Tokyo 'in 1931 poison plot'

IN 1931, the Japanese army tried to poison a League of Nations delegation led by a British politician sent to investigate Japan's invasion of China, according to the youngest brother of the late Emperor Hirohito.

In an interview in yesterday's Yomiuri newspaper, Prince Mikasa said that the five-member delegation, headed by the Earl of Lytton, was served fruit laced with cholera germs in an attempt to frustrate their fact-finding mission.

Cholera somehow failed to infect the delegation, which completed a six-month investigation that denounced Japan as the aggressor in China. This led to Japan withdrawing from the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. After that, Tokyo fell increasingly under militarist rule, advancing through China and South-east Asia and finally attacking the US at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Prince Mikasa, 78, claimed that he had been told the story of the attempted poisoning by a military doctor serving in Manchuria in north-east China at the time.

A graduate of Japan's Military Staff College, the Prince spent a year in China during the war, and expressed his horror at the use of Chinese prisoners for bayonet practice to harden Japanese army recruits.

The Lytton Commission was sent to Manchuria in December 1931 by the League of Nations after Japanese troops had seized Manchuria in September of that year. The excuse for the invasion was an alleged bombing by Chinese soldiers of a Japanese-run railway at Liutiaogou in Manchuria, although this was widely regarded as a set-up by the Japanese army. This so-called 'Manchurian Incident' led to the setting up of the state of Manchukuo under Japanese control.

The Lytton Commission concluded that the Manchurian Incident was bogus, that the state of Manchukuo was a puppet of Japan, and that Japan had engaged in unjustified aggression. When the League of Nations endorsed the Commission's report in February 1933, Japan withdrew from the world body.