Read this term paper to learn about the factors responsible for conflict in East Asia.

Term Paper # 1. The Washington Conference (1921) and Its Aftermath:

Under President Harding and his two immediate successors the tone of Ameri­can policy was eminently conservative both in domestic and foreign affairs. The “Senate of the United States refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or to support United States membership of the new League of Nations for which the President fought so hard in Paris.”

It hurled further blow on the problem of French security when both the United States and United Kingdom beat a retreat from their earlier promise of military aid to France against a possible German attack. The huge supply of material that was supplied by the United States to the Allied powers in their life and death struggle against Germany had made their victory some-what easy.

Now the withdrawal of the United States from European arena and the United Kingdom as well following the footprint of the United States back-tracked leaving France and Belgium alone to protect themselves from the sure future attack of Germany apparently seemed next to impossible for them.


Leaving Europe both the United States and the United Kingdom concentrated their attention overseas and concluded treaty with Japan in the Washington Conference in 1921 to restrict competition in naval armaments in the Pacific. “The ultimate consequences of this withdrawal of American co-operation were incalculable and far-reaching.”

This situation created in Europe produced a severe impact on European balance of power. The balance went in favour of Germany. Despite the event President Harding busied himself with safeguarding American interests in the Far East and for this purpose summoned a nine-power Conference in Washington in 1921. What worried him most was the naval competition between Great Britain and the United States, which threatened the harmonious relations between the two countries.

The situation was rendered all the more serious by the Anglo- Japanese alliance which by encouraging Japanese imperialism might become a menace to the Pacific interests of America. In the Washington Conference several agreements were reached with regard to the naval ratio, the position of China, and the maintenance of the status quo in the Pacific islands.

The Washington conference originated out of a desire, in the interest of economy, to reduce naval armament. Since navy becomes an important part of realising national interests and plays significant role in guarding the coasts of a country, it lead to inevitable contests among the states which came out to exploit other country’s’ natural resources. The United States concentrated her attention to the unguarded and unprotected Far East where she wanted to build her strategic settlements and also aiming to exploit China’s natural resources.


Japan, being a Far Eastern country, also determined to accomplish the same job. Being a close neighbour of China, Japan wanted to secure her political and economic hegemony over China. This made a clash inevitable between Japan and the United States. The growing power of Japan intended to build a powerful navy to oppose USA and the Anglo-Japanese treaty in this respect gave her ample opportunity to accomplish her design.

By 1921 Japan acquired the position strategically to dominate the East. All of the sea approaches from the north to the south came under Japan’s control by this time. Japan Sea was closed to the outer world by her control of Sakhalin, Hokkaido, Japan proper and Korea. Japan’s possession of the Loochoo islands and the Pescadores enabled her to shut off the Yellow Sea and thereby enabled her to control all maritime access to China as well as Siberia.

Access to Manchuria was closed to the outer world by imposing Japanese control over Korea and the Kwantung leased territory. After the First World War in 1918, Japan secured the German railway rights in Shantung enabled her to cutting off North China from the central part of the country. She also maintained an effective control of central China. Thus, from the military standpoint, Japan had gained a dominating position toward China.

Japan’s success to contain Russian interests in South Manchuria in 1905 made her position all the more impregnable. Again, Russia agreed to help Japan in the sphere of their mutual interests. The situation apparently seemed dangerous to the interests of the United States. The latter cherished the desire to preserve the independence and integrity of China because the United States was determined to secure a sphere of interest in China. This indicated a Japanese-American con­flict of interests and policies.


During the First World War Britain, under compul­sion, had acquiesced in the extension of Japanese power and influence in the Far East and entered into secret agreement with Japan in 1917. This actually consti­tuted a handicap to the extension of British trade and financial interests in China. Again, this had seriously prejudiced Anglo-American relations.

The Japanese threat to China and bid for naval supremacy in the Pacific and complete failure of Russia and Great Britain to check Japan were highly disturbing to the United States. From the military and economic point of view it was imperative that effec­tive military pressure should immediately be exerted on Japan by the United States and for the success Japan’s naval strength must be decreased.

Competent naval authorities support the view that a successful war could be waged against Japan only when the victors would have at least doubled her naval strength. During the war in 1915 — when other interested powers were heavily engaged in Europe — Japan presented her “Twenty One Demands”, a secret ultimatum to China which the latter had to accept, thus creating a virtual Japanese protectorate over her. These developments in the Far East disturbed America as in this area she could not maintain the “attitude of serene detachment.”

Hence, the United States convened a conference in Washington in 1921, inviting the four big powers — Britain, France, Japan and Italy — along with three other powers having territorial interests in the Pacific, namely, China, the Netherlands and Portugal. But Belgium was also invited for merely sentimental cause. The Conference met in November 1921.

It had discussed two important problems:

(i) Problem of the limitation of naval armaments, and the other was a resolution of the conflicting interests of the Powers in the Pacific area;

(ii) The second problem included Anglo-Japanese relations, Sino-Japanese conflict and the position of the mandated islands of the Pacific. Ketelbey points out that the United States in this Conference proposed an idea of international disarma­ment and also supported the idea of the World Court.

With regard to the question of the limitation of naval armaments, agreements were concluded among the participant countries. There were three treaties, the first known as the Four-Power Treaty. The second was the Five-Power Treaty and the third was the Nine-Power Treaty.

The first Four-Power Treaty was signed only after the Anglo-Japanese alliance ceased to exist in 1921. In fact, this alliance was a great source of indig­nation of both the United States and Canada. These states held that the undue extension of Japanese influence in the Far East was largely due to the British passive support to Japan which had undermined Anglo-American relations. The Alliance was due to expire in 1921 and the United States insisted that it should not be renewed once again.

Hence, as soon as the Anglo-Japanese alliance expired, the four powers — the United States, Britain, Japan and France — signed a Four-Power Treaty. By it the signatory powers pledged themselves to respect each other’s rights in the island possessions in the Pacific and agreed to call joint conferences to adjust disputes and to meet dangers that might arise in the future. The treaty was designed to ensure the status quo in the Far East and thus to remove the danger of a war in that region.

With regard to China a Nine-Power Treaty was concluded, by which the signatories agreed to accept the principle of “Open Door” and to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and administrative indepen­dence of China and “to refrain from taking advantage of conditions in China to seek special rights or privileges which would abridge the rights of subjects and citizens of friendly states.”

The Five-Power Treaty was most important in respect of naval disarmament. It provided for an extensive measure of fixing the naval parity between the British Empire and the United States on one hand, and, on the other, between Japan and the British Empire and the United States. The fixing of the strength of Japan in capital ships at 60 per cent of the British and American figures was the essential feature of the Conference.

While the French and Italian strength was fixed at 35 per cent. Of course, no limitation was ascribed to light cruisers, destroyers, submarines or other auxiliary craft. Besides all these, an attempt was taken in the Washington Conference to adjust Sino-Japanese differences over Shantung. Japan agreed to restore Kiao-Chow and other German properties in Shantung to China in lieu of monetary compensation for the railway and other improvements ‘which she had fostered since 1914.

A treaty between Japan and the United States removed a source of friction between the two countries over the island of Yap, an important cable centre in the Pacific. This island had been assigned to Japan under a mandate of the League of Nations. The Americans insisted that the island should be internationalised since the oceanic cables that converged at Yap formed an important channel of America’s communication with China. A compromise was arrived at, which guaranteed to the Americans free access to Yap on an equal footing with the Japanese in every­thing relating to the operation of the cables.

Here it is imperative to throw some light on the qualification of the European powers to take part in mediating in Far-Eastern affairs. As for United States’ interest in the Pacific, it became intensified after 1895 and her interest in China revived. The annexation of Hawaii advanced the frontier of the United States, a considerable distance into the Pacific. Again, the war with Spain enabled the United States to occupy Philippine Islands and the intermediate base at Guam.

This had an important bearing on the Far Eastern Policy of the United States. By dint of her Indian empire Great Britain intensified her interest in the Far East. She also invested capital into Manchuria. The war between Britain and China in 1840-1842 — resulting in the Nanking Treaty and the opening of China — left England with Hong Kong which very soon became the most important commercial centre in the Far East.

The intervention of Russia in the Far East threatened England of her Indian empire resulting in reverting, her earlier China policy and turned her attention in the agreement of 1902. Since then England supported Japan sincerely, not only against Russia, but subsequently against the United States when America tried to invest capital in Manchuria. First World War forced England to acquiesce in the extension of Japanese power and influence after 1914, and to enter into the secret agreement of 1917.

France was invited in the Washington Conference because of her colonies set up in Asia and, therefore, regarded as an Asiatic Power. She claimed a sphere of interest in China, with a leased area and with a financial stake in the Republic. Holland was invited because of her territorial possessions in the East and Portugal was recognised as a Far Eastern Power by reason of her possession of Macao.

Finally, because of sentimental reason an invitation was also extended to Belgium. But Russia was not invited, nor was the Far Eastern Republic included. Russia was not invited because Soviet Union was not recognised by British and American government. There were two distinct phases of work of the Washington Conference. While the first involved consideration of the problem of the limitation of naval armaments, the second involved China, Siberia and the mandated islands in the Pacific.

The Washington Conference temporarily ironed out the differences among the Powers over the Far Eastern question. America was benefited by making other powers to accept her pet “Open Door” policy as well as the lapse of the Anglo- Japanese alliance. This, for the time being, relieved her from mental agony. China was, at least temporarily, safeguarded, on paper at least, against further spolia­tion, and, moreover, she retrieved Shantung which was restored to her.

Japan had to retreat from her Chinese policy and definitely hurt by this political recession. In all these respects the Washington Conference revealed the growing feeling of distrust with which Japan was regarded by the Powers. But finally it proved that Washington Conference failed to prevent Japan from launching her aggressive attitude toward Far East vis-a-vis China. She continued to be the bugbear of the Pacific.

The Conference, in fact, unwillingly augmented the power of Japan in the Far East. The ratio of naval strength it fixed, coupled with the agreement of pow­ers for the non-fortification of their Pacific islands, gave Japan a predominant position in the area of her imperial interests. In these circumstances it would be difficult to maintain the status quo in the Pacific area should Japan be aggres­sively inclined. This is clear from the subsequent development of Japanese policy.

E. H. Carr, however, concludes that the Washington Conference was greeted “as an outstanding success” because, according to him, it “restored the pre-war balance in the Pacific.” Japan, it is told, was compelled to accept the dictates of the Anglo-American front and it monitored Japanese menace to the integrity of China. But subsequent events prove that Japan resumed the offensive against China.

Some exceptional privileges were granted to the Powers of the Washing­ton Conference to be enjoyed in China and one of them was that of the mainte­nance of armed forces on Chinese territory. But in actual fact, under the Boxer Protocol in 1901, the European powers had the right to maintain legation guards in Peking and troops along the line of the railway from Peking to the sea. But beyond this, several powers, in 1911 and thereafter, had introduced armed forces into various places in China where their nationals were concentrated for the purpose of protecting them and their interests.

While the leased territories were not directly dealt with at the Washington Conference, the effect of the repudiation of the sphere of interest conception was to direct attention to the leasehold as one of the bases for the establishment of a sphere.

Term Paper # 2. Big Powers Try to Appease Japan:


1905 was the momentous year for Japan when it inflicted a crushing defeat on an European giant, namely Russia. The event obviously drew the attention of the Western Powers. Two years before, in 1902, Great Britain and Japan made a treaty of alliance.

This produced two consequences:

(i) Britain checked Japan’s advancement towards her Indian empire;

(ii) Japan was given free hand to satisfy her desire to expand towards Far East. Japan’s victory over Russia gave her a paramount position in the Far East and she began to walk in the path so success­fully trodden by the European imperialists.

The Anglo-Japan alliance and Japan’s entry into the First World War on behalf of the Allies improved her image and she was kept undisturbed in the Far East by the Allies where she unleashed her imperialistic activities at the cost of China. This attempt to appease Japan by Britain proved to be a costly affair for the Western powers. How this process began and what was it consequences would be seen hereunder.

Japan’s great opportunity for realising her imperial ambitions came when the Great War of 1914-1918 broke out. She took full advantage of the good relation with Britain as well as the situation created by the pre-occupation of the European powers to extend her power, and consolidate her position — in Asia in general, and in China in particular.

Her first action was, as an ally of Britain, to declare war upon Germany and to seize Kiao-Chao and the German concessions. Thereby she firmly installed herself in Shantung. These possessions were guaranteed her by secret treaties with the Allies and were handed over to her by the Treaty of Versailles.

From a different angle, the question of appeasement should be reviewed and that is the menace of Russia to the Far East. Russia had established her strong holds in Manchuria, Outer Mongolia, and Eastern Turkestan, sometimes by peaceful penetration and sometimes by using force. By this she extended her boundaries to the Amur river and to the frontiers of Korea, and she also designed to grab Manchuria.

This move threatened both Japan and Great Britain and they signed an alliance in 1902. They both affirmed the principle of the “Open Door” and agreed that if either power was attacked by two enemies at once the other would come to its aid. The scope of the alliance extended to the Far East in general, and to India in particular, and allegedly affirmed the integrity of China. The alliance had more than once been severely criticised by America and China and had been looked as a mischievous element in Far Eastern affairs.

It must be admitted that this was for the first time that a European power like Britain had recognised an Eastern Power as an equal to her and admitted on equal terms to a European alliance. It gave Japan a standing that no Oriental state had attained before. On that foundation, Japan decided to extend her political influence over China as there was none to check her. Although, the alliance was concluded primarily to check Russian ambition in Asia and to limit the possibility of war, between Russia and Japan which was in the offing.

But it produced complete reverse result. It precipitated the Russo-Japanese crisis and by preventing France, under threat of war with England, from coming to Russia’s help, left Japan an opportunity to take stock of Russian prowess and therefore the war between the two was obviously brewing in the East and that war came in 1904 in which Japan’s decisive victory (1905) paved her way to infiltrate into China. In 1915 Japan presented to China one of the most extraordinary documents in the history of the Far East, the famous “Twenty One Demands”.

But Japan’s positions in China were now reversed because of Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s close relation with the Communist Russia and by 1928 Chinag Kai-shek, a dis­ciple of Dr. Sun, captured, with the help of the Soviet Union, Hankow, Nanking, Shanghai and Peking. These factors altered the whole status quo of the Western Powers and laid China open to the advances of her two neighbours, Russia and Japan.

Russia immediately seized the opportunity of Chinese revolution and de­tached Outer Mongolia from China and set it up as a buffer state under her own military and economic control (1912-14). But the First Great War diverted the energies of both Russia and the Western Powers to other fields and gave Japan her chance to exploit China.

The Western Powers failed to give any assistance to China and this led her to accept the help of Communist Russia. By 1927 Russian communist influence seemed to have become prominent. Great Britain and other Western Powers tried to recover their former position in China giving financial assistance to Canton Republic ruled by the Kuomintang.

Japanese imperialism between the two World Wars was that of her expansion in China. Her policy was further encouraged by her inclusion in the international cooperation by her membership of the League of Nations, her adherence to the Kellog-Briand Pact, and her signature to the Nine-Power Treaty.

Even, after her aggressive policy in China Japan was cordially invited by the Western Powers to join the international community. Probably, the Western Pow­ers, in general, and Great Britain, in particular, thought to oppose the Soviet policy in China by engaging Japan. Therefore, the economic basis of Japanese expan­sionism had long been recognised by the West. The excess population of Japan could not be accommodated within her limited space. Emigration to the United States or Australian continents was forbidden to her by rigid immigration policies designed to protect the American and Australian standard of living.

Her chief export — silk — failed to find market in the West for the United States and other countries imposed high tariffs on Japanese manufactures to protect their own industries. Under the growing economic depression, the United States and other countries closed their markets to Japanese manufactures. As a result, Japan’s plight became desperate and pitiable. Her economy was still then lacked sufficient backing of capital to overcome a period of strain. It was, therefore, inevitable that Japan should develop arguments in favour of “large economic areas”. Chinese weakness offered her the opportunity.

Another Naval Conference was convened in London in January 1930. Along­ with others Japan was also invited. In this Conference Japan openly criticised the stipulations of Washington Conference imposed on her and claimed parity with Great Britain and the United States in all categories. Finally, Japan accepted the ratio that gave 60 per cent of British or American tonnage and parity in subma­rines.

In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria and established there puppet “Empire of Manchukuo” under her own control. Nationalist China appealed to the League of Nations and urged the United States to invoke the Kellog-Briand Pact which had declared for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy — a pact to which Japan was also a signatory.

The League appointed a Commission under Lord Lytton to investigate the whole Sino-Japanese situation and to make recom­mendations. The Commission suggested that Manchuria be made an autonomous province under Chinese suzerainty. Japan disregarded the settlement suggested by the Commission and continued her control over Manchukuo and withdrew from the League. Ketelbey remarks: “This was equally unavailing, and merely added one more count to the mounting Japanese score against the USA.”

Japan had snapped her fingers at the Great Powers over the Manchurian question and had received only verbal protests. Henceforth she became increas­ingly emphatic in asserting her special interests in China and posed herself as the guardian of the peace in the Far East and the defender of the integrity of China.

Such arguments strengthened the imperialist tendencies of the military classes of Japan and also strengthened the case for the “Asiatic Monroe Doctrine” by which Japan claimed exclusive rights in the whole North-West Pacific area. In 1934 Tokyo Foreign office warned the Great Powers to keep their hands off China and declared that it would “oppose any attempt on the part of China to avail herself of the influence of any other country in order to resist Japan.”

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