894.00/892: Telegram

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

20. Our 19, January 14, 9 p.m.2

The appointments definitely fixed thus far in the Cabinet now being organized by Admiral Yonai3 are: Arita4 as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Admiral Yoshida,5 who is to retire, the naval portfolio. It is expected that General Hata will remain as Minister of War. It is understood that some of the other Cabinet posts have been tentatively filled, but that the Ministries of Finance, Commerce and Industry, and Agriculture and Forestry within whose jurisdiction lie the fiscal and economic problems that largely brought about the downfall of the Abe6 Cabinet, will be filled after Yonai has sounded out the major political parties.
Yonai had been mentioned along with many other candidates about a week ago, but that fact had been lost sight of when a few days ago the field appeared to have narrowed down to General Hata and Prince Konoye.7 The news of Yonai’s selection came therefore as a surprise. Although he has yet to show his mettle as a politician, his dominating personality and the complete confidence which the navy has in him are taken as a guarantee of his ability to fulfill what is considered to be the supreme need at this time, namely, the organizing of a Cabinet which will represent “a general mobilization of brains and leadership in the fighting services, political parties, bureaucracies and business.” One notable exception to the cautious approval of the papers is the charge in unmeasured language of the Kokumin, the [Page 958] organ of the ultra-nationalists—that the appointment of Yonai was engineered by the Emperor’s advisers as a reward for Yonai’s large contribution toward the defeat of the proposal for an alliance with Germany and Italy (see our 188, April 20, 3 p.m., 19398).
With regard to the policies of the forthcoming Cabinet the press assumes that the course plotted by the previous government in respect to foreign relations will be followed: that support will be given to the regime being constituted in China by Wang Ching-wei,9 and that improvement of relations with the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other hand will be prosecuted with increased vigor. The importance attached by the press to the need for the formulating of strong and effective measures to remove or abate the internal economic disorder and confusion which the Abe Cabinet complacently allowed to arise confirm the estimate set forth in our 713, December 28, 7 p.m.,10 of causes which in large measure brought about the fall of that Cabinet.
Reading between the lines of account published in the papers today it is clear that there has taken place a highly significant contest between the Emperor’s personal advisers and the army—the former striving to bring about the selection as Prime Minister of a general army officer in active service with a view to placing responsibility for the adjustment of pressing economic and military problems squarely on the army, whereas it has been the tactics of the army to avoid such responsibility. The first move was actually made by the army which notified Lord Privy Seal Yuasa, when the position of the Abe Cabinet first became insecure, that the selection as Prime Minister of Konoye was desired but that failing him it would oppose the selection of former Finance Minister Ikeda, General Ugaki11 or any party politician. When Konoye refused the Premiership on the grounds of his incompetency to deal with the grave economic problems now existing, Yuasa proposed to the army the selection of a general on the active list, preferably Hata. This was countered by the army with the decision not to permit any officer on the active list to accept the Premiership. Yonai, whose strong personality and moderate views, together with his familiarity with the problems arising out of the conflict with China acquired as a member of the Konoye and Hiranuma12 Cabinets, commended him to the Emperor’s advisers, then remained the only [Page 959] candidate against whom there was raised no objection by the army. It is reported that the army supported Yonai’s candidacy and that the Emperor took the unprecedented step of summoning General Hata and directing that he assure the cooperation of the army with the new Government.
In the opinion of qualified observers, the army must eventually assume entire responsibility for the conduct of Government and it cannot continue indefinitely to obstruct, by invoking its privileges, the implementation of constructive policies which may be initiated by the Government. The events of the past few days have clearly betrayed the lack of confidence on the part of the army in its ability to cope with a situation which has largely been of its own making, and the possibility is being suggested that the army will hereafter have to choose between cooperation with such constructive policies or taking over the conduct of Government and assuming full responsibility for the consequences. Another view put forward by certain well informed Japanese is that Yonai is not a man content to act as an instrument of an army controlled by positivists and may make a bold attempt to place the army under the definite control of its more moderate elements.
From the point of view of our relations with Japan the appointment of Yonai is as satisfactory as could be hoped for. I know him to be an ardent advocate of the use of common sense in the conduct of foreign relations, and although I do not anticipate any immediate drastic revision of Japan’s objectives and actions in China I look for steady and progressive moderation of scope and methods.

Cipher text to Peiping, Shanghai, by air mail.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Adm. Mitsumasa Yonai, Japanese Minister of Navy, 1937–39.
  3. Hachiro Arita, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1936–37, 1938–39.
  4. Vice Adm. Zengo Yoshida, Japanese Minister of Navy since August 1939.
  5. Gen. Nobuyuki Abe, Japanese Prime Minister since August 1939.
  6. Prince Fumimaro Konoye, Japanese Prime Minister, June 1937–January 1939; Minister without Portfolio, January–August 1939; President of Privy Council since 1939.
  7. Not printed; but see telegram No. 186, April 19, 1939, 4 p.m. from the Ambassador in Japan, Foreign Relations, 1939, Vol. iii, p. 21.
  8. Deputy Leader of the Kuomintang (National Party) at Chungking until his defection, December 1938.
  9. Foreign Relations, 1939, Vol. iv, p. 454.
  10. Gen. Kazushige Ugaki, Japanese Minister of War, 1924–27, 1929–31; Minister for Foreign Affairs, May–September 1938.
  11. Baron Kiichiro Hiranuma, Japanese Prime Minister, January–August, 1939.