The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
THE origins of American expansion towards the Far East go back to the infancy of the Republic, for Americans were entering the China trade by the last decades of the eighteenth century. By 1800 this trade had become of sufficient importance to warrant sending an American man-of-war to the Orient to protect it, and during the first half of the nineteenth century its volume steadily increased. Trade treaties were made with Siam, China, and other oriental states. Enterprising American naval commanders raised the flag in such places as Formosa and the Bonin Islands, only to be disavowed by the authorities at home. And it was, of course, an American, Commodore Perry, who in 1853 opened up Japan to the outside world.
After 1858 a period of dry rot set in for the American trade in Asia; all the great American mercantile houses, famous in the Far East during the first half century, either withdrew or failed. American business men found readier profits in the tremendous industrial expansion of the post-bellum decades in their own country. Nevertheless, American political interest in the Pacific area did not by any means disappear. And it was inevitable that this political interest should bring the United States more and more into contact with reawakening Japan. In the case of Hawaii, for instance, it was pointed out by American observers that failure to acquire the islands would lead to their annexation by Japan, which, in turn, would inevitably lead to a conflict between the two countries. When the United States annexed Hawaii in 1897, Japan did indeed enter a vigorous protest.
After Dewey's victory in Manila Bay the United States saw itself drawn ever more closely into the Orient. But the American people had not intended to embark on a policy of imperial expansion in the Far East, and the question as to whether the Philippines should be retained caught them unawares. They scarcely knew where the islands were. American trade with them had never been important. A number of American vessels had called in Manila during the great days of the China trade, but few Americans had settled there. In 1825, for example, the only American resident in the Philippine capital was the consul. As late as 1896 the United States imported from the Philippines only $4,383,740 worth of goods, while American exports to the islands were valued at less than $200,000.
The McKinley Administration in the end decided to retain possession of the Philippines, largely because it did not know what else it could do with dignity and conscience. There was no possibility of the Filipinos being permitted to set up a government of their own. They could not be given back to Spain, since Spain would probably have ceded them to the Germans. The British were opposed to this; and as part of the price for England's surrendering the Caribbean to American supremacy the United States stayed in the Philippines.
The major Far Eastern policy of the United States clearly has been not to acquire or hold territories, concessions, or spheres of influence. Although the American flag flew for a time in the Lu Chu and Bonin Islands and Formosa, and although the United States was willing to acquire bases if ports in Japan had not been opened to commerce, the American Government never officially claimed nor acquired territory in the Far East until it entered the Philippine Islands.
The Philippine adventure of the United States has not been inconsistent with that policy. In the first place, the Philippines were not acquired by force or duress from an Oriental nation but by cession from Spain, which had held practically undisputed possession of them for more than three hundred years. In the second place, the Philippines were not acquired by design, but by an incident of war, in the settlement of which the interests of peace made necessary their cession to the United States. In the third place, since the acquisition of the islands every American president as well as several Congresses have declared that it was not the intention of the United States permanently to retain them. This promise has now been redeemed by the creation of the Philippine Commonwealth. Whether the policy of the United States in respect to the Philippines is wise or for the best interests of the United States or of the Filipino people, is a question beside the point which I am now trying to make clear. The essential thing is that the policy of the United States has always been not to acquire or to hold territorial possessions in the Far East.
As a corollary of this major policy, the United States has openly declared and consistently advocated the policy of the Open Door in the Far East, equal opportunity for all nationals, and the territorial integrity of China. As the American Government eschewed territorial aggrandizement, obviously it was to its best interest to insist upon rights for its nationals equal to those of all other nationals. It did not have territorial possessions in the Far East. Only by securing the acceptance of that policy by other nations, then, could the United States hope to secure and retain for its citizens trade rights on a par with those of the citizens of other nations. But how can the Open Door be maintained in regions where sovereignty has passed, partially or wholly, to a foreign Power?
When the United States entered the Philippines the clouds of discord were rapidly gathering in the Far East. Rival ambitions were clashing. The Open Door everywhere was relentlessly being closed. Japan had taken Formosa and the Pescadores from China and had forced her to acknowledge the independence of Korea. France had consolidated her position in Indo-China and had acquired special rights in the Provinces of Yunnan, Kwangtung and Kwangsi in the south of China, exclusive concessions for railroads and mines, and a lease of the Bay of Kwangchowan. Great Britain held Hong Kong and Kowloon, and had obtained special privileges in Central China, including a non-alienation agreement for the Yangtze Valley and the port of Wei-hai-wei. Germany, as compensation for the death of two missionaries, had won special rights in Shantung and the lease of Kiao-chow, the best naval base south of Port Arthur. Russia was consolidating her position in Manchuria: she had secured preferential rights for the construction of all railroads north and northeast of Peking, the recognition of Mongolia and Manchuria as a Russian sphere of influence, and the lease of Port Arthur commanding the approach by sea to Peking and North China.
The United States, having acquired with the Philippines a voice in Far Eastern affairs, decided to try to end this mad scramble for territories and rights in China. Accordingly, in September 1899, Mr. John Hay, Secretary of State, requested the governments of Great Britain, Germany, Russia, France, Japan and Italy to give "formal assurance" --
That any claims made by them to spheres of influence in China would not interfere with any vested interests within such so-called spheres. That the Chinese tariff then in force would apply to all merchandise, to whatever nationality belonging, landed in or shipped to all ports within such spheres, and that the duties levied thereon should be collected by the Chinese government; and
That no discrimination be made in the matter of harbor dues or railroad charges within such spheres as to vessels or merchandise belonging to the citizens or subjects of any other nationality.
Italy, which had no sphere of influence in China, promptly acquiesced. Each of the other Powers agreed, provided all the others gave a "like acquiescence." These acquiescences, being uniform, were considered as acceptances, and the Powers were so notified in March 1900.
In 1900, as an incident of the Boxer troubles and the march on Peking, the United States secured an agreement to "preserve Chinese territorial and administrative integrity."
In 1915 Japan presented her Twenty-One Demands to China. The United States protested and announced that she would not recognize any of the treaties based on such demands as were contrary to the Open Door policy. At the Washington Conference in 1921 the United States secured agreements guaranteeing the territorial and administrative integrity of China and reaffirming the Open Door policy. On several occasions during the adventures of Japan in Manchuria and Shanghai in 1931 and 1932, the United States unequivocally announced its adherence to the policy of the Open Door and to treaties confirming that policy. There clearly can be no question as to the policy of the United States; and it is equally clear that on the maintenance of the policy of the Open Door has depended the interests of the United States in the Far East.
But can the United States maintain that policy? Japan has a contrary policy, which she has followed just as consistently: the political and economic domination of the Far East. Let us see how that policy has been carried out.
The Emperor of Japan had hardly been restored to power in 1868 when Japan laid claim to the Bonins. This was quickly followed by the assertion of sovereignty over the Lu Chus, although China also claimed those islands. Japan then occupied a portion of Formosa, but withdrew because of the opposition of the European Powers. Japan undertook to dominate Korea. She first forced China to acknowledge Korea's independence, and then annexed it herself. By war Japan made China cede Formosa and the Pescadores. Japan fought Russia and forced the cession of all Russian rights in southern Manchuria and the southern half of Sakhalin. China had to acquiesce. Japan extorted from China concessions and special rights as set forth in the Twenty-One Demands. She forced Germany out of Shantung and then obliged China to agree to recognize any rights there which Japan might secure from Germany. The Treaty of Versailles confirmed Japan's title; but as a result of American opposition, she finally agreed in 1921 to surrender it to China. Recently she has tried to justify her aggression in Manchuria by the treaties which grew out of the Twenty-One Demands.
The policy of the United States, then, has always been to maintain the principle of most-favored-nation treatment or the Open Door. But that policy is of little or no avail in territories which come under the control or domination of another Power. Japan's relentless extension of her territorial domain has already closed the door in the Lu Chus, the Pescadores, Formosa, Korea, Sakhalin, and Manchuria. The Chinese door is slowly being closed. Is it a mere coincidence that every one of these doors was closed, with the exception of Manchuria, before the United States acquired the Philippines? The United States by moral pressure and by reason of her possession of the Philippines forced Japan to relinquish Shantung; chapters of the story regarding the Manchurian and Chinese doors have yet to be written.
When the United States retires from the Philippines, can it maintain the Open Door policy? That hardly seems probable, for after the departure of the United States it is almost certain that Japan will extend her domination over the Philippines. Some hold a contrary view. They point to the statements of Japan to the effect that she has no intention of dominating the Philippines. For instance, early in 1932 Secretary of State Stimson stated that were the Philippines then to be granted their independence they most likely would be absorbed by another nation in the Far East. A spokesman of the Foreign Office immediately replied that the Japanese Government would willingly sign a treaty with the United States to guarantee the perpetual independence of the Philippines. He further stated:
We have no desire to acquire the Philippines. We are unable to see any advantage to Japan if America grants their independence. We are chiefly interested in the islands as a profitable market near home, but we doubt whether independence would improve that market. Probably the reverse would be true.
This seems a naïve statement indeed. How much reliance can be placed on it? Let us turn back a bit.
In 1885 Prince (then Count) Ito declared: "Japan would have Korea always independent." Ten years later Japan forced China to acknowledge the independence of Korea; fifteen years later she annexed Korea.
In 1900 Japan, with other nations, agreed to "preserve Chinese territorial and administrative integrity." Five years later Japan succeeded Russia in southern Manchuria and forced China to acquiesce. In 1914 Japan delivered an ultimatum to Germany demanding the cession of all German rights in Shantung "with a view to their eventual restoration to China." But early in 1915 Japan imposed her Twenty-One Demands on China. Among them was one that China give full assent to any agreement which Japan might make with Germany regarding German rights in Shantung; and others that Japan be given new, additional and exclusive rights in Manchuria.
In 1921, at the Washington Conference, Japan agreed to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and to refrain from taking any advantage of conditions in China to seek special rights or privileges therein; but in 1931 she seized Manchuria, and has since set up a puppet government there under her exclusive control.
In 1919 Japan signed the Covenant of the League of Nations. In 1931 and 1932 she refused to be bound by that Covenant; and when the League found against her, she gave notice of withdrawal from that body. A spokesman of the Foreign Office, on learning that the report of the Joint Commission appointed by the League to investigate the differences between Japan and China would be contrary to Japan's position, stated that "Japan's program is decided, and whatever the League or the United States may think about it makes no difference."
In 1928 Japan signed the Pact of Paris to outlaw war. In 1931 and 1932, when that Pact was invoked, she refused to consider herself bound by it, and not only forcibly acquired control over Manchuria, but sacked a large area in and near Shanghai.
Does it not seem fairly obvious that Japan considers her promises and agreements binding on herself only so long as she believes it to be to her interest to do so?
Some hold that Japan's expansion is necessitated by the pressure of her surplus population, for whom room must be found outside. This being the case, the argument runs, the Filipinos need have no fear, for Japanese will not colonize in the tropics. In support of this they point out that after nearly forty years of possession by Japan only some 300,000 of her nationals have migrated to Formosa. They fail, however, to take into consideration: (a), the class of emigrants to Formosa; (b), that a possession may support a surplus population without emigration; and (c), that a possession may have a military value either for the protection of the homeland or as a step towards the consummation of a policy elsewhere.
Let us take these considerations up in turn.
Assuming the accuracy of the statement that only about 300,000 Japanese have migrated to Formosa, this proves nothing, for Japan has controlled southern Manchuria for nearly thirty years, and yet up to 1931 only 250,000 of her people had emigrated to Manchuria. The important point is that the Japanese emigrants dominate Formosa, and that under them the native peoples are the hewers of wood and drawers of water. Japanese have gone to Formosa not as colonists but to direct and control the government and agriculture, commerce and industry.
In the Philippines there are, say, 100,000 Chinese among 12,000,000 Filipinos; yet the Chinese largely dominate and control Philippine commerce. Put 300,000 Japanese in the Philippines, or even half that number, of the same class as those Japanese now in Formosa, and Japan would dominate the Philippines. An example of Japanese methods and efficiency may be found in Davao, where Japanese, amid Filipinos with greater opportunities, now largely control the hemp industry.
Colonial possessions in the tropics, even though they may not be used as an outlet for the emigration of a surplus population, may nevertheless provide for such surplus population in two ways: they may provide, directly or indirectly, needed food and other supplies; and they may give employment at home in the production of the industrial products desired by the tropics. Feudal Japan was not burdened by a surplus population; in fact, her population remained more or less stationary for almost two hundred years. The rapid growth of population in Japan began with her development as an industrial nation. She can easily support a population much larger than the present one provided she can control needed tropical products and markets for her manufactured goods. An excellent example of the truth of these statements is England, whose enormous increase in population resultant upon industrialization is supported by the exchange of manufactured products for food and raw materials. That the Philippines may not suit the Japanese as an outlet for colonists has therefore no bearing on their desirability as a means of caring for the so-called surplus population of Japan.
For Japan to own the Philippines would be advantageous to her in two ways. The Philippines could supply her with many products which she needs. They could augment her supply of rice (the main item of her diet). The Philippines could give her -- and are now giving her -- a supply of cordage fibers: she at present takes more Manila hemp than does the United States. The Philippines could give her needed supplies of rubber, coffee, vegetable oils, lumber and many other tropical products. She needs iron, and in the Philippines are the largest known deposits of high-grade iron ore in the Far East. In the Philippines are rich deposits of copper; while it is now generally believed that the gold resources of the Islands have hardly been tapped.
On the other side of the picture is the outlet which the Philippines would afford for the industrial products of Japan. Slowly but steadily the Japanese are penetrating the Islands. Equally slowly but steadily Japanese products, despite the tariff wall, are dominating the Philippine market. It is true that the closing of the American tariff door to Philippine products would today ruin many local industries and reduce both imports and exports to but a fraction of their present values; nevertheless Japanese control of the Philippines would open the tariff door into Japan and thus in time largely restore those values. The commercial advantages of the Philippines to Japan would clearly give the latter sufficient incentive to advance there. Japan appears to be fully alive to the possibilities of such an advance, and even now has commercially organized to make it.
The Philippines would be of great military value to Japan. Possession of them would make her position in the Far East almost impregnable, and would make untenable that of almost every other Power having interests, possessions or concessions in China. A glance at the map of the Pacific will quickly show this. Already Japan holds a string of islands from Sakhalin through Japan proper, the Bonins, Lu Chus and Pescadores, and Formosa to the Philippines. To the eastward are the islands of Micronesia, all, with the single exception of Guam, under the control of Japan. If the Philippines were added to these possessions, Japanese possessions would flank the entire eastern coast of Asia from the extreme north almost to the Equator. With Japan in complete control of the approaches to China, the United States, far across the Pacific, or for that matter any other nation, would be practically impotent to oppose a Japanese program for the domination of China.
Many informed people hold similar views. Even Filipinos are viewing the situation with real concern. Thus Manuel Quezon, when President of the Philippine Senate, stated:
If anyone had asked me that [regarding the menace to Philippine independence by some other Power] ten years ago, I would have told them I did not fear it. . . . Now I would not like to say. Not only because of conditions in the East but because of the conditions all over the world. Nations of whom we did not expect boldness seem to have become bold.
So long as the United States kept a foothold here I think any nation would think three times before attacking the Philippines. . . . For the next thirty years, at least, it is doubtful if any nation will want to quarrel with your country. But I am not so sure what might happen if the United States withdrew entirely.
Secretary of State Stimson in a letter to Senator Bingham in March 1932 stated:
If the agencies of American occupation should be at present withdrawn, it is the practically unanimous consensus of all responsible observers that economic chaos and political and social anarchy would result, followed ultimately by domination of the Philippines by some foreign Power, probably either China or Japan.
What a change there has been in the reasons given for the relinquishment of the Philippines! When the United States acquired them, the fear was expressed that the country might come into conflict there with European ambitions, and that the result might be war. The tides have changed. Now the Philippines are to be abandoned so as to avoid a conflict with Japan.
Neither the logic of the situation nor the statements of Americans and Filipinos are, however, necessary to determine what would be the policy of Japan toward the Philippines upon the retirement of the United States. This has been revealed in a long series of Japanese statements. When in 1858 the Shogun sought the assent of the Mikado to the Harris treaty with the United States, it was stated:
Among the rulers of the world at present there is none so noble and illustrious as to command universal vassalage, or who can make his virtuous influence felt throughout the length and breadth of the whole world. To have such a ruler over the whole world is doubtless in conformity with the will of Heaven . . . and in establishing relations with foreign countries, the object should always be kept in view of laying a foundation for securing the hegemony over all nations.
Early in July 1932, Viscount Ishii, Privy Councilor, at an official banquet given to the new Ambassador of the United States, declared:
If the United States ever attempted . . . to prevent Japan from pacific and natural expansion in this part of the world, then indeed a grave situation would be created.
Admiral Suetsugu, Commander in Chief of the combined Imperial Fleets of Japan, boldly states:
World envy parallels the steady rise of the Japanese in world affairs. . . We do not believe that diplomacy will settle the issue, and we are determined to prepare for the worst possibilities of an economic and political clash.
General Araki declared in July 1932:
The spirit of the Japanese nation is, by its nature, a thing that must be propagated over the seven seas and extended over the five continents. Anything that may hinder its progress must be abolished, even by force.
Mr. Hirota, the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently stated:
If the United States desires an amicable solution of the pending problems . . . the United States should keep her hands off Far Eastern affairs and place implicit confidence in Japan's efforts to maintain peace and order in Asia. The world should be divided into three parts, under the influence of American, European and Asiatic Monroe Doctrines.
Japan has already officially declared that she has special responsibilities in eastern Asia and is guardian of the peace there. She has assumed the right to censor Chinese foreign relations.
She has announced her insistence on the revision of the Washington Treaties so that her navy will be on a parity with the navies of England and of the United States, unless among other things Manchukuo is recognized and the United States abandons all naval and aërial bases in the Philippines.
The United States has decided to relinquish sovereignty over the Philippine Islands. The American tide is ebbing. The Japanese tide is flowing. It bids fair to engulf all of eastern Asia. When the United States retires from the Philippines the flow of the Japanese tide will be accelerated. Will that tide engulf the only Christian people in the Far East?