The Chargé in Japan ( Dooman ) to the Secretary of State

No. 4076

Sir: In my telegram No. 368 of July 28, 1939, 1:00 p.m.,66 I had the honor to report to the Department a summary of Japanese press reaction to the American Government’s notice of the termination of the Treaty of Commerce with Japan. There have been many articles in the vernacular press since that time but these articles have not departed from the general trend indicated in my telegram under reference.

The notice of termination came at a time when relations between the United States and Japan were, in the minds of the Japanese people at least, on a tolerably friendly basis. There remained fresh in their memory the courtesy extended by the American Government in the [Page 565] return of the former Ambassador Saito’s ashes.67 Some papers such as the Nichi Nichi and the Miyako were quite frank in characterizing the act as an unfriendly one and in suggesting that the United States was either attempting to step into the position of the protector of Chiang Kai Shek or to assist Great Britain in her resistance to Japan. The press in general, however, emphasized the long period of friendly relations between Japan and the United States and pointed out that hitherto the United States had maintained a neutral position during the present hostilities in the Far East. While it would be folly to suggest that the Japanese press is not capable of instigating an anti-American movement as severe as the one recently prosecuted against Great Britain, it is significant to note that the position taken at the present is one of watchful waiting with all papers stating that Japan may now negotiate a new treaty and some, such as the Asahi, stating that this situation affords an opportunity by which Japan may press for recognition by the United States of the new situation in East Asia and otherwise revise the basis of relations between the two countries.

Perhaps the predominant note sounded in press comment is that notice of termination was issued without the giving of any prior intimation, such as is normally given when economic considerations require the revision of commercial treaties, and that therefore, the inference is warranted that the motivating causes in the action of the United States were primarily political in character.

It was reported that Mr. Arita68 on August 1, stated to the Cabinet that the “American move was largely political, first in order to settle the question of its rights and interests in China, and second as a gesture in connection with the coming elections this fall.” He said that the attitude of the Japanese Government would be one of calmly waiting future developments.

There are enclosed copies of English translations of typical editorials appearing in the vernacular press.69

It has been stressed for a considerable period of time by the Embassy that the attitude taken by the American Government since the beginning of the conflict in China has produced in the Japanese Government and in the Japanese people a sense of respect and good will toward the United States. The sincerity of such respect and good will has been generally questioned and the impression has widely prevailed that the apparently more favorable attitude shown by the Japanese toward the United States than the attitude which they have shown toward Great Britain is artificial and is intended to discourage concerting of policies and actions by the United States and Great Britain. It has also been suggested that if there is any sincerity in Japanese expressions [Page 566] of good will toward the United States, that sincerity is due to the fact that the Japanese Government has prevented its people from knowing that the American Government has consistently protested against Japanese actions in China and has withheld knowledge from the Japanese people of the intensity of the feeling in the United States against Japan. It is true that the Japanese people are not being told of the adverse effects on foreign rights of various economic and fiscal measures taken by them in China, and it is also true that the Japanese people have no conception whatever of the extent to which American properties in China have been bombed. In my view, however, the difference between the attitude of the Japanese toward the United States and their attitude toward Great Britain is primarily due to the fact that the United States has consistently taken in relation to the Japanese Government a position which operated to emphasize that responsibility for safeguarding American rights and interests in China devolves solely upon the United States and that decision when and by what measures those rights and interests are to be safeguarded was one which would be taken by the United States. Great Britain has, on the other hand, only too clearly shown that she relies in the main on a victory by China for the preservation of her rights and interests in China.

I expressed the foregoing views in a conversation which I had with the British Ambassador about two months ago. Sir Robert Craigie took strong exception to my analysis. He warmly denied that there had been any substantial difference in the attitude of his Government and that of the American Government, and he expressed belief that the apparent difference in the feelings of the Japanese was due to a desire to drive a wedge between the United States and Great Britain. In a conversation which I had with him on August 2, Sir Robert on his own initiative recalled our previous conversation on this subject and said that he had come around entirely to my point of view. His assent to my analysis as above described is important, but it is not so important as the fact that a number of Japanese, especially since the beginning of the Tientsin incident, have explained their attitude toward the United States in substantially similar terms.

The reaction in this country to the notice of termination of the commercial treaty has not been manifested in a violent form, and this is due, in my opinion, to the fact that the course which the American Government has followed during the past two years has prepared the Japanese people to expect that the United States might some day and in some manner proceed toward actively protecting its rights and interests in China. The position here today is that in serving notice of the termination of the treaty of commerce the United States is thought to have also served notice that it has now taken a decision to [Page 567] follow a positive course; but there is complete uncertainty as to the manner in which that positive attitude is to be actively expressed. Every effort is being made by scrutinizing each new act and statement of the United States to define the compass of those issues over which the United States is prepared to take positive action and, conversely, to define the field within which Japanese policy can be pursued without coming into conflict with American policy.

Although the American action was very definitely a shock to Japan, opinion among intelligent Japanese is steadily tending toward a consensus that the potentialities of the future in relations between the United States and Japan need not be so alarming as they appeared inevitably to be a few days ago. The thought is beginning to crystallize that the principal consideration in the action of the United States in terminating the treaty of commerce with Japan was to place itself in as free a posture as possible to deal with the threatening situation in Europe. It is being pointed out that the feeling prevails in the United States that war in Europe will occur toward the end of this year, and that, if the war should occur, American public opinion will demand and thus make feasible a revision by the Congress of the neutrality act70 so as to permit of the shipment of arms and munitions to Great Britain and France; and that when the act shall have been revised the termination of the treaty of commerce with Japan will permit of the rendering of assistance to the democratic states in Europe without, at the same time, helping Japan to prosecute her aims in China.

In the state of uncertainty which exists as to definition of American attitude, a number of speculative explanations are being thrown out with regard to the reasons for the American Government’s taking the drastic action of last week, and there is much speculation over the possibility of some binding orientation of Japanese foreign policy on the Rome–Berlin axis.71 I have not considered that anything useful would be served by telegraphing the character of these conjectures. It might be useful, however, to take note in this despatch of some of these conjectures with the thought that clarification of some of them will have become available by the time the despatch reaches the Department.

Perhaps the most interesting thought expressed by the press in commenting on the action of the United States is the suggestion of the Asahi that the American Government has furnished an opportunity for a revision of American-Japanese relations in the light of altered conditions. It is obvious that this refers to obtaining American recognition of the “New Order in Asia”, but I would suggest that [Page 568] to the editorial writer and to most of his readers the thought has occurred that negotiations looking toward the conclusion of a new treaty of commerce would afford an opportunity to reopen the so-called Japanese exclusion issue.72 The abrogation by the British Government of the Anglo-Japanese alliance73 has received conspicuous attention in Japan during the entire period of the present conflict with China and especially since the situation at Tientsin came to a head; and it would be idle to assume that the Japanese have not as assiduously nursed their feelings over the immigration issue as they have their grievance against the British over the abrogation of the alliance.

There is again much talk of the Cabinet reconsidering an alliance with Germany and Italy. I reported in a confidential despatch some weeks ago74 that in certain influential quarters there is no great confidence that such an alliance would afford Japan security, and that the hope was being cherished of finding some way by which Japan could restore good relations with the United States and other democratic nations. It is quite idle to speculate upon the character of the decision, if any, which might be taken by the Cabinet. Undoubtedly there will be taken into account a number of considerations outside the field of my observation, such as possible repercussions of the proposed military agreement between Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. In any event, I do not expect any further decision in this regard so long as the future trend in relations with the United States is not clarified.

Respectfully yours,

Eugene H. Dooman
  1. Not printed.
  2. See vol. iv, pp. 455 ff.
  3. Hachiro Arita, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  4. None printed.
  5. Approved August 31, 1935; 49 Stat. 1081; as amended February 29, 1936, and May 1, 1937, 49 Stat 1152 and 50 Stat 121.
  6. See pp. 1 ff.
  7. For the Immigration Act, approved May 26, 1924, see 43 Stat. 153; section 13 (c) is the so-called “exclusion clause”. For correspondence with Japan, see Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. ii, pp. 333 ff.
  8. For the treaty of alliance signed at London, January 30, 1902, see ibid., 1902, p. 514; for its revision on August 12, 1905, see ibid., 1905, p. 488; for second revision for period of 10 years on July 13, 1911, see British and Foreign State Papers, vol. civ, p. 173. Termination was provided for by article IV of the Four Power Pact signed at Washington, December 13, 1921, Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, pp. 33, 35.
  9. For extracts of despatch No. 3936, June 7, see p. 43.