762.94/275: Telegram

The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State 9

73–77. 1. As confirmed from various reliable sources there can be no doubt that a definite political and military alliance between Japan, Germany and Italy is now under negotiations and that the current discussions center about the precise scope which the agreement shall be given, especially whether it shall be aimed exclusively against Soviet Russia or against other powers as well. It is said that at present Japan favors the more restricted scope but is being hard pressed by Germany and Italy in favor of the broader application.

2. We learn from a reliable source the Germans and the Italians are confident that if either or both should become involved in a war with Soviet Russia, Japan would inevitably profit by the opportunity to attack Soviet Russia, and that in this sense Japan is a natural ally. For that reason they do not wish to commit themselves to assisting Japan if she alone were to become involved with Soviet Russia.

The present position apparently is that the Germans (and the Italians somewhat less ardently) are pressing for an arrangement which would recognize and give effect to their more favorable strategic position as compared with that of Japan in respect of conflict occurring between Soviet Russia and any one of the parties. I am also aware that important moderate influences are being brought to bear to restrain the Japanese Government from entering completely into the German-Italian camp but that counter pressure especially from the younger military officers is strong. Arita10 who sponsored the original Anti-Comintern Pact is believed to favor the alliance. My British colleague11 tells me that his Government is in close communication with our Government concerning this and cognate subjects.

3. Craigie has given me in strict confidence a copy of his telegram to his Government reporting a conversation on this general subject which on his own initiative he held with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on February 4. That telegram is quoted in paragraph 6 below.

On the ground that the Japanese Government is watching closely and with concern every move and utterance of the American Government, Craigie feels that at this critical moment it would be helpful if I were to seek an interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs if only to express interest in the current reports of an impending strengthening of the Anti-Comintern Pact on the ground that the [Page 7] American Government could not fail to be concerned in developments of such far-reaching importance.

4. I am not convinced of the desirability of such a direct approach although I have taken informal steps to convey to Arita through indirect and sympathetic channels the thought that before burning her bridges it would be well for Japan to pause and to consider the possible future effects of such an alliance upon Japanese-American relations. It would be definitely my thought, if future conversations with Arita should lead naturally to this subject, to confine myself to emphasizing that the ultimate welfare of Japan is inseparable from the maintenance and cultivation of friendly relations with all countries but more especially with the United States and Great Britain, without whose liberal trade policies, abundant natural resources, and important markets Japan’s rapid economic and industrial development would not have been possible. I doubt whether Craigie’s conception of what would constitute a stabilized situation in the Far East (see point 2 in his telegram) would fall within the field of practical politics. It seems to me, therefore, that the benefits to Japan of American and British markets and centers are the principal advantages to which the attention of Arita could now usefully be drawn as an offset to whatever advantages might accrue to Japan from the contemplated arrangement with Berlin and Rome. Moral sanctions by a people are not necessarily controllable by their government, whatever their government’s policy may be.

5. I feel that the Department is in a better position than am I to determine the desirability or the contrary of my directly approaching this subject with Arita as on my own initiative or under instructions.

6. Copy of telegram sent to Foreign Office by British Ambassador, February 4, 1939.

“I took the occasion of a private and unofficial conversation with Minister for Foreign Affairs today to draw attention to the numerous reports which were appearing both in the Diet debates and the Japanese press of an impending strengthening of the Anti-Comintern Pact. I said that there were even rumors that an actual military alliance was now contemplated between the three powers and desired to impress on His Excellency (as I had previously done to Prince Konoye and Mr. Horinouchi12) that, in the popular mind at least, any such action would appear to be directed as much against Great Britain as against the spread of communism. As proof of this one had only to recall the popular interpretation of the existing pact which in my opinion was doing more harm to Japan’s relations with the democratic powers than it was to communism. Speaking as from myself I then developed my thesis as follows:

The existing difficulties in Anglo-Japanese relations were great but at least there was still hope for an ultimate settlement [Page 8] if no irrevocable step were taken meanwhile. If an alliance were now to be concluded, which would be regarded as directed largely against Great Britain, the last hope of friendly settlement might vanish and the two countries left to face each other in sterile economic conflict.
The only sure road to the early establishment of a prosperous and peaceful Far East was for Japan, Great Britain, the United States and China to come together in friendly cooperation, it being obvious that in any such combination Japan would, so far as the Far East was concerned, tend to be the senior partner. Such a position could be achieved without resort to monopolistic and exclusionist practices. The growing community of outlook between Great Britain and the United States could and should be directed into channels favorable to Japan if a less uncompromising turn were to be given to Japanese foreign policy. But all such hopes would be dashed if the alliance plan were to materialize and Japan would find herself faced with an increasingly powerful economic opposition against which neither Germany nor Italy could offer much assistance.
During present hostilities and under conditions of today reinsurance with Germany and Italy was to my mind understandable but as a long term policy it could only lead Japan into difficulties and commitments which would long outlive the present “incident”.
Argument that recent Anglo-Italian settlement13 proved that future Anglo-Japanese settlement would not be effected by any present strengthening of Anti-Comintern Pact was refuted, as was also prevalent belief that entry of Japan into such an alliance would cause Great Britain to moderate her attitude on the China question.
It was for the Japanese Government to consider whether the moment when war psychoses was necessarily prevalent in Japan was the right one to choose for entering into a long term commitment likely to have the most far-reaching consequences. At least let Japan make sure, before she burnt her boats, that there was no better and surer way open to her of bringing peace and prosperity to the Far East and the realization of what was legitimate in her ambitions.

Minister listened attentively to my observations and said that as he had already stated in the Diet, negotiations were proceeding for a strengthening of the Anti-Comintern Pact but he declared categorically that up to the present no agreement had been reached on this point. He denied my thesis that present Anti-Comintern Pact and a fortiori any strengthening of it could be regarded as directed largely against Great Britain, adding that, as Foreign Minister at the time of the conclusion of the original pact with Germany, he had invited the British Government to participate and had been sincerely disappointed at their refusal. I here interjected that much water had passed under the bridge since then; that Italy had since acceded and that the pact had undoubtedly been given an anti-British twist which had probably not been the intention of its authors.

[Page 9]

Referring to the question of our existing difficulties in China, Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that he was only awaiting the end of the present Diet session in order to make certain proposals which he believed would go a long way to improving the position of our interests in China. I replied that this was certainly welcome news but that it must be remembered that our outstanding difficulties in China, important as they were, had to some extent been put in the shade by the ominous statements recently issued by the Japanese Government in regard to the future treatment of foreign interests in China. I therefore thought it essential that, in liquidating the past, we should also keep a sharp eye on the future on this point. Minister of Foreign Affairs merely repeated that he had already done his best to make it clear to me that Japan had no intention of trying to exclude foreign interests from China—quite the contrary.

Reverting to my point 2, Minister for Foreign Affairs inquired why I had omitted Germany and Italy from my list of powers, adding that it was undesirable to give the impression that we wished to perpetuate in the Far East the system of hostile camps. I said that I had merely mentioned the powers who unquestionably had the greatest and most permanent interest in reaching a settlement in the Far East but that I felt sure that my Government had not the least wish to exclude any other interested powers such as Germany and Italy. It was however obvious that if the four powers primarily concerned could agree, there would be little difficulty in reaching an understanding with the other interested powers. Minister for Foreign Affairs was inclined to feel that the United States had a greater political and economic concern than Germany but did not seem disposed to press the point.

Finally Mr. Arita promised to treat my observations as strictly confidential and unofficial, adding that he would pass them on to the Prime Minister. He thanked me for having put my point of view so frankly and said he would like to have a further talk with me on this subject in a few days time.”

  1. The five sections of this message, transmitted as telegrams Nos. 73–77, are printed as one document.
  2. Hachiro Arita, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Sir Robert L. Craigie, British Ambassador in Japan.
  4. Then Japanese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1938, vol. i, pp. 133 ff.