The US-Japan War Talks as seen in official documents
Transition of US-Japan Relations
Records of US-Japan War Talks
Photo Library
The Sino-Japanese War began on July 7, 1937 in the municipality of Beijing with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Resistance from the Chinese was strong in the ensuing war. Prime Minister Konoe announced that his government would no longer negotiate with the Chinese Nationalist government. These developments led to a drawn out campaign, further exacerbating the state of Japan-U.S. relations.

Soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Navy celebrating by doing banzai at Marco Polo Bridge. (Provided by Mainichi Newspaper)

Pudong, Shanghai destroyed by fire during the Sino-Japanese War (Provided by Mainichi Newspaper)

US attitude towards the Panay Incident
(Reference Code: A03023960100)
On December 12, 1937, Japanese naval aircraft attacked and sank the US Navy gunboat Panay that was anchored in the Chinese Yangtze River. Public opinion in the United States turned sharply against Japan and there were even hard-line voices inside the American government that suggested it was "possible to use a variety of methods to place financial and economic pressure on Japan within limits that would not lead to war." On July 26 1939, as the Japanese military continued to attack American citizens and encroach on American interests in China, the United States gave notice that they would abrogate the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan. The Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs at this time was Kichisaburo Nomura, the man who would later be involved with Japan-US negotiations as ambassador to the United States.

On September 1, 1939, World War II began as the German military invaded Poland. Following the Great Depression, economic blocks were formed around the world and Japanese trade activity was excluded from European colonies.
Under these conditions, Japan declared its withdrawal from the London Naval Treaty in January 1936 and in December, the Washington Convention expired, leading Japan and the United States into an arms race (collapse of the Washington Treaty System). Furthermore, on January 26 1940, the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and the United States expired and Japan-US relations entered the "Non-treaty Era."
In Europe, Hitler ordered attacks on the Western Front to commence on May 1 1940, and the German army took control of the Netherlands through means of the blitzkrieg. On May 14, the Germans broke through the French line of defenses, known as the Maginot Line, and cornered the British and French Allied Forces in Dunkerque, located near the French-Belgian border on the Atlantic coast. On June 4, the British and French Allied Forces withdrew from Dunkerque losing a military foothold on the continent. On June 14, German forces were eventually able to take Paris. On September 7, the German military began the Blitz on the United Kingdom.
With the rapidly changing state of global affairs and an increasing military presence in Japanese politics following the February 26 Incident in 1936, the second Konoe Cabinet was inaugurated on July 22, 1940. The cabinet carried the weight of expectations of the nation, and Yosuke Matsuoka assumed office as Minister of Foreign Minister, along with Hideki Tojo as Minister of War, and Zengo Yoshida as Minister of the Navy. On the same day, "The Outline for Handling Current Affairs with a Shift in the World Situation" was approved at the Imperial General Headquarters and Government Liaison Conference. On July 26, "The Outline of Basic National Policies" (The Greater East Asia New Order, National Defense and National Construction) was approved by cabinet and national policy changed to a stance of presupposing war with the United States.
Based on this policy, Japan invaded the French Indochina Peninsula on September 22, and subsequently concluded the Tripartite Pact on September 27. At an Imperial conference, Foreign Minister Matsuoka, who supported the pact, explained that the alliance was concluded “to avoid further aggression,” and to fight against the United States with a “decisive attitude.” In a speech on October 12, US President Roosevelt referred to the Tripartite Pact, stating that the United States would "never yield to threats or intimidation," and Japan-US relations further deteriorated.

Tripartite Pact signing ceremony (Provided by Mainichi Newspaper)

Japanese Army entering French Indochina Peninsula
(Provided by Mainichi Newspaper)

Letter from Foreign Affairs Minister Yosuke Matsuoka to Prime Minister Konoe,
Reference code: A03023521400,
Title: Kichisaburo Nomura,
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and Navy General (fourth picture)
Soon after becoming Foreign Minister in July, Matsuoka conducted large-scale personnel changes referred to as the "Matsuoka Personnel Reshuffle." Matsuoka dismissed people engaged in diplomacy and in their place appointed people from the military, such as replacing Shigenori Togo with Yoshitsugu Tatekawa as ambassador to the Soviet Union and replacing Saburo Kurusu with Hiroshi Oshima as ambassador to Germany. As part of the "Matsuoka Personnel Reshuffle," Minister Matsuoka ordered the ambassador to the United States, Kensuke Horiuch, to return to Japan, and replaced him with Kichisaburo Nomura from the navy. Nomura firmly declined the position for three months, but persuasive measures taken by Minister Matsuoka and those involved with the navy resulted in Nomura accepting the position as ambassador to the United States.
Around this time, Bishop James Walsh and Father James Drought visited Japan from the United States. These two men were deeply involved in the "Japan-US draft agreement ” that would be taken up at a conference between Ambassador Nomura and US Secretary of the State Hull on April 16, 1941. Walsh and Drought met with political and military leaders including Foreign Minister Matsuoka, and attempted negotiations aimed at improving Japan-US relations, which had been in deadlock since the conclusion of the Tripartite Pact. Japan-U.S. relations approached a new stage when Ambassador Nomura took up his post in the United States in February of the following year.
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