Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

The British Ambassador called and handed me the attached copy of a memorandum of conversation between the Ambassador of Japan and himself yesterday.

The Ambassador said that he understood the difficulties of this country and Japan in finding ways and means of keeping up the appearance of not-too-strained relations between our two countries while the present government of Japan endeavors to improve public sentiment and opinion in support of the basic principles for which this Government stands and which envisage a peaceful settlement in the entire Pacific area. The Ambassador said he would communicate with his Government in order to see if it had any suggestions along this line, which would aid the Government of Japan to move in our direction on the fundamental issues involved.

C[ordell] H[ull]

Memorandum by the British Ambassador (Halifax)

1. The Japanese Ambassador asked rather mysteriously this morning for an interview with me, and came to see me this afternoon.

He began by recalling a conversation that we had had when he had first arrived in Washington as to the desirability of maintaining peace in the Pacific. Since then, as I knew, he had for some time been talking with Mr. Hull, and from these talks three principal points of difficulty had emerged.

2. The first point concerned the Tri-Partite Pact. The Ambassador did not develop this in detail beyond saying that the United States Government wished for some more precise definition of the Japanese attitude than they had hitherto felt able to give, but he thought that the United States Government understood the Japanese position pretty well.

The second point concerned non-discrimination and equality of treatment in economic matters. These he thought could be adjusted.

The third point, which was the only one on which he anticipated serious difficulty, concerned the admission of a right for Japan, secured by agreement with China, to station troops for an agreed period, in North China and Inner Mongolia to control the Communist armies there.

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3. So far no solution had emerged in his conversations with Mr. Hull on this third point.

The resignation of the Japanese Cabinet was due to internal differences between on the one hand the Prime Minister and those who wished to reach agreement with the United States by not insisting on the third point mentioned above, and on the other hand those who thought that not to insist on this point would involve too great a loss of face.

But the Ambassador did not anticipate any sudden change of policy. The Emperor was in favour of peace, and even if a general were made Prime Minister, it was unlikely that the Emperor’s wishes would be disregarded.

The outburst of a Japanese Navy spokesman as reported in the United States press today was of no importance, and might be disregarded.

Everybody in the Japanese Cabinet wanted understanding with the United States, and the only difference was as to the price that should be paid for it.

4. Reverting to the Tri-Partite Pact, the Ambassador said that though we might disagree, the Japanese Government of the time had regarded adherence to it as the only policy that was possible for Japan to pursue, having regard to the evidence of what he called Anglo-Saxon co-operation against Japan.

Freezing and embargo measures were not likely to affect very seriously the ordinary Japanese consuming public, who were accustomed to low standards, but would create difficulty for Japanese business, which was pressing that some way out must be found.

5. I said that nobody wanted to strangle Japan, either here or in the British Commonwealth, provided Japanese policy was no longer such as to constitute a threat. Moreover, if he would allow me to say so, Japanese economic difficulties were of her own making, and certainly she would not get out of the difficulties largely created by one war by plunging into another.

Both the United States and Great Britain wanted to see peace preserved in the Pacific, and there was no reason why peace should not be maintained if the Japanese Government abandoned its expansionist policy, and were willing to recognise principles which both the United States and Great Britain wished to see maintained.

But do not let the Japanese Government make the mistake of backing the wrong horse. I could well understand that many people in Japan might be misled by the succession of apparent German victories, but let them remember that none of these victories had yet brought Germany within sight of the only victory that would win the war.

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It might indeed well be argued that they had largely aggravated Germany’s difficulties, and that the strain that they would impose would end by becoming intolerable.

The Ambassador said that many in Japan agreed with this view, and that he himself was of opinion that one victory or two victories were not the same thing as a war.

Returning to his main point, he asked me whether I thought that it would be possible to find any modus vivendi in the Pacific that might be of value in giving time for the atmosphere to calm, and make easier the solution of the third point to which he had referred at the outset of our conversation, which he thought it would be extremely difficult for any new Government to solve quickly.

He knew how close the relations of the British Government and the United States Government were, and hoped that I would take an opportunity of speaking with Mr. Hull about it. This I said I would certainly do.

6. At one point in our talk the Ambassador remarked that some Americans spoke of finishing off the Japanese Navy in a few days. But the Japanese Navy was well trained, and, as I knew, never surrendered, and he thought it could be relied upon to give a good account of itself.

I disclaimed any desire to appraise the relative merits of Navies, and told him that British policy had been repeatedly defined. I could define it for him again by repeating that we were anxious to find the way to friendly relations with Japan, but we could not hope to resume those friendly relations so long as Japanese policy retained the direction it had recently followed.

I asked him whether Mr. Shigemitsu might be expected shortly to return to London. As to this, he was without information, but he knew that Mr. Shigemitsu was in frequent conference at the Japanese Foreign Office.

I also asked him whether he had any opinion as to what might be General Chiang Kai Shek’s view of his third point as to temporary occupation by Japanese troops of an area in North China by agreement with the Chinese Government.

He said he had not, but he had an impression that though the Chinese army were not now very keen on fighting, Chinese diplomacy was extremely shrewd, and vastly better than that of Japan.

7. The whole conversation was very friendly, and left on my mind the clear impression that the Japanese Government, or certainly that part of it for which Admiral Nomura can be held to speak, felt their position to be one of extreme difficulty.