711.942/243: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

1178. I have just had a talk with the head of Far Eastern Department in the Foreign Office.77 He told me that they have gathered information from a great number of different sources as to Japanese reactions to denunciation by the United States of its commercial treaty, which when brought together indicate three possibilities, in the Japanese view, of developments to follow:

The American intention is to wait for some overt signs from the Japanese that they intend to pay more attention than hitherto to American complaints of Japanese actions as directed against American citizens and interests and then, if the Japanese give more real consideration to American protests, the United States would be prepared to open negotiations for a new treaty before expiration of the 6 months’ notice period;
Alternatively the Japanese think that the United States intention may be to clear the air for Government support of the Pittman resolution78 at the beginning of the next session of Congress and that the resolution will then take effect immediately on expiration of the 6 months’ period. Such action would cut off vital materials the Japanese are at present purchasing from the United States:
Finally, the Japanese are afraid that the American denunciation may be the prelude to even more serious economic measures by the United States than envisaged by the Pittman resolution.

[Page 571]

With respect to Japanese hypothesis (1) above, the Japanese are afraid that unless they are very careful the United States in negotiating a new treaty will insist on the disappearance of the most-favored-nation clause in order that the United States may be in a position to impose the same sort of countervailing duties on Japanese goods as it has already imposed on German and Italian goods. The Foreign Office observes however that Japanese subsidies are quite different in nature from the German and Italian. They are more covered up and more difficult to spot. The only proof that they know of which could be brought forward of subsidies is in connection with shipping. Certain goods carried in Japanese bottoms are undoubtedly given very favorable rates but commodities as such are not subsidized in the same direct way as German and Italian commodities nor have the Japanese any of the various kinds of currency such as exist in Germany to facilitate a policy of export subsidy.

Regarding Japanese hypothesis (2) the Japanese fear that they have not yet reached the state of autarchy which would make it of no particular importance if the United States should cut off from them commodities of vital importance and they are exploring alternative sources of supply. For instance through the Shah of Iran they have made an approach to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company for various samples of crude oil to see if the Japanese refineries can handle it. They are also exploring the possibilities of obtaining from Norway and Sweden nonferrous metals now being secured from the United States. The Foreign Office has no proof that the Norwegian and Swedish Governments have been approached by the Japanese but they believe such an approach has taken place.

Regarding hypothesis (3), the Japanese are by no means satisfied that more drastic action on the part of the United States is not a possibility.

All the Foreign Office information on this question indicates that the denunciation by the United States of the commercial treaty has got the Japanese “completely guessing”. The official told me that both Lord Halifax79 and Sir Alexander Cadogan80 desired that their views on the matter be communicated to you and he made a particular point of describing them as strictly confidential. He said further that the Foreign Office would greatly appreciate being informed whether the foregoing conclusions checked with the Department’s information or are at variance.

The official then proceeded to describe to me what his own Government is contemplating. Following the denunciation of the American treaty, in reply to a question in Parliament as to what Great Britain [Page 572] was going to do, the Prime Minister81 stated that the matter was, of course, under consideration but that the Dominions must be consulted. As a matter of fact the Dominions were not consulted until August 14 when a circular telegram was sent to all of them. The United Kingdom Government stated to the Dominions that there are two points for decision in London:

The question of expediency of denouncing the various British treaties with Japan. (The United Kingdom–Japanese treaty of 191182 covers, for essential purposes, all of the Crown Colonies; Canada and Eire are still parties to this treaty. South Africa and New Zealand have their own treaties with Japan. The Australian treaty is being kept in force by periodical exchanges of notes to overcome Japanese infractions of the main treaty, the situation of Australia vis-à-vis Japan being very much the same as that of France. India is now negotiating a new commercial treaty with Japan, and Burma will have to negotiate one in the near future.)
If it should be judged expedient to denounce the British treaties, the question arises as to when the denunciation should take place and on what it should hinge. In the United Kingdom view the British Empire should take parallel action with the United States. The United Kingdom Government desires to keep in step with the United States and to make it clear to Japan that this is British policy. The actual part of denunciation may be in one sense a moral gesture designed to produce a moral effect, but it has one small practical advantage; it would enable Great Britain to refuse to start negotiations for a new treaty until she received satisfaction on other matters.

Regarding the choice of an opportunity for denunciation, the United Kingdom Government thinks that probably the best and most suitable matter of complaint to link with denunciation is the anti-British agitation in China, the expulsion of British subjects from Chinese territory, confiscation of property, et cetera. They think that denunciation on this issue would mark a striking parallel with American action which immediately preceded a stiff note of July 28 [26?]. Anti-British agitation moreover affects British subjects in China from all the Dominions. It also involves the general question of white prestige which is of great importance to some of the Dominions. There are other possible immediate causes which might be utilized for denunciation but in none except the ones above described do the Dominions appear to have the same immediate common cause. In the Tientsin dispute for instance the Dominions are interested only in so far as the situation affects white prestige, the Washington treaties, League of Nations resolutions, et cetera. Also in the difficult question of Chinese currency and silver, the United Kingdom itself is far more interested than any of the Dominions. Moreover the Government here is convinced that whatever may be the final outcome of the Tokyo [Page 573] negotiations, there will be continuing if not intensified anti-British agitation in China and that a point will quite soon be reached when denunciation will fit in conveniently with any action Great Britain may be forced to take. The Government here, however, is quite aware that whatever immediate action may be seized upon for denunciation of the treaty it would be desirable to put in the British notice of denunciation before the impression created by denunciation of the American treaty had faded out.

The United Kingdom Government is now awaiting the views of the Dominions not only on the considerations outlined above which have been put to those Governments, but on their intentions in regard to their own treaties with Japan. The United Kingdom Government will not necessarily be guided entirely by what the Dominions Governments say but as they have all an obvious common interest a full expression of the Dominions views and intentions is desired before any action is taken.

The Dominions have been reminded that in the United Kingdom Government’s view whether she denounces her treaty with Japan or not she would still be in a position to take reprisals for damages done to British interests arising out of Japanese disregard of other treaties of an international character to which both Great Britain and Japan are parties. (See Mallet’s aide-mémoire of January 21st [25th?], 1939,83 numbered paragraph 7 in the copy we have here.)

  1. Robert George Howe.
  2. S. J. Res. 123 introduced April 27 by Senator Key Pittman; Congressional Record, vol. 84, pt. 5, p. 4821.
  3. British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  4. British Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  5. Neville Chamberlain.
  6. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. civ, p. 159.
  7. Aide-mémoire of January 25 from the British Embassy, p. 490.