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JAPAN: Piping Palmerston

4 minute read

What determined little Japanese Foreign Minister Koki Hirota smokes is no peace pipe. Although His Excellency is a civilian, Japan’s wary militarists have come little by little to the conclusion that here at last is a Japanese diplomat of their own stuff. They freely declared to foreign correspondents in Tokyo last week their “regret” that the death of King George must have largely crowded out of the world press the “historic” address delivered last week to the Japanese Diet by suave but hard Mr. Hirota.

His Excellency laid down for the Imperial Government a three-point program which he declared must “constitute the common cause of all nations in East Asia.” This common cause, to which Mr. Hirota pledged the forces of Japan, is to be achieved by:

1) “Suppression of communist activities in our part of the globe . . . for the stabilization of East Asia and of the world.”

2) Early diplomatic recognition by China of Manchukuo whose “unchallenged independence and healthy growth now actually constitute an indispensable postulate for the stability of East Asia.”

3) “Basic readjustment of Chino-Japanese relations whereby we aim to bring about the cessation by China of all unfriendly acts and measures and her active and effective collaboration with Japan.”

Japanese Deputies sat up and beamed as Mr. Hirota went on to make what is, if accurate, a most important disclosure. “The Chinese Government,” he announced, “not only has indicated its concurrence with all our views but proposed recently to open negotiations on Chino-Japanese rapprochement along the lines stated above.” His Excellency also announced that if China should now sign on the dotted line Japan would “extend to her our moral and material support for her advancement.” Added he: “We sincerely hope to smooth the progress of the newly established Commonwealth of the Philip-pines.” In the largest World sphere, Mr. Hirota also announced Japan’s desire to be helpful. After recalling that the Orientals of his country have built themselves up into a great power by borrowing from the Occident, His Excellency made this loud and ringing declaration: “Now it is time for us, I believe, to try to introduce our arts and culture to other lands and thus contribute toward international good understanding, to the enrichment of world civilization, and to the promotion of the peace and happiness of mankind!” This is the 1936 keynote in the symphony of East Asia politics which Japan is trying to conduct. She sees herself as a newborn Britain of the 20th Century, so righteous and so strong that she can afford to be magnanimous in bearing the yellow man’s burden. When Mr. Hirota in his speech last week replied to the State of the Union speech in which President Roosevelt clearly meant to excoriate Japan (TIME, Jan. 13), the words were Japanese but the tone was strongly reminiscent of such Victorian statesmen as Lord Palmerston. “It is to be regretted,” said the Foreign Minister of Imperial Japan, “that there are abroad statesmen of repute who seem determined to impose upon others their private convictions as to how the world should be ordered, and who are apt to denounce those who oppose their dictates as if they were disturbers of the peace. No one is qualified to talk world peace unless he not only knows the national aspirations and obligations of his country but also understands and appreciates the standpoints of other countries. . . .”

After this great inspirational speech Japan’s Parliament was dissolved by Imperial Order and a general election set for Feb. 20. The Home Ministry, commonly said in Japan to “make the election,” estimated cheerily that the two great civilian parties, the Seiyukai and the Minseito, will each win approximately the same number of seats, and that the balance of power will be held by the militarists’ small and comparatively new Showakai Party. Although not exactly translatable, Showakai is a Japanese word strongly implying that it is the Party’s divinely appointed duty to usher in a New Era. With his eye on the New Era, Vice Admiral Kenkichi Takahashi, Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Combined Fleets, said last week: “It is likely that Japan’s economic advance in Manchukuo soon will reach its limits, and, therefore, the Empire’s future commercial expansion must be directed to Southern Seas, with Formosa or the mandated islands of the Equatorial Pacific as bases. In such event, the cruising radius of the Japanese Navy must quickly be expanded so as to reach New Guinea, Borneo and the Celebes.”

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