The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State
Tokyo, January 13, 1939—2 p.m.
[Received January 13—1:48 p.m.]
[Received January 13—1:48 p.m.]
22. Department’s 2, January 4, 7 p.m., via Shanghai, Canton, Customs Administration.
- My British colleague has just now received a report from the British Consul General at Canton to the effect that the general position in Canton seems to him to be no worse than at other occupied ports except for closure of the port to trade. The British Consul General has been repeatedly told that there is no intention to impair the integrity of the customs which will be permitted full functions when it suits the Japanese to reopen trade. This present report seems in general to be confirmatory of Canton’s 80, December 13, 6 p.m. Craigie therefore now agrees with us that there no longer exists a case for parallel representations on the ground that the situation at Canton is worse than other occupied parts.
- Craigie now proposes, however, that we should make formal parallel representations, along with the French Ambassador, protesting the declaration of the Japanese in their reply of December 16, 193836 (see our 788, December 17, 11 a.m.37 A similar reply was received by Craigie) that “since the Canton area is at present occupied by the Imperial Army, it is proper that the Canton Maritime Customs be placed under the authority of the Japanese Army of Occupation”. In fact he has instructions to make such representations (see our 3, January 2, noon) on the ground that this declaration should not be allowed to pass without challenge and he feels that his hand would be greatly strengthened if the French Ambassador and I could support him.
- All of our representations up to date to the Japanese Government with respect to interference with the Chinese Customs at various ports by the Japanese Army authorities have consistently and implicitly protested action deriving from no cause other than that of action and operations by the Japanese military forces. My own feeling, therefore, is that for the present and unless or until there are some unforeseen developments, we have adequately covered the field, and that it would be well to avoid the inevitable irritation caused by continual repetition of formal representations with regard to this and other Japanese encroachments on our interests in China. Our position is clear on the records. I do not believe that the formal representations proposed by my British colleague would bring favorable practical results.
- Nevertheless, I feel that so far as reasonable we should keep in step with the British and French on this issue, which action in itself serves a useful purpose, and since Craigie considers it of the utmost importance that the argument advanced in the Japanese notes of December 16 be not allowed to pass unchallenged, I have made the compromise proposal that instead of writing notes we take occasion when next we respectfully [respectively?] see the Foreign Minister38 to observe orally that our respective Governments cannot accept the Japanese contention that military occupation of the Canton area affords justification for taking over the customs. As such an approach can be made informally and as publicity will almost certainly be avoided, I understand that authority for such action on my part is contained in the Department’s 2, January 4, 7 p.m., Craigie, in spite of his instructions, has accepted this proposal. I am informed that our French colleague will follow whatever action Craigie and I agree upon.
- In this connection it would be helpful to me to learn the reasons which occur to the Department for avoiding any reference to the “international status” of the Chinese customs upon which our own previous representations concerning the Chinese customs have been based and upon which the British and French now propose to base theirs. If the oral representations herein envisaged should be made on premises differing from the British and French representations, I fear that the differentiation might be noticeable to the Foreign Minister and that the effect might tend to detract from an advantage to be gained. Nevertheless if the Department feels strongly on this point reference to the “international status” of the Chinese Maritime Customs can be avoided. Instructions on this point would be appreciated.