23 Sir John Latham, Minister to Japan, to Sir Frederick Stewart, Minister for External Affairs

Dispatch S-69 TOKYO, 29 July 1941


I have had the honour to report in my despatch S-68 the circumstances leading up to my interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the evening of July 26th. [1] I began by saying that I had come to Japan for the purpose of preserving friendly relations between Australia and Japan, if that were possible. The entry of Japan into the Three Power Pact [2] had been a great disappointment and shock to the people of Australia, but I had hoped that Japan, a proud nation, would not become a vassal of Germany, and would see in time that it was in her interest to preserve friendly relations with great powers who had interests in the Pacific, rather than with Germany and Italy, which had neither interest nor power in the Pacific and who, I ventured to add, were most unlikely ever to acquire such interest and power.

I next said that Great Britain and the self-governing Dominions had already agreed upon a common policy to be applied in the event of Japan going into Indo-China. The Japanese Government would make a grave mistake if it counted upon any division in policy or in action within the British Commonwealth. We would be found standing alongside each other without hesitation or doubt.

2. Having obtained the consent of the Minister to speak with complete frankness, I proceeded to say that Japan's foreign policy in recent years had been based upon a series of miscalculations and errors of judgment which I proposed to specify, and that the policy now to be adopted was equally misconceived and was opposed to the true interests of the people of Japan.

First, the war against China was undertaken in the belief that Japan would win within possibly three months, but certainly within six months. This was a complete miscalculation. The war was now in its fifth year.

Secondly, the Three Power Pact was made in the belief that Germany had already won the war, and that it would intimidate the United States of America against giving further help to Great Britain.

This belief had been shown by events to be quite unfounded. Great Britain was not defeated, and the Pact had had the effect of greatly increasing and stimulating American aid to Great Britain.

Thirdly, the Japan-Soviet Neutrality Pact [3] was made in the belief that it would operate to protect Japan against Russia if Japan became involved in war. In fact it was operating now to protect Russia against Japan, though Russia was at war with Germany, a country which Japan was pledged in certain circumstances to help.

Now, fourthly, Japan proposed to occupy Indo-China in the belief that she could 'get away with it' without provoking any serious reactions. This also was an error of the first magnitude, as events would immediately demonstrate.

3. Japan, I said, was taking the first step upon a path of which she could see neither the course nor the end. There was still time to save the position. I said that I did not suggest that Japan should repudiate her agreement with Vichy, but only that she should abstain, pending enquiry, from acting under it. I then submitted the suggestion which I have set out in paragraph 7 of my despatch S-68 that Japan should abstain from acting under the agreement with the Vichy Government while an enquiry was being made to ascertain whether there was any ground for the fear of a British attack upon Indo-China. I said that an investigation of the facts would certainly show that Japan was acting upon a basis of false information. I developed my proposal in detail. I said that I had no authority from my Government to put this proposal forward, but that I was sure that it would be approved by the Governments of Australia and of Great Britain, and by the other Dominions. I said that I could not formally challenge the right of Japan to make an agreement with Vichy, though it was obvious that the latter Government was not independent, that it must act in accordance with German dictation, and that it no longer appeared to possess any ordinary self-respect. But, even though any reasonable person would have no doubt that the agreement was made under duress (whatever might be said about it), I did not ask for the repudiation of the agreement. The course which I suggested would be completely consistent with the honour and the dignity of the Government of Japan and would involve no loss of face.

I added that the occupation of a country for the purpose of 'protecting' it was a pretence which had so often been used by Hitler that it had now worn rather thin, and could not be expected to impose upon the world.

I stated incidentally that reports which had appeared in Japan as to British attacks upon Indo-China were to the effect that British troops had entered Southern Indo-China. These reports were absurd upon their face. Troops could reach Southern Indo-China from the West only by sea or across Thailand and there was not the slightest evidence of any such movement. The Japanese Government should not act upon the basis of such reports. If they did, they would be acting either under a mistaken belief or upon false pretences. I referred to Mr. Eden's denial of any intention to attack Indo-China [4] and pointed out that Syria was quite a different case. Germany was using Syria as a base. [5] I said that of course we made no apology or explanation to any power with respect to the defence of British territory which we would defend against any attack from any quarter. I appealed to the Minister to agree to an enquiry before Japan took action, the consequences of which might be most serious for Japan itself.

4. I concluded by referring to the extensive mobilisation which had taken place. The Minister must know how it had been received by the people. There was no enthusiasm and there were no cheers.

There was only anxiety, fear, and lack of understanding. The Government had deliberately concealed its policy from the people.

Men were being sent possibly to death with not the slightest idea of what they were fighting for. This was an internal matter. It was the sole responsibility of the Government of Japan. But, remembering my experience of government, I ventured to warn the Minister that the Government would do well to take heed of the minds of the people, who perhaps would not be content for ever to sacrifice themselves in complete ignorance of the policy of the Government.

5. The Minister listened to me without interruption and most courteously, making a sign of dissent only when I said that the Vichy Government was not a free agent. He replied in Japanese, which was interpreted by an interpreter who made a record of the conversation.

The Minister said that he would deal only with what I had said about Indo-China. The agreement with Vichy was made to meet a threatened attack against Indo-China. The Government had information, which it accepted, that such an attack was threatened. The Government had, determined its policy and must proceed with it. There was no need for any enquiry into the facts.

The agreement was made voluntarily by Vichy. There was no German pressure whatever. (This statement was repeated.) The object of the agreement was entirely peaceful and defensive.

It was greatly to be regretted that this was not understood. The only object was to promote peace in the Pacific. If Indo-China was attacked a different position would of course arise. But the agreement was not directed against any third party. He added that Japan was very interested in the natural resources of Indo-China.

In particular Japan would carry out completely her undertaking to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Indo-China, and this fact should remove all objections to her action.

At this point I said that I understood that Japan was taking possession of Saigon and Camranh Bay as naval bases, and would occupy the country with thousands of troops. The Minister said nothing in response to this statement. I then said that apparently Japan was giving a new definition to territorial integrity'.

6. The Minister then said that he had been three times to Australia and he admitted that he had been treated in the most friendly and courteous way. He asked why Australia regarded Japanese policy with such suspicion. I replied that one reason was to be found in the Japanese 'Southward Advance' policy. Australia would resist any advance by any power into Australia, or into territory in which Australia was interested. Australia and every other country concerned, including countries in Asia, resented Japan's assumption of 'leadership'. No other country had asked Japan to be its leader. This self-appointed mission of Japan was quite actively creating distrust of Japan throughout Asia and neighbouring countries.

The Minister said that Japan's mission was entirely peaceful. I said that I was accustomed to hear that statement, and that it meant, and was not infrequently stated to mean, that it would be peaceful if all Japanese demands were conceded, but that if they were refused 'a different situation would arise'. The Minister replied that many irresponsible statements were made which the Government regretted, but that the intentions of the Government were entirely peaceful. I reminded the Minister of some of Mr.

Matsuoka's [6] statements which other countries regarded as clearly amounting to threats.

The Minister then referred to the fact that Japan had not attacked the Netherlands East Indies when Mr. Yoshizawa's commercial negotiations failed. [7] I replied that we were now dealing with Indo-China, Japan being engaged in taking possession of the country. (I have dealt with the N.E.I. negotiations in my despatch S-64 of 24th June, 1941.) [8]

7. The Minister then asked me why Great Britain supported Chiang Kai-shek. [9] If Great Britain would change this policy, there would be no obstacles to friendly relations. Without British support Chiang Kai-shek would easily be defeated. British interests in China would be protected and all would be well. The China affair was a matter of life and death to Japan.

I disclaimed any authority to speak on behalf of Great Britain but said that I could readily state some reasons for the attitude of Great Britain and the Dominions.

8. In the first place, we were not impressed by the Japanese contention that she was not breaking the Kellogg Pact [10] because she had abstained from a formal declaration of war. Such an argument was really unworthy of Japan. Japan would perhaps be more respected if she admitted frankly that she was engaged in a campaign of conquest to dominate China and to get all she could from China.

Next, even if China were in the wrong in the originating incident of the war-the Marco Polo bridge clash-(as to which there was plainly room for difference of opinion) the action of Japan in starting and proceeding with war on the largest scale was out of all proportion to the provocation given. Japan had simply found an excuse to attack China.

Further, Japan professed to be defending China against exploitation by foreigners. The Japanese were foreigners in China and were engaged in exploiting China for the sole benefit of Japan. I gave examples. Japan was in the habit of making promises to treat other foreign interests fairly. All these promises had been broken. I instanced the promise to preserve 'the open door' in Manchuria and in North China, and to reopen the Yangtzekiang to navigation. Japan always found some excuse for not keeping such promises.

Japan said that she was fighting to bring peace to China.

Everybody knew that Chiang Kai-shek had no idea of attacking Japan, and that Japan could bring peace to China by getting out of China and leaving China to manage her own affairs.

The statement that Chiang Kai-shek could carry on only by reason of British support seemed to me to be rather absurd. In view of Britain's commitments, I doubted whether as much as one per cent of his munitions etc., was supplied by Britain.

Finally, I said that Japan was destroying China and bringing widespread misery and distress to her own people, and all this without any justification whatever. The excuses given by Japan were completely unconvincing.

9. The Minister did not reply in detail to what I said. He contented himself by saying that he was sorry that my mind was so full of prejudices and that I ought to take what he described as an objective view. Perhaps Great Britain was not helping Chiang Kai-shek very substantially in a material way, but British mental and spiritual support was of great importance, and this should be withdrawn.

10. The Minister was, I think, really impressed by much of what I said, and he was evidently very moved by my reference to the attitude of the people towards the recent mobilisation and to the distress caused by the China war. But it was evident that his opinions were not changed in any respect and that he was determined to carry out the policy of his Government without any variation.


1 Dispatch S-68 of 28 July (on file AA : A981, Japan 185B, ii) reported that after the announcement, at noon on 26 July, of the agreement between the Japanese and Vichy French Govts Latham had consulted with Sir Robert Craigie (U.K. Ambassador to Japan) and J. C. Grew (U.S. Ambassador to Japan) about the possibility of delaying the entry of Japanese troops into Indo-China pending further examination of the situation. Craigie unsuccessfully raised the matter when he visited the Japanese Foreign Minister (Admiral Teijiro Toyoda) at 2.30 p.m. on 26 July to denounce the 1911 Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, and Latham decided to pursue the matter himself at a meeting with Toyoda that evening. Latham had earlier reported both meetings in cablegrams 361 and 362 of 26 July (on file AA : A816, 19/304/428).

2 The Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy and Japan had been signed in Berlin on 27 September 1940.

3 The Treaty of Neutrality between Japan and the U.S.S.R. had been signed in Moscow on 13 April.

4 The U.K. Foreign Secretary had made this denial in the House of Commons on 23 and 25 July. See House of Commons, Parliamentary Debates, fifth series, vol. 373, cols 907-8 and 1169-70 5 The reference to Syria was in answer to Toyoda's attempt, in his statement to Craigie the previous day, to draw a parallel between Indo-China and Syria. See paragraph 5 of Latham's dispatch S-68 on the file cited in note 1.

6 Yosuke Matsuoka had been Japanese Foreign Minister until 18 July when Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro, Konoye formed a new government.

7 Economic discussions between Japan and the Netherlands East Indies had been held in Batavia between September 1940 and June 1941. Kenkichi Yoshizawa had led the Japanese delegation from 23 December 1940.

8 In FA: A4231, Tokyo, 1941 9 Chinese Prime Minister.

10 The International Treaty for the Renunciation of War (also known as the Pact of Paris and the Kellogg-Briand Pact) had been signed by sixty-five states on 27 August 1928.

[AA : A981, JAPAN 185B, ii]