No. 582 NAI DFA 27/18

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S.7/11/10) (Secret)

Geneva, 6.30 pm, 21 October 1931

China and Japan

It turned out that Mr. Briand had also invited Poland, Yugoslavia, Panama, Peru, Guatemala, and Norway to meet him at 4.30 p.m. this afternoon. He made a brief statement to us declaring that he was now optimistic that a settlement was in sight. He still awaited, however, the replies from Tokio and Nanking. He had been negotiating on the basis agreed to by the Council at the meeting of 19th instant. The proposal now being considered by Japan was that there should not be reference in the Council resolution of direct negotiations on the fundamental questions but that the President should, in his statement, declare that the two parties had solemnly agreed to negotiate on questions concerning Manchuria. The President thought this would be accepted but Sokal, e.g., privately expressed a contrary view.

On the other side, without setting a time limit for evacuation the Chinese, it was thought, would accept an arrangement that the Council would meet in, say, three weeks to note progress, but in fact to note the completion of the evacuation.

When Mr. Briand had finished Mr. Sokal (Poland) asked the President if he could add to his presidential statement a declaration that the procedure in this case was not to constitute a precedent. It was clear that the territory of a State had been occupied and that the Council had not done all that was possible under article 11 (e.g. it had not directly ordered the evacuation unconditionally). He was supported by Mr. Fotitch.

Mr. Briand seemed willing to find some way of expressing this view. He pointed out that the circumstances could scarcely be paralleled in, say, Europe. The Japanese had definite Treaty rights in the vicinity, rights including the presence of protecting troops.

He went on to say that he thought the League would be able to register a distinct success. War would have been prevented. He pointed out that the Japanese might have taken a far more difficult and serious line; they might with some justification have claimed that there was no single government in China to which they could look for redress or protection and have claimed that their action was a police action as might have been (and had been) taken by international troops not many years ago. They had not taken that attitude and that was to their credit.

You will have noted that the representatives present were those of the non-permanent members. I learned that the Committee of Five had met separately this morning. At first I thought that the American had been included but, calling on Mr. Gilbert immediately afterwards found that he was being given a separate audience. He may have got only the same summary of information as we got.

I had a conversation with Sokal and Fotitch immediately afterwards on the retention of the distinction of two classes of members of the Council. Sokal was very annoyed and said the situation had been aggravated by today's procedure, and remarked that the presence of even one of the others at our section meeting would have made the distinction more acceptable and less of a slight. Both Poland and Yugoslavia were in a special position vis-à-vis M. Briand, however, and would not be able to protest. Sokal said he had endeavoured to persuade the Foreign Minister of Norway to protest by letter but so far without result.

I explained the attitude of the Minister and said that my present instructions were not to do anything on the question which might lead to embarrassment in the negotiations. If a settlement were, however, definitely in sight, and a private meeting held before the public meeting, there was always a possibility that I should receive fresh instructions.

I do not know what you will think of this suggestion. One's phrases would of course have to be carefully framed so that any idea of a personal attack would be obviated. This would be more easily done in a secret session, where no minutes are kept, than by letter. The latter will be a much more formal complaint.

I have, as you know, strongly recommended that some action be taken, not merely in defence of the prestige and rights of the Saorstát as an Assembly elected member, but also in defence of an important and far-reaching principle in the constitution of the Council and the League.

The President this afternoon envisaged a public meeting tomorrow (Thursday) or at latest on Friday. If another session of the Council were convoked next month, he said, he would call it at Paris.

[signed] Seán Lester

P.S. Since writing the above I have reported to you by telephone, and note your instructions that I may take some action, if the circumstances appear propitious, with regard to the 2nd last paragraph above.

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