894.00/934: Telegram

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

613. It is reported that the Cabinet will immediately proceed to formulate its foreign policy along the lines of “strictest of relations with the Axis powers and vigorous prosecution of the plan for the establishment of a new order in East Asia”, and that announcement will be made as soon as possible with regard to the decision reached.26 While awaiting such clarification, I present hereunder my provisional assessment of the present situation.

1. The selection of Prince Konoye to lead the new Cabinet depended on the question whether or not the end of the conflict with China could be expected to materialize within the reasonably near [Page 968] future. The conflict had begun during Prince Konoye’s first premiership, and it was not only his personal hope but the expectation of the public that he should be in office when the conflict be concluded. The belief of many of the most competent observers that the choice would fall on Baron Hiranuma was based on the analysis in certain official quarters of the prospects of peace with China, that the reappearance at this time of Prince Konoye would be premature. The selection is nevertheless, we believe, clear indication that such analysis has been revised in the light of European developments and that a more optimistic view prevails with regard to the prospects of bringing the China conflict to an end.

2. The reasons are [for?] the retirement of the Yonai Cabinet have not been fully exposed and their nature is suggested by the emphasis which is being laid on future close association with the Axis and on the setting up of an economic bloc in the Far East. As the Department is aware, Admiral Yonai has been persistently skeptical over the benefits to Japan of close association with the Axis Powers, he has been lukewarm over the new order in East Asia and he looked for adjustment of relations with the United States and Great Britain. His position on these matters was fairly well concealed, but the public sensed nevertheless that the degree of vigor with which the Yonai Cabinet approached problems directly and indirectly related to the China conflict in no way corresponded with the accelerated tempo of events in Europe which seemed to impel Japan toward “strengthening its relations with the Axis Powers.”

A second factor was undoubtedly the desire on the part of the Japanese people after a decade of almost complete isolation to grasp the hands held out by nations who have demonstrated their military power. There occurred therefore a force against which a Cabinet which contributed little toward the fulfillment of Japanese ambitions in China could not prevail.

3. The Cabinet just constituted is on the whole conservative in complexion, the exceptions are Hoshino, Minister without Portfolio and concurrently Director of the Planning Board, Kazami, Minister of Justice, and possibly Matsuoka. Hoshino has long been a stalwart proponent of the economic bloc idea, he has had an opportunity to try out his hand in Manchuria and his presence in the Cabinet is therefore a clear indication of intention to establish the economic bloc. Kazami has been given the Justice portfolio to draft changes in the electoral law and parliamentary system which would bring them more closely into line with the single party principle which is now being worked out. Matsuoka is an incorrigible talker and it remains to be seen whether his policies will be as drastic as his recent statements would seem to promise.

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4. The best opinion today is that there will be no abrupt and drastic change in foreign policy in the immediate future. Although the trend is undeniably toward the Axis Powers, definitive and irrevocable action at this juncture in that direction would appear to be effectively prevented by economic considerations. The Axis Powers are not now in any position to supply Japan with raw materials or to absorb her manufactured goods, Japan being now largely dependent in both respects on the United States and the British Empire. I would therefore expect Japan to refrain in such event from entering into definite commitments with the United States on any terms compatible with American policy or on the other hand with Germany and Italy pending the outcome of the struggle in Europe.

5. Whatever trends or developments emerge in future we must reluctantly assume that through the fall of the Yonai Cabinet our efforts during the past several months to create some substantial basis for an improvement in Japanese-American relations have been checked by the turn of events. After establishing contact with the new Foreign Minister I shall study the future outlook and the desirability of recommending a new approach in case some opening worthy of exploration should develop.

  1. For a “summary of fundamental national policies”, issued by the Konoye Cabinet on August 1, see ibid., p. 108.