Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Afairs (Hamilton)
The French Ambassador23 called at his request. He said that several days ago he had mentioned to the Secretary the subject of the Japanese action in reference to the Spratly Islands and that the Secretary had informed him that FE24 was studying the matter. The Ambassador then handed me the attached aide-mémoire 25 containing [Page 116] a record of the action taken by the French Government in regard to the claim by Japan of sovereignty over the Spratly Islands. I thanked the Ambassador for the information contained in the aide-mémoire.
The Ambassador then inquired whether the Japanese Government had given us any information in regard to its action. I replied in the affirmative and said that the Japanese Embassy here had given us informally a statement setting forth the Japanese claim to the Islands. I said that the Japanese, according to the information which they had given us, were claiming an area considerably larger than the area which the French claimed and that the Japanese referred to the Islands as the Sinnan Islands, among which there was included the Spratly group.
The Ambassador inquired whether we were going to take any action in the matter. I replied that we still had the matter under study.
The Ambassador then asked what basis there would be for action on the part of the American Government in case the Japanese should take French Indochina or Hong Kong. When I replied that it seemed tome that the same considerations which would influence this Government in regard to forceful acquisition of territory in Europe would apply to the forceful acquisition of territory by Japan such as Hong Kong or French Indochina, the Ambassador raised the question whether there was any distinction between seizure by Japan of Hong Kong or French Indochina and seizure by Japan of the Spratly Islands. I replied that it seemed to me that there might be a distinction in that there was no question as to British ownership of Hong Kong or as to French ownership of French Indochina, whereas there were two claims, a French claim and a Japanese claim, to ownership of the Spratly Islands. I said that of course I was not undertaking to pass on the merits of the respective claims; and that I did not have sufficient knowledge of the facts to place me in a position to do that even should I so desire. The Ambassador said that he realized that we were talking in purely an exploratory and speculative way. He pointed out that France had made an offer to Japan to arbitrate the question of ownership of the Islands; that Japan had replied by announcing Japanese jurisdiction over the Islands; and that this type of forceful action was very unfortunate from the point of view of adherence to international law. I indicated agreement with this observation.