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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

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

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

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

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


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

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]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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