JAPANESE CONQUEST OF MANCHURIA 1931-1932


Attack of September 18, 1931

ON SEPTEMBER 18, 1931 Japan launched an attack on Manchuria. Within a few days Japanese armed forces had occupied several strategic points in South Manchuria.

The United States Minister to China reported to Secretary of State Stimson, in a telegram dated September 22, his opinion that this was "an aggressive act by Japan", apparently long-planned, and carefully and systematically put into effect. Minister Johnson found no evidence that it was the result of accident or the act of minor and irresponsible officials. He was convinced that the Japanese military operation in Manchuria "must fall within any definition of war" and that this act of aggression had been deliberately accomplished in "utter and cynical disregard" of Japan's obligations under the Kellogg-Briand Pact of August 27, 1928 for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy.

On September 22 Secretary Stimson informed Japanese Ambassador Debuchi at Washington that the responsibility for determining the course of events with regard to liquidating the situation in Manchuria rested largely upon Japan, "for the simple reason that Japanese armed forces have seized and are exercising de-facto control in South Manchuria".

Meanwhile, the League of Nations was deliberating on the Manchuria situation. Secretary Stimson instructed the United States Consul at Geneva to inform the Secretary General of the League of Nations, in a communication dated October 5, 1931, that it was most desirable that the League in no way relax its vigilance and in no way fail to assert all its pressure and authority toward regulating the action of China and Japan. Secretary Stimson stated further that this Government, acting independently, would "endeavor to reinforce what the League does" and would make clear its keen interest in the matter and its awareness of the obligations of the disputants in the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Nine-Power Treaty, "should a time arise when it would seem advisable to bring forward these obligations".

The United States Government, in identic notes of October 20, 1931 to China and Japan, called attention to their obligations under the Kellogg-Briand Pact. This Government expressed the hope that nations would refrain from measures which might lead to that they would agree upon a peaceful method for resolving their dispute "in accordance with their promises and in keeping with expectations of public opinion throughout the world".

"Non-Recognition Policy"

The Japanese Government professed a desire to continue friendly relations with China and denied that it had territorial designs in Manchuria. However, Japanese military operations continued. By the end of 1931 Japan had destroyed the last remaining administrative authority of the Government of the Chinese Republic in South Manchuria, as it existed prior to September 18 of that year. The United States Government notified the Chinese and Japanese Governments on January 7, 1932 that it could not admit the legality of any situation de facto nor did it intend to recognize any treaty or agreement entered into between these Governments which might impair the treaty rights of the United States or its citizens in China; that it did not intend to recognize "any situation, treaty, or agreement" which might be brought about by means contrary to the obligations of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. In pursuance of this policy the puppet government established by Japanese arms in Manchuria a few weeks later has not been recognized by the United States.

After the hostilities between Japan and China had spread to the Shanghai area early in l932 the Japanese Government asked that the United States extend its good offices for stopping hostilities. Thereupon, the United States made a proposal on February 2 containing the following points: cessation of all acts of violence on both sides; no further preparation for hostilities; withdrawal of both Chinese and Japanese combatants in the Shanghai area; protection of the International Settlement at Shanghai by the establishment of neutral ones; and upon acceptance of the foregoing, prompt negotiations to settle all outstanding controversies between Japan and China with the aid of neutral observers or participants. The same proposal was made to Japan and China by the British, French and Italian Governments. The Chinese Government promptly accepted the proposal; the Japanese Government, while accepting some of the points, rejected flatly the second and fifth points, and consequently the proposal came to no avail.

In February 1932 Secretary of State Stimson proposed to the British Government that the United States and British Governments issue a joint statement invoking the Nine-Power Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand Pact in the Far Eastern controversy, making clear that the two Governments considered these treaties as fully binding and declaring that they would not recognize as valid any situation created in violation of these treaties.

In a letter of February 23, 1932 to Senator Borah, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Secretary Stimson said that the situation which had developed in China could not be reconciled with the obligations set forth in the Nine-Power Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. He referred to the statement of the United States Government of January 7 and said that if a similar policy were followed by the other governments of the world, an effective bar would be placed on the legality of any title or right sought to be obtained by pressure or treaty violation and that eventually such action would lead to restoration to China of the rights and titles of which China had been deprived.

The British Government did not adopt the specific suggestion made by Secretary Stimson. Later it introduced in the Assembly of the League of Nations a resolution which was unanimously adopted; this resolution of March 11, 1932 stated in part: "it is incumbent upon the members of the League of Nations not to recognize any situation, treaty or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the Covenant of the League of Nations or to the Pact of Paris."

Ambassador Grew's Report on Japanese Military Spirit

The United States Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, reported to Secretary Stimson on August 13, 1932 the growing dangers in the existing situation. Ambassador Grew said that in Japan the deliberate building up of public animosity against foreign nations in general and the United States in particular was doubtless for the purpose of strengthening the hand of the military in its Manchuria venture in the face of foreign opposition. He stated that the Japanese military machine had been "built for war", felt prepared for war, and would "welcome war"; that it had never yet been beaten and possessed unlimited self-confidence.

After consolidating their position in Manchuria the Japanese military forces proceeded, early in January 1933, to extend the boundaries of the new puppet state by the occupation of the province of Jehol in North China. The Japanese Ambassador, in a conversation of January 5 with Secretary Stimson, stated that Japan-had no territorial ambition south of the Great Wall. The Secretary reminded the Ambassador that a year previously the latter had said that Japan had no territorial ambitions in Manchuria. The Ambassador replied that no Japanese Cabinet which advocated a compromise on the Manchuria question could survive in Japan and that the Manchuria incident must be regarded as closed. Secretary Stimson said that this Government had come to the conclusion that another war such as the World War might destroy our civilization; therefore, we were "determined to support the peace machinery which would render such a recurrence impossible".

Condemnation of Japanese Aggression

Meanwhile, the League of Nations had been considering the report of the Lytton Commission which had been appointed by the League to make an investigation of the situation in Manchuria. The Commission reported that the military operations of the Japanese in Manchuria could not be regarded as measures of legitimate self-defense; that the regime which the Japanese had set up there disregarded the wishes of the people of Manchuria and was not compatible with the fundamental principles of existing international obligations. The League Assembly adopted this report on February 24, 1933, and the Japanese delegation thereupon walked out of the Assembly. In a letter of February 25 to the Secretary General of the League of Nations, Secretary Stimson stated that the United States was in substantial accord with the findings and conclusions of the League.

On March 27, 1933 Japan gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the League.

In the spring of 1933, in connection with proposed legislation to authorize the President under certain conditions to apply embargoes on the export of arms from the United States, consideration was given to the possibility of an arms embargo against Japan. In a statement made on behalf of Secretary of State Hull to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, May 17, 1933, it was emphasized that the United States Government concurred "in general in the findings of the Lytton Commission which place the major responsibility upon Japan for the international conflict now proceeding in China". In this statement concerning the proposed legislation, Secretary Hull said that it was not the intention of this Government to use the authority as a means of restoring peace between China and Japan. He aid that an arms embargo would not be an effective means of restoring peace in this instance; that Japan was an important producer of arms with industries sufficiently developed to supply its own needs; that China was dependent upon her importation of these commodities; that an arms embargo applied to both China and Japan would, therefore, militate against China and in favor of Japan; that an embargo directed against Japan alone would probably result in the seizure by the Japanese of arms intended for China, thus ultimately decreasing China's supply of arms and increasing Japan's supply. The Secretary stated that this Government would not be disposed to take any action which would favor the military operations of the Japanese. Further, he said that we would not under any circumstances agree to participate in an international embargo of this kind unless we had secured substantial guaranties from the Governments of all the great powers which would insure against the effects of any retaliatory measures which the Japanese might undertake.

The proposed arms-embargo legislation was not enacted.


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.3-8


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