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

No. 1574

Sir: The receipt is acknowledged of your despatches No. 3047 of June 23, 1938 and No. 3181 of August 11, 193886 in regard to the statements concerning the drug situation in China made by the American representative at the recent session of the Opium Advisory Committee at Geneva.

These reports have been read with interest, describing as they do a course of action strikingly similar to that which has, in the past, been attempted by nation after nation when failure to cooperate in the international effort to cope with the drug evil has been brought to light. The difference is found in the fact that Japan, after admitting the flooding of China with high morphine-content opium and the setting up in China of unrecognizable regimes among whose first acts in each instance has been to do away with measures to suppress the abuse of narcotic drugs, endeavors to represent this destruction of existing control as cooperation and to justify it as technically permissible under the international drug conventions.

From the data which have been previously sent to the Embassy, you will have noted how direct is the interest of the United States in the situation in China, north and south of the Great Wall, in regard to opium and opiates.

Practically all of the smoking opium found in the illicit traffic in the United States comes from China and is a blend of Chinese and [Page 564] Iranian opiums. Part of it is prepared in and near Shanghai, part in South China and a little in North China. This type of smoking opium has practically no market in China and is put up solely for the illicit traffic in America.

Heroin found in the illicit traffic in the United States has, for some years past, come from China, since 1935 mostly from the Japanese Concession in Tientsin. Persian opium, on account of its high morphine content, lends itself particularly well to the manufacture of heroin.

Most of the raw opium found in the illicit traffic in the United States is Iranian opium, a great part of which is smuggled into the United States from China.

The recent unprecedented movement of Iranian opium to China and action taken by the regimes set up in China by the Japanese Army in respect of narcotics control are thus, naturally, matters of deep concern to the American Government.

It is regretted that it was not possible to place more detailed information in your hands before June 20, when the Japanese Foreign Office took up with the Embassy the question of the discussions which took place in Geneva. The Department, however, with a view to placing before you as early as practicable all available material to aid you in developing a complete picture of the situation, has endeavored to forward as rapidly as it became available data of that kind.

A copy of the American representative’s principal statement in regard to the situation in the Far East was sent you from Geneva at the time when the statement was made, June 13, 1938.

Under cover of instruction No. 1548 of August 1, 1938,87 the Department sent you the minutes of the 8th, 9th, 10th, 15th and 16th meetings of the Twenty-third Session of the Opium Advisory Committee.88 These report the public discussions referred to in your despatch under reply and embody verbatim the principal statements made by the Japanese, American and other representatives. It will be noted that the statements of the Japanese representative confirm almost entirely those made by the American representative.

Excerpts from the confidential report of the American representative at the Twenty-third Session of the Opium Advisory Committee will be sent you as soon as possible.

There is enclosed herewith a copy of League document No. O. C. Confidential 43 (which was circulated after the close of the session) from which it will be noted that the Japanese representative at the Opium Advisory Committee essentially corroborates the estimates [Page 565] presented by the American representative of the area devoted to poppy cultivation in Manchuria and Jehol.89

There is also enclosed herewith a copy of a memorandum90 which deals with certain points brought out in the remarks made by the American representative at the Twenty-third Session of the Opium Advisory Committee.

As the Japanese representative at the Opium Advisory Committee has pointed out under instruction from his Government, the Japanese figures accord substantially with those presented to the Opium Advisory Committee by the American representative at the recent session of that Committee.

The governments concerned in the situation were those of China and of Iran. There was no occasion to consult in advance the Government of Japan unless to protest the setting up by its army in China of so-called governments among whose principal objects has invariably been the making of money through encouragement of the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, a course of action followed regardless of law and to the prejudice of all nations, especially the United States. The political element thus involved could not be discussed in the Opium Advisory Committee, which is a technical committee in which political discussions are barred. Otherwise, it might have been pointed out that, when Wen Tsung-Yau and his associates wished to set up their drug business in China, they went to the Japanese Army which incorporated them in “The Provisional Government” at Nanking, but that when Wen’s daughter attempted to extend her drug business to the United States, the American Government sent her to the penitentiary.

The following data are intended to serve as background to aid the Embassy in its consideration of matters in which the traffic in narcotic drugs in China is involved:

In the case of Manchuria and Jehol and in that of other parts of China under Japanese military occupation, the government recognized as the sovereign (i. e., the Chinese National Government) is prevented by existing conditions, created in large part by Japanese action, from obtaining official information as to the situation. This puts the case on a footing which differentiates it from the case of areas in which recognized governments function. Discussion in the Opium Advisory Committee could not be based on information supplied by the recognized sovereign of the territory, because such information was not to be had. All nations with facilities for obtaining such information are therefore regarded as privileged to present it [Page 566] without obligation to consult in advance the Japanese or any other government.

The Japanese representatives at the Opium Advisory Committee have hitherto disclaimed responsibility for the regimes set up in China by the Japanese army and have taken the position that those regimes are independent governments which Japan has recognized as such. This is particularly so in the case of “Manchukuo”.

Channels for obtaining and supplying to the Opium Advisory Committee information in regard to the situation in respect of the narcotics traffic in those parts of China under Japanese military occupation were agreed upon between the United States and nations members of the League of Nations in 1934 on the basis set forth in circular letter No. C. L. 27.1934.XI of March 16, 1934, a copy of which is enclosed.92 In that letter is outlined the procedure which has been recognized and followed ever since with the apparent acquiescence of Japan, whose representatives have themselves circulated information concerning “Manchukuo” without prior consultation with the Chinese or any other government. In this connection attention is invited to the Department’s instruction No. 441 of January 20, 1934,93 in regard to the seventeenth session of the Opium Advisory Committee.94

Information from Iran concerning raw opium despatched from Bushire for the Far East by Japanese, Chinese, British, Netherland and German ships has been regularly produced and discussed annually in the Opium Advisory Committee for many years past without the slightest suggestion on the part of anyone that the government whose flag the ship flew should be consulted in advance. The Japanese Government must have known that this data would be discussed as usual. On occasion, in the past, the Japanese Government has even promised to take steps that would penalize Japanese shipmasters for carrying opium from Iran to China.

As you point out in one of the despatches under reply, the specific case mentioned by Mr. Fuller of illicit traffic from the Japanese Concession in Tientsin to the United States between 1935 and 1937 was duly reported to the Japanese Government through regular channels under the Narcotics Limitation Convention of 193195 and also especially through your Embassy in seizure report No. 721.93 Under the terms of that Convention, report of important cases of illicit traffic is to be made in each case to all parties to the Convention as soon as the case has been developed. This provision was designed to prevent the very course which the Japanese Foreign Office now [Page 567] appears to suggest. The Japanese Government, which must have known that the case in question would be discussed in the Opium Advisory Committee’s Twenty-third Session, had over forty days in which to investigate and present its statement in the matter.

Adverting to Mr. Mitani’s letter of July 30, 1938,96 it may be pointed out that the attitude of the Japanese Government toward the abuse of narcotic drugs speaks for itself. For over ten years, Japan’s official representatives, admitting the futility of their existing measures to prevent illicit traffic, have done no more than to present vague promises to reform Japanese legislation so that it will provide adequate penalties for illicit trafficking and will set up efficient control of the distribution of narcotic drugs. Year after year these same assurances have been given but nothing has been done. Even the existing legislation seems not to be enforced. Recently the keeper of a bar in Japan had only to go around the corner and openly buy at a pharmacy without any prescription a quantity of cocaine beyond any medicinal dose, for delivery to a sailor, to be smuggled into the United States. (In this connection, please see your despatch No. 3054 of June 25, 193897). This state of affairs has been the subject of public comment for years past.

No convincing justification has yet been produced by the Japanese for the flood of Iranian opium which has admittedly been imported into China north and south of the Great Wall by Japanese interests. Whether those interests were military or civilian, all that has been produced is an attempted justification on purely technical grounds for refraining from prosecuting or interfering with the Japanese concerned in thus building up this serious menace to the rest of the world. This attempted justification is based on the assertion that the so-called “governments” which have been set up through the impulsion of the Japanese Army have entrusted to certain Japanese and Chinese individuals the actual control of narcotics. The responsibility of the Japanese Government in this matter is inescapable.

It will thus be seen that the Japanese Government, while confirming the factual data, appears to avoid the issue by importing political considerations which involve recognition of puppet governments that its army has set up in China.

International cooperation is not limited to the exchange of information, important though that feature is. It calls for positive action to ensure effective control of the drugs and effective punishment for offenses against the laws controlling narcotic drugs.

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So far as Japan itself is concerned, the cooperation which has been extended by the Japanese Government to the Government of the United States has been extended for only a few years past and has consisted merely in more or less perfunctory investigation of a few specific cases of illicit traffic. Even in those cases no effective action has been taken against persons implicated in Japan and no effective steps appear to have been taken to provide for strict control of drugs or for the imposition in future of penalties that would act as deterrents.

It is true that the Nippon Yusen Kaisha has taken effective steps to put a stop to the use of its ships for the smuggling of narcotics. This was done to avoid the heavy fines that were being imposed on Nippon Yusen Kaisha vessels for bringing narcotics to American ports.

All the results that have been accomplished in the past twenty years in the fight against the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs have been attained only after the application of pitiless publicity. It is that and that only which, in the case of offenders, has finally brought about international cooperation. Japan is by no means the only nation which has brought such publicity upon herself. Other nations have come to a realization that the only way to avoid such publicity is by showing sincere and effective effort to cooperate in the campaign against the illicit traffic. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will take measures, such as past experience has shown are necessary, to meet its obligations in this matter. To that end, it is gratifying to note that the Japanese authorities are at last becoming sensitive to the general disapproval of their attitude toward the narcotic traffic.

The idea of prior consultation with the authorities of the offending country before reporting on illicit traffic is one that has been advanced in the past. It has always been proposed with a view to defeating the very object of the exchange of such information. In the present instance, it appears to have been suggested with the additional object of evoking some sort of recognition for the position occupied by Japan in China today and of the puppet governments which the Japanese Army has set up.

The Department has noted the opinion expressed in Mr. McGurk’s memorandum of June 20, 193898 that nothing more than perfunctory interest in prevention of the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs may be expected from the Japanese Government unless the practice is instituted of prior reference to the Japanese authorities of all matters involving complicity of Japanese nationals before criticism of such complicity is made public.

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This suggested departure from long established practice would constitute no less than a suppression of information and, as such, action in derogation of the Narcotics Limitation Convention of 1931.

The Department doubts whether participation of the American Government in such suppression of information would tend in any measure to increase the present apparently perfunctory interest of the Japanese authorities in narcotic drug control or in suppression of the illicit traffic, or would tend to render effective the Japanese contribution to cooperative international effort to suppress the abuse of narcotic drugs. In similar situations in the past, in China and elsewhere, publicity has proved the only effective means of bringing about real cooperation.

The menace to the United States which arises from the accumulation in China, through the agency of Japanese interests, of these huge quantities of opium and opiates is necessarily a matter of direct and serious concern to the American Government, as the United States is the principal victim of the resultant illicit traffic. The Department is considering the making of representations to the Japanese Government in regard to the matter when an opportune moment arrives.

In the light of the foregoing, the Department will appreciate receiving your views on the proposal for undertaking to consult the Japanese authorities (any more than those of other countries other than China) in advance before giving publicity to information concerning the illicit traffic from China to the United States, bearing in mind the political implications which would be involved; and also your views as to whether the desire of the Japanese, expressed repeatedly during many years past, to cooperate with other nations in these matters, may be expected to attain any degree of effective fruition within a reasonable time.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
R. Walton Moore
  1. Neither printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See League of Nations, Official Journal, November 1938, pp. 1003 and 1043.
  4. For summary of Japanese reply, see League of Nations, Official Journal, November 1938, p. 1020.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not attached to file copy of instruction.
  7. Not printed.
  8. See League of Nations, Official Journal, February 1934, pp. 157 ff.
  9. Signed at Geneva, July 13, 1931, Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. i., p. 675.
  10. Not printed.
  11. Not printed; Mr. Mitani was Chief of the Treaty Bureau, Japanese Foreign Office.
  12. Not printed.
  13. Not printed; Joseph F. McGurk was First Secretary of Embassy in Japan.