Memorandum by the Secretary of State (Hull) Regarding a Conversation With the Japanese Ambassador (Saito), [WASHINGTON] May 19, 1934.

The Japanese Ambassador called and promptly drew out an elaborate telegram which he said was from Foreign Minister Hirota in Tokyo to him. He first remarked that Hirota desired to extend his appreciation of tile friendly spirit in which I sent the statement to him on April 28, 1934, and which was delivered by United States Ambassador Grew. He added that Ambassador Grew had stated to Minister Hirota at the time that the United States Government did not expect any reply. The Japanese Ambassador then proceeded practically to read the telegram, although appearing more or less to be speaking orally. He retained the telegram which was in his language. At its conclusion, I inquired if it was virtually a restatement of the statement during the latter part of April of his Government to Sir John Simon in the London Foreign Office. He replied that it was. I then stated that I had kept perfectly quiet while Japanese officials all the way from Tokyo to Geneva on April 17th, and for many days following, were reported as giving out to the press the views and policies of the Japanese Government touching certain international phases relating to the Orient; that at the conclusion of these different statements I felt, in order not to be misunderstood here or anywhere, that I should in a respectful and friendly spirit offer a succinct but comprehensive restatement of rights, interests, and obligations as they related to my country primarily and as they related to all countries signatory to the Nine-Power Treaty, the Kellogg Pact, and international law as the same applied to the Orient.

I then inquired whether the Japanese Government differed with any of the fundamental phases of the statement I sent to the Japanese Foreign Minister on the 28th day of April, 1934? The Ambassador replied that it did not differ, that his Government did agree to the fundamentals of my note or statement, but that his Government did feel that it had a special interest in preserving peace and order in China. He then repeated the same formula that his government had been putting out for some weeks about the superior duty or function of his government to preserve peace and of its special interests in the peace situation in-to quote his words-"Eastern Asia". I remarked that, as Hirota wrote me, I saw no reason whatever why our two countries should not, in the most friendly and satisfactory way to each, solve every question or condition that existed now or that might arise in the future. I then said that, in my opinion, his country could conduct its affairs in such a way that it would live by itself during the coming generations, or that it might conduct its affairs even more profitably and at the same time retain the perfect understanding and the friendship of all civilized nations in particular; that my hope and prayer was that all the civilized nations of the world, including Japan, should work together and in a perfectly friendly and understanding way so as to promote to the fullest extent the welfare of their respective peoples and at the same time meet their duties to civilization and to the more backward populations of the world; and that my Government would always be ready and desirous of meeting his Government fully half-way in pursuing these latter objectives.

I then remarked that I would be entirely frank by saying that just now there was considerable inquiry everywhere as to just why his government singled out the clause or formula about Japan's claiming superior and special interests in the peace situation in "Eastern Asia" and her superior rights or duties in connection with the preservation of peace there; and that many were wondering whether this phrase or formula had ulterior or ultimate implications partaking of the nature of an overlordship of the Orient or a definite purpose to secure preferential trade rights as rapidly as possible in the Orient or "Eastern Asia"-to use the Japanese expression. The Ambassador commenced protesting that this was not the meaning contemplated or intended. I said it would be much simpler and easier if when the national of any other government engaged in some act in the Orient which Japan might reasonably feel would affect her unsatisfactorily, to bring up the individual circumstance to the proper government, instead of issuing a blanket formula which would cause nations everywhere to inquire or surmise whether it did not contemplate an overlordship of the Orient and an attempt at trade preferences as soon as possible. The Ambassador again said that this so-called formula about the superior interests of Japan in preserving peace, etc., did not contemplate the interference or domination or overlordship such as I had referred to.

I stated that today there was universal talk and plans about armaments on a steadily increasing scale and that Japan and Germany were the two countries considered chiefly responsible for that talk; that, of course, if the world understood the absence of any overlordship intentions or other unwarranted interference by his government, as the Ambassador stated them to me, his country would not be the occasion for armament discussion in so many parts of the world; and that this illustrated what I had said at the beginning of our conversation that nations should make it a special point to understand each other, and the statesmen of each country should be ready at all times to correct or explain any trouble-making rumors or irresponsible or inaccurate statements calculated to breed distrust and misunderstanding and lukewarmness between nations. I went on to say that it was never so important for the few existing civilized countries of the world to work whole-heartedly together; and that this action of course would, more fully than any other, promote the welfare of the people of each and also would best preserve civilization. I emphasized again that it would be the height of folly for any of the civilized nations to pursue any line of utterances or professed policies that would engender a feeling of unfairness or treaty violation or other unsatisfactory reaction in the important nations who might have both rights and obligations in a given part of the world such as the Orient. I said that in this awful crisis through which the world was passing, debtors everywhere were not keeping faith with creditors in many instances; that sanctity of treaties, in Western Europe especially, was being ignored and violated; that this was peculiarly a time when our civilized countries should be especially vigilant to observe and to preserve both legal and moral obligations; and that my country especially felt that way, not only on its own account but for the sake of preserving the better and the higher standards of both individual and national conduct everywhere.

I remarked that my Government, apart from its general treaty obligations, was only interested in the equality of trade rights in the Orient as in every part of the world and also its obligations and rights under the law of nations; that what little trade we had in the Orient we naturally desired to conduct on this basis of equality, even though it might be less in the future than now. Then I remarked that if these treaties which imposed special obligations on my government in the Orient were not in existence that, while interested in peace in all parts of the world, my government would also be interested in equality of trade rights.

I inquired whether his government had any disposition to denounce and get rid of these treaties in whole or in part, and said that to ignore or violate them would be embarrassing to my government, and that this would relieve it of any possibilities of such embarrassment. I said that I was not remotely suggesting in the matter. He replied that his government was not disposed to denounce and abrogate these treaties. He said that they felt obliged to get out of the League of Nations on account of certain considerations which their membership created. I then inquired of him whether his government abandoned membership on account of difficulties arising from the fact that Japan was a member of the League or whether it was due to Japan being a signatory to the Versailles Treaty. I did not get a complete answer to this.

The Ambassador then stated that in any preliminary naval conversations that might soon take place, his government would be opposed to discussing any Far Eastern political or similar questions or conditions and that only the purely naval side should be taken up. He said that political and all other phases of the subject were discussed at the Washington Conference and his government was opposed to a repetition of this. I offered no comment.


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. 223-225.

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Interwar Period Page