The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt 57

Referring to the strictly confidential memorandum relating to the Far Eastern situation which was left with you several days ago by Bishop Walsh, it seems to me that we can best approach the question presented in the memorandum by mentioning briefly certain facts fundamental in the Far Eastern situation and then examining the proposed plan of procedure in the light of those fundamentals.

The first fundamental is that since 1931 Japan has been dominated more and more by the military group—a group which finds adherents in all classes of Japanese society, the soldier, the sailor, the merchant, the industrialist, the farmer, et cetera, et cetera. This group sets a peculiarly high value on the use of force as an instrument both in national and in international affairs. As Japan’s military adventuring on the Asiatic mainland and southward has proceeded, the unmistakable trend in Japan has been toward an authoritarian control with the military group coming more and more to the front. During this process, there have been some elements in Japanese society which have felt that the course being followed by their country was a mistaken one. On the whole, these elements have had, up to the announcement on September 27, 1940, of the alignment by Japan with Germany and Italy in the tripartite alliance, less and less voice in Japan’s affairs. The reaction of the United States to the three power alliance, the [Page 23] statements made by you in your fireside chat of December 2958 and in your message of January 6 to Congress,59 the statements made by me on January 15 before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs60 and on January 27 before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,61 the increasing manifestations that this country is rearming at a steadily accelerating rate of speed and that this Government and this country are determined to assist Great Britain and other countries which are protecting themselves against aggression, and the British and Greek successes against the Italians,—all these have probably caused many Japanese to feel that their course of action may bring them into conflict with the United States and that their course is more fraught with serious risk to Japan than had previously been estimated.

If events are permitted to take their course, it seems probable that Japan will for the time being become more and more authoritarian and more and more military-controlled. In view of the big strides already made by Japan in those directions, it would be extremely difficult to check or to change the direction at this time. It seems clear that Japan’s military leaders are bent on conquest—just as are Germany’s. They demand that this country make concessions: that we give up principles, rights, interests: that we stand aside while Japan proceeds by force to subjugate neighboring areas and, working in partnership with Germany, contributes to the establishing of a new “world order”: even that we facilitate their efforts by promising to give them financial assistance for the exploitation of areas which they expect to conquer. Is there anything that can stop this aggressively moving force—other than the resistance of a stronger obstacle or the resistance of a greater force?

Another fundamental fact is that the Chinese are fighting for their existence, against forces of aggression which, if successful, will probably increasingly menace the interests of the United States.

Ever since Japan’s military leaders embarked on their present course in 1931 various efforts have been made by Japanese leaders to persuade the Government of the United States to conclude some sort of new political arrangement with the Japanese Government. This effort has been motivated largely by a desire on Japan’s part to make it appear to the world, and especially to their own people and to the Chinese, that the United States was prepared to acquiesce in—and even to assent to—the results of Japan’s program of conquest. Japanese leaders have undoubtedly hoped by the conclusion of such an arrangement [Page 24] to discourage the Chinese and cause the Chinese leaders to make peace with Japan on Japan’s terms.

Many of Japan’s leaders earnestly desire now to extricate Japan from its present involvement in China in order that Japan may be in better position than it is at this time to embark on conquest to the southward in areas which are richer in natural resources than is China and from which Japan might, if successful in conquering these areas, enrich herself more rapidly than she can in and from China. Any arrangement which would help Japan to extricate herself temporarily from her involvement in China would be of doubtful soundness from point of view of the best interests of the United States—and of the world—unless it also made effective provision that Japan desist from her program of conquest.

Turning now to the plan suggested in the memorandum under reference: An effort has been made to consider the proposed plan in its broad aspects, to evaluate the ideas which underlie the plan, and to appraise the plan in perspective. There are a number of statements in the proposed plan which, as they stand, are definitely not practicable. Comments in regard to some of these are contained in an annex to this memorandum. As indicated, the discussion in this memorandum is restricted to comment upon the plan as a whole.

With regard to section “I. Legal”, it might be feasible for the Japanese Government to make, as a unilateral action, a declaration somewhat along the lines of Article III of the three power alliance to the effect that in view of the agreement between the United States and Japan relating the various aspects of the Far Eastern situation the Japanese Government would agree, should the United States be attacked by a power at present involved in the European war, to assist the United States with all political, economic, and military means. I doubt, however, that Japan would give such a unilateral commitment. I am sure that it would not be feasible for this Government to undertake to give Japan a reciprocal commitment.

With regard to section “II. Politic”, subsection A, this Government would, it is assumed, be prepared to cooperate toward bringing about a settlement of the Chinese-Japanese conflict—were Japan and China both to indicate willingness to negotiate on a basis reasonably fair and just to all concerned.

Referring to the statement in this subsection that “China and Japan could … unite to fight Communism in China and in the Far East”, it needs to be remembered that the Chinese have repeatedly rejected offers of the Japanese to assist in fighting communism in China and have declared such offers to be merely a mask for Japanese military operations of occupation. Experience shows that the working out of any arrangement on this matter which would be acceptable both to [Page 25] Japan and to China would be extremely difficult if not impossible under present circumstances.

With regard to subsection B—in which it is suggested that there be recognition of a Far Eastern “Monroe Doctrine” and that provision be made with regard to the political status of the Philippine Islands, Hong Kong, Malaya, Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies—it might be feasible to work out something along the lines indicated. However, a Far Eastern “Monroe Doctrine” would be difficult to define either as to terms or as to area. As to terms, there would need be recognition of the legal equality of each of the areas (countries) included in the doctrine. As to area, the Far East is not readily delineated as a geographical area. For example, questions would arise whether countries such as India and Australia should or should not be included. There is also the question of Eastern Siberia. In one sense, such geographical questions are not important. In another sense, however, they raise further questions: whether the ties, historical, cultural, commercial, and racial, among the various regions of the Far Eastern area (Pacific area) are such as to make it feasible for there to be adopted with regard to the area any doctrine which is regional in character. We of course would not wish to be doctrinaire on this point, but at the same time it seems essential that thought be given to all important aspects of the matter.

With regard to subsections C and D, no comment would seem to be needed.

With regard to section “III. Economic”, we have long believed that there are many constructive lines open to Japan and to the United States in the realm of economic and financial matters provided that Japan desists from the course of conquest on which she has been engaged since 1931.

In general, I am skeptical whether the plan offered is a practicable one at this time. It seems to me that there is little or no likelihood that the Japanese Government and the Japanese people would in good faith accept any such arrangement at this stage. It also seems to me that, if through the good offices of this Government an arrangement were worked out which would extricate Japan from its present involvement in China, the likelihood would be that Japan would extend and accelerate her aggressions to the southward rather than that Japan would change her present course of aggression to one of peaceful procedures. At the same time, I feel that we should not discourage those Japanese who may be working toward bringing about a change in the course which their country is following. As I said in my statement before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, this Government has, notwithstanding the course which Japan has followed during recent years, made repeated efforts [Page 26] to persuade the Japanese Government that Japan’s best interests lie in the development of friendly relations with the United States and with other countries which believe in orderly and peaceful processes among nations. You have worked hard at that. I have worked hard at it. Mr. Grew has worked hard at it.

Admiral Nomura, Japanese Ambassador-designate to the United States, is expected here soon.63 Upon his arrival he may have some proposals and suggestions to offer. We shall of course wish to listen carefully to what he has to say and we can try to convince him that Japan’s own best interests lie along lines other than that she is now pursuing. Should we succeed in convincing him, the next question will be can he convince his own Government and people?


Comments on Subordinate Aspects of the Proposed Plan

One. The plan itself is not new. Various of its aspects have been presented at one time or another, sometimes by Americans, sometimes by Japanese.

Two. In section “II. Political”, subsection B, there is a statement in regard to a “Japanese-American guarantee”. It would be contrary to long-standing policy of the United States to undertake to give such “guarantee”. However, in view of the fact that many Americans believe that this Government in the Washington Conference Nine Power Treaty64 gave a “guarantee” in regard to China’s independence, whereas this Government in that treaty simply promised to respect China’s independence, et cetera, it may be that the drafters of the phrase in question had in mind nothing more than some agreement whereby this Government and other governments would pledge themselves anew to respect the independence and the status of the areas mentioned.

In this same subsection there is reference to the establishment of autonomous governments in Indochina and in the Dutch East Indies, with the further statement that in the Dutch East Indies Queen Wilhelmina could be accepted as sovereign. The problem of working out arrangements in accordance with the statements made in the proposed plan would present obvious difficulties. However, both French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies are at the present time operating in many respects as at least semi-autonomous regions.

Three. The Chinese, having in mind past Japanese failures to honor contractual obligations, have consistently insisted that they [Page 27] cannot and will not begin negotiations with Japan until, as evidence of Japan’s good faith, Japanese troops have first been withdrawn from China. It may be assumed that this specification on the part of the Chinese need not be regarded as absolute: a complete withdrawal by Japan of her forces need not be regarded as the condition precedent; but some clear indication of a change of heart and of intention on Japan’s part would seem to be a sine qua non.

  1. Drafted by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hamilton) and approved by the Adviser on Political Relations (Hornbeck).
  2. Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 173.
  3. Department of State, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931–1941 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1943), p. 608.
  4. Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 131.
  5. The statement of January 15 was repeated; To Promote the Defense of the United States: Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 77th Cong., 1st sess., on S. 275, pt. 1, p. 3.
  6. Admiral Nomura called on the Secretary of State on February 12 and on President Roosevelt on February 14. For memorandum of February 14, see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 387.
  7. Signed February 6, 1922, Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 276.