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

No. 3300

Sir: The Embassy has had occasion at various times during recent years to invite the Department’s attention to a groping in Japan toward [Page 605] new and more centralized policy-determining bodies. This trend has paralleled the concurrent movement away from party politics (in even the attenuated form previously existing in Japan) and away from the ordinarily-organized Cabinet as the chief instrument of government. The trend was observable in the establishment of Cabinet counselors, later in the powers placed in Imperial Headquarters, and even more recently in the importance of the five-minister conferences. The present manifestation of the trend is the impending establishment of the Tai Shi In (China Board, or institute with regard to China), to be an organ in which to concentrate direction of Japan’s relations with and interests in China.

Prediction has been made in the press that the China Board will be established and commence functioning by the close of October. There has been no authoritative statement of what will be its form or powers, but announcement has been made that about October 8 promulgation of an ordinance with regard to it is likely. It is feared that such promulgation will be too late for inclusion of translation in the pouch by which this despatch is going forward (leaving Yokohama October 8).

There has nevertheless been some credible discussion in the newspapers of the probable provisions of the forthcoming ordinance. The recent resignation of Foreign Minister Ugaki because of his opposition to the provisions being considered by the Cabinet removes the only obstacle in view, and it now appears even more likely than before that such provisions as are being considered will be put into effect. The newspaper discussion therefore seems of probable dependability.

According to the press, the China Board will operate entirely within the structure of the Cabinet. Its director will be the Premier; it will have four vice directors in the persons of the War Minister, the Navy Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Minister of Finance and of Commerce and Industry. These are the five individuals who have made up the five-minister conferences, that system of war cabinet within the Cabinet which in the last months has become more and more dominant in the country’s governing.

Under its director and four vice directors the China Board will have, according to the press, a large technical and administrative staff, defined in the usual Japanese manner by court rank. There will be three bureaus: general affairs, economics, and cultural relations. The chief of each bureau is to be of chokunin rank. Within the China Board there will be a special deliberative body made up of expert advisers and representatives of important elements of Japanese public opinion. The Board will also have a “contact” committee with some sort of intermediary capacity between the China Board organization on the one hand and on the other hand the five-minister conferences.

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Again according to the press, the China Board’s function is not only the direction of policy but also the exercise of actual administrative control in the field. Branches will be established in the occupied areas of China at a number of points: Peiping, Kalgan, and Shanghai have been mentioned. The press anticipates that the Board is to function only for the duration of the hostilities.

It would appear that the conferences of the five ministers are to continue to be the centralized policy-determining authority for problems and interests in China, and that the new China Board is an effort to create an organization to make more effective the control exercised by the five-minister conferences. The development is in part an empirical consequence of the relative success of those conferences in the last months; it is a crystalization of a process of concentrating of authority which has been going forward with the hostilities. But at this point it is necessary to temper the observation that the China Board is another step in the direction of concentration of power by again observing that it is expected to be a body within the structure of the Cabinet. Japanese leaders who foresee danger in possible assumption of exclusive political control by the military appear to derive satisfaction from the fact that the movement to establish the new body has been guided into the direction of subordination to the Cabinet rather than, for example, into the direction of subordination to Imperial Headquarters. It is probable that Premier Konoe sees as his most responsible task, at this juncture of Japan’s history, the prevention of complete political control of the country by the military. This is not to assert that Prince Konoe is antagonistic to the objectives of the military class—on the contrary, there is ample evidence that he shares the same strongly nationalistic views and high belief in an expanding national destiny; but at the same time candid observation of his methods leaves room for doubt that he sees hope in abandoning the nation to leadership by the military themselves. It would seem to be a safe assumption that Prince Konoe considers the China Board a triumph of his efforts at moderating the pace of political change in Japan.

If the establishment of the China Board leads to better enforcement in the field of instructions issuing from Tokyo, it is not all loss from the point of view of the interests of the United States. The Department needs no reminding of the many instances in which gratifying assurances accorded our representations in Tokyo have failed of execution by the Japanese authorities in China. It is undoubtedly part of the hope back of the establishment of the China Board that it will mean stricter coordination. In my conversation with the [Page 607] Premier on October 318 (telegram 640, October 3, 4 p.m.19) he spoke specifically of the China Board as being aimed at increasing direct control by the authorities in Tokyo over the Japanese authorities in China.

But even the most hopeful interpretation of this newest development can not conceal the great dangers which inhere in it for the future. China is overwhelmingly Japan’s most important problem. It is not difficult to foresee a sweeping effect on other already-operating branches of the Japanese government by reason of the establishing of a new governmental body, highly led, appropriating to itself all matters having to do with China. It is furthermore a matter of apprehension that this change may survive as a workable instrument of centralized control, but may lose its present dominantly civilian direction.

Foreign Minister Ugaki’s resignation and its relation to the China Board issue are discussed in the Embassy’s despatch 3320 of October 7, 1938.20

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. See memoranda of October 3, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, pp. 781 and 782.
  2. Ante, p. 53.
  3. Not printed.