794.00/145: Telegram

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

205. My 198, April 24, 10 p.m.28 There follows our analysis of present trends of thought in authoritative Japanese circles with regard to reformulation of Japanese foreign policy in the light of the European situation. This analysis represents an attempt to reduce to some form of order information, some of it contradictory, received from various responsible sources.

It would be premature to say that there now exists a Cabinet crisis but the position of the Cabinet is one of insecurity. The Minister for Foreign Affairs informed us privately 2 days ago that although press reports give the impression that the Cabinet is preoccupied with the question of relations with Germany and Italy the Cabinet is actually discussing a number of other problems both domestic and international. Some of the foreign correspondents are of the opinion that it is the question of entering into a military alliance with Germany and Italy which is primarily responsible for the insecurity of the Cabinet; but we believe that there is now little dissension over that point, which, as the Minister of the Navy stated to me, has been decided in the negative. There are other problems making for the insecurity of the Cabinet. These problems, although recognized by [lying in] three separate areas, are nevertheless interrelated. They [Page 25] are to be found: first, in Japan itself; second, in China; and third, in Europe.
Of the first we cannot speak with certainty. It appears that the Prime Minister has committed himself with powerful religious’ and other nationalistic elements (which find their membership among civilians as well as the military) to bring about “national spiritual development”. This thought, when divested of well nigh incomprehensible dogmas, can be reduced to the doctrine of revesting the Emperor with temporal power now delegated to various agencies. The Diet, for example, would be done away with. There would then be set up an authoritarian government in which the Emperor would ostensibly at least be dictator. The Prime Minister has already made cautious but veiled public references to “spiritual development” but he now realizes that the aims which he has engaged himself to help bring about are entirely chimerical. Several of our informants believe that the Prime Minister has been caught between the saner elements in the Government and the nationalistic groups initiating this movement and will be obliged to resign. The latter groups incidentally are to be counted among the influential supporters’ of the proposal to conclude a military alliance with Germany and Italy. These groups, as one informant put it to me, are “better organized” than their opponents.
Although there is no dissent within the Cabinet on China policy the Cabinet is obliged to take cognizance of the growing confusion in business circles and among the intelligent classes with regard to precise Japanese objectives in China. The controlling official view has been that (a) China can be won over ultimately to cooperate with Japan against Great Britain and Soviet Russia and (b) the United States can be “separated” from Great Britain and induced to take a neutral position; thus leaving Japan free to eliminate Great Britain from the Far East. The liberal group has contended that it is impossible for Japan to drive a wedge between the United States and Great Britain, and the message of the President to Chancellor Hitler,29 along with the swing in the United States away from isolationism, has acted powerfully to lend authority to that view.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs expressed to us optimism over the immediate future in Europe, and I believe that this reflects the predominant view in official Japanese circles. Although an alliance with Germany and Italy does not now appear to be under active consideration, we nevertheless continue to hear of some other arrangement being discussed between the German and Japanese Governments. Some of our sources state that this is the much talked of “strengthening [Page 26] of the Anti-Comintern Pact”, while others believe that it is to be ostensibly economic in character but with political implications and not to be confused with the trade agreement under negotiation since the end of last year. There are certainly indications that conversations are still being carried on with Germany and Italy and these conversations must be expected to continue at least so long as grave concern is felt here over the shape which the anti-aggression arrangement, now under discussion between the British and Soviet Governments, might take. If there should be contracted by the latter Governments anything in the form of an alliance which could be expected to form a springboard for concerted action in the Far East by the democratic powers, there might well occur reconsideration of what appears to be at least a tentative decision to keep from making military commitments.
  1. Not printed.
  2. Telegram of April 14, 1939, printed in vol. i, section entitled “President Roosevelt’s Messages of April 14 to Germany and Italy …”