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

No. 3709

Sir: [Here follows review of material reported in the Ambassador’s telegram No. 73, February 8, 4 p.m., page 6, and subsequent despatches.]

From the foregoing account, some not unreasonable conclusions are permissible.

I cannot persuade myself on the basis of information available which can be regarded as reliable that Japan will consent to an unqualified extension to Tokyo of the Rome-Berlin axis, and thus assume the risks which accompany full membership in that camp of involvement in war with Great Britain and possibly with the United States over issues which are either of remote or no interest to Japan, especially when the measure of security which could thus be procured from such allies would be severely restricted.

The withdrawal of Japan from the League of Nations was more than a renunciation of the principle of collective security. It was one manifestation of Japanese determination to concentrate her energies and resources on the achievement of long-cherished aspirations to paramountcy in the Far East. The position of Japan at that time of dedicating herself to the task of eliminating occidental political influence from East Asia was a curious one. Largely because of her inclusion among the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, Japan found herself at the end of the Great War with a voice in determining the destinies of Europe. Never before in history had an Asiatic nation had a place in the concert of Europe and shared in decisions which were thereafter to determine for all time the fate of millions of Caucasians. It seemed as though the opportunity had come to translate [Page 15]into actuality the vision of Japan as a world power. Vanity obscured wisdom, and Japan involved herself in problems of not the least concern to her people. One contemplates today with bewilderment the fact that the assent of Japan is all that is necessary for the completion of Rumanian title to Bessarabia. It was obvious that neither did Japan have the political power and prestige nor did she have the basis in logic to retain her involvements in Europe and simultaneously to strive to eliminate Western influence from the Far East. Dictated by these circumstances, Japan has liquidated these involvements. The question whether Japan intends again deliberately to assume such involvements at a highly critical time, has, I believe, been answered by the reply of the Prime Minister to Mr. Debuchi.

One point to which I have already alluded—the apparently deliberate desire on the part of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to keep alive if not to cultivate the impression on the part of the British that the conversations with Germany and Italy might possibly result in ail alliance—deserves more than passing mention. The feeling is definitely abroad that the initiative in these conversations has been taken by the Japanese; and I think that it is now fairly clear that the conversations revolve primarily around the Soviet Union or communist activities, or both. If that is so, one can explain Mr. Arita’s attitude toward my British colleague only by assuming that the Japanese Government hopes to utilize the conversations in bringing about a modification of British attitude with regard to the situation in China: that Japan is giving serious thought to associating herself with the totalitarian states and that, if Great Britain wishes to keep Japan from joining the hostile camp, a settlement over China cannot be indefinitely delayed. It will be noted (see paragraph numbered 2, enclosure no. 1)18 that my British colleague made reference in his conversation with Mr. Arita to the effect of an alliance on British attitude toward Japan.

Another purpose of a minatory character in the initiation by Japan of these conversations suggests itself, and that relates to Japan’s fishery dispute with the Soviet Union. As the fishing season in Siberian waters begins in April, conversations with regard to a new agreement between the Japanese and Soviet Governments have now been resumed. The point cannot be labored, but the suggestion at least is warranted that the creation of an impression that some plan affecting the Soviet Union is on foot might be conceived to affect in Japan’s favor the course of these conversations.

In concluding this discussion, I desire again to observe that our thoughts on this matter at this time must perforce be largely speculative.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. See quotation in paragraph 6 of telegram No. 73, February 8, 4 p.m., p. 6.