One of the difficulties in the way of understanding Japan's case is that her Government uses language so naive that its declarations are an irresistible butt for caricaturists.
Thus the Nanking Government is accused of " provocative conduct " when it takes the most elementary steps to defend the nation's territory against invasion. And every action by Japanese troops or aeroplanes is accompanied by an assurance that the desire of Japan is to he friends with China. It is difficult to take any argument seriously after that.
The profession of friendship, however, is of long standing. Moreover it is perfectly true that Japan has for a good many years desired a friendly arrangement with China, it being understood that the arrangement would serve certain Japanese ends. Perhaps the kind of friendliness contemplated would hardly satisfy the classical definition of friendship as mutual affection based upon love of the same things; it would be regarded as sufficient if it dispensed Japan from the necessity of engaging in a first class war.
The objects for which Japan has sought this friendship have grown to match what she has achieved while waiting for it. There was a time when she thought chiefly in terms of Manchuria and her war-spoils on the Shantung peninsula. When the assimilation of Manchuria and Jehol brought her up to the Great Wall her vision was enlarged to take in the possibilities that lay immediately to the south of it.
First in importance to the mind of the military section of her rulers -came ,tine strategical value of the ferrie4sras a corridor from east to west insulatins, China from Soviet Russia at the satisal,tin*.. fast it outflanked the latter. Japan already had such a corridor at het disposal in the Provinces north of the Wall but it would have been a costly matter to build a railway and maintain troops in those comparatively barren and thinly populated areas. A railway across crowded Hopei and Shansi could be built by cheap Chinese labour and paid for by Chinese passengers and serve its strategical purposes at the same time.
A whole vista of opportunities would be created thus for Japan's financiers and industrialists also. There would he the general advantages of " opening up " a " backward " but thickly populated region. There are also a number of specially cherished schemes—for a huge electric power station to supply power to the area, for an air service to traverse it, for a new harbour to drain it of goods, and so on.
To all such proposals Nanking in the end invariably gave a refusal. It did not dare, even if it had wished, to buy industrial prosperity for entirely Chinese Provinces by surrendering the control of them at every vital point to a foreign power. Among the members of the Government were men well read in modern history and they knew the sequel to that tutelage. Moreover Japan, with her technique of puppet " autonomous " Governments, had already shown them in Manchuria and East Hopei what was in store.
There was one string more to Japan's offer of friendship, namely her claim to the moral leadership of Eastern Asia. To a China reduced at one period almost to anarchy by the collapse of the last Imperial dynasty, the feuds of the Republican factions and her traditional particularism, Japan offered military protection against foreign imperialists eager to take advantage of her helplessness and the authority of a strongly established Government in restoring internal order and subduing the Communists. There was only one drawback to their offer in Chinese eyes but it was enough. To them the Japanese were the arch-foreign imperialists and their authority the very last to which any self-respecting Chinese would submit.
Perhaps that was had taste on their part, but tastes count for much when friendships are concerned. So Japan resorts to arms.