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41 Minutes of Fifteenth Meeting of Principal Delegates to Imperial Conference

E (PD) (37) 15 (extract) LONDON, 8 June 1937


3. The Meeting had before them the Report of the Technical Committee on the Pacific Pact (E. (37) 33). [1] The Report had been prepared in accordance with the arrangement arrived at at the Meeting of Principal Delegates on June 2nd (E. (P.D.) (37) 11th Conclusions, page 11). [2]

MR CHAMBERLAIN suggested that, if it were generally agreed, perhaps the best method of initiating their further consideration of this matter would be for Mr Eden to make a statement with regard to the Report.

MR EDEN said that as a preliminary he would like to inform the Meeting of two new developments, both connected with Japan, which had taken place within the last 48 hours.

The first was an interview which he had had on the previous day with the Japanese Ambassador in London. He would like to read the note which he had made of the interview:-

'The Japanese Ambassador asked to see me today when he said that he wished to put certain questions to me which might seem somewhat indiscreet at this stage, on the subject of the projected Pacific Pact to which Mr Lyons had referred in his opening speech at the Imperial Conference. Had we as yet any definite proposals in mind? I replied that we had not. So far, matters had not proceeded further than an informal exchange of views on the proposal. If and when we were in a position to put forward anything more definite we would of course make preliminary soundings among other Governments, when I would ask His Excellency to speak to me again on the subject. In response to a question the Ambassador then gave me what he described as his own personal impressions of his Government's attitude to a Non-Aggression Pact for the Pacific. He said that he thought that they would have no objection in principle to such a pact, but that they might regard its negotiation as a little premature at this time. The first necessity in his judgment was to seek to improve relations with other Powers in the Pacific and more especially with His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. From such improvement a Pacific Pact would flow naturally. The Ambassador also showed a certain apprehension lest the new Pact should be similar in form to the Nine-Power Treaty, and I had the impression that this would not be welcome to Japan.

M. Yoshida also asked me whether I had any information as to the attitude of the United States to a Non-Aggression Pact in the Pacific. Mr Davis [3], when he had been here, had spoken to M.

Yoshida on the subject and had appeared to consider that the correct way to proceed was through bilateral arrangements which could gradually be extended to include an ever larger number of Powers. He wondered, therefore, whether it was our intention to widen the basis of any Anglo-American trade agreement which might be reached in order that that might include Japan. I replied that we were acutely conscious of the significance of economic matters and their relation to any political agreement, but that we had as yet much work to do before anything in the nature of an Anglo- American trade agreement was in sight. In the circumstances any question of extending it must inevitably be remote. There was no reason, however, why trade and economic matters which affected Japan and ourselves should not be discussed pari passu with any discussion of political problems. I had the impression that the Ambassador's main object in raising this question at the present time was to ensure that the Japanese Government might not suddenly be presented with a fully drafted Pacific Pact and asked to sign it. I, therefore, gave His Excellency the assurance that no such procedure was in contemplation.

Finally, the Ambassador remarked that he had some little time ago received from the Japanese Government certain proposals for the betterment of Anglo-Japanese relations. He had wished to make certain changes in the texts and had submitted his amendments to Tokio. These were now being considered by the new Government and he hoped to receive a reply in the near future.'

The second item of news was a telegram received yesterday from the Charge d'Affaires in Tokio [4], which read as follows:-

'At a reception for Heads of Missions this afternoon Minister for Foreign Affairs [5] informed me that an understanding with United Kingdom was the most important work which new Japanese Government had to perform. This had been his ambition when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1935 but when he became Prime Minister he had not enough time to devote to it. He believed it was possible and hoped to put it through within the next two or three months and before Prince Chichibu left England to return to Japan. He had accordingly told officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to speed up final instructions to Japanese Ambassador in London. Such an understanding was essential to the peace of the world or at all events the Far East. He did not know why Anglo-Japanese alliance had been abrogated but "look at the result ever since".' (Tokio telegram No. 181 (R), dated June 7th, 1937.)

Mr Eden went on to say that the two messages did not entirely coincide. The statement by the Japanese Foreign Minister must, of course, be taken as the more authoritative.

The two messages taken together confirmed our previous information that Japan was anxious for some relaxation of the present tension in the Pacific. The new Japanese Government appeared to be more stable than its predecessor, and therefore more capable of conducting an important negotiation. The matter would obviously have to be handled with great care at each stage, if alarm was not to be caused in one quarter or another.

Turning to the Report of the Technical Committee (E. (37) 33), Mr Eden said that this was a valuable document and would be of great assistance. It might be thought that the Report conveyed a rather pessimistic impression regarding the difficulties in the way of negotiating the suggested Pact. It was, however, right that the difficulties should be pointed out. In his own opinion these difficulties would not be found to be insuperable.

MR LYONS agreed with Mr Eden that the difficulties indicated by the Technical Committee were capable of being removed. The Committee had been right, however, in drawing attention to them.

He (Mr Lyons) much appreciated the pains which they had taken in examining his suggestion.

Mr Lyons thought he was right in assuming that the Principal Delegates were in agreement in general principle with the desirability of negotiating the proposed Pact. If this was so, they could make progress.

He would like the Meeting to agree-

(i) That a Pact covering the Pacific area mentioned in paragraph i of the report is a desirable objective.

(ii) That the Pact might embrace the following:-

(a) Non-aggression, including respect for each other's sovereignty.

(b) A reaffirmation that war is renounced as an instrument of national policy.

(c) A provision for political collaboration.

(iii) That the following countries might be approached with a view to participation:-

The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan, the Soviet Union, China, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Siam.

(iv) That His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom should be asked to take the initial steps by sounding the United States and Japanese Governments, and that it should have discretion as to the time and manner of doing so.

Mr Lyons added that he for one would leave the matter in the hands of the United Kingdom Government with absolute confidence. Even if the proposal did not meet with complete success, the effort would have been well worth while, provided that it resulted in better relations between the United Kingdom and Japan. Those 'better relations' would, of course, have to include the United States as a third party.

MR MACKENZIE KING said that the Canadian Delegation were prepared to give their general support to the Report of the Technical Committee and to the proposal just made by Mr Lyons. Anything likely to bring about closer relations between the British Commonwealth and Japan was well worthy of support.

He was prepared to agree to the procedure suggested in paragraph 13 of the Report, namely, that the first step should be to sound the United States and Japanese Governments, and that the United Kingdom Government should be invited to undertake the soundings and should have discretion as to the time and manner of doing so.

MR SAVAGE called attention to the importance of the news communicated by Mr Eden. At the same time as the Conference was considering an approach to Japan, it was clear that Japan was beginning an approach towards the United Kingdom Government.

It was very important not to take a false step. It would be a false step in his opinion not to respond to the advance made by the Japanese Ambassador in London. The whole negotiation was of first-rate importance in the interests of peace. It seemed to him (Mr Savage) that the Japanese meant business. No approach from that side ought to be discouraged, even if our own preference was for advance in some slightly different direction.

Mr Savage added that he must not be misunderstood as meaning that we should make an agreement permitting Japan to take further liberties in China. The Chinese Government also must participate in the Pact.

Mr Savage said that it was difficult to read the Report of the Technical Committee without being discouraged by the difficulties to which it called attention.

GENERAL HERTZOG said that he had no comments at the present stage.

LORD ZETLAND said that he agreed with what was proposed including the procedure set out in paragraph 13 of the Report.

MR CHAMBERLAIN said that the United Kingdom Delegation greatly appreciated the suggestion that they should have discretion as to the time and manner of sounding the United States and Japan. The new Japanese approach to this country seemed to indicate that this was the right method of proceeding.

He had not had an opportunity of consulting Mr Eden, but his personal view was that a pact limited to the island territories of the Pacific would not be worth while as a means of obtaining any real amelioration. In addition, as the Technical Committee had pointed out, such a limited pact would make no appeal to China. As regards the difficulties in the way of a mainland pact, these had been brought out by the Technical Committee. He agreed with Mr Eden in believing that they were not insurmountable. They went to prove that it was worth while making a great effort to reach the goal.

Japan appeared to be in a more reasonable mood than for some time past. He was in complete agreement with Mr Savage that nothing must be done to jeopardise the prospect of better relations with Japan. Japan herself would no doubt recognise that no settlement could be permanent or satisfactory which did not cover inter alia her relations with China.

He was very grateful to Mr Lyons for the concrete proposal which he had just made. Its terms struck him (Mr Chamberlain) as admirable. The only suggestion which he would make would be that in (iv) the wording should be 'by sounding the United States, Japanese and Chinese Governments, etc.' The great obstacle in the path was of course the situation in Manchukuo. It was almost an insoluble problem, yet it was so great a source of danger for the future that it would have to be tackled. If a solution could be found during the forthcoming negotiations that alone would be a fine piece of work.

It was no good shutting one's eyes to the fact that Manchukuo would not go back to China. The only question was how to reach a settlement without damaging the prestige of the League of Nations.

In one way or another it would be necessary to persuade China to recognise the establishment of Manchukuo as a separate state. The Chinese were a practical people at bottom and in the end he believed they would admit the inevitable. They would only give their recognition, however, provided that they were given a reliable guarantee that this was the end of Japanese aggression.

They would never agree if there were any fear of Manchukuo being used as a jumping-off ground for further incursions south of the Great Wall.

The Pact ought to be one of non-interference as well as non- aggression. Interference was a usual means of beginning trouble in the Far East. He thought, however, that this was covered by Mr Lyons' phrase 'respect for each other's sovereignty'.

To sum up, the Pact would be of little use unless it included the mainland. On the question of procedure, Mr Lyons' suggestion would meet the case admirably with the addition of a mention of the Chinese Government under (iv). The initial soundings would thus be limited to the United States, Japanese and Chinese Governments.

Other soundings, e.g., of Russia, would come at a somewhat later stage.

MR EDEN said that two points only remained for him to emphasise.

The first was that any public announcement should be carefully drafted so as to make it clear that the Pact would not be at the expense of China.

His second point was that the United Kingdom Government ought to have complete discretion as to the manner of sounding the Japanese Government, i.e., either by approaching them on behalf of the Commonwealth or by responding to the recent Japanese advances.

This was an aspect which had been usefully emphasised by Mr Savage.

MR CASEY reminded the Meeting that the original Australian proposal was based on Anglo-Japanese rapprochement, which was regarded as essential to the success of the proposal.

MR NASH enquired how the problem was affected by the recent agreement between Germany and Japan.

MR EDEN said that this agreement certainly introduced a complication, in so far as it was unwelcome to Russia. M.

Litvinoff [6], however, had told him that he was in favour of a Pacific Pact. It would be necessary of course to remember Soviet susceptibilities throughout.

The proposal as to procedure made by Mr Lyons was approved, subject to the amendment to (iv) suggested by Mr Chamberlain, i.e., that the initial steps should be to sound the United States, Japanese and Chinese Governments.

1 Document 38.

2 Document 36.

3 Norman Davis, adviser to U.S. President F. D. Roosevelt. His report of his conversation with Yoshida is printed in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1937, vol. III (Washington, 1954), pp. 74-76. For his views on non-aggression pacts and proposals for neutralisation of certain Pacific territories, see ibid., pp 974- 78.

4 Probably J. L. Dodds.

5 Naotake Sato.

6 Maxim Litvinov, Soviet People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, July 1930-May 1939.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History