Two weeks ago war between Japan and the Soviet was regarded as inevitable in the near future and likely to occur in 1935; but since that time a profound and far-reaching change has supposedly taken place in Japanese foreign policy. The outward sign of this is the retirement of General Araki as Minister of War and his replacement by a man, who, in all likelihood, will confine himself to the army and make no attempt to interfere in purely political problems. Japan from now on, according to Premier Saito and Foreign Minister Hirota, will pursue a pacific foreign policy and, while her relations with Russia leave something to be desired, the talk of war with that country has no real basis in fact, and relations will soon be improved; in line with this policy a rigid censorship will be imposed upon the Japanese press and all chauvinistic articles will be deleted.
All this, I think, has a somewhat dubious sound, analagous to the Japanese protestations during the bombardment of Shanghai that they were not really trying to coerce China, and their ridiculous claim that Manchukuo was not formed by Japan at all but was merely rebeling spontaneously against the Chinese. Japanese foreign policy during the last few decades has, in fact, been characterized by a species of dissembling which makes up in brazenness what it lacks in cleverness. Consequently, I think that the announcement of Hirota that military participation in Japanese diplomacy has come to an end should be taken with several large and hefty grains of salt.
What has actually happened is that the Japanese have been alarmed at the antagonistic attitude which the rest of the world has taken toward them as a result of their high-handed actions in the Far East; they have perceived all too clearly that in the event of a war with the Soviet they would have to bear the moral condemnation of the other powers and of world opinion. This is a thing which they are most anxious to avoid both in order to justify themselves to their own people and to obtain the tacit support of the powers in order to accure foreign loans. So far their policy has brought about a condition which is almost exactly the opposite of that which they want. The obvious solution was to change this policy or rather to appear to change it; actually, their aims would remain just as they always have been, while the superficial metamorphosis would alleviate world opinion.
When General Araki fell seriously ill they were offered a fine opportunity for accomplishing just this without stopping on the tees of the military; Araki, being unable to fill his job, would announce that he was through and would be replaced by some less bellicose man. At the same time Japan would make peaceful overtures to the two countries whose friendship she would most desire in the event of a Russo-Japanese conflict, Britain and the United States. The attempt to placate England took the form of agreeing to limit her exports of cotton goods to India and making concessions in order to secure the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese treaty. Yesterday the United States was tackled, when the Japanese offered to discuss the naval ratios which may be revised when the Treaty of Washington expires in 1935; this, of course, gives her a quid pro quo, for in return for a free hand in the Far East, Japan can offer to waive demand for naval parity.
All this is, of course, merely the first step in a new diplomatic policy which will aim to counteract the friendliness for the Soviet which has sprung up recently. It will probably not be eventually successful because the essential Japanese demand which cannot be disguised--a free hand in the Far East--is not acceptable to the powers. It may, however, have the effect of postponing the Russo-Japanese war which is now accepted as inevitable, while the Japanese try to change the international balance which is now so heavily weighted against them. NEMO.