793.94/14364: Telegram

The Ambassador in China ( Johnson ) to the Secretary of State

546. My 545, November 16, 9 a.m.15

“The Japanese occupied Canton with two motives in mind. The first is the effect of such occupation upon China, and the second is the effect upon Great Britain. To strike at China is of secondary importance while to strike at Great Britain is of major importance. By occupying Canton, Japan only cuts the Canton–Hankow Railway and blockades the waterways, impeding transportation and stopping supplies of munitions. Canton, too, is an important base for nautical resistance, and Japan hopes by its occupation to break down the morale of the Chinese. However, the cost of landing and maintaining her forces there will not be compensated by the above results alone. But in striking a death blow at Britain’s historical prestige and traditional morale, she immeasurably enhances her own position and value. The present blow to Great Britain is not as great in effect as it will be in the future. Japan hopes that as Britain’s power and prestige suffer in South China, hers will rise proportionately in the eyes of the Chinese and all Asiatic peoples.

Thus she hopes to occupy completely the historical place formerly enjoyed by Great Britain during the last hundred years as the dominant factor in Far Eastern affairs.

[Page 378]

By the successful occupation of Canton, Japan hopes that the old reliance of China upon Great Britain will now be abandoned in favor of Japan. Japan thinks that if she can break down British influence in South China she can break it down elsewhere. And the British Government and people may well ponder what the answer will be.

What I want to know is, ‘what will be Great Britain’s Far Eastern policy in view of this latest move on Japan’s part?’

Will Great Britain view the occupation of Canton in the same light as they view the occupation of Manchuria, North China and Shanghai?

Moreover what will Great Britain do in view of these latest developments?

I would like to have a definite answer to this question.

In view of the fact that Great Britain’s interests and prestige are threatened, will she quietly accept this fait accompli or will she demonstrate in no unmistakable terms her real intentions unequivocally, to safeguard her economic and political interests in the Far East, and above all to follow her historical policy of upholding high principles to which she has committed herself, or will she abandon these principles and sacrifice her standing?

China has been laboring lonehandedly for the past 16 months. We have looked to Great Britain and hoped for help, but up to the present we have received nothing tangible. We appreciate [the?] sending munitions through Hong Kong and upon a mutual[ly?] advantageous basis, but that avenue has now been closed.

As long as South China was not attacked we made allowances for Britain’s hesitancy to extend practical aid to this Government, now that Japan has cut off British trade there is no reason why Britain should hesitate to extend help to us.

As time goes on our people and the Chinese Army will become more and more disappointed in view of the absolute lack of concrete and tangible evidence of British support. And the advantage is something which the Chinese Government will be constrained to take into account.

I would like to know whether Great Britain will adhere to her obligation as a member of League of Nations, live up to her [historic?] and traditional standards and extend economic or some other practical help to China?

I would like to have this answered in a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

For the past 16 months [we have been?] hearing a lot of eloquence about loans and in addition have been put off from time to time with excuses that loans were impossible because of Parliamentary complexities. But the whole world witnessed the granting almost overnight to Czechoslovakia of a loan similar in nature to that asked for by China.

Now the moment has come when we must have definite knowledge of Great Britain’s intentions.

If Great Britain [should go back?] alike upon us and her principles, then I shall never bring up this question again. Nor shall I ever mention anything concerning Great Britain’s Far Eastern policy. Nor shall I consult Great Britain as to China’s future policy or attitude, or anything concerning the Far East.

I can hardly believe, however, that an Empire which produced such statesmen as Dodson [Disraeli?] and Gladstone could fail to see the [Page 379] significance of the repercussions of the occupation of Canton, and the inactivity of Great Britain upon her future in the whole of Asia.

This must be the, life of [or?] the death turning point in British Far Eastern policy. Whether Britain extends aid to us or not, the British should realize that China today is unified as never before, and that we are determined to carry on prolonged resistance. Japan is unquestionably striving to have peace, on terms, however, not beneficial to Great Britain, and thus excluding her from Asiatic affairs, Japan would be willing to concede the gains she has acquired since hostilities began. If that question comes up, what is China’s answer going to be?

If Japan wins the war, the old and outstanding interests of Great Britain in China will be finished.

We must know what Great Britain’s answer is to be, because upon it depends the future policy of the Chinese Government. There are several roads open to us.

One thing that must be kept in view is that Japan, having occupied Canton, will probably occupy Hainan Island. What such a move will portend to Hong Kong can be left to the imagination.

In view of the importance of the questions raised in this conversation, will you kindly communicate immediately with the British Government and let me have a reply?”

Repeated to Shanghai. Shanghai repeat to Tokyo.

  1. This telegram stated: “I am sending you in a separate telegram an aide-mémoire of conversation between Generalissimo and Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr on November 4.” (793.94/14360)