761.94/1209: Telegram

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

746. After meeting Ambassador Steinhardt37 at dinner at the Embassy on August 23, the Foreign Minister38 asked him to call the next morning and talked to him for over an hour with extraordinary frankness. The following is a brief résumé of some of the principal points which emerged in the conversation. A full memorandum of the conversation will be sent to the Department in the next pouch.39

1. Mr. Matsuoka has long advocated a Japanese-Soviet rapprochement but was heretofore unable to make his views prevail on his Government. He still favors a nonaggression pact. He believes an eventual conflict inevitable but is unable to estimate even an approximate date. If Russia and Japan were able to compose their differences, the Japanese position in the Far East today would be “much easier”. He did not think that the difficulties arising out of the oil concessions on Sakhalin would ever be overcome because the Russians are trying to be “as discreet as possible”. He questioned Mr. Steinhardt as to the strength of the Soviet Army and was told that the Army is strong and effective. The Ambassador gained the general impression that up to the present, little if any progress has been made towards an amelioration of the strain on Russo-Japanese relations, and that the Minister has little hope of accomplishing a rapprochement in the near future. The Minister tried to explore past rumors of alleged Soviet efforts to bring about a Soviet-American alliance.

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2. The Minister observed that the war with China had created serious problems for Japan which he “as a man of peace” recognized must be dealt with “at some time”; he said that northern China could not be “put on a proper basis” without American capital and American engineers, whose qualifications he extolled, and he hoped that American capital could be interested. The Ambassador replied, “as an American capitalist” that had been so badly treated in the Far East and other parts of the world, that Americans were not disposed to risk their savings until adequate guarantees were forthcoming. Matsuoka realized this situation and said he was thinking more of the future than the present. He thought that the rivers of China could be used for agricultural and power purposes but that this could never be accomplished on a large scale without American help.

3. The Minister expressed his dissatisfaction with Ambassador Togo’s representation of Japan in Moscow and said in strict confidence that he intended to replace him with a General Tatekawa. Ambassador Steinhardt hoped for close and cordial relations and frank discussions with the new Japanese Ambassador. The Minister concurred. Matsuoka said that he was recalling many diplomats because they had “gone western” and had lost touch with the Japanese point of view.

4. The Minister said that when he accepted his present post he had obtained a promise from Prince Konoye40 that the latter would remain in office for not less than 10 years and that both he and the Prime Minister expected to “get a firm grasp on the army” although he fully realized the difficulties ahead and that he would be called “weak”. He had already heard rumblings to that effect and he felt reasonably certain that both he and Prince Konoye would be assassinated “within a year” but that this probability would not deter him from his firm determination to endeavor to bring, about peace in the Far East.

5. When the Minister turned to discuss relations with the United States Ambassador Steinhardt said that he was not in a position to express any views whatever but that he would report Matsuoka’s views to me. Matsuoka recognized this fact. He said he had entire confidence in my “frankness and sincerity” and that he felt it imperative to impress me with his own “frankness and sincerity.”

Mr. Steinhardt drew the impression that one of the Minister’s objects in seeking this conversation was to induce the Ambassador to convey to me the view of a deeply sincere and frank statesman whose principal object it will be to restrain the Japanese military and to bring about a solution of Far Eastern problems without harm to the interests of the United States, and with the bait of the “privilege” of inviting [Page 645] American capital in northern China or Siberia at some time in the remote future. The Minister spoke with bitterness of the failure of the military to heed the civil government, of the uncontrollable Japanese rabble ignorant of international affairs, and of the irresponsible exaggerations of the press in Japan and in other countries including the United States as the source of most international evils.

6. The Minister, probably on purpose, avoided any controversial subjects and refrained from discussing Japanese-American relations in view of Ambassador Steinhardt’s caution that he could not with propriety approach that subject.

Sent to the Department via Shanghai.

  1. Ambassador Steinhardt was temporarily on leave from his post in the Soviet Union.
  2. Yosuke Matsuoka.
  3. Despatch No. 4967, September 12, not printed.
  4. Japanese Prime Minister since July 22, 1940.