740.0011 Pacific War/558: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State

1283. Embassy’s telegram 1238, September 29, 6 p.m. and 1255, October 2, 6 p.m. We were requested to call at the Foreign Office this morning. Both Rochat and Lacoste informed us that French anxiety concerning the imminence of a large scale Japanese military operation against Indochina has increased during the past few days. Lacoste stated that the French Foreign Office now “has the certitude that Indochina is being threatened.” He said that he could not say that the invasion will actually take place but he could say that there is no longer any doubt as to its threat. There appears, he said, some slight postponement and the date is now set for around October 15. The number of Japanese troops to be used in landing at Haiphong and the neighborhood he estimates at approximately 50,000. As to the ultimate objectives there is still no certainty, he said. He believes that the move may be designed to take over full control of Indochina or it may be conceived as part of Japanese operation against Yunnan or Kwang-tung and the Burma Road. The reported series of incidents with the local Japanese military authorities both in Tonkin and in the Saigon area have continued and these authorities, he said, are behaving “as though they already owned the colony.”

Lacoste then went on to say (and Rochat expressed similar views), “I am authorized to tell you that the French Government views the situation in Indochina with extreme gravity and feels that complete loss of the colony is imminent. I am further authorized to say to you that we will resist any further Japanese move which goes beyond the limits of the recent accords and that instructions have been sent [Page 314] to the Governor General of Indochina to resist by force if necessary. We fully realize what this means in view of the complete inadequacy of our means of defense but there will be no further yielding to Japan.”

We asked whether this meant specifically that there would be no extension of the recent formula of “common defense” of Indochina by Japan and France, and he replied with obvious embarrassment but much emphasis in the affirmative. We also inquired whether the French position has been made clearly known at Tokyo. Lacoste answered that until yesterday when the French received full confirmation of the accuracy of the reports telegraphed to Department in our messages under reference they had not felt in a position to mention the specific threats, although Ambassador Henry had been instructed to emphasize that any Japanese measures which went beyond the terms of the agreement would “not be tolerated.” The French Ambassador had received merely “bland assurances” from the Japanese Foreign Office and promises with respect to specific incidents, that efforts would be made to control the military. “Now, however,” Lacoste said, “within the next few hours instructions will probably be cabled to Arsene-Henry to mention specifically the threats of invasion and to announce French determination to resist.”

Lacoste again emphasized that no word of the foregoing has been communicated to Henry-Haye and added that the threat is apparently unknown to the Chinese here. In reply to our further inquiry he likewise stated that there is no evidence of any German hand in the present developments.

By way of some public confirmation of the “imminent danger” to Indochina, he pointed to a Domei despatch of October 7 (not published here) stating that the Yomiuri yesterday published a news item from its correspondent at Hanoi to the effect that “unquestionable signs exist of preparations by Chungking, China, to invade Indochina; that Marshal Chiang Kai-shek has concentrated 111,000 men, including motorized units, in the province of Kwangtung and Yunnan”. This, said Lacoste, is pretty good indication that the Japanese are preparing to move.4

  1. In telegram No. 775, October 11, 5 p.m., the Department stated to Ambassador Leahy that the attitude of the American Government toward Japanese activities in Indochina was “well known” and remained “unchanged.” (740.001 P. W./563a)