762.9411/87: Telegram

The Ambassador in China ( Johnson ) to the Secretary of State

500. My 493, September 30, 9 a.m.70

1. During the course of an informal conversation with the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs71 last evening the subject of the Rome–Berlin–Tokyo alliance was brought up and discussed. The views of the Vice Minister which are believed to be of interest are summarized below:

Dr. Hsu had made a careful examination of the terms of the pact as published and from these he could only conclude that Germany had once again duped Japan. He considered that the provisions of article 5 of the said pact, which affirms that the terms thereof do not affect the existing political status between each of the contracting parties and Soviet Russia, apparently in no way affect the validity of the Russo-German pact of nonaggression signed in August 1939. He therefore concluded that in the event Russia was attacked by Japan at some future date, Germany was not obliged under the terms of the nonaggression pact with Russia to come to the assistance of Japan while if Russia should be attacked by Germany, Japan would on the contrary be obliged to come to the assistance of Germany.

Dr. Hsu, supporting the views advanced by the local press (see my 498, October 1, 3 p.m.72), said Germany and Italy obviously were not in a position to afford material support to Japan while Japan by entering into the pact had clearly revealed its antagonism toward the United States and Great Britain, two sea powers who had the resources to come to the assistance of China. He observed that the only possible advantage accruing to Japan by virtue of adherence to the Axis was the doubtful one that it might force the United States to reverse its present Far Eastern policy and come to recognize the new order in East Asia.

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2. Reverting to Russia, the Vice Minister admitted there was a possibility that Russia might now find it desirable to conclude a pact of nonaggression with Japan not only in order to release pressure on the maritime provinces and Outer Mongolia but also to encourage Japanese southward expansion in the hope that such action would result in war with the United States. He suggested that Russia’s action in Europe in 1939 was calculated to start a European War and he believed Russia is now pursuing a similar course of action in the Far East.

He said he is convinced that in the event of a war between Japanese and the United States, Russia would follow a policy of neutrality. With regard to Sino-Russian relations he expressed the view that conclusion of a nonaggression pact between Russia and Japan would not affect Russian support of China which, he said, was continuing to be given and which he believed would continue to be granted in the future.

3. I have formed the conclusion based on my conversations with Chinese officials that they are pleased rather than dismayed with the results which they expect will eventuate from conclusion of the tripartite pact. They reason that they have gained two potential allies and that Russian aid to China will not be diminished, while Japan’s position is more desperate than ever. The main Chinese concern for the moment appears to be related to the possibility that the United States may concentrate its attention on the European conflict at the expense of China in the Orient.73

Sent to the Department. Repeated to Peiping. Peiping, please repeat to Tokyo.

  1. Vol. iv, p. 157.
  2. Hsu Mo.
  3. Not printed.
  4. In telegram No. 553, October 31, 2 p.m. (740.0011 European War 1939/6356), Ambassador Johnson reported an interview with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek on the general situation as a result of the Axis pact and, specifically, certain observations by an unnamed Soviet citizen. The latter expected both Japan and Germany to go to war with the Soviet Union and asserted that while the United States could avoid involvement in the war, the Soviet Union could not; Generalissimo Chiang felt that this did not represent Soviet propaganda.