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Secretary Hull's Conversations With the Japanese Ambassador
Secretary of State Hull in a conversation with the Japanese Ambassador on July 10, 1939 said that while the present interests and rights of the United States in the Far East were highly important, the serious question was whether all of China and the Pacific islands skirting it were to be "Manchurianized" by Japan, with international law destroyed and treaty observance abolished and all other nations excluded from that half of the world.
In connection with the Ambassador's suggestion for possible cooperation of the United States and Japan to compose the threatening dangers in Europe, the Secretary said that the single test of this Government in dealing with other governments was the question of peace; that we considered the preservation of peace so supremely important to the future of all nations that we drew the line between, on the one hand, honest, law-abiding, peaceful countries and peoples, without reference to their form of government, and on the other, those who were flaunting law and order and threatening military conquest without limit as to time or extent. He said that we would work in a friendly spirit with every peaceful nation to promote and preserve peace and that, while we had no alliances with any nation, we would keep thoroughly armed and prepared to take care of our interests and rights; that we had made every kind of plea to European countries for the peaceful settlement and adjustment of their relations and we had indicated our readiness to cooperate in every feasible plan to restore international trade and finance. Notwithstanding these earnest pleas, he said, nations could not but take notice that Japan herself was engaged in military operations for purposes of conquest; this situation might well now have an ending if Japan were to exercise its fullest influence along with the United States and other countries in efforts to stop threatening military conquest in other parts of the world.
The Japanese Ambassador made no particular comment on the Secretary's remarks except to state that there had been reports in the United States that Japan might enter into a military pact with Germany and Italy, whereas the truth was that Japan had no idea of doing so; that Japan, because of its proximity to and difficulties with Russia had been interested in the anti-Comintern policy of certain European states and in working with them against Bolshevism. ( )
A few weeks later, at a time when the outbreak of war in Europe was imminent, Secretary Hull again talked with the Japanese Ambassador. In this conversation, on August 26, 1939, five days after the announcement that Germany and Russia had agreed to sign a non-aggression treaty, the Ambassador said that his Government had
decided to abandon any further negotiations with Germany and Italy relative to closer relations under the Anti-Comintern Pact. He said that the change in affairs in Europe made this course manifest. The Secretary said that the United States had made representations over and over again in protest against Japanese actions which had conflicted with principles and policies of the United States. The Japanese Government had given assurances time after time that it would respect the principles involved, but over and over Japanese authorities had immediately committed other acts in disregard of them. The United States, the Secretary said, wished to have amicable relations with every other country in the world; our policy was a policy of "live and let live"; we sought nowhere any special position. The world was being given new object lessons in the futility of policies wherein nations planned to take advantage of other nations by the use of armed force in disregard of legal and moral principles and generally accepted axioms of friendly international intercourse. In conclusion, the Secretary said that the future of United States-Japanese relations was largely in the hands of Japan; that our permanent policy was one of friendliness and fair-dealing toward all nations. ()
Status of Netherlands Indies
The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 naturally affected and complicated the situation in the Pacific. In April 1940 the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs made a statement expressing concern on the part of his Government for the maintenance of the status quo of the Netherlands Indies. On April 17 Secretary Hull stated that the Netherlands Indies were an important factor in the commerce of the whole world; that they produced considerable portions of the world's supplies of important commodities, such as rubber, quinine, and copra; that many countries, including the United States, depended substantially upon them for these commodities. Intervention in the domestic affairs of the Netherlands Indies or any alteration of their status quo by other than peaceful processes would, the Secretary said, "be prejudicial to the cause of stability, peace, and security not only in the region of the Netherlands Indies but in the entire Pacific area”. ( )
Three days later, in a conversation with the Japanese Ambassador, the Secretary stated that there was no more resemblance between our Monroe Doctrine and the so-called Monroe Doctrine of Japan than there was between black and white. Our Monroe Doctrine, he said, contemplated only steps for our physical safety, while Japan's
doctrine was seemingly applicable to all other purposes and objectives including economic, political, and social objectives. ()
In a conversation with the Japanese Ambassador on May 16, 1940, at the time when the German armies were smashing through Belgium and the Netherlands, the Secretary remarked that it appeared more and more evident that no country was safe from aggressive intervention by force in one way or another and that the only thing a nation could do was to "arm to the teeth" and be ready for any serious interference with its rights and interests by military force or threat of force. However, he continued, this Government was striving for peace year in and year out and our constant desire was to promote and preserve peace both with other countries and among other countries.
The Secretary then brought to the attention of the Ambassador a report from Tokyo which indicated that Japanese newspapers were emphasizing some supposed special interests of Japan in the Netherlands Indies. The Secretary said it seemed very surprising that Japan, after endeavoring to spread itself over the huge Republic of China, might not be content unless it extended itself to take in the great archipelago comprising the East Indies, presumably with a view to shutting out all equality of trade opportunities among nations. The Ambassador replied that his Government was satisfied with the Netherlands Indies situation and had no plans or purposes to proceed there. ()
Instruction to Ambassador Grew
On May 30, 1940, in a telegram to Ambassador Grew in Japan, Secretary of State Hull reviewed the world situation in the light of recent developments in the European war. He said that the United States was going forward strenuously with plans and production which soon would greatly increase our military strength. Whatever the results of the European war, he said, the United States would probably in a relatively short time be more powerful militarily and better-organized in the economic field than it had been for many years. He was convinced that a general international deterioration could be checked only by determined and enlightened resistance by nations which desired that principles of law, order, justice, and national sovereignty should survive and principles of economic freedom prevail. He referred to reports that the Japanese were considering whether they would throw in their lot with Germany, which was committed to the use of force for purposes of
conquest, or would give their support to the principles advocated by the United States and many other nations. He emphasized the necessity of making clear that the United States had not modified nor would it modify its opposition to policies of attempting to achieve international objectives by use of force, whether on the part of Japan or of any other nation. ()
On June 28, 1940 the Secretary of State discussed the Far Eastern situation with the British Ambassador and the Australian Minister. In discussing possible steps to oppose Japanese aggression in the Far East, the Secretary declared that the United States had been exerting economic pressure on Japan for a year; that the United States Fleet was stationed in the Pacific; and that everything possible was being done "short of a serious risk of actual military hostilities" to keep the Japanese situation stabilized. This course, he added, was the best evidence of the intentions of the United States in the future. In regard to a possible settlement between Japan and China, he set forth two points; first, that for such a settlement the principles underlying Japanese policy would have to be negatived or at least seriously modified; second, that properties or interests of China must not be offered to Japan, or in other words that peace must not be made with Japan at the expense of China or of the principles of international policy to which the United States was committed. ( )
Temporary Closing of the Burma Road
In the middle of July 1940 reports became current that the British Government, at the instance of the Japanese Government, would prohibit temporarily the movement of certain commodities through Burma into China. On July 16, Secretary of State Hull, in reply to inquiries by press correspondents in regard to these reports, made comment that the United States Government had a "legitimate interest in the keeping open of arteries of commerce in every part of the world" and considered that action such as this, if taken, "would constitute unwarranted interpositions of obstacles to world trade". On July 18 the foreshadowed restrictions were, under the provisions of a British-Japanese agreement, imposed by British authorities for a period of three months. Upon expiration of the term of the agreement under reference, those restrictions were lifted by the British authorities at midnight, October 17, 1940. ()
Report From Ambassador Grew
The United States Ambassador in Japan cabled to the Secretary of State on September 12, 1940 that whatever the intentions of the existing Japanese Government, there could be no doubt that the military and other elements in Japan saw in the world situation a "golden opportunity" to carry their dreams of expansion into effect; that the German victories, "like strong wine", had gone to their heads; that they had believed implicitly until recently in Great Britain's defeat; that they had argued that the war would probably be ended in a quick German victory and that Japan's position in Greater East Asia should be consolidated while Germany was still agreeable; and that, although carefully watching the actions of the United States, they had discounted effective opposition on our part. However, the Ambassador went on, a gradual change could now be sensed, as it was beginning to be seen by the Japanese that Germany might not defeat Great Britain after all. The Japanese saw Great Britain and the United States steadily drawing closer together in mutual defense measures. Furthermore, it was beginning to be questioned in Japan whether even a victorious Germany would not furnish a new hazard to their program of expansion. There was also an uncertain factor in their calculations regarding the future attitude of Russia. The Ambassador said that until the world situation, particularly the position of the United States, became clearer, Japan's "nibbling policy" appeared likely to continue.
Referring to the question of "sanctions", the Ambassador warned that the probability must be contemplated that drastic embargoes on such important products as oil would be interpreted in Japan as sanctions, and that some form of retaliation might and probably would follow. The risks, he said, would depend on the "do or die" temper of the Japanese Army and Navy should they impute to the United States the responsibility for the failure of their plans for expansion. The retaliation, he said, would probably be some sudden ́ stroke by that Navy or Army without the prior authority or knowledge of the Government. Japan was, he said, one of the predatory powers; having submerged all ethical and moral sense, it had become unashamedly and frankly opportunist, seeking at every turn to profit through the weakness of others. He believed that United States interests in the Pacific were definitely threatened by Japan's policy of southward expansion. Japan, he said, had been deterred from taking greater liberties with our interests only because it respected our potential power; also, it had trampled upon our rights in exact ratio to the strength of its conviction that the people of the United States would not permit that power to be used. If, the Ambassador said, we could by firmness preserve the status