EVER since Japan's entrance into the family of modern nations in the middle of the nineteenth century her diplomacy has striven, and still strives, to attain two objectives -- equality and security. The first has been almost, but not entirely, attained; the second has for seven decades been the absorbing problem of the nation and will evidently remain such for long years to come.


First let us consider the problem of equality. By "equality" I do not mean that Japan should fall behind no Power on earth in point of wealth, natural resources and military strength -- in short, in every respect. Obviously, equality in this sense is as impossible among nations as among individuals. What Japan has insisted upon, what she still insists upon, is that she shall not be made the object of discrimination and derogatory treatment by any of the nations with whom she has relations. The full significance of this phase of our policy cannot be appreciated unless we first understand the circumstances in which we entered into intercourse with foreign nations.

When Japan opened her doors to the West seventy years ago, she (like the rest of Asia) had to acquiesce in there being put upon her a stigma of inferiority in the shape of unequal treaties which deprived her of judicial and tariff autonomy. To read into those treaties any sinister designs on the part of foreign Powers, as some ultra-nationalists are inclined to do, is not fair. The Powers, cognizant of the state of our internal administration at the time, and knowing how different it was from their own, did not think it wise or practicable to place their respective nationals under our jurisdiction, though they might, I believe, have been a little more generous in the matter of tariffs. We, on our part, bowed to the inevitable, trusting that the Powers, as soon as we had put our house in order, would remove the extraterritoriality and the one-sided tariff which they had foisted upon us. And, indeed, the "unequal" treaties of 1858 contained a provision for revision by mutual agreement in 1872. When the time came, Japan naturally endeavored to avail herself of this provision. The famous Iwakura mission, which made a tour of Europe and America between 1871 and 1873, had as one of its objects the revision of the treaties. The letter of credence which it carried spoke of an "intention to reform and improve the treaties, so that Japan might stand on an equality with the most enlightened nations." The mission, so far as this object was concerned, was a total failure. None of the Powers approached made an encouraging response.

This initial failure proved a blessing in disguise, for it served to spur the Japanese to greater efforts toward internal rehabilitation. From that time on Japan bent all her energies to the modernization of her laws, her courts, her administrative system, her schools, and even her social conditions, to the end that the Powers, recognizing the progress thus achieved, might see their way clear to relinquish the prerogatives they had long enjoyed at the expense of Japanese sovereignty. In 1882, relying upon the reforms which she had introduced, Japan began to negotiate in earnest for treaty revision. And at last, after eleven years of pourparlers with the Powers, she succeeded in obtaining from Great Britain the treaty of 1894 which abolished extraterritoriality.[i] Soon other European Governments followed suit, and by 1900 Japan had practically regained territorial jurisdiction and judicial autonomy.

And yet she was far from having attained equality with the Powers, for she was still bound by a unilateral tariff. Not until the expiration of another period of twelve years was she to recover tariff autonomy and find herself in a position to negotiate reciprocal treaties with other states on a plane of entire equality. It was in 1911 that new treaties were concluded with the United States and Great Britain, conceding to Japan both judicial and tariff autonomy.

It had taken Japan forty arduous years of self-examination and self-improvement to attain the goal.

But our endeavors for equality were not to end with the conclusion of the treaties of 1911. Prior to that a new situation had arisen seriously affecting Japan's position of equality vis-à-vis the Western World, in particular the United States and the British overseas dominions. This situation was a result of Japanese emigration to those countries. The American Government, consequent upon the San Francisco "school incident" of 1906, was desirous of excluding Japanese immigrants of the laboring class. Japan, adhering to the policy of equality, objected to such exclusion by an American statute, but was ready to acquiesce in a plan whereby she would of her own accord forbid the emigration of laborers to the United States. The result was the so-called "Gentlemen's Agreement" entered into by an exchange of confidential notes between Tokyo and Washington in 1908. A similar agreement was also entered into with Canada. The basic principle of these agreements was that Japanese immigration should not be openly excluded by a discriminatory law passed by a foreign country, but that Japan would voluntarily check the exodus of her subjects belonging to the working class. As far as the world in general was concerned, the exclusion of Japanese did not exist, and Japan was still permitted to maintain a position of equality in the matter of emigration. Of course, such an equality was hardly more than a fiction; but Japan preferred it to an open discrimination which would run directly counter to the policy which she had pursued for half a century.

The conclusion of the Gentlemen's Agreement did not end the difficulty with America. In 1913 the State of California, in spite of a signal decline of Japanese immigration under the agreement, and in the face of the strenuous objections of the government at Washington, enacted a law denying "aliens ineligible to citizenship" the right to own land. In 1917 it was reënforced by another law which forbade such aliens from leasing agricultural land. Both laws were plainly discriminatory against the Japanese.

At the Versailles Peace Conference the Japanese delegation endeavored to obtain recognition from the Powers of the principle of "racial equality." Baron Makino, acting on behalf of that delegation, proposed the insertion of the following article in the Covenant of the League of Nations: "The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord, as soon as possible, to all alien nationals of States members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect, making no distinction either in law or fact on account of their race or nationality."

When it became apparent that such a clear-cut pronouncement could not be adopted, Baron Makino sought to include in the preamble to the Covenant these simple words, "by the endorsement of the principle of equality of nations and just treatment of their nationals." In presenting the above amendment the Japanese delegate laid stress upon the idea that it was not his country's intention to encroach upon the domestic matters of any nation, but that he wished the proposal to be incorporated as a matter of principle. As had been expected, the United States and Great Britain objected to this proposal. On the other hand, France, Italy, Greece, Czechoslovakia and China supported it. Out of the seventeen delegates present, eleven voted with Japan. But when the Japanese amendment was reported to the Commission entrusted with the task of drafting the Covenant, President Wilson, as chairman of that body, rejected it on the ground that it did not meet the requirements of the rule of unanimity, as Great Britain, one of the governments represented in the Commission, had opposed the proposal. This argument was somewhat sophistical, for the rule of unanimity was not then a chose jugée, and was to be discussed in the Commission together with the Japanese proposition. Japan's defeat in the fight for equality at Versailles was another set-back to the policy for which she had so long struggled.

But the severest cut of all was the American Immigration Act of 1924, which contained a provision excluding all Oriental immigration upon racial grounds, for the reason that Orientals were not eligible to American citizenship. Ostensibly aimed at all Asiatics, this provision was, in effect, if not intentionally, directed against a single nation -- Japan -- for the reason that Chinese immigration had long been checked under the Chinese Exclusion Laws, while the Hindus and other peoples of the South of the Asian continent were excluded by another law. Thus in the Immigration Act of 1924 the United States, by a one-sided act, abrogated the time-honored "Gentlemen's Agreement," whose object was to forestall just this kind of statutory discrimination.

It should be clearly understood that our primary concern in this respect is not whether or not a few thousand or a few hundred Japanese immigrants shall be admitted to America, but whether Japan shall be accorded the courteous treatment which is due to her as one of the civilized Powers of the world. To us it is a matter of ideals rather than a question of material interest. Ever since we entered into the family of nations at the instance of Commodore Perry, we have spared no efforts toward internal readjustment and reform, so that the civilized Powers may admit us into their circle upon an equal footing. By 1900 they had signified their appreciation of our achievement by restoring judicial autonomy to us; and in 1911 they restored to us tariff autonomy. Only the statutory exclusion of our emigrants by the American Congress stands in the way of our coveted goal of equality. With the American policy of restricting or excluding immigration we have no quarrel so long as that policy applies to all countries without legal discrimination. In Japan's opinion the common dictates of international justice, international courtesy, and international good will require that no nation shall single out for discrimination any other nation which has by common consent been recognized as one of the civilized Powers of the world. Full appreciation of our disappointment at the exclusion clause of the American Immigration Act is possible only when it is projected against the background of our unremitting toil of seventy years for the realization of our aspiration for equality.


So much for equality. The next question to be considered -- that of security -- is closely bound up with our history, our geographical position, and our population problem in its relation to our land area, our food supply, and our supply of the essential materials of industry.

For well-nigh three centuries before the advent of Commodore Perry, Japan had isolated herself from the rest of the world by a most rigid policy, forbidding her nationals from going abroad and keeping foreigners from entering her domain. In that long period of seclusion Japan had fallen far behind the nations of the Occident in the arts of war as well as in those of peace. When we were rudely awakened by the impact of foreign guns we found ourselves utterly helpless to defend our country in the face of the formidable men-of-war which seemed to press forward against us from all directions. Thus at the very beginning of foreign intercourse apprehensions of the superior military force of the West struck deep into our hearts. Our first step towards security, then, was to equip ourselves with the weapons of the West. The necessity and wisdom of this course, in view of what subsequently transpired, especially in our relations with Russia, is clear.

Japan is an island nation. But her distance from the continent of Asia is so small that she cannot be indifferent to what happens in Korea, Manchuria, China and Siberia, any more than England can keep aloof from developments in the Low Countries across the Channel and along the North Sea. Particularly in Korea and Manchuria, we have consistently followed a policy dictated by the sole motive of establishing our own security. We have looked upon their frontiers as our own frontiers, even as England looks upon the frontiers of the Low Countries as her own. And as England's policy has been to uphold the independence of the Low Countries so that they may serve as a buffer, so Japan attempted to maintain an independent Korea free from the aggressions of Tsarist Russia. But Korea was neither Belgium nor the Netherlands; she was effete, impotent, and supine. She had none of the moral stamina essential to an independent nation. These are harsh words, but I give expression only to the common verdict of critical observers, both Oriental and Occidental. Into the long and complicated history of our endeavors to preserve the independence of Korea I cannot enter here; suffice it to say that when we found those endeavors unappreciated, futile, and fruitless, we were forced to the only remaining alternative of establishing a protectorate over Korea. This, to us, was the only practicable means of attaining our own security.

In Manchuria, too, we have been actuated by the same motive -- security. When that region was in imminent danger of being annexed by Russia in spite of our repeated protests, we were forced to take up arms in defense of China's open door and territorial integrity, a cause championed also by Mr. John Hay, American Secretary of State. We espoused the American doctrine and fought Russia in defense of it, not only because we believed in it but because we thought that it was in consonance with our own policy of security. We saw all too plainly that Russia considered Manchuria a stepping stone to Korea. It was quite possible that in the eyes of Russia even the Peace Treaty of Portsmouth was in the nature of a truce. To Japan, then, the concessions she obtained from Russia by that treaty constituted a bulwark against any possible recurrence of the Russian advance southward, although they had also an important economic aspect, as we shall presently see. These concessions would have come to a premature termination had Japan not concluded the treaty of 1915 with China, as a result of the so-called "twenty-one demands." The significance of that treaty cannot be understood without a clear knowledge of Japan's precarious position in Manchuria vis-à-vis Russia, then still the military Colossus of the north.

From the standpoint of our security, the Russian revolution has not materially changed the situation. We still must look to the north with apprehension and a certain sense of danger. M. Jules Cambon, in his article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS entitled "The Permanent Bases of French Foreign Policy,"[ii] said: "The policy of the Soviet Government in the Far East may differ in method from that which the Tsarist Government followed; but it does not differ from it in spirit or in objective." Sir Austen Chamberlain and Dr. Richard von Kühlmann, both writing also in this review,[iii] have expressed much the same feeling in different language. I am not prepared to say whether these expressions are entirely correct, but I only state what is common knowledge when I say that the vast region known as Outer Mongolia has under Soviet tutelage and protection been closed to all but Russians; that even China is not permitted to preserve contact with that region, over which her suzerainty has been formally recognized by the Soviet Government itself; that hundreds of Chinese students, trained in communist schools in the Soviet Union, are yearly sent back to China to promote the communist movement there; and that increasingly large regions in China have become the prey of communist risings.

With the internal political system of the Soviet Union we are not seriously concerned. We are on friendly terms with the Union, and are prepared to deal with it in a conciliatory spirit on all problems affecting our mutual relations. But I should be guilty of insincerity if I were not to confess our misgivings as to the activities of the Third International. Its deliberations and plans are most jealously guarded. No one is permitted to get an inkling of them. But one may say without fear of contradiction that most, perhaps all, of the civilized nations outside Russia look upon the deliberations of the Third International, and the activities apparently emanating from it, as disturbing to the general peace and welfare of the world. There is no means of ascertaining the exact nature of the relations existing between the Soviet Government and the Third International, but it is strange, to say the least, that the former, whose avowed foreign policy is peace and friendship, does not seem to exercise any restraining influence upon the latter, whose headquarters are located in the very shadow of the Kremlin.

Nor can the military aspect of the Soviet situation be ignored. Its importance becomes greater in the light of the Soviet Government's attitude towards the Third International. I am fully aware that the military strength of any country is not aimed against any particular foreign nation. Nor do we lose sight of the fact that the Soviet Union, still passing through the critical stage of a political readjustment of an unprecedented nature, needs a large military force for domestic purposes. But our bitter experiences with Russia in the past have caused us to view with apprehension any powerful army imbued with revolutionary ideas looming large on the other side of the Manchurian border.

Generally speaking, our policy in China has been based upon the belief that the establishment of an imperium in imperio upon her soil by any powerful third nation or group of nations is not only derogatory to her integrity but is also incompatible with our own security. In this we have been actuated by the same principle incorporated in the Monroe Doctrine. The wisdom of this policy, especially at a time when China seemed to be harassed by endless internal disorders and constant international difficulties, cannot be questioned. We believed that the break-up of China would bring the formidable Powers of the West to our very portals. We thought that, for this reason if for no other, the preservation of China's integrity was essential to our own safety. It was for this reason that we induced China to agree not to cede any part of the province of Fukien to any foreign Power, that we fought Russia in Manchuria, and that we obliged Germany to withdraw from Shantung. For much the same reason we objected to the construction of foreign-controlled railways in Manchuria, though the objection was also based upon the agreement by which China obligated herself not to construct competitive and parallel lines to the South Manchuria Railway.

The most notable example, perhaps, is our opposition to the American project of a Chinchow-Aigun railway of some 700 miles in length. To attribute this opposition to any anti-American feeling on our part is a gross injustice. We protested against it because foreign railway enterprises in China could not be dissociated from international politics. Certainly they were not purely economic in nature. Every student of railway politics in China knows this. I believe in the innocence and good faith of the American promoters concerned, but I am equally convinced that the Chinese Government which invited them to Manchuria had it in mind to undermine the position which we had secured as a result of the harrowing war with Russia, or to embroil us with the American Government. Suppose that the project had been carried out, suppose that China had disregarded her obligations in connection with it and that the railway itself had, as was more than probable, been seized by war-lords. What would America have done then? I am most reluctant to presume that the American entrepreneurs would have succeeded in persuading their government to send troops to Manchuria to protect their interests, but in the protracted chaos in China who shall say that such an eventuality could never have happened? Diplomacy must adopt a long view and take into consideration all possible contingencies.

In detail and in actual application the Japanese policy opposed to the establishment of foreign imperia in imperio in China may have been somewhat different from the operation of the Monroe Doctrine in the western hemisphere, but the basic motives have been the same. The difference in application has arisen largely from the fact that by the time Japan felt herself influential enough to champion the territorial integrity of China, that country had already become so helpless in the face of foreign aggression that Japan, from sheer motives of self-preservation, was constrained to entrench herself in some of the regions from which she had ejected the aggressor. This was notably the case in Manchuria. No one believed that China could defend herself against the all but certain recrudescence of Russian aggression after the Manchurian war of 1904-5.

So far I have approached the question of our security from the strategic standpoint. No less important is the economic view. I shall not invoke statistics and marshal figures to prove how vital Manchuria is to us economically. Much has already been written on that subject. It is enough to say that the increase of our population, the congestion of our country, and our lack of raw materials, are such that Manchuria, with its virgin soil and its immense natural resources, has come to be looked upon as our vital protection. Given unobstructed access to those resources, we may still hope to solve our embarrassing population problem. We do not necessarily mean to promote mass emigration to Manchuria; rather, we shall foster our industries by utilizing the raw materials which we can obtain there. Just as England solved her population problem by industrializing herself, so does Japan hope to solve her similar problem. Such was the object of the Sino-Japanese treaty of 1915, though it had strategic significance also.

The attainment of this objective, however, presupposes the willingness of whatever government rules Manchuria to respect our treaty rights and our position in the region and to take into consideration our interest in the task of economic development envisaged by the 1915 treaty. All that we desire is that it shall observe treaty obligations and shall coöperate with us for our mutual benefit. I am more than convinced that had China taken this attitude of "live and let live" before it was too late, the deplorable incident of September 1931, with all its consequences, would never have happened. All that we had asked of China was the simple observance of the treaties she had duly made -- treaties which were and are essential to our security, both strategic and economic. More we did not ask; less we could not take.

The vital importance of Manchuria being generally appreciated by the people, it is all the more difficult for us to recede from the position we have attained there. In a constitutional country, with parliament and the press representing or responding to the popular will, the government is not in a position of itself to determine a course of action when that course involves the national security; it must consider public opinion. I agree with Dr. von Kühlmann when he questions the soundness of the view that "a democracy or a democratic régime offers a better guarantee for the maintenance of peace." As this German statesman puts it, "any sound and healthy democracy is bound to be nationalistic to a certain degree, and perhaps more sensitive and irascible where questions of honor are concerned than an individual. One can imagine a very great monarch having the courage to yield where aggression is not counseled by vital and material interests but only by considerations of prestige. A public opinion originating in the masses is hardly likely to have the same courage." In Manchuria our question is not merely one of prestige, it is one of life or death. This is the general conviction of the people.

The appearance of Manchukuo as an independent state has not materially altered our policy, except for such temporary measures as have been taken to meet the readjustments consequent upon the change of government. Pursuing our traditional policy of security, we shall coöperate with any government in Manchuria which, in our judgment, best appreciates that policy and will best coöperate with us. This, and only this, is the guiding principle of our conduct in Manchuria. Today, as thirty years ago, Manchuria is the key to our security.

[i] The United States had concluded a similar treaty in 1874. But it had remained a dead letter because it contained a proviso that it should not come into effect until other Powers agreed to the termination of extraterritoriality.

[ii] Vol. 8, No. 2.

[iii] Vol. 9, No. 4, and Vol. 9, No. 2.

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  • VISCOUNT KIKUJIRO ISHII, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan; Ambassador to France, 1912-1915; negotiator of the "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Secretary Lansing in 1917; several times Japanese delegate at Geneva
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