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Foreign News: Wings for Tigers

5 minute read

Chinese Minister to the Court of St. James’s is poetic Mr. Quo Taichi. His contribution to the London Naval parleys (TIME, Oct. 29, et seq.) to which he was not invited, is a bland little ideograph meaning “If you give naval equality to Japan you give wings to the tiger.”

Last week the smile on the face of Mr. Quo would not come off. He rejoiced that the U. S. and Britain had decided not to give wings to the tiger. That the tiger was proposing to sprout wings anyhow seemed to Mr. Quo a fact which he could accept with poetic stoicism. No one else in the world received with more perfect aplomb the dread, though long expected announcement of Japan’s Privy Council last week that the Imperial Government denounces the Washington Naval Treaty, thus causing it to expire on Dec. 31, 1936.

The Japanese people, for all the bravado of their present leaders, did not accept prospective rupture of the Treaty and its 5-5-3 ratio with either joy or equanimity last week. For 13 years 5-5-3 has averted a disastrously expensive naval race, and all thinking Japanese know it. Last week the Imperial Government, realizing that millions of the Son of Heaven’s subjects were deeply troubled, sought to reassure them by one of the crudest broadsides ever fired from Rengo, the semi-official news service.

“At every opportunity the Roosevelt Brain Trust has been trying to intimidate Japan by bluff,” boomed Rengo. “We have dealt a severe blow and stupefaction to the American Secretary of the Navy, Swanson. . . . The morale of Japanese sailors is far superior to that of American sailors. . . . Japan is ready to meet any contingencies and is sufficiently prepared for any changes arising from termination of the Washington Treaty. . . . The shipbuilding possibilities of America are far inferior to those of Japan,* and it would not be easy for the United States to rise to the Japanese level.”

Estimating that Japan is now superior to the U. S. in aircraft carriers, Class B cruisers, destroyers and submarines, Rengo piped this further courage-priming whistle: “The American shipbuilding industry is notable for its crude technique, and ship-building is very expensive there. . . . If a race develops the Japanese Navy will be very economical.” It is less than a month since the Japanese Navy saddled the Empire with the most gargantuan defense budget in Japanese peacetime history (TIME, Dec. 3). Undoubtedly with grave misgivings, Emperor Hirohito, the bespectacled Son of Heaven, signed his Privy Council’s awful decision last week as the world’s only other Emperor of consequence was polishing the London Naval parley off into oblivion. The delegates did their own adjourning, but for Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald, for Japanese Ambassador Tsuneo Matsudaira and for U. S. Ambassador Norman Hezekiah Davis the big moments last week were when each was called separately to Buckingham Palace. Each was questioned closely by George V, in his youth an active seadog, today primed with an amazing fund of naval knowledge and a still more amazing vocabulary of naval oaths.

“Intolerable for France.” Just as grey and graceful Ambassador Davis and silver-haired, silver-tongued Prime Minister MacDonald were congratulating themselves that Japan, having denounced the Treaty, must certainly bear all blame for disrupting the London parley, Japanese diplomacy abruptly whipped out a two of spades.

For months Japan has been trying to get France to join her in denouncing the Treaty. Up to the very last, new French Premier Pierre Etienne Flandin kept Washington and London under the impression that he would make no gesture to ease Tokyo’s odium. Then in Paris up jumped fiery Naval Minister Francois Pietri last week. “The Washington Treaty is intolerable for France!” he told the Naval and Foreign Affairs Committees of the French Chamber. “We, the Cabinet, are agreed soon to declare publicly that France considers the Treaty as ended in 1936, but of course France is always ready for limitation of armaments.”

This to the Anglo-U. S. diplomats in London seemed a dirty trick. To the French it appealed: i) as prudent propaganda useful in promoting sales to Japan; 2) as a brisk reminder that in 1914 the naval ratio of the Great Powers was: Great Britain 5; France 2.2; the U. S. 2.2; Japan 1.3; and Italy .91.

In the new game of naval ratios which must sooner or later be played, France and Italy may be expected to make bids quite as brash as Japan’s. Last week an unsigned, informal but genteel agreement was believed to exist between Prime Minister MacDonald and President Roosevelt that neither the U. S. nor Great Britain will start any naval race against the other.

In Washington Secretary Frederick J. Libby of the National Council for Prevention of War broadcast this dire prediction: “We shall build naval vessels and airplanes madly on a fictitious war scare which the munitions makers are trumping up. . . . Our shipbuilders, airplane manufacturers and munitions makers are already launching their publicity to reap a rich harvest from the breakdown of the London Naval conversations.”

Day before in Chicago alert President Lucius B. Manning of Aviation Corp. (which owns American Airlines) boomed: “I have just returned from Russia, Germany, France, Italy and England. . . . They are in a frantic race to build airplanes and I propose that the United States start at once to build at least 9,000. . . . We are a long ways behind in military aviation. . . . Unless this country wakes up we will be helplessly behind and dangerously vulnerable!”

*Only Japanese shipbuilders have thus far produced a torpedo boat which turned turtle due to faulty design, with a loss of no lives (TIME, March 19).

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