United States Policy in the Pacific


By ROBERT AURA SMITH, Cable Desk, The New York Times; formerly News Editor, The Manila Daily Bulletin, Far Eastern Correspondent, The New York Times; Author, Your Foreign Policy, Our Future in Asia, etc.

Delivered at the Institute of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, July 2, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 726-730

THE United States and Japan are at a stalemate in Pacific relations. To say that those relations have deteriorated is an understatement. They have reached what seems to be an unbreakable deadlock. There is a genuine, deep-seated clash in policy and policy's basic aims. The Japanese have declared repeatedly that their policy is, above all else, immutable. Now, of course, the policy has been changed half a dozen times within the last twenty years and, in fact, the last major addition to the immutable Japanese policy was an agreement with Russia that surprised the Japanese even more than it did the rest of the world, coming on the heels of an alliance with Germany and Italy that upset most of the major trends in Japanese diplomacyin twenty years. And the outbreak of Nazi-Soviet hostilities sent the Japanese scurrying into a series of conferences to decide which major mutation had to be made in the immutable policy.

Nevertheless, the United States has been told repeatedly that it can expect no further mutations in the direction of counteracting the deterioration of relations between the two countries or the lessening of tension. We have been told, in effect, that any concessions toward better understanding will have to be made by us. No concessions are to be expected from the Japanese Empire. The willingness to make such concessions and the eagerness to submit questions of international difference of opinion to the orderly process of conciliation and negotiation is a part of the fixed policy of the United States. On the other hand, the concessions that the United States would be obliged to make in order to meet what the Japanese hold to be the minimum basis for better understanding are larger concessions than the United States is prepared to make at the present time.

Almost every organ of the Japanese Government has stated the character of these concessions. First of all, the United States must recognize the validity of the so-called New Order in East Asia, that is to say, we must admit the right of Japan to take the dominant position in an East Asiatic hegemony and from that position to exercise an effective control of both political and economic relationships based primarily upon the needs and desires of the Japanese Empire. To that has been added the necessity for recognition on our part of the Japanese-inspired Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, which has been clearly set forth as an orientation of all of Eastern Asiatic economy upon Japan. The third concession that we shall be obliged to make is the cessation of our assistance to the Government of China, since it continues to resist these two fundamental factors in Japanese immutable policy. The fourth concession, presumably, would be the necessary recognition of the validity of Japanese adherence to the Rome-Berlin Axis and an adaptation of our policy to meet that adherence. These factors in the Japanese position, we have been told repeatedly, cannot possibly be changed. If we wish to improve the relations in the Pacific, therefore, we must abandon what is called our legalistic conception, that is, adherence to the structures previously developed in Asia and cooperate with the so-called New Order based upon the Japanese program.

These are concessions that the United States cannot possibly make, even in part, without a revision not only of its Pacific policy but of all the rest of its foreign policy that has been developed throughout a century and a half.

For it is a curiosity of the situation that the United States, although it doesn't talk about it, has also an immutable policy in the Pacific, and that its policy is of far longer duration and of greater scope than the supposedly immutable policy of the Japanese Empire. In order to effect the meeting of minds that the Japanese say is prerequisite to any improvement in Pacific relations, the United States would be obliged to abandon conceptions of international life that have been built up over a period of a hundred and fifty years.

It is often glibly assumed that the United States has little or no policy in respect to the Pacific and that changes can and should be made almost effortlessly to meet whatever new conditions might arise. This is far from the case. The relationship of the United States to the nations of the Pacific is a part of the whole relationships of our government and is merely the application to a given sphere of a mode of international behavior that is characteristic of our whole position as a nation.

In the Pacific we have acted for at least a hundred years on one major assumption in respect to sovereign states. We have held that Eastern Asia was quite large enough to contain a free, strong and independent Japan and a free, strong and independent China. Our policy as a nation has been directed towards sustaining both of those states, and meeting our duality of interest through friendship for and assistance to both. We have several times intervened on behalf of China in our relations with other states, and have caused the weight of our position to be given to the cause of Chinese strength and freedom. Notable examples of this are the use of the influence of the United States against Chinese partition at the time of the Taiping Rebellion, the assistance given in the negotiation of the Burlingame treaties in the sixties, the application of the "open door" principle to other statesin 1899, and the leadership in the negotiations of the Nine-Power Treaty in 1922-23.

We have given similar assistance to Japan, first through our recognition of the rights of Japan as a modern state and the consequent successive revision of our treaties with Japan that outlined the position of our nationals. The very early withdrawal of any claim to extraterritoriality in Japan, for example, was the acknowledgment on the part of the United States of its interest in a free, strong and independent Japan. The most notable example, however, of the use of our influence to this end was our position as mediator in the Russo-Japanese War.

This recognition of the co-equal sovereignty of the two greatest of the Eastern Asiatic states is a part of our whole policy in respect to both. We believe that Asia is big enough for both of them. The present ruling clique in Japan apparently does not share that view.

This position has come to be of consequence in the whole field of policy, not only because it represents a point of view that we believe to be just, but because it is embodied in an entire treaty structure that we have developed in the Pacific. That treaty structure has defined our obligations and has made us signatory to a group of pledges. Perhaps the most important single one of those is the pledge embodied in the Nine-Power Treaty to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of China. It has been our position that such pledges, once given, cannot be withdrawn lightly. We have held that as accords have been reached through a meeting of minds and through peaceful negotiation, so the obligations involved in those accords cannot be fulfilled except through a similar peaceful and orderly meeting of minds. To admit the right of one state to withdraw from the fulfilment of such pledges on the ground of local expedience is to admit the general invalidity of our commitments and of our willingness to abide by them.

In the realm of policy, moreover, that treaty structure involves not only the recognition of friendly sovereignties, but provides for a position in trade, based upon both freedom and equality. That also is a long-standing position of the United States. The so-called "open door" in China is a declaration of these two principles of freedom in international intercourse and equality with sovereign states in the opportunities accorded to it. The "open door" policy was not invented by the United States in 1899. It had been developed as the logical function in the commercial field of our sovereign position from the earliest days of the Republic. The United States did not proclaim the validity of an open door merely in China. The United States had never recognized and still does not recognize the possible validity of a closed door in the normal commercial relations between sovereign states.

In so far as we insist that there can be no recognition of a Japanese regime in Eastern Asia that violates this principle, we are not taking action on behalf of China, we are taking action on behalf of the United States.

The challenge of Japanese expansion in Eastern Asia is a fundamental attack on these basic conceptions of the United States. It is recognized that the establishment of the Japanese hegemony would necessarily be an infringement upon the sovereign position of other Asiatic states and, moreover, that the purpose of such a hegemony would be to invalidate precisely the equality of freedom and trade that is a fixed part of our permanent relationship. The so-called New Order in East Asia is a direct challenge to the treaty structure that had been established over a long period of years and is a Japanese assertion, in effect, that previously given pledges must be superseded by a Japanese conception of what are the correct relationships between the sovereignstates of Asia. The New Order, so-called, is based on the assumption that conditions have so changed that the commitments and pledges of the old order are no longer applicable. What is proposed then, in effect, is a unilateral revision of a multilateral agreement. The United States cannot accept that either in principle or in practice. The tension arising from the stalemate in policy has been enormously heightened by the Japanese adherence to the Rome-Berlin Axis. This has had two major phases. In the first place, the identification of the Japanese program with the Axis program gives the Japanese proposals a character that is truly abhorrent to individual Americans as well as to this government as a whole. The people of the United States do not accept the validity of Adolf Hitler's theory of a Lebensraum and they can be expected to react violently to what the Japanese declare to be the translation of that theory to the Asiatic scene.

It is the official position of the Japanese Government, moreover, that the adherence to the Axis was consummated in order to persuade the United States to a policy of noninterference in the affairs of Europe. It is, therefore, in effect, an admitted attempt to intimidate the United States and to control the courses of action of this country through such process of intimidation. The historic reaction of Americans to such tactics is so obvious that the Japanese assumption that such a course of action could be successful throws an interesting light on their naivete.

The American reaction concerns a second major phase of this Axis-inspired tension. If Japan is sincere in its adherence to the Axis and, in the phrase repeatedly used by the Japanese Foreign Minister, "adherence to the Axis is the very cornerstone of Japanese policy," then that policy must have embraced as its objectives the Rome-Berlin Axis. Now the Rome-Berlin Axis came into existence for only one purpose, the defeat and disruption of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The very cornerstone of Japanese policy, therefore, is the acceptance of this defeat and disruption as an inevitable factor and as the basis for a New Order in East Asia. The United States, on the other hand, has taken a diametrically opposed position. As a result in part not merely of ties of blood and language but of the development of political stability and political collaboration over more than a century, our policy is based not upon the disruption of the British Commonwealth, but upon its victory and its preservation. Through legislative enactment and through popular will, this nation is pledged to that course of action. From that pledge there can be and will be no retreat.

So long, therefore, as Japanese policy is to be determined by adherence to a program that calls for an end to the British Commonwealth, while at the same time United States policy is committed to the preservation of that same Commonwealth, there can be no fundamental meeting of minds between Tokyo and Washington. A major degree of surprise was expressed in Tokyo at the vehemence of the unfavorable reaction to Japanese adherence to the Axis. If this surprise was sincere, it is incredible.

The United States has been asked to recognize the validity of the Japanese New Order in East Asia. By the commitment to the Axis, Japan has made such a recognition tantamount to the admission by the United States that the British Commonwealth of Nations must cease to exist. Even to suggest such a concession on the part of the United States is not merely stupid, it is insulting.

Now while the Japanese adherence to the Axis undoubtedly had an adverse effect on Japanese-American relations and contributed to their progressive deterioration, it served a useful purpose as far as this country is concerned. It helped to draw this country out of a welter of confusion and contradiction in respect to the Pacific scene and served as the major catalyzing agent in the clarification of the policy that had begun to take place.

The operation of economic factors as well as political ones that had made Japan progressively more dependent upon the United States for materials of war had put this country in a peculiarly embarrassing position. Recognizing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of China, it was the natural wish and the correct course of this country to provide to China such means of resistance to aggression as were possible. At the same time, the United States was providing and continuing to provide to the Japanese Empire the precise means for the demolition of the Chinese Government that we were pledged to respect. We were, in effect, attempting to carry out a policy of all aid to China and all aid to Japan while the two were at war. We were relieved in some measure from the moral hypocrisy involved in this contradiction by the fact that drastic action against Japan in the nature of unilateral sanctions might not have been successful and that, moreover, it might have precipitated precisely the clash in the Pacific involving this country, Britain and Netherland India that we were eager to avoid. At the same time, it came to be recognized eventually that the temporary policy that had been adopted could not possibly be effective in sustaining China, nor in checking Japan. As a result, first through the institution of the so-called moral embargoes and later through the licensing of materials for export, the United States began a progressive reduction of some of the more important materials that had been supplied to the Japanese Empire. This policy had overwhelming popular support, but it did not enjoy overwhelming official support. The reason that it did not was very largely that persons in policymaking positions were able to see more clearly than could the general public some of the hazards involved in drastic action on the part of the United States.

Japanese adherence to the Axis, however, made a further reduction in the supply of war materials to Japan that had been initiated by September 1940 inevitable and served to unify the American course of action. The United States had launched a gigantic rearmament program and it was recognized that the rearmament was inspired by the threat of the Axis. We armed to meet a potential enemy and that potential enemy was not El Salvador, Iran or the British Commonwealth. Obviously there could be no justification for continuing the decade-long folly of arming the enemy. The Japanese adherence to the Axis officially put the Japanese Empire in the enemy camp and so made the reduction of military materials, not on the Chinese behalf but on ours, imperative.

That policy has not yet been carried to its logical conclusion, but opinion in respect to it has become unified and its progress has been accelerated. Some of the deterrent factors still exist. But as each material is certified as essential to American defense, it is inevitable that that material will be made unavailable to Japan.

Co-ordinately with this decrease in materials for Japan, there has been the natural increase in United States assistance to China. In the beginning this took the form easiest to execute, and possibly at that time most greatly needed by the Chinese. It was largely financial assistance. Loans to the Chinese Government were executed to stabilize Chinese currency and, in part, to provide Chinese purchasing power. In the handling of these loans, however, their timing became a matter of policy, in so far as the United States instituted fresh loans to correspond with increasing steps in Japanese aggression. Just as the abrogation of the Treaty of Trade and Commerce with Japan was an instrument of policy rather than of trade by its timing in respect to our protests!

against violation of American rights in China, so the loans to China were initiated at such time that their political character was unmistakable.

That phase of assistance to China is being superseded since the passage of the Lend-Lease Bill by a program for actual assistance in the supply of military materials. This program is still largely in the formative stage, but obviously, like assistance to other countries that are resisting aggression, it must be dependent upon the ability of the United States to provide such materials and to insure their delivery. This increased aid to China, legalized as a part of the American policy under the Lend-Lease Act, and the inclusion of China among the proposed beneficiaries of that act, is the product not only of Japanese aggression but the product of Japanese adherence to the Rome-Berlin Axis.

The inclusion of China under the terms of the Lend-Lease Bill was a third forward step in American Pacific policy instigated, in a sense, by Japan. The clarification that had taken place in American thinking was the recognition that Axis aggression had a characteristic unity whether it was in Europe or in Asia and that aid to Britain as a counterweight to that aggression must be supplied not only to the British Isles, but to Britain and her allies wherever they were resisting attack. The degree, the success and the courageous tenacity of Chinese resistance made China one of the most important of those allies. Recognition is growing, therefore, that American policy in the Pacific and American policy in the Atlantic must be a co-ordinated entity precisely as the European-Asiatic aggression against all of that policy that is based on the concept of freedom has become a coordinated entity.

In the Asiatic sphere, moreover, that assistance must be rendered not merely to China, but also to the British Commonwealth. The challenge of Japan extends not merely to China as a major ally of the threatened democracies, but to the very position of Britain herself. The Japanese New Order and the Japanese Co-prosperity Sphere must of necessity involve the destruction of the British military and commercial position at Singapore and the triumph of Japanese arms and policy over Netherland India and its resources. Obviously, the assistance of the United States to Britain must be rendered when and where it is needed in the largest measure of which we are capable.

It has frequently been urged that the United States would find it advantageous to make whatever concessions were necessary in the Pacific in order to avoid the necessity for an engagement upon two fronts. We must be careful to keep the peace in the Pacific, it is urged, in order to win the battle of the Atlantic. There is a major fallacy in this assumption. Britain and her allies, belligerent and non-belligerent, may wish to fight a war on only one oceanic front, but they may be obliged to fight a war wherever the enemy decides to attack. Obviously we will have to fight a two-ocean war if we are attacked on two oceans. Until it is proved, as it has not been proved, that we are obliged to lose the battle of the Pacific in order to win the battle of the Atlantic, it is folly to proceed on the assumption that one front must be sacrificed.

This is particularly important in the case of the United States because of the fact that the British position at Singapore with the allied position in Netherland India is of the utmost consequence not only to the stability of the British Commonwealth and to the resistance of the Republic of China, but to the military and economic future of the United States. Singapore is not only a major fortress on the British lifeline, it is a major base of supplies for the Army and Navy of the United States. So long as we are dependent upon Southeastern Asia for the bulk of our rubber, tin,quinine, manila hemp and coconut oil, we can do no less than to preserve that base of supplies in allied rather than in enemy hands. Thus the identification of Japan with the Axis and the identification of the New Order in East Asia with the European idea of a Lebensraum means that the United States will be obliged as a matter of military policy, as well as political, to render effective assistance to Britain and her allies in Southeastern Asia if that point is challenged by Japan.

These policies have been clarified to a degree that the outbreak of war between Germany and Russia cannot possibly affect them in any sense. The fact that one more nation is fighting Adolf Hitler can make no possible difference in the fixed American position that assistance must not be given to Hitler's armies and that the enemies of the Axis in Asia, no less than in Europe, must have our continued support. If the Russian involvement gives any degree of acceleration to the Japanese southward movement, it must of necessity be part of the fixed policy of the United States to meet such acceleration with increased assistance in that zone of hostilities. On the other hand, if the changed position of the Soviet invites a change in policy in Japan, that change must be met on the part of the United States by the fixed adherence to those permanent policies from which there can be no deviation. There is no justifiable basis for a Far Eastern Munich simply because Hitler has taken on a new enemy. In short, the concessions that the United States could possibly make could not be modified even if Japan ceased to pay lip service to the Rome-Berlin Axis and continues her immutable commitment to precisely the type of aggression that drew her into the Axis in the first place.

By force of necessity, there is emerging for the United States the opportunity to develop a forceful long-range policy in the Pacific. Thus far this policy has been called the defense of the status quo. Presumably that means a static policy and an attempt to maintain or to restore the institutions that existed before the combined aggression in Europe and Asia disturbed the equilibrium that had been set up. That policy is not necessarily so static. The defense of freedom and equality in the sovereign and commercial relationships of the United States can be a dynamic policy. In respect to China and in respect to Southeastern Asia, it is now obvious that the maintenance of those dynamic concepts must depend on the force of British and American arms. The fashion in which those arms are used will determine the stability of Eastern Asia and the opportunity for rehabilitation after peace has been established along lines of justice and fair dealing consistent with our own national ideals.

British and American collaboration in Southeastern Asia can continue to assure the political and economic stability of that area. This does not mean in any sense a necessary negation of the rights of small nations or of the legitimate aspirations of any peoples. Manifestly, the aspiration towards autonomy and towards statehood, for example, in the various Malay countries cannot even be made vocal without the continued protection of the British Commonwealth and the American Republic. What change may take place in the expression of sovereignty in the Southeastern Asiatic States cannot be foretold. It can be said with assurance that one change for which there is no justification is their permanent transfer to Japanese sovereignty. The very hope of liberty in Asia is manifestly directly dependent for the time being upon the continued exercise of authority by Great Britain and the United States. To such authority China, on the basis of sovereign equality, would be the first and most logical adherent. China can be and will be the ally of the countries that fight for freedom, in peace no less than in war. It is obvious, moreover, that such a program cannotrecognize a Japanese New Order, but that it ought to provide a similar position of sovereign equality for the Japanese Empire. Correct outlets for Japanese production and correct access to raw materials should be a necessary part of our postwar thinking. The United States must continue its policy of support to a free, strong and independent Japan as well as a free, strong and independent China. To such an end reasonable concessions would gladly be made. To the end of

destroying what has been done, to the end of divesting the greatest state in Asia of its sovereign position, to the end of divesting ourselves of legitimate political interests and legitimate economic rights to which we have devoted a century of peaceful development, the United States can never give assent. We need no appeasement in the Pacific, we need clear-headed fortitude. We need no compromising, we need courage and imagination.