Memorandum by Mr. Joseph W. Ballantine to the Secretary of State

Mr. Secretary: In connection with your proposed call upon the President to discuss with him the proposal of the Japanese Government which the Japanese Ambassador desires to present to him on [Page 404] August 2860 in regard to a meeting of the heads of the American and Japanese Governments for the purpose of endeavoring to reach a peaceful settlement covering the Pacific area, observations are offered as follows:

It seems apparent from the character of the document which the Japanese Ambassador proposes to hand to the President, a copy of which he handed you last night,61 and various other indications that the Japanese Government will adopt a strategy designed to put through an agreement couched in general terms which will leave the application of those terms wide open. The Japanese will probably argue that the situation calls for speedy action on the ground that only in this way can there be averted the danger of control of the Japanese Government passing into the hands of the extremists, which would result in the opportunity being lost for a peaceful adjustment of relations between the United States and Japan. (Our Embassy has reported that the internal situation in Japan is serious and there may be a sound basis for this argument.) The Japanese will probably also argue that for this reason it is essential that points of agreement be confined to broad questions leaving specific details to be dealt with subsequently.

It will be recalled that these are the very tactics which the Japanese Government has employed in connection with the proposals for an understanding which were presented to our Government last spring. It will be recalled too that our deliberate careful study of their proposals revealed inconsistencies between their professions of acceptance of the principles of respect for China’s territorial integrity and of nondiscrimination in international commercial relations on the one hand and their reluctance on the other hand to agree to withdrawing troops from north China and Inner Mongolia and to relinquish in practice special economic principles which they have asserted in China.

Should we accede to Japan’s desire to conclude an agreement first covering only broad principles, there is a danger that we shall not have in fact reached a meeting of minds on what is implied in the actual application of those principles to concrete cases.

We have consistently informed the Japanese that, in the light of the many evidences which have come to our attention that the Japanese Government is pursuing courses diametrically opposed to the spirit underlying the conversations which you have held with the Japanese Ambassador, we must await some clear indication of the Japanese Government’s intention to pursue peaceful courses before we could profitably continue to pursue our conversations. It is thought that the President may wish to reemphasize to the Japanese Ambassador [Page 405] that our views in this respect remain unchanged. He may wish to recall to the Ambassador that in addition we found during the course of our conversations difficulties arising from (1) the disposition of the Japanese Government to stress its alignment with the Axis; (2) the intention of the Japanese Government to retain troops in Chinese territory for defense against communistic activities; and (3) lack of adequate clarification of the application to Japan’s proposed program of economic cooperation with China of the principle of nondiscrimination in international commercial relations. The President may wish to suggest that these points would need to be satisfactorily disposed of as a condition precedent to a general peaceful settlement.

The President might then go on to offer the suggestion that in the light of all developments which have taken place, it would be helpful at this time if the Japanese Government could give some practical evidence of its intention to readjust its position and to pursue courses of peace; the giving of such practical evidence would not only contribute toward convincing the American people and the world at large of the earnestness of the Japanese Government’s declared intentions, but would also serve, it is believed, to make easier the task of bringing about reconciliation between Japan and China, in accordance with Japan’s earnestly professed desire. He might say that as the Japanese Government is in a far better position to know than is the Government of the United States what Japan is prepared to do by way of giving practical evidence of its intentions, this Government hesitates to suggest concrete measures which the Japanese Government might take.

The President might then in conclusion say that he is glad to learn from the Ambassador of the Japanese Government’s desire to pursue peaceful courses; that he will be glad to give careful study to the paper which the Japanese Ambassador has given him; and that with regard to the Japanese Government’s proposal for a meeting between himself and Prince Konoe, while the President will be glad to try and arrange such a meeting, he feels that precedent to the taking place of such a meeting there should be a meeting of minds between the two Governments on fundamental principles, as it would be most unfortunate from the point of view of both Governments if when such a meeting takes place there should ensue a failure to arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.

  1. See memorandum by the Secretary of State, August 28, 1941, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 571.
  2. See memorandum of a conversation, August 27, 1941, ibid.