Hirota ends pro-Western stance
Serving as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister for many years, Koki Hirota was the diplomatic navigator during the tempestuous period that led to the Sino-Japanese War. Were there mistakes in Hirota’s diplomacy?
Hirota became Foreign Minister, replacing Yasuya Uchida, in September 1933 after the Tanggu Truce agreement was established. Mamoru Shigemitsu was Administrative Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Shigenori Togo was chief of the European and American Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Ministry. In a spirit of international cooperation Hirota tried to improve the Sino-Japanese relationship. However, a statement issued by chief of the Information Analysis Department of the Foreign Ministry Eiji Amo in April 1934 became a political issue. The statement asserted: “It is natural for Japan to act independently to maintain peace and order in East Asia. If China boycotts Japan, taking advantage of other countries, and takes steps against peace in East Asia, Japan will have to reject this.” This was an “Asian Monroe Doctrine,” so to speak, and other countries regarded it as a change from Kijuro Shidehara’s pro Anglo-American diplomacy, which had been based on international cooperation.
In January 1935, Hirota spoke at a plenary session of the House of Representatives and declared that no war would happen while he was in his post. In May, he upgraded the Japanese mission in China from ministerial to ambassadorial status.
In September, he was approached by Britain in regard to Japan’s cooperation in monetary reform in China—the abandonment of the silver standard. Hirota was not enthusiastic about it and the possibility of Japanese-British-Chinese cooperation disappeared. In the same year, Japan’s military authorities, who were widening the scope of operations in northern China, opposed a British role in monetary reform.
In October, Hirota announced his “three principles”: the de facto recognition of Manchukuo, the suppression of anti-Japanese activities in China and a Sino-Japanese front against communism. However, the proclamation failed to improve the bilateral relationship.
Was there anything in common between Hirota and Shidehara whose diplomacy was based on cooperation with Britain and the United States? According to Shinichi Kitaoka, an expert on the history of Japan’s modern politics and diplomacy, Hirota’s “cooperative diplomacy” was lacking in substance and he often refused the involvement of European countries and the United States. Concerning their similarities, Shidehara reportedly said it was “an accidental resemblance.”