851G.014/8: Telegram

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

79. Your 158, March 31, 4 p.m.

1. In the absence of the Japanese Ambassador in Habana, the Counselor called this morning on an officer of the Department to communicate under instructions from the Japanese Government information in regard to the Sinnan Islands.20

2. He left a paper21 which, in brief summary, contains information as follows:

The Sinnan Islands comprise small coral reefs which roughly lie between 7 degrees and 12 degrees north latitude and 111 degrees and 117 degrees east longitude (the paper gave an exact statement of latitudes and longitudes). The Japanese names of the principal coral reefs of the Sinnan Islands are given, among which is included a group described as Spratly Islands. The Islands were “no State’s land” until 1921 when a Japanese phosphate company built permanent establishments for the development of the Islands with the full authorization of the Japanese Government which despatched a naval survey ship to the Islands in 1929. In 1931 the Japanese settlers were obliged to leave the Islands, but the work of development was resumed [Page 113] in 1936 and has continued to date. In 1933 the French Government despatched a warship and publicly proclaimed acquisition of the Islands and sent a notification to that effect to the Japanese Government. The Japanese Government made friendly representations to the French Government to the effect that proclamation should be withdrawn and made it clear that it does not recognize the French claim to the Islands, and that it has taken all necessary measures to insure Japanese acquisition thereof. Japanese naval vessels were despatched to the Islands each year from 1935 to 1938. In 1937 the French Government again claimed sovereignty of the Islands and in 1938 despatched a merchant vessel to the Islands which landed materials and men who commenced to build establishments. The Japanese authorities on the Islands demanded the withdrawal of the French and objected to the hoisting of the French flag and the landing of goods on the Islands. The concluding paragraph of the paper sets forth the Japanese Government’s position as follows:

“(5) The Japanese Government, basing their action on the close connection that has existed between the Islands and the Japanese Empire and on the right deriving therefrom under International Law, and motivated by their desire to avoid the possibility of further complications with the French Government, incidental to the hitherto vague administrative status of the Islands, have incorporated the Sinnan Islands in the territory under the jurisdiction of the Government-General of Formosa as of the 30th of March, 1939.”

3. In connection with a map which the Counselor left with the paper, the observation was made to him that the Islands seemed to be quite near to the Philippines. In reply to an inquiry, the Counselor stated that the Islands were primarily useful because of the deposits of phosphate on them. The Counselor indicated, in response to an inquiry, that his Government was communicating the information contained in the paper informally for the information of the Department in view of the fact that on March 30 the Islands had been incorporated by action of the Japanese Government in the territory under the jurisdiction of the Formosan Government-General. He was informed that the information would be studied by the Department.22

  1. See memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs, March 31, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 277.
  2. Ibid., p. 278.
  3. A shorter account was sent to the Embassy in France as telegram No. 238, April 5, 5 p.m. (851G.014/7).