Memorandum by the Secretary of State Regarding a Conversation With the Japanese Ambassador (Horinouchi)


[WASHINGTON,] May 16, 1940.


The Ambassador of Japan called at his own request. He did not mention the Philippine Immigration Bill, or the reported anti-­Japanese disturbances in Peru, or, expressly, the Netherlands Indies, or the status of European armed forces in China. At the beginning of the conversation I made reference to the increased state of war and chaos in other parts of the world and the terrible destructive effects of it in every way, adding that it appeared more and more as if no large country, much less a small country, was safe from some aggressive intervention by force in one way or another, and that about the only thing a nation could do was to arm to the teeth and be ready for any serious interference with its rights and interests by the use of military force or the threat of force. I said that, fortunately, as was shown today in Congress, and as was apparent all over the nation since the more recent invasions of helpless peace­ful nations for purposes of their destruction, the American people have now become thoroughly awakened, aroused and alert in regard to any threatened injuries to American rights and interests, and that this was a matter of great gratification to those of us in charge of the foreign affairs of the nation.






The Ambassador then proceeded at great length to question and cross‑examine me about the Netherlands West Indies, comprising Curacao and Aruba. I said that, of course, my Government and the other twenty‑one American Republics would not consider for a mo­ment any departure from their traditional policy relating to the safety of this hemisphere, and if that was what the Ambassador had in mind, I could make that statement together with the further state­ment that as soon as this Government learned of the fact that British and French vessels patrolling the waters near Curacao and Aruba were offering potential aid to the Netherlands Government in preventing possible sabotage and possible armed expeditions from the mainland intended to seize the governments on one or both of these possessions, . . . this Government proceeded to assemble the facts as expeditiously as possible in regard to the ability of Netherlands guards and citizens in Curaçao and Aruba to protect the islands and their governments from such dangers. I further stated that it was my understanding that the British and French patrols were in no sense interfering with the Netherlands governments on these two islands, but were recognizing the authority of these governments during the brief temporary time deemed necessary to aid in safe­guarding against the dangers already mentioned, and that they have made it clear that thereafter their patrols will not offer any guards for additional protection in connection with their continued patrol work, and hence there cannot arise the slightest question of interfer­ence with the traditional American policy relating to its own protec­tion from possible dangers from abroad. Furthermore, the Nether­lands Government would be expected to send from abroad any addi­tional guards that may later be found to be needed. The Ambassador did not seem to be satisfied with any sort of answer I made. He con­tinued with an increasingly minute cross‑examination as it were. I suddenly and emphatically interrupted him and inquired of him if his Government hail sent him to me to ask all these detailed questions about a matter of no importance to his Government or to any other government, and if his Government had sent him to go into this almost interminable examination, I desired now to know what the motive and purpose of his Government was for doing so. I said that there would never be any friction between my Government and any other government on account of anything unlawful or unfair that my Government may do, but that it would be due to something unlawful that another government may do. I added that I had de­voted most of the past seven years to efforts at understanding and peaceful relations between our two Governments.






I then picked up two or three pages of material which had come in via the news ticker from Tokyo, in which the Japanese Government is reported to be discussing every day or two some phase of the Neth­erlands East Indies and its supposed special rights in them. I stated that I had not intended to show him this, that it had just come to my desk as the Ambassador came in, but I remarked with emphasis that it had been thought that the Japanese Government and the Govern­ments of the United States, Great Britain and France had each and all repeated recently their prior commitment that each was obligated to respect the status quo in the Netherlands East Indies and. I had thought that settled the matter as among our four countries, since each country unequivocally pledged itself to respect the stags quo, but I added that notwithstanding the efforts of many of us to maintain a thorough understanding with the Government of Japan, there was continually coming out of Tokyo additional discussions. of the Netherlands East Indies as though the commitment to respect and preserve the status quo had not been made. I said that these were news reports and I myself was slow to accredit them, but that the tenor of the reports interfered with the efforts of the Ambassador and myself and others to preserve understanding and fair play and fair treatment between our two countries by causing misunderstanding and increasing hos­tility on the part of the people in each country. I said that I would make no complaint now about the matter if that was a part of the newspaper policy in Japan. I added finally that my Government strives for peace year in and year out and it desires at all times to avoid controversy, and, therefore, if controversy arises, the fault will not lie at the door of this Government. I said further that in our constant desire and constant effort to promote and preserve peace, both with other countries and among other countries, I hoped that this attitude of ours would not be misunderstood.

The Ambassador undertook in reply to disclaim any purpose of his Government to send him to me to enter into the long examination to which he was subjecting me when interrupted. He then repeated that his Government was entirely satisfied with the situation following the reiteration of the status quo in respect to the Netherlands Indies by each of the four governments interested, and that it had no purpose to raise any further controversy in that connection unless perchance the British or French should ,land troops there to protect them. I remarked that, since my Government was interested, I had made in­quiries of the British and the French, and gathered the unequivocal understanding that they had no idea whatever to intervene in the Netherlands East Indies in any way.






The Ambassador then made some reference to the Monroe Doctrine in connection with the West Indies situation, and I replied that I had seemingly in vain sought to point out to his Government that, under the Monroe Doctrine, his country's merchant ships have equal access to every harbor in the Western Hemisphere (not including a special arrangement between the United States and Cuba), while under the policy which his Government is seeking to impose in the Pacific Ocean area, the United States and other countries are to be denied equality of trade and industrial opportunity in every Chinese port, and yet his Government seems to look with complacency on this conflicting situation.

I again brought to his attention the information contained in the news ticker report today from Tokyo, in which Japanese newspapers, as stated, were undertaking to keep alive and emphasize some sup­posed special interests of Japan in the Netherlands East Indies. I said it seemed very surprising to observe that, after the Japanese Gov­ernment had undertaken to spread itself out over the huge republic of China, there was an intimation in the news reports that it would not be content unless it extended itself three thousand miles beyond to modestly take in the great archipelago comprising the East Indies, presumably with a view of shutting out all equality of trade oppor­tunities among nations, while Japan would continue to demand equal­ity of trade opportunities in every other part of the world; that there did not exist any selfish or other reason on the part of other nations to interfere in the least with equality of trade opportunities on the part of Japan. The Ambassador again stated that his Government was satisfied about the Netherlands East Indies situation in the light of the renewed promises of each of the three other governments inter­ested, and that they had no plans or purposes to proceed there to attack the Netherlands East Indies. I expressed my satisfaction with his statement, but again reminded him of my difficulty to under­stand the policy of the Japanese Government or the Japanese press, whichever it was, to continue various lines of discussion indicating a claim to some sort of special interest of Japan in the Netherlands East Indies situation; that in a recent statement, I had set forth rather comprehensively and succinctly the position of this Government that the status quo should be respected and preserved by each of the four governments; that the real question presented actually related to the entire Pacific area and that no further elaboration beyond my recent statement on this subject would appear to add to anything I then said.

I still interpret the Ambassador's visit as one under instructions to






develop a pretext to support Japan in connection with its plans and purposes toward the Netherlands East Indies.