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10-08-2015, 16:25

Joining the Imperialist Club

Japan’s rapid advance was viewed with proprietary pride and admiration by sympathetic observers in the United States. Unfortunately, the Japanese did not just imitate the domestic policies of their Western mentors; they also emulated the latter’s aggressive approach to foreign affairs. That they adopted this course is perhaps not surprising. In their own minds, the Japanese were particularly vulnerable in the world economic arena. Their territory was small, lacking in resources, and densely populated, and they had no natural outlet for expansion. To observant Japanese, the lessons of history were clear. Western nations had amassed wealth and power not only because of their democratic systems and high level of education but also because of their colonies, which provided them with sources of raw materials, cheap labor, and markets for their manufactured products. Traditionally, Japan had not been an expansionist country. The Japanese had generally been satisfied to remain on their home islands and had even deliberately isolated themselves from their neighbors during the Tokugawa era. Perhaps the most notable exception was a short-lived attempt at the end of the sixteenth century to extend Japanese control over the Korean peninsula. The Japanese began their program of territorial expansion (see Map 3.3) close to home. In 1874, they claimed compensation from China for fifty-four sailors from the Ryukyu Islands who had been killed by aborigines on the island of Taiwan and sent a Japanese fleet to Taiwan to punish the perpetrators. When the Qing dynasty evaded responsibility for the incident while agreeing to pay an indemnity to Japan to cover the cost of the expedition, it weakened its claim to ownership of the island of Taiwan. Japan was then able to claim suzerainty over the Ryukyu Islands, long tributary to the Chinese Empire. Two years later, Japanese naval pressure forced the opening of Korean ports to Japanese commerce. During the 1880s, Sino-Japanese rivalry over Korea intensified. In 1894, China and Japan intervened on opposite sides of an internal rebellion in Korea. When hostilities broke out between the two powers, Japanese ships destroyed the Chinese fleet and seized the Manchurian city of Port Arthur (see the box on p. 48). In the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Manchus were forced to recognize the independence of Korea and to cede Taiwan and the Liaodong peninsula, with its strategic naval base at Port Arthur, to Japan. Shortly thereafter, under pressure from the European powers, the Japanese returned the Liaodong peninsula to China, but in the early twentieth century, they returned to the offensive. Rivalry with Russia over influence in Ko- rea led to increasingly strained relations between the two countries. In 1904, Japan launched a surprise attack on the Russian naval base at Port Arthur, which Russia had taken from China in 1898. The Japanese armed forces were weaker, but Russia faced difficult logistical problems along its new Trans-Siberian Railway and severe political instability at home. In 1905, after Japanese warships sank almost the entire Russian fleet off the coast of Korea, the Russians agreed to a humiliating peace, ceding the strategically located Liaodong peninsula back to Japan, along with southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands. Russia also agreed to abandon its political and economic influence in Korea and southern Manchuria, which now came increasingly under Japanese control. The Japanese victory stunned the world, including the colonial peoples of Southeast Asia, who now began to realize that Europeans were not necessarily invincible. During the next few years, the Japanese consolidated their position in northeastern Asia, annexing Korea in 1908 as an integral part of Japan. When the Koreans protested the seizure, Japanese reprisals resulted in thousands of deaths. The United States was the first nation to recognize the annexation in return for Tokyo’s declaration of respect for U.S. authority in the Philippines. In 1908, the two countries reached an agreement in which the United States recognized Japanese interests in the region in return for Japanese acceptance of the principles of the Open Door. But mutual suspicion between the two countries was growing, sparked in part by U.S. efforts to restrict immigration from all Asian countries. President Theodore Roosevelt, who mediated the Russo-Japanese War, had aroused the anger of many Japanese by turning down a Japanese demand for reparations from Russia. In turn, some Americans began to fear the rise of a “yellow peril” manifested by Japanese expansion in East Asia.

 

 

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