Memorandum by Mr. Laurence E. Salisbury of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs 34

[Here follows report on Japanese press references to renewed interest in Japanese expansion southward.]

Japanese interest in military or economic expansion southward is not a new development. There are in Japan the school of continental expansion, largely centered in the army group, and the school of southward expansion, principally advocated in naval circles. The most recent concrete evidence of the policy of southward expansion was the announcement last spring by the Japanese Government of the incorporation of the so-called “Spratly Islands”. The marked development in recent years of Japanese trading, fisheries and general economic exploitation activities in the Netherlands East Indies has been a source of serious concern to the Netherland authorities.

Forward movements on Japan’s part in the direction of expansion have in the past been timed to coincide with occasions when the European powers have been seriously involved nearer home. It can warrantably be anticipated therefore that, as the European war progresses, Japanese thought will turn increasingly in the direction of the “South Seas” and that the likelihood of a forward movement in that direction by Japan would grow pari passu with British, French, and Netherland involvement in the West.

An important factor in the situation, however, is Japan’s uncertainty as to what the attitude of the United States would be in the face of fresh Japanese aggression in the “South Seas”. If at such time as Japan may seriously be considering a further advance southward the [Page 122] United States has not already imposed stringent embargoes on exports to Japan, then it might be expected that Japan would be influenced in some degree toward inaction through fear that the United States might in retaliation impose embargoes.35 On the other hand, if prior to a fresh southward advance on Japan’s part the United States were to institute important restrictions on American-Japanese trade, Japan might be precipitated by American action into further aggression southward. It would seem, for example, that the imposing of an embargo on the export of oil from the United States to Japan might increase the temptation felt by Japan to seize the Netherlands East Indies where there are important sources of oil. However, even though Japan would unquestionably react strongly to an American embargo, she might be deterred from attacking the Netherlands Indies by a realization that, as indicated by the imposition by the United States of an embargo, American-Japanese relations were progressively deteriorating and that as an outcome thereof a Japanese attack against the Netherlands Indies might carry the United States and Japan into war.

In considering the question of the likelihood of Japanese aggression in the “South Seas”, it is to be recalled that in the past it has consistently been Japan’s policy to avoid armed conflict with any of the Western powers. It would seem, therefore, that such aggression would probably not occur (a) until and unless Japan becomes convinced that Great Britain and France will be defeated in the present war and (b) unless Japan is convinced that aggression will not cause the United States to adopt measures seriously impairing Japanese interests or unless Japan feels certain that aggression will not place the United States in such position that it will be eventually forced by circumstances to consider that armed conflict with Japan might be inevitable.

The possibility that circumstances might so develop as to increase the likelihood of Japanese expansion southward raises the question whether the present policy of the United States toward Japan should be modified in any way. Present American policy in the Far East is the outgrowth of belief in a number of fundamental and traditional principles with particular reference at this time to the application of those principles to the situation in China. It would, of course, be a matter for regret if adherence by the United States to the policy of continuing to support the principles to which this country is committed should result in the taking by Japan of any forthright action which might adversely affect the interests of other powers, such as the effecting by Japan of a rapprochement with the Soviet Union or the seizure of the Netherlands East Indies. The possibilities of Japan [Page 123] taking such action, however, would not seem to be sufficient warrant for the United States to compromise on matters of principle or to abandon a policy which in its essentials is designed in the long run to demonstrate to Japan that that country cannot with impunity continue to violate those principles for her own advantage and to the disadvantage of other powers. The question is a long-range question. The chief hope that the Government and people of the United States can entertain that the world will in general some day return to a sane and orderly procedure of international intercourse based on principles of justice and fair dealing between and among nations is that the foreign policy of the United States, by adhering consistently and continuously to the fundamental principles to which we are committed and in which we believe, can exert its influence to bring about a desired order out of the present international disorder. It follows, therefore, that surrender or compromise of those principles in any given case would act merely as the breaking of a link in a chain which must depend for its strength as a whole upon the strength of its individual component parts.

  1. The Adviser on Political Relations (Hornbeck) attached comment, dated December 5, as follows:

    “Japan has staked her reputation on the adventure in China. She has spent a ‘whale of a lot’ of money and of blood on that venture. She is not likely to withdraw from it in order to start some other adventure. And, she is not likely to start another until she ends it—either with success or with failure.”

  2. For additional correspondence on this subject, see pp. 475 ff.