(JAPANESE POLITICS and SOCIETY, to 1927 – continued)

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JAPANESE POLITICS and SOCIETY, to 1927 (5 of 9)

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Japan's Power Arrangement with the West

The United States was not comfortable with the extension of Japanese power in East Asia in recent years, and it was not comfortable with the military treaty between Japan and Britain dating from 1902, which was soon due for renewal. The US was feeling that it was the odd-nation out in the East. The United States was discomforted too by the naval arms race that had begun with Britain and Japan, and the US government spoke of the need for an international conference to reduce naval expenditures. Britain was in no shape economically to pursue a naval arms race, and it favored such a conference.

The Washington Naval Conference was held during the winter of 1921-22 and attended by all European powers that held territory in the Pacific and Asia – Britain, France, the Netherlands and Portugal. Italy did not wish to be left out and sent a representative. China was represented by the warlord government at Beijing. Japan attended, its government believing that it was in no position economically to effectively compete in a naval arms race with the United States and Britain.

At the conference the United States moved that the sovereignty, independence, territorial and administrative integrity of China be maintained and that China be able to develop its own effective government. The US asked for equal economic opportunity in China. China's delegation agreed that China would not discriminate unfairly against any power concerning trade and economic matters, and it asked for the termination of foreign extra-territorial rights in China. It asked that China be allowed to make its own import-export laws. China asked for the abolition of foreign post offices, pointing out that foreign control of postal services in China deprived China of revenues. The conference agreed that foreign post offices in China would be abolished no later than January 1, 1923. The conference pressured Japan's delegation into agreeing to return to China control over the former German-held territory in Shandong province. But the conference rejected tariff autonomy for China.

At the conference, Japan resisted giving up its 1915 treaty with China. But under pressure from the other delegations it disavowed that portion of its treaty that in effect took sovereignty from the Chinese: military and financial advisors within China's government, the right of Japanese to own what lands it wanted in China, joint Japanese and Chinese control over police, China purchasing arms and supplies only from the Japanese, Japanese railway construction rights in China, and the power of Japan to approve or disapprove China's borrowing capital from abroad.

Japan's delegation also promised that Japan would withdraw its troops from Siberia – an occupation that was costing Japan more money than it was willing to spend and producing little if anything in return. And Japan agreed to withdraw its military forces from Kiachow Bay (on the southern side of the Shandong peninsula) and from elsewhere in northern China. It agreed to share with the United States the right to establish and maintain cable and radio stations and residences on the island of Yap in the Caroline Islands. In return, the US consented to Japan's mandate of the Pacific Islands north of the equator that had been granted Japan at Paris – thousands of islands that Japan could use as coaling, cable and radar stations and as naval bases. And the British and Americans agreed to build no naval bases west of Hawaii or north of Singapore.

Regarding the size of navies, the conference agreed that Japan was to have naval superiority in and around Japan and its territories, including Taiwan. Japan, it was agreed, would have only three big warships for every five for Britain and the United States. It was agreed that no nation would keep aircraft carriers larger than 27,000 tons or that had guns with bores larger than eight-inches. The conference agreed that battleships and cruisers were to have guns with bores no larger than sixteen inches. But an agreement concerning submarines could not be reached.

The report from Washington of Japan having agreed to a smaller navy was greeted back home in Japan with indignation. Japan's Chief of the Naval Board, Commander Kato Kanji, was so upset that he described a war between the United States and Japan as having begun. The unpopularity of the treaty in Japan led to a loss of influence for Japan's Foreign Office, largely responsible for the treaty. Favor in Japan regarding foreign affairs shifted to the military, especially to its younger officers, who were zealous in their desire that Japan pursue its interests in Asia independent of agreements with Western powers.

Britain emerged from the Washington Naval Conference disturbed by Japan's demand concerning naval bases in the Pacific. This had given warning to the British that Japan was a potential enemy. Britain's treaty with Japan would have obliged it to go to war on the side of Japan should war break out between Japan and the United States.  Britain decided not to renew its military treaty with Japan. With this, any constraining influence upon Japan that Britain had would diminish. Britain maintained its long-standing plan to build a first-class naval base at Singapore. And in Japan, those most aggressive in cheering their nation's power viewed Britain, the Netherlands and the US as having increased their potential as enemies.


Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.