711.94/2098: Telegram

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

706. 1. I understand that the American correspondents have noted in their despatches the two calls which the German Ambassador made on May 9 and 12 on the Foreign Minister at the Foreign Office immediately preceding the interview which I had with Mr. Matsuoka on May 14.70 I have just heard from a reliable Japanese that the German and Italian Ambassadors secretly spent afternoon and evening of May 10 as the guests of Mr. Matsuoka at the country villa of the father-in-law of Mr. Matsuoka’s private secretary. The repeated and in one instance secret meeting between Mr. Matsuoka and the Axis Ambassadors immediately before the interview which I had with Mr. Matsuoka when the latter, notwithstanding the long interval which had elapsed since our last meeting, indulged in bellicose language cannot be lightly dismissed.

2. That the Axis Ambassadors have been stiffening the back of Mr. Matsuoka I have no doubt. Mr. Matsuoka’s slogan and the proposition which brought about his appointment as Foreign Minister was that the United States could be frightened into isolation. I am certain that Mr. Matsuoka is well aware that as the Triple Alliance was a complete failure if not a disaster from the point of view of the effect which it was intended to have on the United States, no further threat he could utter could be expected to have the desired effect on us. For him to attempt now to placate the United States would be an unqualified admission that the basis on which he was able to bring about the [Page 203] commitment of Japan, perhaps irrevocably, to a position of dangerous opposition to the United States is completely wrong. As I see it, he is in the position therefore of being forced, whether or not against his judgment and knowledge, of continuing to pursue a course of intimidation. If I am correct in this analysis, I can well understand that the solicitations of the Axis Ambassadors which must be assumed to be that Mr. Matsuoka should stand firm against United States would be welcome to Mr. Matsuoka.

3. There is a further point and this I must clearly label as speculative. I refer to Mr. Matsuoka’s views as expressed to the French Ambassador concerning the possibility of Japan’s dealing with Chiang Kai-shek (please see our 689, May 16, 6 p.m.71). From the most unpleasant impressions which I derived from recent personal contact with Mr. Matsuoka, I am disposed to attach more than passing importance to current rumors growing out of the divergence of opinion between the Foreign Minister and the Japanese Ambassador in Nanking,72 to the effect that Mr. Matsuoka is attracted by the idea of making peace with Chiang Kai-shek even at the cost of radically altering Japan’s terms, not for the purpose of removing one of the most serious obstacles to adjustment of relations with the United States but if possible to draw China into the Axis orbit. The suggestion is in short that China should be tempted into the Axis by an offer to withdraw Japan’s forces from China. Whether any such proposition would be acceptable to China I do not presume to say. Although the proposition that the China conflict can be terminated on the basis of China’s joining the Axis might be put forward in a form beguiling to the masses, among informed Japanese it is being discussed with considerable irony. One Japanese contact said that he could see no difference whatever between the attitude of England toward Nazi Germany and that of China toward Japanese militarism—in either case more importance was attached by England and China respectively to their defeating the untrustworthy regimes offering peace terms than to the apparently magnanimous nature of the terms themselves. This informant was of the opinion that China would prefer to accept fairly exacting terms from a Japan whose foreign policies were oriented or [on?] England and the United States than generous terms from a Japan allied with the Axis. I need hardly add that the writing off of the costs of the China conflict would not be in line with the ideas being put forward by the Japanese Ambassador in Nanking, presumably with the support of the army in China.

  1. See telegram No. 673, May 14, 5 p.m., from the Ambassador in Japan, ibid., p. 145.
  2. Vol. v, p. 504.
  3. Kumataro Honda.