chapter  12
16 Pages

THE MATSUOKA PERIOD, 1940-1

After his return to power in July 1940, Konoe was a changed man. He had lent his name to the founding of the Imperial Rale Preservation Association (Taisei Yokusankai) which was ultimately set up in October. This was intended to ensure that political parties would all be merged into one with a view to the eventual creation of a unified national structure. Loyal to the imperial institution, Konoe managed to work with the army; but how far this was to check the extremists within the army is still a matter of debate among Japanese scholars. The Elder Statesman, Saionji, ailing and shortly to depart from the distressing scene, looked on Konoe with sympathetic distaste, saying: he is skilful at formulating doctrines but less so with actual policies; it would be better if he were more decisive. CD

It was perhaps no coincidence that the flexible Konoe should in this personal dilemma resort to the appointment of Matsuoka Y5suke (1880-1946) as foreign minister. (2) The two had known each other since 1919 at Paris where, as younger members of the delegation, they had found themselves distrustful of Anglo-American imperialism. Matsuoka had then left the diplomatic service where he had served from 1904 until 1921. He then joined the south Manchurian railway, rising to vice-president C1927-9). C3) Becoming a politician, he came to the fore in 1932-3 as Japan's chief representative at the League of Nations at the tail-end of the Manchurian crisis. Coming back as something of a national hero, he resigned his Diet seat and identified himself with the political party liquidation movement, the moves towards the axis and greater involvement in China. He thereafter became president of the south Manchurian railway (1935-9). By 1940 he

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was a man of known reputation. When it was mooted abroad that Premier Konoe was thinking of appointing him as foreign minister, his chauvinism told against him; and the proposal was opposed by Kido as Lord Privy Seal and Konoe1s entourage. Even the emperor urged the premier to have second thoughts. But Konoe was stubborn. He evidently liked Matsuoka as a man and admired his directness, impulsiveness and unwillingness to sit on the fence. Underlying all this may have been Konoe1s hope that Matsuokafs friends in the army would help him control the activities of the military. Matsuoka, possessing 'the Manchurian mind', might help in ending the China war. (4)

Konoe reaped the whirlwind. Matsuoka proved to be of unstable personality and made many irrational Judgments in the foreign field. Although he was probably more dynamic and strong-willed than any of his predecessors for twenty-five years, he was selfcentred and determined to become the dominant figure in the Cabinet. He was therefore unwilling to brook interference by his colleagues. Though Konoe may have had a sneaking regard for Matsuoka's selfconfident judgments, he came to be embarrassed by his foreign minister's other qualities. It was no longer a question of using him to stop the impulsive military but of stopping the impulsive Matsuoka himself. (5)

Even before the formation of his Cabinet on 22 July, Konoe had private discussions with his major ministers about the nature of the policies required to meet the national emergency. The Outline of a Basic National Policy which was drawn up was announced as an historic turning-point. It dwelt on the need to escape from Japan's dependence on foreign countries and devoted more attention than in previous policy statements to the southern problem. The new phrase, the Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, was now coined by Matsuoka and used to include French Indochina and the Dutch Indies where Japan would have to avoid alienating Washington. Japan was clearly set on controlling south-east Asia in a way which might not appeal to the Germans. But Matsuoka belonged to those who favoured a German alliance and now was his opportunity.