Memorandum [93] Regarding a Conversation Between the Secretary of State, the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), and Mr. Kurusu, 5 December 1941

[WASHINGTON,] December 5, 1941.

The Japanese Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu called at their request at the Department. The Ambassador handed to the Secretary a paper which he said was the Japanese Government's reply to the President's inquiry in regard to Japanese troops in French Indochina. The paper reads as follows:


Reference is made to your inquiry about the intention of the Japanese Government with regard to the reported movements of Japanese troops in French Indo-china. Under instructions from Tokyo I wish to inform you as follows

As Chinese troops have recently shown frequent signs of movements along the northern frontier of French Indo-china bordering on China, Japanese troops, with the object of mainly taking precautionary measures, have been reinforced to a certain extent in the northern part of French Indo-china. As a natural sequence of this step, certain movements have been made among the troops stationed the southern part of the said territory. It seems that an exaggerated report has been made of these movements. It should be added that no measure has been taken on the part of the Japanese Government that may transgress the stipulations of the Protocol of Joint Defense between Japan and France.

The Secretary read the paper and asked whether the Japanese considered that the Chinese were liable to attack them in Indochina. He said, so Japan has assumed the defensive against China. He said that he had heard that the Chinese are contending that their massing troops in Yunnan was in answer to Japan's massing troops in Indochina. Mr. Kurusu said that that is all that they have received from their Government in regard to this matter. The Ambassador said that as the Chinese were eager to defend the Burma Road he felt that the possibility of a Chinese attack in Indochina as a means of pre?venting Japan's attacking the Burma Road from Indochina could not be excluded.

The Secretary said that he had understood that Japan had been putting forces into northern Indochina for the purpose of attacking China from there. He said that he had never heard before that Japan's troop movements into northern Indochina were for the purpose of defense against Chinese attack. The Secretary added that it was the first time that he knew that Japan was on the defensive, in Indochina.

The Ambassador said that the Japanese are alarmed over increasing naval and military preparations of the ABCD powers in the southwest Pacific area, and that an airplane of one of those countries had recently, flown over Formosa. He said that our military men are very alert and enterprising and are known to believe in the principle that offense is the best defense. The Secretary asked whether the Ambassador's observations applied to defensive measures we are taking against Hitler. The Ambassador replied that he did not say that, but that it was because of Japan's apprehensions in regard to the situation that they had made their November 20 proposal.

The Secretary asked whether, if the Chinese are about to Japan in Indochina, this would not constitute an additional reason for Japan to withdraw her armed forces from Indochina. The Secretary said that he would be glad to get anything further which it might occur to the Japanese Government to say to us on this matter.

The Ambassador said that the Japanese Government was very anxious to reach an agreement with this Government and Mr. Kurusu said that the Japanese Government felt that we ought to be willing to agree to discontinue aid to China as soon as conversations betweem China and Japan were initiated. The Secretary pointed out that when the Japanese bring that matter up it brings up the matter of the aid Japan is giving to Hitler. He said that he did not see how Japan could demand that we cease giving aid to China while Japan was going on aiding Hitler. Mr. Kurusu asked in what way was Japan aiding Hitler. The Secretary replied that, as he had already made clear to the Japanese Ambassador, Japan was aiding Hitler by keeping large forces of this country and other countries immobilized in the Pacific area. (At this point the Ambassador uttered sotto voce an expression in Japanese which in the present context means "this isn't getting us anywhere".) The Secretary reminded the Ambassador of what the Secretary had said to the Ambassador on this point on November 22 as well as on our unwillingness to supply oil to Japan for the Japanese Navy which would enable Japan to operate against us in the southern Pacific and also on our attitude toward continuing aid to China. The Ambassador said that he recalled that the Secretary had said that he would almost incur the danger of being lynched if he permitted oil to go to Japan for her navy. The Ambassador said that he believed that if the Secretary would explain that giving of oil to Japan had been prompted by the desirability of reaching a peaceful agreement such explanation would be accepted. The Secretary replied that senators and others are not even now desisting from criticizing the Secretary for the course that he had hitherto taken.

The Secretary then recapitulated the three points on which he had orally commented to the Japanese. Ambassador on November 22, with reference to the Japanese proposal of November 20, namely one, our difficulty with reference to the Japanese request that we discontinue aid to China, two, our feeling that the presence of large bodies of Japanese troops anywhere in Indochina caused among neighboring countries apprehensions for their security, and, three, public attitude in this country toward supplying Japan with oil for military and naval needs. He asked the Ambassador whether he had not set forth clearly his position on these points to the Ambassador on November 22. The Ambassador agreed.

The Ambassador said that this Government blames Japan for its move into Indochina but that if Indochina was controlled by other powers it would be a menace to Japan. The Secretary replied that as the Ambassador was aware we could solve matters without delay if only the Japanese Government would renounce courses of force and aggression. The Secretary added that we were not looking for trouble but that at the same time we were not running away from menaces.

Mr. Kurusu said that he felt that if we could only come to an agreement on temporary measures we could then proceed with our exploration of fundamental solutions. He said that such a fundamental agreement would necessarily take time and that what was needed now was a temporary expedient. The Secretary replied that the Japanese were keeping the situation confused by a malignant campaign conducted through the officially controlled and inspired press which created an atmosphere not conducive to peace. The Secretary said that we knew the Japanese Government could control the press and that therefore we did not understand what the motives are of the higher officials of the Japanese Government in promoting such a campaign. Mr. Kurusu said that on the American side we were not free from injurious newspaper propaganda. He said that for example there was the case of a newspaper report of the Secretary's interview with the press which created an unfortunate impression in Japan. The Secretary replied that he had been seeing for months and months that Japanese officials and the Japanese press had been proclaiming slogans of a bellicose character and that while all this was going on he had kept silent. He pointed out that now he was being jumped on by the Japanese if he said a single word in regard to his Government's principles. Mr. Kurusu then referred to a press report casting aspersions on Kurusu to the effect that he had been sent here to check on the Ambassador, et cetera, et cetera. The Secretary replied that he had heard only good reports in regard to Mr. Kurusu and the Ambassador. At this point the Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu took their leave after making the usual apologies for taking so much of the Secretary's time when he was busy:

[93] Prepared by Joseph W. Ballantine.

Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 826-28

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