is no likelihood whatever of the Japanese Government being prepared to discuss British grievances against Japan apart from Japanese grievances against Great Britain which have been stored up for a period of some years. It will have been noted from our telegram No. 700, November 2, 6 p.m. that my British colleague had reached the conclusion that from the longer viewpoint it would serve British interests if effort were made by Great Britain to avoid leaving Japan with a lasting grievance. However, it seems likely that further interpretation, by action, of the official statement of the Japanese Government published today, expressive of intent to dominate the Far East, will effectively inhibit any expectation that Anglo-Japanese relations can be guided in the near future into smooth waters.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew