New Japan


9. Foreign Relations 1895 - 1913

In 1884, Russia concluded a commercial treaty with Korea, and from that time was represented in Seoul by one of the ablest members of her diplomatic service. So long as China's influence was predominant, and afterwards during the regime of Count Inouye, he was content to play an unobtrusive part in local politics, but the murder of the Queen gave him a new opportunity. The terrified King and the Crown Prince fled from their palace and took refuge in the Russian Legation, where they remained for two years. There they were completely under the control of the astute minister, who became the de facto ruler of the country just as Yuan Shi Kwai and Inouye had, in their turns, previously been. He cared nothing for the internal reform of Korea; so far from that, the more chaotic her Government became, the more likely was she to be a helpless prey whenever Russia might think the time had come to grasp it, and that time would come with the completion of the TransSiberian railway. In the meantime, every step that could consolidate Russian influence was taken. Russian officers were appointed as instructors to the Korean army, financial officials to the control of the treasury, civil advisers to the other administrative departments, and commercial concessions, involving substantial territorial rights that afforded plausible excuses for placing Russian troops and colonists in northern Korea, were easily obtained.

Japan endeavoured to repair the terrible blunder she had made in entrusting her representation to one so unfitted as Miura by sending, in his place, Baron Komura, who was as conspicuous for the possession of all the qualities that fitted him for a difficult diplomatic post as Miura was the reverse, who was, in later years, the negotiator of the Portsmouth Treaty, Ambassador to Great Britain and Minister for Foreign AflPairs, but even his great abilities could achieve nothing. Numerous efforts were made to come to an understanding with Russia, both at St Petersburg and in Tokio, but while Russia was willing enough to sign any conventions, she showed by her actions that she had no intention of abiding by them one moment longer than it suited her to do so.

It was not in Korea alone that her activity was manifested. She had in 1895, with the help of France and Germany, compelled Japan to restore to China the Liao Tung peninsula and the fortress of Port Arthur. Within less than three years she induced China to cede to her, on a so-called lease, the southern part of the peninsula and the fortress, in c}iiical disregard of all the alleged reasons for depriving Japan of what had been legitimately won in war. She thus acquired a fortress that was believed, when in capable hands, to be impregnable, whose situation rendered it of immense strategic importance, which furnished what she had been so long desiring, an ice-free port for her fleet on the Pacific. It was notified to the world that the right of entrance to the harbour would henceforth be limited to the warships of Russia and China, the latter, since the Japan war, being a nonexisting quantity, and it soon became evident that the acquisition of Port Arthur was only a stepping-stone to that of the thi*ee rich provinces of Cliina which combine to form Manchuria. Russia obtained from China the right of carrying her trans-Siberian railway through Manchuria, both to Port Arthur and to Vladivostok, and of guarding the line by her own troops. As no limit was placed on the number of the latter, or on the extent of territory they were supposed to guard, Russian garrisons soon became conspicuous throughout the three provinces, and even the capital Mukden, the birth-place of the Imperial Manchus, was not exempt. The Boxer rising in 1900 gave the opportunity for the undisguised annexation of a large strip of land on the right bank of the river Amur, which till then had been the boundary of Siberia and northern Manchuria, and a further plausible opportunity, with the military strength to take advantage of it, was only awaited to extend this annexation to the whole territory.

With a fortified naval base at Vladivostok on the East of Korea, another even stronger at Port Arthur on the West, and all Manchuria on the North in Russian hands, the ultimate fate of Korea would be sealed. Russia could take possession of the whole peninsula whenever she wished and Japan would then have on her sea borders, only a few miles from her own shores, a greedy and unscrupulous Power of overwhelming military strength. Korea in the Russian grasp more than realized to Japan all the possibilities that the most advanced Unionists profess to foresee in a hostile Ireland under Home Rule and in active sympathy with a strong naval Power at war with Great Britain. Or to take another parallel, equally applicable to ourselves, she regarded such an eventuality as equally pregnant with danger to her own national existence as we should the absorption of Belgium and Holland by the German Empire. The completion of the trans-Siberian Railway enabled Russia to make large increases in her troops, her Pacific fleet was reinforced by battleships of the first class and the fortifications of Port Arthur and Vladivostok were strengthened by every means that military engineering could devise to render them impregnable.

Japan on her side was not idle. Through all these years, she was steadily developing her material and military resources and both advanced by leaps and bounds. She was gradually but surely moving towards the time when she could calmly contemplate the results of a conflict even with Russia. But France was Russia's ally and it was known that the alliance was not confined to Europe. Germany had already shown that she would not be indisposed to act with Russia in the Far East, and however ready Japan might be to face Russia single-handed, she could not risk a conflict in which Russia could rely on the active co-operation of one and at least the sympathy of another great military Power. Her dlflBculty was solved when the Treaty of Alliance with Great Britain, signed in London on January 30, 1902, gave her the assurance that if the juncture arose, she would, in her turn, not be left to meet it alone.

Two more years of diplomatic negotiation followed without change in Russia's methods. Her representative in Japan and her other agents in the East blundered much as the Chinese Minister had done ten years previously. They did not underestimate Japanese patriotism, but they entirely misjudged the completeness of Japan's military preparations and took little pains to conceal the contempt they felt for her as an adversary on either sea or land. Acting on their information Russia thought she could continue to flout, with the same cynical effrontery as before and with absolute impunity to herself, every effort that was made by Japan to provide the safe-guards that were thought to be essential for the independence of Korea and her own territorial integrity.

Patience, no matter how long-suffering, has its limits, and those which Japan had prescribed for herself in this case were transgressed in 1904, and on the 10th of February war was formally declared in Tokio. The date was one of great historical associations. It was one day earlier than that on which Jimmu, the first Emperor, ascended the throne more than 2,500 years before, and than that on which the reigning Emperor had promulgated, in 1889, the constitution to his people. It was two days earlier than that on which the Anglo-Japanese alliance was published to the world.

The command of the sea was essential to the accomplishment of Japan's plan of campaign. She had a powerful fleet in full commission under the supreme command of Admiral Togo, the officer who, as captain of the "Naniwa," struck the first blow in the war with China, but that of Russia was, on paper, somewhat stronger, and it could in time be reinforced from the Baltic, while Japan had neither reserves to fall back upon nor possible means, while the war lasted, of acquiring new ships of the first class to replace any that were lost. She could not therefore aflbrd to stake everything on one general engagement, but her difficulty was solved by the enterprise of Togo and the supineness of the Russians in their avowed contempt for their enemy. The main Russian fleet was at anchor in the roadstead outside the harbour of Port Arthur, but four firstclass cruisers were far away at Vladivostok and one, with a gunboat, was at Chemulpo. Not only was no attempt made to unite these scattered ships, but so little belief was felt in the possibility of Japan venturing on war that the most ordinary precautions were neglected by the fleet at Port Arthur. On the night of the 8th of February most of the officers were actually on shore at a ball. Those left on board were probably thinking of nothing less than a coming attack, when suddenly the Japanese flotilla of torpedo boats swooped down and, at the most trifling cost to themselves, inflicted such damage on the Russian fleet that three of its most formidable fighting units were incapacitated for further service. On the following day, the two vessels at Chemulpo were destroyed by an overwhelming force, after an attempt at resistance in wliich, gallant as it was, not a particle of damage was done either to the men or the ships of the Japanese. Both these events took place before the formal declaration of war. They gave Japan the undisputed command of the sea, and when the declaration was made she knew that she could land her troops when and where she would. Russia tried to redeem her first naval failure by fitting out a great fleet in the Baltic, but when it arrived in Japanese waters, manned with halftrained crews and its ships foul after the long voyage round the Cape, it was totally destroyed in one afternoon. The battle was fought on May 28, 1905, near the island of Tsushima, from which it takes its name, and it was in its results the most decisive and complete since Trafalgar.

Space permits us to devote but a few words to the campaign on land. There, too, victory attended the Japanese arms but it was gained at heavy cost. The great fortress of Port Arthur was once more taken after a siege which lasted six mouths, and six great battles were fought, one of which (Liao-Yang) lasted for nine and another (Mukden) for fourteen days. The end of all was a deadlock. The Russian armies, though repeatedly defeated, still presented a bold front and Japan was coming to the limit of her resources both of men and money. Then the President of the United States intervened and peace was established by the Treaty of Portsmouth (New Jersey, U.S.A.) which was signed on August 29, 1905.

The provisions of the treaty were in some degree a repetition of those of the treaty of Shimonoseki. Japan's preponderating influence in Korea, political, military and economic, was once more admitted. The southern extremity of the Liao Tung Peninsula and Port Arthur were once more ceded to her. Russia also undertook to evacuate Southern Manchuria, and as China had ceded Formosa so did Russia now cede the southern half of Saghalin. Japan also obtained control of the southern section of the Manchurian Railway for a length of 521 miles from the terminus at Port Arthur together with all the collateral privileges that Russia had extorted from China. Those were her fi'uits of the war, which had cost her more than 170 millions sterling and 230,000 of her soldiers, killed or wounded. No war indemnity, was paid and while Japan had secured in the fullest degree the objects for which she had fought, she had now to face all the burthens of what was, relative to her resources, an enormous national debt and to assume the obligation of safe-guarding her new possessions and interests on the mainland of Asia. Provision had to be made for the interest and amortisation of the national debt, but this necessity did not deter the Government from immediately adopting measures to ensure the large increase in the fighting strength of the nation that was demanded by its new responsibilities.

Six divisions were added to the army, raising the total from thirteen, the number before the Russian War, to nineteen. Each division is in itself a complete fighting unit, comprising infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers and transport, and greater relative increases were made in the latter branches of each division than in the infantry. Improvements were effected in the arms, organisation and general equipment of the whole army. The conscription law was altered and the period of service with the colours reduced from three to two years, but that in the reserve was simultaneously extended from four to ten years, the results of the two measures being that it became possible to enrol annually a much larger number of conscripts than formerly, while the first reserve was increased from 200,000 to 500,000 men. The total strength of the army on its peace footing is now close upon 250,000 and it is estimated that, in little more than ten years, Japan will be able to put into the field for foreign service, should occasion require it, not less than 1,500,000 men, all fully trained soldiers, while another million men of the "reinforcing reserve" (Hoju), conscripts who, though physically fit, are not called to the colours and receive only a short training of a few months' duration spread over two years, will be available both for the defence of the country against invasion and also for filling up vacancies in the first fighting lines. Every man cheerfully undergoes all the sacrifices that are necessary to make him eflficient and he is ready whenever called upon.

No less care was given to the extension of the navy than to the army. Before the Russian War Japan possessed, exclusive of torpedo boats, 79 war vessels with a total displacement of 274,000 tons, of which six were first-class battleships, the whole being manned by a personnel of 46,000 officers and men. Two battleships and eight cruisers were lost during the war, but five battleships and eleven cruisers were captured from the Russians. An extensive building programme was initiated after the war, the result of which is that the navy now consists of 124 ships with a displacement of over 500,000 tons, including 16 battleships and 13 armed cruisers of the first class, manned by a personnel of over 48,000 officers and men. Arsenals, dockyards, powder factories and land fortifications were also increased in size and efficiency, and all the measures necessary for naval construction completed so as to render Japan absolutely independent in the construction and arming of ships of the largest size and most modem design.

These increases in the fighting strength required equally large increases in the national expenditure. The annual budget which, previous to the war, provided for an army expenditure of about five millions sterling and for the navy of less than three millions rose to eleven millions and eight millions respectively, and these charges added to the interest on the national debt, necessitated an immense increase in taxation. The national revenue before the war was twenty-six millions sterling. It is now nearly fifty-eight millions, the yield from taxation alone having been increased from fourteen to thirty-two millions sterling.

Industry and trade have developed and the general economic conditions of the country improved to an extent that has enabled the people to bear the new financial burthens without distress, and though retrenchment has been one of the principal planks in the platform of the leading political parties, the Government has been able to maintain the foreign credit and policy of the nation unhampered by the dread of serious financial embarrassments at home. The Anglo-Japanese alliance was re-ratified and extended in 1905. An entente Avas established with Russia and France two years later and the bonds thus created were morally strengthened when the trend of European politics brought Great Britain into close association with the two latter Powers. Japan has been able to proceed on the path which she had marked out for herself in Korea without fear of further complications in the future, of which the possibility would never have been wholly wanting had Russia continued to adhere to her old policy of expansion southwards in the Far East and to cherish feelings of one day recovering by her arms all that she had lost in the war.

Marquis Inouye

At the very outset of the war, when Japan had secured command of the sea but before the first land battle had been fought on the banks of the Yalu, a new treaty was concluded between Japan and Korea, by which the latter pledged herself to adopt the advice of the former in regard to the improvement of the administration, while Japan in return undertook to secure both " the external and internal peace and the independence and integrity of Korea," as well as "the safety and repose of the Imperial House" - the King had, in 1897, assumed the title of and been recrowned as Emperor, an act which emphasized his complete freedom from vassalage to China. A supplement to this treaty, signed in 1905, gave to Japan the control of Korea's foreign relations and Prince Ito - he was advanced to the highest rank in the peerage after the war, and Count Inouye was at the same time advanced to the Marquisate - was appointed Resident-General, and his great abilities and experience were thenceforward devoted to the task, which he had accomplished with such brilliant success in his own country, of effecting the complete political and social reform of Korea. His position was, however, in some degree similar to that of Marquis Inouye. He was still only an adviser, and though the Korean Government had pledged itself to accept his advice, when it failed to do so, as was often the case, he had no means of enforcing the measures he thought necessary. A strong step was unavoidable. In July 1907, the Emperor was forced to abdicate, after a reign of 40 years, in favour of his son and simultaneously a new convention was signed, which practically vested the Resident-General with supreme legislative and executive authority. He was now no longer an adviser but an administrator able to enforce his will, and a sweeping campaign of reform was at once instituted, which aflfected not only every branch of the Government, from the court to the most remote local prefectures, but the whole social system of the nation.

A great measure of success was achieved not only in administrative and legislative reforms, but also in the development of education, industry, sanitation and communications, but Prince Ito was not fated to see the results of his work. On October 26, 1909, he was assassinated by one of the people whom he was trying to benefit, and his great career came to an end, a career which, both in the service he rendered to his country and in the world-wide reputation as a statesman which it brought to him, is only paralleled in modern times by those of Lincoln, Bismarck and Cavour. The pride in which his memory is held in his own country may well be shared by Great Britain. The short education which he received in his youth in England and the knowledge that he then acquired of the foundations of the political and commercial greatness of the British Empire were the mainsprings of all the great eflForts of his manhood, by which he transformed his own country from a puny and insignificant Asiatic despotism, torn by internecine strife and fettered by the iron shackles of feudalism into one of the great constitutional, military and commercial Powers of the world.

With his death the last hopes faded of preserving even the nominal independence of Korea. The regime of a protectorate which, through him, Japan was endeavouring to render effective, threatened to collapse when the great guiding hand was taken away, and before another year had passed, on August 29, 1910, the last step was taken and Korea was formally annexed to the Japanese Empire. The step had been under consideration even before Ito's death, and it is possible that he may have seen its ultimate necessity as the only means of Japan attaining in its completest sense all she had fought for in her two great wars. She had persistently disclaimed any desire for territorial aggression. She had in her treaty of 1904 with Korea unequivocally pledged herself to secure the independence and integrity of the Korean Empire, and when she did so she honestly intended to observe her undertaking to its uttermost limits. But facts had proved too strong for her. All the sacrifices she had made - which included a very large direct outlay on Korea's behalf- had failed to furnish definite prospects of the effective regeneration of the unhappy, ill-governed kingdom, or of the permanent reform of glaring social abuses that had lasted for centuries. The only hope for the future lay in Japan openly assuming the full responsibility of the administration in name as well as in deed.

Her colony of Formosa has been successfully exploited and, by good government, order has been maintained and the great natural resources of the island so well used that it now promises to become a valuable commercial asset to the Empire. What has been achieved in Formosa will no doubt in due time be also achieved in Korea, when all the black records of the past have been erased from the memories of its people by the just and humane treatment which the Emperor ordered his officials to extend to them and by a security of life and property that they never knew when under their own authorities.

The long Korean chapter in the history of Japan's Foreign Relations is now closed and the main source of her external complications is gone. Neither Great Britain nor Russia, the two Powers most materially interested, raised one word of protest against the annexation. Great Britain was Japan's ally and the entente with Russia facilitated the specific delimitation of the future spheres of both in the Far East of the Asiatic continent. Russia has abandoned all her old projects of territorial expansion to the South, and Japan has acquired a free hand in South Manchuria, where she has opened for herself a path not unlike that which was the object of Russia before the war. The rights which she obtained by the treaty of Portsmouth, subsequently ratified by a convention with China, have not only been utilised to the fullest extent, but even attempts on the part of other nations to share in the development of railway construction, with its consequent commercial advantages in Manchuria, have been successfully resisted. Japanese troops are now in Southern Manchuria for the same ostensible purpose of guarding the existing railway lines as were formerly the Russian. Japanese immigrants have been flocking into and settling in the province, and though parliament has recently put its veto on the large increase of the army in Korea that the military authorities demanded as a necessary measure for the maintenance of Japan's interests, every present indication leads to the assumption that the control which is now exercised over Southern Manchuria is intended to be permanent and that continued political unrest in China may even afibrd plausible grounds for open annexation.

Since the war, Japan's only external controversies have been with the United States of America, the country on which, throughout the early years of the Imperial Government, she relied as her best political friend, the one in strongest sympathy with all her national aspirations. Her action in Manchuria has been one subject of these controversies, but their beginning is to be found in more domestic incidents. Large numbers of Japanese traders, artisans and skilled agriculturists emigrated to the Pacific slope both of the United States and of Canada, attracted not only by the high wages that were obtainable for their very efficient labour, but also by the commercial and agricultural openings that could be profitably exploited by those who either brought a small capital with them or afterwards acquired it while in service. As small tradesmen, as skilled mechanics, and as fruit growers, living and carrying on their occupations at far less cost than was possible for their competitors of European descent, they were always able to undersell the latter and acquired therefore a very considerable degree of prosperity.

They were not welcome either in British Columbia or in California, but their numbers continued to increase through the facilities provided for them by large emigration companies in Japan, and the result was an outburst both in British Columbia and in California of antiAsiatic prejudice, which, in 1907, attained to such dimensions that the local legislatures were forced to pass Immigration Acts generally restricting the further ingress of Asiatics, but in both cases mainly directed against Japanese. The Californian legislature added insult to injury by debarring the children of Japanese, who were already resident in the State, from the privilege of attending the State schools.

These measures provoked intense indignation in Japan and were a cause of great embarrassment to the Governments of Canada and the United States. Under the treaties, Japanese had clearly the right of entering and residing in the territories of both without limitation of any kind as to occupations or districts, and an obligation lay on the Governments to see that the provisions of the treaties were not violated by individual State legislatures which, whatever was the extent of the local autonomy enjoyed by them, were subordinate to the central Governments in all Imperial affairs. A serious international difficulty was threatened, but it was happily averted by the good sense and conciliatory disposition of the Government of Japan. No abatement was made of the admitted treaty rights, but in Japan restrictions were placed on emigration which were effective in limiting that across the Pacific to a very moderate scale and in confining the emigrants to persons who were not likely to become industrial competitors with Europeans. This question was thus settled, for the time being, but it has, at the time of writing, apparently been revived in California in a somewhat acute form, one which, if it continues, must cause serious friction between the two Governments. That of the United States cannot, under the constitution, interfere with the sovereign autonomy which each individual State enjoys in its local affairs. That of Japan is in no mood to brook any infraction of its treaty rights or any derogatory discrimination against its people.

Their growing trans-Pacific trade caused the United States to give increased attention to affairs in China and to lend their diplomatic support to the preservation both of China's territorial integrity and of the principle of the "open door," by which all nations enjoy equal commercial opportunities throughout the whole Empire. Japan's actions in Manchuria, with their possible eventualities, were not unnoticed in the States. An effort was made in 1910 to counteract them in the proposal of the Secretary of State (Mr Knox) that all the railways in Manchuria should be neutralised, but its only direct result was the conclusion of a further agreement between Japan and Russia for the defence of their mutual interests and the maintenance of the status quo. The rebuff has not diminished the active interest of the United States in the future of China, which in her turn, under her new republican Government, evinces a growing desire to rely on the United States for both political and financial support. The mutual attitudes of the United States and Japan across the Pacific are now not unlike those of the GeiTnan Empire and Great Britain in Europe, outwardly friendly but with a strong undercurrent of mistrust in the militant sections of both nations. Both are aspirants for the hegemony of the Pacific.

The controversies between the United States and Japan gave rise to serious apprehension in Great Britain as to the obligations of the alliance in the event of a war between the two Powers and the complications which might arise under the Geneml Treaty of Arbitration, then being negotiated with the United States, on tlie one side and the Treaty of Alliance with Japan on the other. A new Treaty of Alliance, to continue in force for ten years, was therefore concluded in 1911, by which modifications, intended to remove this apprehension, were introduced into the old, and in the same year a new commercial treaty was also negotiated and signed, the latter containing a special tariff clause under which the customs dues are fixed on the principal British imports to Japan. These had been so largely increased by the Japanese legislature in 1910 as to threaten a very serious diminution of British trade, and a commercial was therefore superimposed on the political grievance created by the Alliance. The former, if not removed in its absolute entirety, was so materially softened by the new treaty as to leave no reasonable ground for discontent on the part of the manufacturer in Great Britain. The customs dues now levied in Japan are much heavier than they were, but the aggregate value of British imports has substantially increased, and by the Alliance Great Britain is, at a time when it is advisable for her to concentrate her whole naval strength in home waters, freed fi-om the obligation of maintaining a strong fleet in the Far East. Great Britain can pride hei*self in the knowledge that her example originally fired the ambition of Japan. She has her material reward in being able to count upon the faithful support of an ally, whose own military strength and natural advantages constitute an impregnable defence against all the world.