No. 607 NAI DFA 27/18

Extracts from a letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Paris, 24 November 1931

At the meeting of the Committee of Twelve this morning the President reported that he had seen China and their attitude was that they could not support the proposal of a commission unless hostilities ceased and the troops returned to the railway zone. Mr. Sze said, however, that he would consult his Government. (Mr. Wellington Koo is now the Foreign Minister there and is very well acquainted with the Covenant and the League organisation.) In the circumstances the President did not see any object in discussing the matter with the Japanese.

The Secretary-General reported that he had seen a member of the Japanese Delegation and had given him the text and explained to him that it was not to be taken as a Council text, and that the various members of the Council retained full freedom.

[matter omitted]

Pending the receipt of instructions from China the Council can do nothing for the moment.

In the course of the discussions I thought it well to report to the Council that Mr. Ito of the Japanese Delegation had called on me this morning and in the course of conversation he had drawn my attention to the fact that at the last public meeting the Japanese representative had not again insisted on having direct negotiations with China on the fundamental questions begun before evacuation. I said that he seemed to attach a certain significance to that, but I recalled that the words security etc. had been mentioned and that security had been previously interpreted by the Japanese to cover these direct negotiations. Colban and two other people subsequently mentioned to me that they had been very much interested in the information I had given, but Lord Cecil told me he did not attach very much significance to it.

When Mr. Ito called on me he asked me if I would give him an idea of Council feeling with regard to the whole question. I said I would very gladly do so, and that as always he might expect from me complete frankness. I told him that, as he knew, the Irish were always strongly attached to his people as far as we met at the League and elsewhere, and that we recognised and sympathised very much with Japan in the position she found herself vis à vis the chaotic state of China. We recognised her preoccupation about her nationals and about her financial and economic interests which she had in Manchuria. At the same time I said that he would understand that the action of their soldiers had put us, as well as other members of the Council, in the quandary of supporting the Covenant and the League or supporting Japan. He knew the importance that smaller countries especially attached to the Geneva organisation. I did not go much further than that, and it might be regarded as a personal explanation of our vote on the 24th October. I then said that, with regard to the atmosphere in the Committee of Twelve, he might take it that there was a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty and that that was in spite of the advance made by Japan with regard to the sending of a commission. I said I was sure he would have been informed that the draft resolution which had been probably shown to him was not taken as a Council proposal; that it had been most specifically declared at the meeting that it was an attempt to put into a suitable form the Japanese proposal; but at the meeting on the previous day many members of the Council had specifically retained their right to propose amendments. Mr. Ito told me all about their difficulties with regard to communicating with Tokio and said that if they were able to telephone it would make a great difference, but that both in Tokio and in Paris written instructions had to be interpreted in the most precise and literal way and that that often led to difficulties. I had to leave at this point for the Council meeting, but assured Mr. Ito that I would always be glad to see him and that he could always count upon complete and friendly frankness.

After a luncheon to-day at the Quai d'Orsay I was speaking to Mr. Sugimura, the Japanese Assistant Under Secretary-General. He told me he had been having a very bad time and one of his remarks was that it would take Japan ten years to recover again the moral position they had had in the world.

A little later I was speaking to the Chinese and Norwegian representatives, and M. Massigli said he understood that for many reasons, including climatic, the Japanese were likely to retire from Tsitsihar. They would no doubt make a virtue of the necessity. Yoshizawa then came up and read to Sze a telegram he had just received which announced that the Japanese troops were preparing to take ...1 This, he pointed out, could not be so: troop movements were due to a round-up of bandits in the vicinity, and he smilingly pointed out that the Japanese could not attack the town in question as there were twenty thousand Chinese troops there, with another hundred thousand behind them. Dr. Sze listened with imperturbability, and made no reply.

I shall not yet attempt to sum up the situation. There is no doubt that the presence of a League Commission in Manchuria may prevent a Japanese Protectorate being declared there. It means that in spite of the earlier opposition the League has been definitely admitted as a third party. The Commission may also lead to easement between the two parties (if it is accepted), but I have little hope at present of an evacuation. Some of the great Powers are not prepared to use Article 11 to its fullest extent. The Americans remain reserved to some extent, and keep full liberty of action. This of course is the policy they declared when they first came to the Council, and I personally am inclined to think it would be quite possible they would follow France and Britain if there were a strong common policy.

Zaleski, the Polish Foreign Minister, to-day said to me that he thought the Americans had made an arrangement with Japan, but I doubt this very much. American difficulty probably comes from the fact that they have no established foreign policy and find it difficult to formulate one in view of the Senate control of their foreign affairs.

[signed] Seán Lester

1 At this point Lester has written in the margin: 'I have not my papers here and forget this name. There was a Chinese note on the subject circulated Sunday night, I think'.

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