China on the Offensive
How the Ukraine War Has Changed Beijing’s Strategy
IN ITS simplest terms, the question of the Far East, from the viewpoint of the United States, is one of relations with Japan. It is, however, a misleading assumption--although one all too frequently made--that the relationships between the United States and Japan are determined by any of the questions directly at issue between them. Such questions of direct controversy as now exist, or have existed during the past quarter of a century, are of minor importance--not negligible, indeed, because of their power for evil in the irritation of feeling between the two countries, but certainly not vital or fundamental to the interests of either party to the controversy.
The real issues which have from time to time troubled the relations of the two countries lie deeper than the questions of Japanese immigration into the United States and the status of those Japanese who are lawfully resident here; they arise out of Japan's position and attitude towards the mainland of Asia, and more particularly towards the potential wealth and manpower of China. Japanese statesmen have for centuries dreamed dreams of Japanese domination on the continent. The recent industrialization of Japan has made it a condition of their life as a self-supporting people that they should have access to the near-by sources of raw materials for the maintenance of their newly developed economic system; Japan's growth into an enviable political position as a great power has attracted the rivalry of other nations, and compelled her in defense of her interests to vindicate against China, Russia and Germany in turn her claim to an uncontested position in her own orbit in the Far East. It is not a matter for wonder that many Japanese--especially under the temptation offered by the World War, during which the Far East was ignored by the powers which had theretofore constituted a balance of forces to restrain particularistic action on the part of any one nation or group--fell into the error of seeking to develop that defensive policy into one of positive and aggressive imperialism at the cost of their weaker neighbors on the continent. To those so inspired it was only natural to aspire further to a hegemony of Eastern Asia, which would make it possible for Japan not only to mould the destinies of the Far East but to exercise such power as would make her will supreme in the basin of the Pacific. And it was no less natural that those who conceived this grandiose dream, and who in fact made certain tentative steps towards its realization during the abnormal situation created by the war, should have been not only intolerant towards the rights and interests of other peoples, but jealously sensitive and suspicious towards the policies and activities of other nations, notably of the United States, which might in any way stand athwart the road of imperial destiny.
There was, as has been intimated above, a time, roughly coincident with the four years of the war, when those who cherished this dream of Asiatic hegemony were in a position to influence (not always, but very often, decisively) not only the course of Japanese international action, but the current of Japanese popular opinion. And when the war ended with the unbelievable issue of victory for the Allies, instead of a stalemate after years of mutually exhaustive war among the nations of the west--when victory had been assured obviously through the turning of the scale by the intervention of America, whose military potentialities had always been despised and discounted by the imperialistic elements in Japanese politics--when Germany, the object of their respect and emulation, had been defeated and humiliated and her militant imperialism had been thus discredited--the reaction was to make the militarist elements in Japan still more jealous of their imperial dreams. These elements became eager to shore up their weakened prestige among their own people by creating the belief that their designs were in fact merely defensive and necessary for the protection of Japan's legitimate political and economic position against the dangerous pretensions of the United States. So docile is the untutored opinion of the Japanese masses, and so responsive to any appeal to their national and racial loyalty, that within six months after the armistice there had been created in Japan a feeling of such suspicion and bitterness towards the United States as would doubtless have supported any action which the controlling military influences might have proclaimed as necessary. Sober-minded Japanese opinion was perturbed by the consciousness that a state of feeling existed in which anything was possible; but perhaps because of the conviction inherent in the Japanese of all classes that the Chinese are a degenerate and helpless people who for their own good stand in need of Japan's guidance, there was singularly little appreciation of the causes which had led up to this situation. Those who interested themselves in maintaining good relations with the United States redoubled their efforts to reach a solution of the question of "racial equality" (as it was at the time customary to designate the group of questions connected with the immigration and the status of Japanese in our Pacific Coast states) and to arrange for interchanges of visits by prominent men who might directly or indirectly convey to the American people a conviction of Japan's friendly disposition towards us. But this preoccupation with the incidental and unessential phases of American-Japanese relationships was not only ineffectual in that it incurred in the minds of our people the odium of propaganda; it diverted some of the more friendly groups of Japanese thought from the exercise of any real effort to meet the actual issue and to influence their own government to adopt in China a course of political action less aggressive and less antagonistic to American sentiment. There was thus a minimum of restraining influence upon the dangerous policy of the imperialists who, while not wishing to precipitate what they realized must be a ruinous war with the United States, nevertheless found it advantageous to keep Japanese public opinion heated to a degree just short of the explosion point.
It is easy for us Americans--who not only accept the growth of our continental possessions as a natural and amoral phenomenon of history, but who have forgotten how we came to annex our Samoan and Hawaiian islands, who think of our acquisition of the Philippines as a benevolent assumption of responsibilities to a politically helpless people, and who pride ourselves upon the disinterestedness of our action in Cuba as a unique example in practical international politics--it is easy for us to regard the general feeling of the Japanese people towards us as unwarranted and fantastic, or to misinterpret that feeling as insincere or unreal. Fantastic it may have been; but it is none the less true that in the average Japanese mind there was a real feeling of suspicion and anxiety lest the United States should be preparing to force an issue with Japan for the purpose of establishing mastery in the Western Pacific. It was this apprehension that gave currency in Japan to the idea summed up in the catch-word, "a Monroe Doctrine for the Far East," despite the confusion of thought involved in applying the name of a policy intended solely for protection against political encroachment upon the Western Hemisphere, to a set of circumstances involving not only protection from outside encroachment but a positive claim to dominance and exclusive control over the political, military and economic development of Eastern Asia.
There had in the meanwhile grown up in the United States a corresponding feeling of distrust and uneasiness in regard to Japan. For several reasons this apprehension was less keen than the Japanese anxiety in regard to us. Japan's insular and dependent position compels her to consider foreign relations with an earnestness such as we dwellers in a bountiful land can attain only in times of international crisis; and whereas the Japanese are conscious that war with us would mean life or death to them, we at least believe that such a war would be at the worst a painful incident for us. As a result every thinking Japanese ponders on the relations of his country with the United States many times for every time that a thought of Japan enters the mind of the average American citizen. And this is true despite the strong feeling against the Japanese in our Pacific Coast states and despite the recurring agitation against them in certain sections of our press. But apart from the local feeling of the Coast, and apart from the influence of anti-Japanese press agitations, both sincere and insincere, it is the fact that the ordinary citizen of our country has for half a generation been coming to regard Japan with a deepening distrust. The generality of American citizens, who do not take seriously to heart the problems of our international relationships and who pretend to no knowledge of what has passed or is passing on the farther shores of the Pacific, have nevertheless become inclined to consider the Japanese "a tricky lot." They would a little rather have us hold aloof from such a people and usually think the Californians rather inconsiderate to insist upon bringing us into controversy with them about what is generally regarded as a mere matter of racial prejudice. They have a somewhat indefinite persuasion that Japan has not dealt fairly with the Chinese, who, it is almost invariably commented, are a much more honest people than the Japanese. And the citizen who finds occasion to gather together his views on the matter is nearly sure to end with a word of wonder as to what those "inscrutable people," the Japanese, are really up to.
From such a welter of half-truths and unformed views it would be impossible to infer any definite convictions of the public mind of our country--such convictions as in France dictate a policy of security against Germany, or as in England determine a policy adjusted to the balance of power in Europe. But it is clearly and unmistakably to be inferred that American opinion has reacted unfavorably to Japan since the close of the Russo-Japanese War, and has become so far sensitive to Far Eastern conditions that its harbors a latent feeling of antagonism to the course of international action with which it understands Japan to be identified.
To understand the development of this unfavorable trend of American sentiment towards Japan, one must recall the almost universal eagerness of this country's unofficial partisanship for the Japanese cause in the war of 1904-5 with Russia. That enthusiasm was natural enough. We were already out of conceit with Russia, for reasons that culminated, in 1911, in our petulant denunciation of our old Treaty of Commercial Relations. Japan, on the other hand, we conceived to be our protégé. It was our Commodore Perry, we recalled, who had opened Japan to the world; and Japan had defied the Russian giant in championship of that very doctrine of the open door which our Secretary of State (then still in office) had conceived, as we generally understood it, only a few years before (1899). In Japan's behalf, moreover, we combined with the complacent sense of patronage of the weak the gratifying experience of backing the successful side. Then, too, these spontaneous human reactions were stimulated by a press campaign of considerable adroitness. In the generosity of our somewhat detached enthusiasm (for we did regard the war rather as a sporting event than as an introductory chapter in a history of our own modern relations with the East,) we were glad to believe all things. We believed not only the unquestionable loyalty and discipline of the Japanese people, the minute and careful pertinacity of their leaders, and the heroism of the rank and file, but myths of altogether incredible skill and efficiency, of foresight and wisdom wholly superhuman. Such was our mood up to the conclusion of the Peace of Portsmouth, the climax of our partisanship, when the good offices of President Roosevelt caused the seal to be set upon the triumph of the right.
But while we so construed it, the people of Japan (wrongly, no doubt, but very earnestly and resentfully,) considered that our interposition had deprived them of a fair portion of the anticipated fruits of victory; and from then on we come to realize that the Japanese thanked us not at all for our platonic zeal in their behalf, that they did not regard themselves as our protégés and that their championship of our principle of the open door had not been construed by them as a trust from which they themselves could not honorably profit. We were perhaps surprisingly indifferent to the fact that the results of the war had caused Korea to gravitate towards Japan so as to lead inevitably to the annexation which took place five years later. But it was the thoroughness with which Japan consolidated the sphere of influence which she had inherited from Russia, in South Manchuria, which brought to Americans a doubt whether they had not given their suffrage to a new tyrant in the place of the old. With care and thoroughness the paternalistic Japanese Government saw to the organization of the South Manchuria Railway and to the administration of Port Arthur and Dairen, in the former Russian Leased Territory of Kwantung. The railway and its appurtenant "zone" were so administered as to constitute a Japanese province within the Chinese Empire, perpetuating in this respect what the Russians had done in impairment of Chinese territorial and administrative integrity; and the unified Japanese control of railway, port facilities, postal and telegraphic arrangements, and other accessories to trade and industry in South Manchuria, gave to Japanese commercial enterprise in that region advantages which would have driven out all but the most firmly established competitors, even in the absence of any positive discrimination.
Disillusion is a distorting complex of sentiments; and the general American concept of the Japanese took on a strange transformation. We retained a belief in the superhuman efficiency of these people who had disappointed our generously impossible imaginings about them, but we came to think of it as an inhuman and malignant power which they possessed--something inscrutable, not to be understood but to be superstitiously dreaded. And to this day our current view of Japan and her people is colored by this misleading tradition that the Japanese singly and collectively are actuated by motives that have nothing in common with ours, know nothing of our ideals and of our scruples, and as restlessly and implacably as a nest of ants pursue their destiny in accordance with laws we can scarcely expect to fathom. It is not strange that, with this underlying misconception in their minds, Americans have on the one hand been too often daunted in matters of controversy with the Japanese, and have on the other hand been intolerant and suspicious in cases where a more realistic viewpoint would have brought about understanding.
It was in such a frame of mind that the American people first found themselves in direct controversy with Japan, in 1907-8, on the Japanese school question in California and the question of Japanese immigration that ensued upon it. There swept over the country a feeling in which were combined irritation and a degree of apprehension that in retrospect it is difficult to understand; we caught our breath with a sense of daring when President Roosevelt ordered the battleship fleet on its cruise around the world, and we thrilled with exultation when its return demonstrated to us that we had successfully challenged the perils of the unknown. And it was with a similar sense of relief that we welcomed a solution of the question of Japanese immigration by means of the so-called Gentlemen's Agreement, by which in return for our consenting to hold in abeyance the exercise of our treaty right to exclude Japanese immigrants by our own legislative action the Japanese Government undertook to restrain the emigration to the United States of the laboring classes. To that obligation Japan has adhered faithfully in letter and in spirit; and if, in fact, there have come into our mainland territories a certain number of unauthorized Japanese of the classes obnoxious to us by reason of economic competition or of political and social immiscibility, that fact is not attributable either to bad faith or to negligence on the part of the Japanese Government, and the number is probably less than that of the Chinese who have entered surreptitiously during the same period. Yet (to go forward several years, momentarily, in this outline of events), in spite of the statistics of our own immigration authorities, the belief has become general that the Japanese Government has evaded its obligations under the Gentlemen's Agreement, and has actually fostered the growth of Japanese colonies in our western states. If a reason be sought for a belief so little justified by facts, it is no doubt to be found in a somewhat indefinite consciousness that in our revised Commercial Treaty with Japan, in 1911, we did positively forego the treaty provision expressly conceding the right (which by the Gentlemen's Agreement we had consented to hold in abeyance) to exclude Japanese immigration by our own domestic act, thus putting ourselves in the position of relying upon another power for the enforcement of our own national policy in this phase of the immigration problem. The consciousness of this dependence upon the action of Japan in a matter involving the sovereign will of our nation has rankled in the minds of those who feel that we have entrusted our dignity and our interests in this matter to a government unworthy of such confidence; and they have found an apparent justification for their distrust in the situation created in California by the tendency of the Japanese to group themselves together in organized colonies in a manner which makes their presence more conspicuous, as it does in fact make them more unassimilable to our institutions--a cyst in our body politic.
But to revert to the phase of our relationship with Japan that followed upon the conclusion of the Gentlemen's Agreement. It was in 1911 that a new element in the Far Eastern situation made itself evident. The negotiations in connection with Secretary Knox's project for the neutralization of railways in Manchuria had made it manifest that, in spite of our government's efforts to enlist Japan and Russia in a policy of international coöperation for the economic development of China on the basis of the open door, those two Empires had sunk their differences and arrived at some modus vivendi for the exploitation of their spheres of influence in China. The conviction of such a realignment of Japanese policy in the Far East gave an altered significance to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, which, as originally concluded in 1902, had been directed primarily against German and Russian pretensions in China, and, as revised in 1905 (just prior to the Treaty of Portsmouth), had been designed to support Japan's position as against the encroachment of Russia upon China and Korea. With Japan in accord with Russia to ignore the principles of Chinese integrity and of the open door in those regions where they respectively claimed special interests, the Alliance took on a new implication in that it obligated Great Britain to Japan under circumstances in which Japan's policy was in fundamental opposition to those doctrines which we have considered essential in our Far Eastern policy. The opportunity presented itself, in connection with the Treaty of General Arbitration which Secretary Knox was then negotiating with the British Ambassador, to deflect from the United States the point of the Alliance; the treaty between Great Britain and Japan was revised in 1911, and an article was inserted in it which provided that the Alliance should not obligate either party to go to war with any power with which it might have a Treaty of General Arbitration. Although this proviso never in fact became legally operative because of the failure of the Knox Arbitration Treaty to obtain the ratification of the Senate, it was nevertheless an effective notice of Great Britain's unwillingness to be drawn into antagonism with the United States in Far Eastern matters. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance might indeed have remained, so far as concerns the United States, an innocuous and in fact a rather meaningless document, but for the further development of its implications which resulted from the Great War and its reactions upon the situation in the Far East.
There had in the meanwhile been a change of administration in this country, and one of the first acts of the new administration had been to withdraw the governmental support theretofore given to the American Group in the Consortium for China business. It would lead too far afield to attempt a discussion of the actual reasons for this reversal of a policy which the previous administration had vigorously pursued in the conviction that it afforded the sole means of giving practical effect to our open-door policy in China, and to which, as a matter of fact, the Wilson administration reverted later by taking the lead in reëstablishing a Consortium, with an American group participating, in 1920. But the reasons for the withdrawal of support from the Consortium, as set forth forensically in the public announcement made in behalf of the administration in March, 1913, were such as created among those familiar with the affairs of China an impression that the realities of the situation had been ignored. It was almost immediately thereafter that the question of the status and rights of Japanese residents in this country, in the new phase precipitated by the California Alien Land Laws of 1913, again became a matter of concern to the Federal Government. There followed a correspondence, extending over a year and more, which was interesting enough in itself, but quite inconclusive, and significant from the general viewpoint of American-Japanese relations only in that it confirmed in the minds of the Japanese Government the conviction that the American administration lacked the perspective of Far Eastern affairs that would enable it to distinguish between the essential and the adventitious, and that under the control of our foreign relations by Secretary Bryan Japan might reckon upon encountering neither definiteness of purpose nor firmness of resolution in any issue which it might prove politic to force upon us.
Thus, when the war broke out, and the stern necessities of self-preservation removed from the Far Eastern field the activities and the influence of all European rivals, it was possible for Japan virtually to discard from consideration the sole remnant of the former balance of forces; Japan confronted the situation in China with no rivals and with no restraints other than the somewhat academic pleadings of the United States for a fair field. Japanese statesmen were quick to perceive the possibilities of the occasion presented them by this situation and by their alliance with Great Britain. It may be doubted whether there was a casus foederis under the terms of the Alliance, and it is more than doubtful whether Great Britain willingly accepted Japan's voluntary association with her in the war in ostensible fulfilment of the obligations of the Alliance; it is certain, from the terms the official communiqué in which the British Government announced Japan's accession to the cause, under specified limitations upon the area of Japanese military and naval action (which limitations Japan wholly ignored from the outset), that Great Britain at any rate attempted to prevent Japan's carrying the war into Chinese territory. But within a fortnight of the outbreak of the war Japan had demanded of Germany, by an ultimatum whose terms were palpably impossible to meet, the rendition of the German leasehold of Kiaochow; and within three months the Japanese forces, with the somewhat unwelcome assistance of a small British force, had placed Japan in actual possession not only of the German leased territory but also of the Shantung Railway, the appurtenant mines, and other German properties in the province of Shantung. Japan had, in fact, taken to herself the reversion of German rights and interests in China, and made Shantung as well as South Manchuria a Japanese sphere of influence.
Momentous as was this appropriation by Japan of Germany's "place in the sun" in the Far East, it was but the first development of plans by which the Japanese Government proposed to establish a new relationship towards China. The next development was the secret presentation of the "Twenty-one Demands" upon China, during January, 1915--some two months after the capture of Tsingtao. The substance of the demands, with the exception of the more indefensible items of Group V, was eventually, after tedious negotiations and a final ultimatum, embodied in a set of treaties and exchanges of notes concluded on May 25, 1915. And despite their assertion of preferential rights, and the consequent impairment of the rights of other powers, so complete was the political vacuum created by the war that the demands elicited, so far as is known, no remonstrance from any quarter, save for a tardy reservation by the American Government of its treaty rights and of its doctrines of Chinese integrity and the open door. Even Great Britain, the contract rights of whose nationals were claimed to have been infringed, was understood to have refrained from any comment or inquiry.
Japan's next test of strength came in connection with the entry of China into the war, in 1917. Ever since the Japanese occupation of Shantung, the Chinese had desultorily and halfheartedly entertained the idea that their position in the final settlement following the war would be bettered if they were to participate on the side of the Allies. To all suggestions of this sort, whether originating with the Chinese or with one or another of the Allied powers, Japanese influence had made effective opposition. But when the United States severed relations with Germany in February, 1917, it invited China, along with other neutrals, to take similar action. After several weeks of violent controversy, the Chinese Government ranged itself with the United States as a result of the temporary triumph of the parliamentary element, under the leadership of certain of the younger Chinese of foreign training, over the reactionary Chinese military party who had to a large degree affiliated themselves with Japanese influences. Then, when the United States had actually declared war upon Germany, the contest raged with even greater heat until August, when the militarists made a sudden shift of policy, declared war as an executive act, dispersed the Parliament for declining to acquiesce in so palpably and provokingly unconstitutional a manner of declaring war, and from then on became theoretically allies in the war against the Central Powers. It subsequently appeared that during the period when the severance of relations was in controversy, Japan had, by a secret agreement with France, undertaken to assist in causing China to break with Germany, in return for French support of Japan's claim to the reversion of the "territorial and special interests" of Germany in Shantung and in the islands of the North Pacific. Similar secret promises of support to Japan's claims at the peace conference were also given by Great Britain, Italy, and Russia; and though their arrangements did not, like that of France, stipulate for Japanese good offices in the matter, the plain truth was that China in fact, and with the cognizance of the principal Allied powers, entered the war as a protege of Japan.
From that time until well after the close of the war, Japanese influence and material facilities maintained in power at Peking the military group (the so-called Anfu clique) which had served as the instrument by which this result had been accomplished. And through the complaisance of this clique Japan was able to obtain not only understandings which strengthened her position in Shantung, but a series of concessions which to an alarming extent mortgaged to Japanese interests the economic future of China. The ruling group in Peking was debauched by loans (totaling somewhere near $100,000,000 in United States currency) contracted ostensibly for railway construction and other industrial developments, but given without security or supervision, and actually spent in futile partisan warfare and in the building up of the personal armies of the several Anfu leaders. The Chinese people were outraged by this wholesale corruption of their government, and their foreign friends were aghast at the prospect of China's following the course of Korea. In the face of the universal protests and expressions of apprehension in regard to this demoralization of the Chinese Government, the spokesmen of the Japanese Government disavowed in its behalf all responsibility for the activities of the agent, Nishihara, who was negotiating these loans as the agent for an independent Japanese banking syndicate; but it afterwards appeared in a detailed report of the Japanese Ministry of Finance that it had in fact organized the "independent" banking syndicate for the purpose, and caused it to make the so-called "Nishihara loans." This, then, was a new phase in the relationship of Japan with China--a stage in which the Japanese Government was keeping in control of the Central Government of China an administration subsidized for the service of Japanese political and economic aims.
Ironically enough, it was in the heyday of this debauchery of Chinese political life in the interests of Japan that the American Government--the traditional champion of the principles of Chinese territorial and administrative integrity and the open door--concluded with the Japanese Government the Lansing-Ishii Agreement, an executive understanding by which it recognized that "Japan has special interests in China." It has never been made clear what were the considerations which led the administration of the day to subscribe to a formula which had never before been adopted in our diplomatic correspondence, and which lent itself to a construction so plainly incompatible with the traditional American policy in the Far East. From the statements subsequently made by Secretary Lansing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, at the hearings on the Treaty of Versailles, it appears that when Viscount Ishii had come to this country as Ambassador on Special Mission, Secretary Lansing had deemed it of fundamental importance to obtain from him a reaffirmation of the open door policy ("in order to silence mischievous reports," as the text of the notes reads), but that the Japanese Special Ambassador had insisted on coupling with this reaffirmation an acknowledgment of Japan's "special interests;" and that, having explained his own view that if this phrase meant "paramount interest" he could not discuss it further, Mr. Lansing was "not very strongly opposed" to its inclusion in the proposed exchange of notes, as he construed it to mean nothing different from the special interest which, for example, we have in Canada--"only the special interest that comes from being contiguous to another country whose peace and prosperity were involved." But although Mr. Lansing consented to embody this phrase in the notes, in the faith that it meant no more than this, it was in fact a phrase of art which in the terminology of European diplomacy had acquired definite connotations over and beyond the bare meaning of the component words. To those, in particular, who were familiar with the political treaties which Japan had at various times concluded with Great Britain, with France, and with Russia, the recognition of Japan's "special interests in China" could mean nothing less than an acknowledgment that Japan possessed interests and rights in China admittedly different, not merely in degree but in character, from those of other nations; and the qualifying phrase, "particularly in the part to which her possessions are contiguous," meant clearly an admission that South Manchuria was a Japanese sphere of influence. The Japanese Government so interpreted the phraseology, although (as appears from one of the reports of the Russian Ambassador at Tokyo, made public by the Soviet authorities) the Minister of Foreign Affairs was conscious that the Japanese interpretation differed fundamentally from the American; and in communicating to the Chinese Government the English text of the Lansing-Ishii Agreement the Japanese Minister at Peking accompanied it with a Chinese translation in which the phrase "special interests" was rendered in language unmistakably signifying "predominant interest." Certainly the Chinese never doubted the completeness of the American recognition of Japan's superior position. It was even contended by the Chinese authorities, in a case in which American interests claimed the benefit of certain regulations favorable to Japanese trade in Manchuria, that by conceding Japan's special interests the Government of the United States had waived the right to most-favored-nation treatment provided by its treaties with China.
The consummation of the Lansing-Ishii Agreement had, in fact, completed Japan's outworks of diplomatic defense against restraint or effective remonstrance on the part of the other powers. The United States, whose solitary influence had been inconsiderable up to the time when it made a hearing for itself by its effort in the war, was now made negligible in China by its own acknowledgment.
There remained a further triumph for the imperialistic policy of Japan to achieve--the confirmation by the powers of her conquest of Germany's position in China. This was accomplished at the Peace Conference at Paris. The testimony of President Wilson and of Secretary Lansing, at the hearings on the Treaty by the Senate Committee, makes it clear that the American Delegation had sought to uphold China's claim to the direct restitution of Shantung, but that this effort had been abandoned when the President became convinced that Japan would bolt the Conference rather than acquiesce in that claim. The Treaty of Versailles therefore provided for a renunciation by Germany in favor of Japan of all German rights in connection with Shantung, though there appears to have been an oral undertaking on the part of the Japanese Delegation that their government would "hand back the Shantung Peninsula in full sovereignty to China, retaining only the economic privileges granted to Germany, and the right to establish a settlement under the usual conditions at Tsingtao"--a promise, as the Chinese construed it, to give them the shell of the oyster. The apprehension of Japan's withdrawal from the Conference was replaced by the certainty of China's refusal to participate in the Peace Treaty; and the Shantung question therewith became a rankling sore to the Chinese and a mortification to those who felt that the Treaty had set the world's approval upon Japan's policy of aggression. It may indeed be questioned whether this was not the Achilles' heel in which American participation in the Versailles settlement received its deathwound in the Senate. It is at any rate certain that this disposition of the Shantung question produced in this country a dangerous tension of feeling towards Japan, the more acute because it was associated with domestic questions of great bitterness.
And it so happened that just at that time--in the spring of 1920--the American expeditionary force, which had for two years been stationed side by side with the Japanese forces in Siberia, was withdrawn and demobilized; and its members carried to all quarters of the country the story of what they had witnessed in the Japanese occupation of Russian territory. They had indeed seen Japan--the imperialistic politico-military Japan --at its very worst. The Japanese expedition had been sent to Siberia upon a definite understanding with us that the several cooperating governments should each send a force of approximately 7,000 men to occupy strategic positions along the line of retreat of the Czechoslovak force which was fighting its way out from Bolshevik Russia to Vladivostok, but should scrupulously refrain from interference in the affairs of the Russian people. The Japanese Government, however, sent 70,000 men, who effected an occupation of Eastern Siberia; their leaders intrigued for political influence in the country, and the lesser ranks meddled in local affairs, connived with Japanese traders to smuggle their goods into the occupied territory in the guise of military supplies, treated the local population with a high-handedness and even with a brutality explainable only by the assumption that they smarted with resentment at the attitude of superiority which the Russians had formerly assumed towards them, and behaved towards the military contingents of the other associated powers with a supercilious disregard of any purpose of cooperation in the military enterprise they had jointly undertaken. Our rank and file came back with their minds impregnated with rancor at the truculence of the Japanese troops and revulsion at the callousness of their dealing with the helpless Siberian peasants, and with a profound distrust of the Japanese political ambitions which they had seen at work.
From the spring of 1920 to the summer of 1921 the resentment and suspicion of the American people towards Japan were at a dangerous pitch. With the majority, this was a sentiment not logically formulated; but those who sought the essential elements in our relationships with Japan found an explanation of the dislike and the distrust on the part of our people in the consciousness that for approximately twenty years Japan had been pursuing a "realistic" policy of domination, in Korea, China and Siberia, which seemed clearly designed to achieve such a hegemony of Eastern Asia as would enable her not only to exclude us from independent relations with the Far East but to derange the balance of power and assert a military supremacy which might ultimately jeopardize our national interests and safety. In the attainment of any such imperial destiny for Japan, the preponderant factor would of necessity be China, with its vast territory, its great undeveloped natural resources, and its enormous population to produce, to buy, and perhaps to bear arms. And in China Japan had pursued a particularistic policy in direct contradiction to our doctrine of the open door, had ignored the principle of Chinese territorial and administrative integrity, and had by intimidation and by corruption gained an almost complete mastery over the instrumentalities of government. In this policy towards China, moreover, Japan was to a certain extent insured by the Anglo-Japanese Alliance which, despite Great Britain's natural interest in the maintenance of China as an independent national and economic entity, obligated Britain to an observance of Japan's "special interests," and made her willy-nilly a partisan of Japan's exploitation of the position thereby conceded. And against such influence as the United States might bring to bear, Japan was further fortified by the construction which she and the world placed upon our recognition of her "special interests" by the Lansing-Ishii Agreement.
These facts, underlying the mutual animosity and suspicion of the two peoples, were the basis of the unhealthy and menacing Far Eastern situation which confronted the Harding administration when, in the early summer of 1921, it resolved upon seeking a means to limit the competition in naval armaments. In the light of a realization of this situation it may be understood how much significance there was in the words of the President's formal invitation to the Governments of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan to participate in a Conference on the Limitation of Armament:
"It is, however, quite clear that there can be no final assurance of the peace of the world in the absence of the desire for peace, and the prospect of reduced armaments is not a hopeful one unless this desire finds expression in a practical effort to remove causes of misunderstanding and to seek ground for agreement as to principles and their application. It is the earnest wish of this government that, through an interchange of views with the facilities afforded by a conference, it may be possible to find a solution of Pacific and Far Eastern problems, of unquestioned importance at this time; . . ."
To the Conference thus called Japan came with reluctance. One of her leading publicists was quoted at the time as saying that it was the gravest crisis in the history of the Empire; and the import of this comment was made plain by the aggrieved protestations, from all quarters in Japan, that the nation was being placed upon the defensive. But at the first meeting of the Conference the Japanese Delegation found that its animating spirit was not one of accusation but of cooperation; Secretary Hughes, who was its moving and directing force as well as its formal chairman, presided not as a judge of what had been but as a leader in the effort to place international relations for the future on a saner basis. The momentous declaration with which he opened the work of the Conference by proposing the 5-5-3 ratio of naval strength for the United States, Great Britain, and Japan not only afforded a practical basis for a truce in naval competition; it revealed an innocence of any aggressive tendency towards Japan such as the Japanese had not believed or thought themselves safe in believing. The proposal clearly meant that this country had no intention to take advantage of its incomparable industrial and financial superiority over Japan to build an overpoweringly superior fleet; and that the United States was prepared to limit its naval superiority to so narrow a margin as would, during the term of the understanding, make it a practical impossibility to attack Japan or her possessions. In the face of so unmistakable a manifestation of this country's desire to live and let live there was no longer room for doubt, in the minds of the Japanese Government and people, of the sincerity of our policy towards themselves.
There had indeed been developments in Japan which had cleared the way for a new evaluation of the situation and a reconsideration of national policy. The imperialistic method had not been paying dividends. Although the war had stimulated an artificial prosperity by which many became rich, the poor were poorer than before; living costs had unbelievably increased, and the burden of taxes to pay the costs of foreign adventures was becoming unbearable. Even the moneyed classes who had invested in the exploitation of Siberia and China had lost faith in the manner in which this exploitation had been conceived; they had obtained next to nothing in Siberia, and in China the concessions they had so eagerly taken up had proved for the most part worthless by reason of the conditions of political anarchy produced by the very processes which had made the concessions possible to obtain. As the proceeds of the Nishihara loans had been squandered there was nothing tangible to show for them, and the Chinese Government had ceased to pay interest or amortization on them. The boycott with which the Chinese people had retaliated upon Japanese trade for their humiliations in the matter of the Twenty-one Demands and the Shantung settlement had been serious enough to bring it home to the mercantile classes that the aggressive policy of their government endangered their sources of supply of raw materials and, still more directly, their largest and most accessible market for their manufactures. The conviction had been growing, in the business world of Japan, that their material interests were being sacrificed to the ambitions of the military clansmen who had so long controlled their government. It would be a mistake to suppose that there was any organized liberal movement seeking to wrest power from the reactionary elements in the government; rather, the close interrelation between political and financial interests, in the new Japan, made it possible for the convictions of the business world to carry weight with all but the more fanatical adherents of imperialism. There had, moreover, come into power a new ministry, under Mr. Hara, which included besides the Premier himself several leading members who were responsive to the new tendency of thought. One of these was Admiral Baron Kato, Minister of the Navy, who headed the Japanese Delegation to the Washington Conference.
Not only did the Japanese learn at the beginning of the Conference that America had no hostile intent towards their country; they perceived also that the other participating powers, no less than the United States, regarded Japan's aggressive course in Siberia and China with suspicion and with a guarded but nevertheless apparent disapproval; and they became conscious that Japan stood in danger of a political isolation which they could not contemplate without apprehension. It gradually came to be realized that after the storm the waters had flowed back to their level--that the balance of political forces in the Far East had been restored, and that Japan could no longer pursue a policy of ruthless aggrandizement without estrangement from her political friends as well as from the Chinese people with whom her economic destinies are inevitably linked.
Those who read the published report of the Conference--particularly the minutes of the Committee on Pacific and Far Eastern Questions--must be struck by the progressive development in the viewpoint of the Japanese Government as reflected in the action of its delegation. Little by little, the original stiffness of their defensive posture gave way to an attitude of confidence and cooperation, until in the end they accepted wholeheartedly a group of principles designed to give China the opportunity for unembarrassed national development and to assure a genuine equality of commercial and industrial opportunity in China. Once the occasions for distrust were eliminated, the acceptance of this policy was in fact the obvious resultant of forces which had caused Japan to realize that the endeavor to obtain an exclusive position in China had led only to Pyrrhic victories, and that in the practical working out of a policy of equality of opportunity Japan would always and necessarily, by virtue of the facts of geography and ethnology, have an advantage over all other competitors. It was therefore not a diplomatic gesture nor an ephemeral impulse, but a carefully considered dictate of enlightened self-interest, which led Japan to discard her aggressive policy of the past fifteen years or so and associate herself with the policy of fair dealing.
The result of this adoption by Japan of a rational and wholesome policy has been a détente, in the relations between the United States and Japan, which is only partially indicated by the settlements arrived at by the Conference or in connection with it. Aside from the Treaty on the Limitation of Naval Armaments, the Conference brought about several concrete results which are vital to a right relationship in the Far East. It led directly to the termination of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance by virtue of the so-called Four-Power Pact, which substituted for the Alliance a somewhat platonic understanding that the United States, France, Great Britain, and Japan will respect each other's "insular possessions and insular dominions in the region of the Pacific Ocean"--thus towing the Alliance away from the mainland of Asia and beaching it, a derelict, upon a coral reef in mid-Pacific. And although the Conference did not actually dispose of the Lansing-Ishii Agreement, its results so far clarified the position in regard to that ambiguous document that Secretary Hughes has recently had occasion to make public the fact that discussions carried on by him with the Japanese Embassy in Washington have resulted in an exchange of notes recording that in the light of the understandings arrived at by the Conference the two governments are agreed to consider the Lansing-Ishii correspondence as cancelled and of no further force or effect. These cancellations of the two agreements which had so bedevilled the Far Eastern situation may be viewed as somewhat negative results, as also may the understanding (arrived at by the Chinese and Japanese representatives apart from the Conference, but in its atmosphere and in close relation with it) by which the Shantung question was settled on a basis as fair and reassuring as human wisdom could have been expected to contrive in so complex and difficult a situation. But the Conference achieved also, in the two Nine-Power treaties and the several resolutions concerning the affairs of China, positive results which may fairly be hoped to provide for China the opportunity to set her house in order, and for the other interested nations the means of developing their relations with China in accordance with such principles as will obviate the danger of generating serious political jealousies among themselves. The fundamental work of the Conference in relation to Far Eastern affairs was the establishment of the principle of the open door on a basis of mutual treaty obligations among the nations possessing substantial interests in China, and defining the principle with such a degree of precision as to make it a working rule of action. What had become a vague and empty expression of pious hopes, more honored in its breach than in its observance, has now been formally accepted and restored to its full significance.
In full accord with this principle Japan was in the end content to forego all claim to any "general superiority of rights" and to relinquish specifically all such preferential or exclusive privileges as had been asserted in the arrangements arising out of the Twenty-one Demands of 1915. Virtually nothing, indeed, was left of the results of those demands, other than the extension of the leasehold of the Kwantung Territory and of the concessions for railways in South Manchuria--which, it may be noted, China had granted early in the course of the 1915 negotiations, prior to the first threat of duress recorded in the Chinese Government's official account of those negotiations. And not merely did Japan freely adopt the essential principles established by the Conference; during the year that has since elapsed the Japanese Government has not only scrupulously fulfilled its undertakings to China, but has gone beyond them in retiring from its occupation of the Siberian mainland, and in withdrawing the garrison at Hankow which had for ten years been an affront to Chinese feeling. Unless it be for the case of the Federal Wireless--in which the press from time to time reports that the influence of the Japanese Government is being brought to bear upon the Chinese Government to prevent the carrying out of an American contract, on the ground that a Japanese firm had previously obtained a monopolistic concession for all external wireless communication with China--such information as is available appears to indicate that the Japanese Government has loyally lived up to the letter and the spirit of the Washington Treaties. Japanese opinion takes pride in that fact; and American opinion has for its part come to feel a restored confidence in the good faith and the good will of Japan.
If only because of the disintegration both of authority and of the sense of governmental responsibility in China, it would be folly to imagine that the problems of the Far East have been disposed of; but so satisfactory has been the detente brought about by the Conference that for the foreseeable future those problems seem to be no longer a menace to peace. Certainly, as regards the relations of the United States and Japan, it now seems possible for the two countries to develop, each along the lines of its individual genius, in commercial competition relieved from political implications and free from such mutual distrust and jealousy as have hitherto kept them under the shadow of a fear of what might come to pass without the deliberate will of either.
Is Taiwan Selling Out to China?