Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
ITO HIROBUMI HIROKU. COMPILED BY ATSUSHI HIRATSUKA. Tokyo: Shinjiusha, 1931, 523 p.
SINCE the World War many diplomatic papers long concealed in the inner sanctums of chancelleries have been coming to light. Soviet Russia was among the first to publish such documents, though unfortunately some of them seem to have been "doctored" beforehand. In Germany and England the greater part of the documents bearing upon the events which led up to the World War have been made available to the public. And that delightful habit of writing memoirs which is indulged in by American and European diplomats has added to our knowledge gleaned from the official documents released from the archives of the past.
Japan has in general remained impervious to this world tendency towards publicity. The Japanese Foreign Office has published few of the important documents which were wisely considered confidential thirty or forty years ago, even though they might now be disclosed without embarrassment to any government or statesman. I only express what is common knowledge among us when I say that facts generally known and even published in newspapers are very often contained in Foreign Office documents stamped "strictly confidential." This characteristic secretiveness of the Gaimusho (as we call our Foreign Office) is both an advantage and a disadvantage, both laudable and deplorable. Confide to it any diplomatic secret, and the confidence will never be betrayed. As a result, I think I am right in saying that the Gaimusho has long enjoyed the trust of the foreign governments with which it has had diplomatic dealings. And yet this admirable characteristic has often been a cause of unnecessary and easily avoidable misunderstandings and suspicions on the part of foreign critics of Japanese diplomacy. A concrete example will serve to illustrate this point.
In December 1905 there was signed at Peiping a Sino-Japanese treaty by which the Chinese Government confirmed and consented to the provisions of the Portsmouth Treaty of Peace between Russia and Japan. Annexed to it were minutes wherein were recorded a number of important agreements, including that on parallel lines in Manchuria. The Japanese delegates as well as the Chinese (Prince Ching, Chu Hung-chi and Yuan Shih-kai) affixed their signatures to these agreements. Japan had of course wished to include them in the treaty itself; but the Chinese, for understandable reasons of domestic politics, insisted upon leaving them as part of the minutes, thus keeping them secret. Although the Chinese view prevailed, the Japanese Government, remembering the support which it had enjoyed from Great Britain and the United States in the war against Russia, considered it necessary to inform those two Powers regarding the substance of the unpublished agreements. It did so by sending London and Washington an English translation of them, and they have since been commonly referred to as the "secret protocol" of 1905.
As time passed, the provision of the protocol whereby China obligated herself not to build parallel lines to the South Manchuria Railway had to be invoked repeatedly by Japan. But in as much as the protocol had never been made public, many foreign critics accused Japan of utilizing an instrument the very existence of which was doubtful. And since the fall of the Manchu Government which signed the protocol, many Chinese, both official and non-official, have asserted that it never existed. Yet the Japanese Foreign Office staunchly withheld publication of the document for no particular reason except that it had promised the Manchu Government, dead now for two decades, that it would be kept secret! This tragi-comedy came to an end when the League of Nations Commission was allowed to inspect the protocol during its visit to Tokyo last spring. The Commission, with the permission of the Japanese Foreign Office, photographed the document, which was found to be in good order, with signatures of both the Japanese and the Chinese delegates.
This episode shows how jealously the archives of the Foreign Office at Tokyo are guarded. Because of this general tradition of reticence and secrecy the recent volume containing the confidential papers of Prince Ito is very welcome. It throws important light, not only upon the great career of Prince Ito himself, but upon Japan's diplomacy and foreign policy from the beginning of the new régime down to the end of the first decade of the present century. The papers, most of them written by Ito's own hand, were long the hidden treasures of the young Prince Hirokumi Ito, heir to the deceased statesman. According to the compiler of the papers, Mr. Hiratsuka, the conservative elders close to the House of Ito were much opposed to their publication; but the progressive young Prince overruled all opposition.
It was Ito's wont to jot down thoughts and ideas on important national affairs as they flashed through his mind at any moment. He would write at the breakfast table, in bed, or even while talking with the callers who crowded his mansion day and night. Naturally, most of the writings are short and sketchy, little more than memoranda for his own use, but on the other hand they have a directness and spontaneity often lacking in documents intended for publication. Besides memoranda of this sort, the book includes Ito's memorials to the Throne, his speeches on various occasions, and other important documents. Each of the documents is accompanied with an historical note by some man who worked under Ito in connection with the question discussed. Among the distinguished men who have supplied these notes are Viscount Kentaro Kaneko, the late Viscount Yeiichi Shibusawa, Baron Yoshiro Sakatani, Mr. Yukio Ozaki, and Baron Kenjiro Den. An important part of the book is an appendix of 58 pages presenting cablegrams which passed in 1901 between Ito and Count (later Marquis) Katsura, then Premier of Japan, when Ito was visiting St. Petersburg, and incidentally London, Paris and Berlin, with a view to finding the best way to check Russian encroachment upon Manchuria and Korea, together with official dispatches between the Tokyo Foreign Office and the Japanese legations at London and Paris on the same occasion.
Ito was born in 1841, twelve years before Commodore Perry's advent in Yedo Bay. When barely twenty years of age he smuggled himself out of his country, then under a most rigid policy of inclusion and exclusion, and went to Europe, working his way on board a British merchantman. After Japan realized the mistake of her past policy of isolation and embarked upon a national reform such as had been adopted by no other country, Ito's advancement was nothing short of spectacular. In 1871 he accompanied the great Iwakura mission which visited America and Europe with a view to sounding out the Powers as to the practicability of revising the "unequal" treaties repugnant to Japan's national dignity. After filling various ministerial posts, he in 1882 again went abroad, this time to study the constitutions of European countries and to observe them in operation. The result was the Japanese constitution promulgated in 1889. Between 1885 and 1900 Ito served four times as Prime Minister. As Resident General at Seoul from 1905 to June 1909, he moulded Japan's policy in Korea. In October of the last-named year he went to Manchuria on a tour of observation, and was assassinated by a Korean at the railway station at Harbin.
Ito was not a diplomat in the narrow sense of the word. His greatest task was in the field of internal reform. He will be remembered first and foremost as the "Father of the Japanese Constitution." But no statesman who plays so great a part as Ito did in directing the destiny of his country can fail to exercise a profound influence upon its foreign affairs. His greatest concern was to establish satisfactory relations between Japan and her neighbors, and above all to work out a compromise which would avert war with the Tsarist Empire. Because of this desire he was denounced as weak-kneed and spineless, not only by militarists but by younger elements in the Foreign Office. Those who could see no solution of the Russian problem except in war, thought, according to Viscount Kaneko, that Ito should be gotten out of the way, even by assassination if there was no other way to remove him.
By the nineties of the last century it had become plain that Russia's ambition was to dominate, even absorb, both Manchuria and Korea. In 1895 when Russia, aided by Germany and France, moved to deprive Japan of the Liaotung peninsula, the southern tip of Manchuria, which has just been ceded to her by China, Ito wrote:
The Liaotung peninsula merely furnished Russia with a plausible excuse for intervention. Her real objective is Korea. Russia knows that our occupation of Liaotung would prove an obstacle to her ambition in Korea. If Russia succeeds in driving us out of Liaotung, her next move would be to undermine our position in Korea. As for France and Germany, they have no direct interest in Korea or in Manchuria, but have allied themselves with Russia purely for reasons of European diplomacy.
Ito's observations in regard to France and Germany were borne out by dispatches from the Japanese legations at Rome and London to the Foreign Office. The Rome dispatch reproduced in this book quotes the Italian Foreign Minister as saying to the Japanese minister that the Kaiser's motive for egging on the Tsar to intervene in Manchuria was to ingratiate Germany with Russia in the hope of weakening the Franco-Russian alliance, and that "Italy had declined the Kaiser's invitation to join in the intervention, because she did not want Germany to become too powerful in European politics." Further, the Italian Foreign Minister suggested that Japan approach his Government as well as the British and American Governments for help with a view to mitigating the rigor of the Russo-German-French intervention. A month before the intervention became a reality, the Japanese minister at Washington had advised Tokyo that the Secretary of State (William R. Day) showed him the substance of a cablegram received by the State Department from the American Legation at St. Petersburg, stating that Russia was intent upon exploiting the Sino-Japanese situation to enhance her influence in China, that she was desirous of occupying Manchuria and a part of north China, and that the 33,000 Russian soldiers had already been concentrated in the north of China, that is, in Manchuria. That the State Department passed along such valuable information to the Japanese Legation is evidence that American sympathy was with Japan. But neither the United States nor England was willing to extend to Japan such positive assistance as was suggested by the Italian Foreign Minister. Under the circumstances, Japan was forced to retrocede Liaotung to China with what grace she could.
After this, Russian ambitions in the Far East became more and more obvious. Still Ito did not give up the hope of arriving at an understanding with St. Petersburg. Briefly, his idea was to allow Russia a free hand in Manchuria, Japan to have a similar privilege in Korea. By some such arrangement Ito hoped to preserve peace, though the Tsar had already intimated that he would consider himself free to act as he pleased in Korea as well as in Manchuria.
In September 1901 Ito embarked upon a momentous pilgrimage to Russia, a great adventure, upon which he staked his reputation and prestige. His objective was an entente with Russia. While in St. Petersburg he conferred with Lamsdorff and Witte and exchanged felicitations with Tsar Nicholas II. As a result he arrived at the conclusion that a Russo-Japanese understanding was attainable, and he sent many cablegrams to Tokyo urging that Japan work in that direction. In his dispatch to Premier Katsura, dated Berlin, December 6, 1901, he said:
As a result of my audience with the Tsar and my conferences with Lamsdorff and Witte I feel that they are sincerely desirous of arriving at an understanding with Japan. I have persuaded Witte and Lamsdorff to agree to these points: 1, that both Russia and Japan shall guarantee the independence of Korea; 2, that they shall not use any part of Korean territory for strategic purposes; 3, that they shall not build such fortifications on the Korean coast as will menace the freedom of passage through the Strait of Korea; and 4, that Russia shall recognize Japan's freedom of action regarding industrial, commercial, and political matters in Korea, as well as her right to take such military measures as may be necessary to cope with civil war or similar internal disorder in Korea.
Of course, I talked with them as a private citizen and without any governmental authority. Should we enter into formal diplomatic negotiations with Russia, she would doubtless demand concessions from us. From what Witte and Lamsdorff plainly intimated to me, I gathered that Russia would demand a free hand in Manchuria. As a matter of fact, Russia has already been acting as she pleases in Manchuria. If our Government really wants to negotiate with Russia, I am still in a position to ascertain what she wants from us, as I am keeping up correspondence with Witte and Lamsdorff. I believe that the present is the most opportune moment to enter into an entente with the only foreign Power which has material interests in Korea. Such an entente will be impossible after the conclusion of an Anglo-Japanese alliance.
But the Cabinet at Tokyo, with the late Marquis Katsura as Prime Minister and the late Marquis Komura as Foreign Minister, took the view that Russia's absorption of Manchuria was but a step towards her domination of Korea. By the time Ito's dispatch reached Tokyo the draft convention for alliance had already been agreed upon between the British and Japanese Governments. When the draft was transmitted to him from the Japanese legation at London, Ito again cabled from Berlin urging that the Anglo-Japanese convention include a proviso reserving for Japan the freedom to enter into an entente with Russia regarding the question of Korea. The suggestion was not accepted. Premier Katsura, in a lengthy dispatch, told Ito that Japan had already definitely committed herself to the policy of the Open Door in Manchuria so that she was no longer at liberty to recognize Russia's free hand in that region, for to do so would surely result in the closing of the doors there.
Meanwhile, Downing Street had been very uneasy about Ito's visit to Russia. The suspicion had been the greater as Ito went direct to Paris from America, and thence to St. Petersburg, without stopping at London. Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Minister, had told Baron Hayashi, the Japanese minister in London, that his Government would view with apprehension any agreement which Japan might be contemplating with Russia. Without doubt Ito's trip to St. Petersburg had the effect of stirring Downing Street to action and speeding up the conclusion of the alliance with Japan. By the time Ito arrived in London after his tour of the continent the Anglo-Japanese alliance had almost become an accomplished fact.
Meantime some fifteen cablegrams, all very lengthy, had passed between Ito and Premier Katsura, and almost as many between Ito and Baron Hayashi. These and the dispatches and letters exchanged between Ito and Lamsdorff, as well as the record of Ito's conversations with French, German, Russian and British statesmen and with the Tsar and the Kaiser, all published for the first time in this book, make exceedingly interesting reading. The dispatches show that the Japanese Cabinet, army and navy, and all the elder statesmen except Count Inouye, were solidly in favor of the British alliance in preference to an understanding with Russia. Even Emperor Meiji, whose trust in Ito had been all but absolute, sided with the Cabinet in this case.
Still Ito hoped that the Cabinet would not sign the treaty of alliance with England until he returned to Tokyo and had an opportunity to discuss the question personally with his colleagues. But when he arrived in Tokyo, in March 1902, the Anglo-Japanese treaty of alliance had been signed for about a month. It is interesting to note Lord Lansdowne's statement, made in the course of his conversations with Ito, that Great Britain would under no circumstances fight Russia in Manchuria. This no doubt added to Ito's conviction that in the event of war with Russia over Korea or Manchuria Japan could expect no outside assistance, not even from her probable ally, and that in such circumstances peace with Russia was an essential aim of Japanese policy. Whether Russia would have been content (as Ito hoped) with domination over Manchuria in accordance with an entente with Japan, or whether such domination would inevitably have been only a step to her annexation of Korea and even North China, as his colleagues believed, is an interesting question for speculation.
Even after the conclusion of the Anglo-Japanese alliance Ito did not give up the cherished hope of entering into an entente with Russia. He believed that such an entente would not conflict with the purpose of that alliance, as we see in this statement of his dated March 15, 1903:
Regarding Manchuria, neither England nor Germany intends to take any effective measure to check the Russian advance. The question is whether Japan alone should face Russia. If Russia refuses to negotiate with us or to consider our terms, we must be prepared to appeal to arms. This is a grave matter. Under the circumstances we have no alternative but to act in conformity to the British and German attitude.
Regarding Korea, if Russia does not mean to precipitate a quarrel with us on this issue, it is well to maintain the status quo, and negotiate for an understanding with her at an opportune moment with a view to upholding Korean independence and thus forestalling collision between Japan and Russia.
Should the Powers fail to maintain harmony and thus render China's dismemberment inevitable, Japan must secure a foothold in Fukien and Chekiang provinces.
This, Ito noted, was the consensus of opinion at an informal conference of the elder statesmen. It shows that the elder statesmen led by Ito were inclined to bow to the inevitable, giving up Manchuria to Russia, but obtaining a foothold in south China in the event that the Powers decided to partition China.
Yet all the efforts made by Ito to avoid war with Russia were in vain, for Russia had no intention of respecting Japan's desire in regard either to Korea or Manchuria. When the subsequent war ended in a Japanese victory, Ito was asked to become the first Japanese Resident at Seoul, charged with controlling Korea's foreign affairs. Ito agreed to accept on one condition, that he, a civilian, be given the power of commander-in-chief of the Japanese army stationed in the new protectorate. The army, of course, was incensed at this unprecedented presumption, and its representatives waited upon Ito and did all in their power to dissuade him from insisting upon a proposal which they believed would undermine Japan's national defense. But Ito was adamant. He refused to become Resident unless his demand were acceded to. He had observed with apprehension that the army, flushed with its brilliant victory over Russia, was inclined to be too chauvinistic, paying little attention to public opinion abroad or to the susceptibilities of the Koreans, and he believed that unless he were clothed with authority to control the Japanese troops in Korea his policy of conciliation could not be carried out. It was indeed miraculous that the army gave in. That Ito could have his own way even in such grave matters was due partly to his own greatness and partly to the unreserved confidence reposed in him by the Emperor Meiji.
Immediately upon Ito's arrival in Seoul as Resident he issued instructions to the army in which he said:
In these post-bellum days the acts of our soldiers stationed in Korea are being watched with sharp eyes by all foreign governments, and by the foreign consuls and foreigners resident here. Foreign newspaper correspondents are travelling through the country, ferreting out any fault committed by our army. When their accusations appear in their newspapers, foreign governments often instruct their consuls here to investigate and ascertain the facts in the case. Such accusations, if proved well founded, may affect the reputation and honor of the army. I earnestly hope that our soldiers will always act courteously, protect foreigners, especially foreign women, and adhere invariably to a humane course.
This document shows how sensitive Ito was to foreign criticism. On many other occasions he urged upon the nation the wisdom of respecting public opinion abroad. In a memorial (undated) to the Throne he said that "our Imperial House should not only treat foreign diplomatic representatives here with the utmost cordiality, but should extend the same cordiality to all foreign visitors of distinction and influence." From such statements we understand why Ito was generally trusted by foreign governments and foreigners. Japan owes much to him, and to those who heeded his admonitions, for the good reputation she long enjoyed abroad.
While Resident in Korea, Ito was gravely concerned with the acts and policies of the Japanese military authorities in Manchuria. So serious did the situation appear to him that in May 1906 he called a memorable meeting at Tokyo, requesting the presence of all Cabinet ministers, elder statesmen, Privy Councillors, and the Chiefs of the General Staff and of the Navy Board. At this historic gathering Ito delivered a great speech emphasizing how imperative it was for Japan to observe the Open Door policy in Manchuria faithfully. He regretted that the army and the Foreign Office had been working at cross-purposes in Manchuria, and that foreign governments had been questioning the sincerity of Japanese professions of support for the policy of the Open Door and equal opportunity. He laid before the conference the substance of a confidential letter addressed to him by the British minister at Tokyo, intimating that British and American business interests had been complaining of the discriminatory policy which they thought the Japanese military administration in Manchuria was practising against foreign goods and in favor of Japanese trade. He could not close his eyes to the trouble which was obviously ahead were Japan to follow such a policy. As the first step in the right direction he urged the abolition of military administration and the substitution of consular jurisdiction under the control of the Foreign Office at Tokyo. Manchuria, he said, was Chinese territory under Chinese sovereignty which should be respected in accordance with Japan's repeated advocacy of China's territorial and administrative integrity. And of course this contention was right in those days, when China was ruled by the Manchu Dynasty, which had originated in Manchuria. One wonders what Ito would have had to say had he lived to witness the singular spectacle of the last of the Manchu Emporers (whom the Chinese, in defiance of the abdication treaty he had signed with them, expropriated and expelled) retiring into Manchuria, his ancestral abode, and there setting up, with Japanese aid, an independent government.
Throughout Ito's long and vigorous address the dominant note was his solicitude for foreign friendship and foreign respect for Japan. And indeed foreign (especially American and British) criticisms of Japan's acts in Manchuria in those days were both severe and numerous. Foreign business interests never stopped to think that all that Japan salvaged out of the Russian war, which had cost her a billion gold dollars and a hundred thousand lives, was a small leased territory and a battered-down narrow-gauge railway equipped with her own, not Russian, rolling stock, and that Japan felt it both imperative and justifiable to recoup herself to some extent by promoting her own trade. Naturally foreign merchants who flocked to Manchuria to pick up the loose ends of their businesses complained bitterly when the narrow-gauge military railway, overtaxed by the transportation of the evacuating army and military stores, was unable to accommodate all traders clamoring for car space and gave preference to Japanese. After all, both the Japanese and the foreigners were human. Then there was the question of customs duties at Dairen. While Japanese goods shipped to that port direct from Japan were allowed to enter free of duty, foreign (including Japanese) goods trans-shipped there from Shanghai or Cheefoo were taxed in compliance with the coastwise trade regulations of the Chinese Government. Technically there was nothing wrong or discriminatory about this practice. American or British merchandise, if shipped direct to Dairen from America or England, was exempt from duty just as Japanese goods were. But it so happened that most of the American and British goods destined for Dairen were trans-shipped from other Chinese ports, and were therefore dutiable. Happily this customs question was solved in 1907, when a Chinese customs office was opened at Dairen under an agreement signed in May of that year between Japan and Sir Robert Hart, Inspector-General of Customs of China.
All these factors conspired to rouse keen resentment among foreign firms interested in Manchurian trade. Indeed, in the few years following the Russian war the American cotton goods trade was mostly superceded by Japanese cottons. Thanks largely to Ito's indefatigable fight for the Open Door, and also owing to the improvement of the railway, this unhappy situation gradually changed for the better, with a corresponding change in foreign sentiment. In the particular case of the United States, the disappointment caused by her loss in the cotton trade was more than assuaged by the phenomenal increase of her exports to Manchuria in other lines, especially steel, locomotives, and machinery.
It was Ito's sincere desire to conciliate China by respecting her territorial and administrative integrity. Similarly in Korea his professed idea was to preserve the independence of that country by putting her house in order. In March 1904, when he was in Korea as Japan's special envoy, he memorialized the Korean Emperor urging upon him a policy of internal reform. "The maintenance of the peace of the Far East," he said, "depends upon Japan, China, and Korea working together to advance their own respective civilizations and thus securing their independence by elevating themselves to the plane of equality with the nations of Europe and America. This, of course, does not mean that the three nations of the Far East should combine to assume a hostile attitude toward Europe and America and their civilization upon racial and religious grounds. On the contrary, a nation must unhesitatingly give up such of its own traditions and customs as may be inimical to its own progress. That is the course which Japan has followed in the last thirty years. Should China and Korea pursue a similar course, the three Far Eastern nations could work together and help each other for their common security, without at the same time antagonizing Europe and America, but rather coöperating with them. No nation, whether Occidental or Oriental, can long follow a policy of anti-foreignism without bringing down upon itself disaster and ultimately destruction." Evidently it was Ito's cherished hope to see Korea and China, both of them regenerated, taking their places in the family of civilized and progressive nations and coöperating with Japan for the common weal of the Orient in the face of an Occident animated with aggressive imperialism. Had he lived until today he would have been a disillusioned man. Even before his tragic death, his hopes, so far as Korea was concerned, had been blighted.