The New Menace in the Far East

By Francis Aldridge

[The North American Review, May 1915]

The Far East has once more provided the portent of another storm; although the warning may not be larger than a man's hand. Japan's demands on China raise international issues of a very serious kind which may quite well involve the United States; for while they directly bring to the front the question of the integrity and independence of China, they also provide another complication in respect of the color question.

To understand the present position, which is likely to undergo rapid and unexpected modifications, a correct appreciation is necessary of the role played by Japan in the present war. There is no doubt that while Japan was specially invited to co-operate in the war by the reduction of Tsingtau, she would have managed, even if not invited, to play a part in the conflagration. It was entirely in her interests to do so. Only actual participants could hope to benefit, and Japan was in the happy position of being able to participate without much risk and at small cost, and to prescribe, very much according to her own ideas, the measure of remuneration she was to receive for her services. Accordingly, when invited to "come in," she not only undertook to reduce Tsingtau, but voluntarily offered to police the Pacific waters east of Singapore and to annex the few islands in the Pacific which were held by Germany. This part of the work she carried out, and although, apart from Tsingtau, she sustained no loss of life or damage to her navy, while her only outlay was in the consumption of coal, she speedily showed that she expected more than the mere reversionary interest in Germany's Far-Eastern possessions. Barely four months had passed since the outbreak of the war when she put forward the suggestion that she would abandon to Australia all the islands south of the Equator, on consideration of being allowed to retain those to the north. This would of course give her the possession of the Marshall Islands and of the Carolines, but would not sanction the retention of Samoa. To this the United States is understood to have objected, so Japan retained and still retains control of all of them. For the present the matter stands over for final settlement.

The next move of Japan, and it is closely connected with the former, was to present to China a series of twenty-one demands divided into five sections. These involved practically the political and economic tutelage of China and a large variety of concessions of an industrial and commercial character. Paced with this attempt to extort concessions of a nature unparalleled even in her checkered history, China was stirred to action. She declined point-blank to discuss any of the demands in the fifth division, on the ground that they interfered with both her sovereign rights and her undertakings to other Powers, and she further applied this attitude to a variety of stipulations in the other divisions, thus practically reducing the number to eleven or twelve. For a moment the Japanese Government seemed to hesitate. They withdrew or appeared to withdraw ten of those most objected to, and they notified the three other Allied Powers, with the addition of the United States, of the exact text of the remaining demands. It is not known whether there was any subterfuge in the whole matter, but at least it is certain that soon after the despatch of the Circular Note the various demands which had apparently been withdrawn were replaced, and, despite all denials which have been issued by the Japanese authorities in various countries, they still hold the field.

To understand Japan's attitude at the present moment it is necessary to appreciate the exact position of the Tokio authorities toward the British Alliance. There is no doubt that Japan is not at the present moment supporting the Anglo- Japanese Alliance from love of England; she has pushed herself into a place in the Entente and intends to make the most of it during the fighting and thus secure a predominant voice in the final Conference. Great Britain will then have to acquiesce—or will be asked to acquiesce—in any concessions which are not at British expense in order to avoid ones which are. No doubt Great Britain is making naval use of Japan, and has gained something thereby, but what does Japan expect to be paid for it? The most interesting and the most serious question is the interpretation of the significance of Japan's entry into the Entente as an Ally of Great Britain, and presumably also of France and Russia. What will it lead to?

The war notwithstanding, incidents have occurred during the past few months which afford ground for the belief that a Japanese-German alliance is possible in the near future. There is certainly to-day, despite the war; no animosity between the Japanese and the Germans. The latter have practical liberty in Japan and are well treated, while every one in China has been struck by the remarkable leniency shown to them at Tsingtau and to the fact that they gave up after so poor a fight. It is well known that hundreds of people who were engaged in the defense and might have been made prisoners were allowed to escape, and the courtesy shown to the German Governor, Meyer Waldeck, would have been more appropriate if he had been a guest and not a prisoner. Everything has propagated the idea in the Far East that Japanese policy was, so far as it could be, based on the principle of being agreeable to the German enemy; and of course, as the Japanese are credited with having a reason for everything, some reason is obviously to be sought. It may not be that the Japanese Government, despite the British Alliance, is flirting with the Germans, but there is a strong probability that at any rate some Japanese party is so doing. If the Japanese have a programme of Welt-Politik, and the Philippine question, the California question, the Pacific islands question, and the British Colonial Emigration question have any part in it, one can imagine Germany being a useful ally to Japan, and England being quite the reverse. On the other hand, if Germany, although guaranteeing peaceful possession of France's Indo-Chinese possessions after the war, thinks she can acquire them a few years later, Japan will be very useful. Above all, one can understand Germany being very anxious to have a naval Power as an Ally.

There is no doubt whatever in the minds of Far-Eastern experts that the ultimate object of Japan is to replace Great Britain in their own interests as the leading Power in Asia, and that they are now starting on their policy to reach this end. Particularly do Europeans living in the Far East disagree with the suggestion of General Barnadiston at Tokio to the effect that he hoped that British would fight alongside Japanese troops in Europe.

As it is, the entire role of Great Britain in the capture of Tsingtau is the subject of much mystery. What was the political meaning of the sending of British troops to participate? Most people would probably infer that it was a joint military and therefore a joint political enterprise. In any case there should have been a strict military convention before the British troops were sent, or else they should not have gone at all. If there was such a convention, it must have been a very bad one. Subsequent events show this. The Japanese have occupied Tsingtau, and have practically established a military Government solely Japanese; they have even given Japanese names to all the streets; they have taken over the Chinese Customs buildings, I might almost say by force, and have appointed a full staff of officers from Japan, thus practically displacing the Chinese administration, although Mr. Aglen, the Inspector-General, was and is perfectly prepared to maintain the service on the same lines as in the German days, mutatis mutandis, with Japanese replacing the German personnel. It seems that the Chinese, believing the occupation was to be joint, proposed a joint Anglo-Japanese staff—perhaps a not very discreet move—in spite of a Japanese warning not to do so. In any case, the proposal was summarily rejected. Apparently Japan takes the view that she promised to return Tsingtau to China only if Germany handed it over peaceably, but she made no promise whatever, assuming that she had to fight for it. No one in the Far East believes she has the slightest idea of leaving it.

Of the demands put forward by Japan, criticism—at any rate, detailed criticism—is dangerous; for they have been given to the world in an incomplete and admittedly inaccurate form. But they request notable concessions for Japan, in respect of all industrial enterprise, in South Manchuria, East Mongolia, the Yangtse Valley, and Fukien, in addition to Shangtung. Moreover, the demands for railway concessions, if granted, will place under her control the entire trade of China's littoral, for they will tap all southeastern China, the Yangtse Valley, and the whole of the inland provinces. The control of the provinces north of the Yangtse is already assured. Now, while China will offer a strenuous opposition to all attempts to exploit her in what is, after all, a barefaced fashion, she can hope to do nothing without foreign aid. Foreign nations, too, have to face the fact that in their crude form the Japanese demands not only represent an extraordinary measure of privileged industrialism, but also of potential internal control. Indeed, there is reason to believe, whether it appears in the published text or not, that, at first, "political" control was demanded, in addition to financial, police, and military supervision.

Opinion in Great Britain is largely uncertain what to do and what to think. There is a natural good-will toward Japan as an Ally, but there is a feeling that not only is this attempt at exploitation unfair and ill-advised, but that it is contrary to the international understanding which, as Sir Edward Grey stated in the House of Commons, reserves all war questions for settlement by the four Allies until after the war and not during it. Accordingly, there is a growing disposition to judge these demands on a strict business basis.

The record of Japan, however, holds out but little hope that she will adopt a very tolerant policy toward China, though much depends on the attitude of the United States. British Foreign Office policy is "feeling its way" doubtfully. Not a few people anticipate that at the end of the war Japan will offer to give up all the Pacific islands she has captured for a free hand in China. Such a free hand would be fatal to the trade both of the United States and of Great Britain. It would hit Germany less hard, and the Berlin authorities would never be above the suggestion of co-operation with Japan, under which the latter might take in hand China while the former would secure a reversionary interest to be exercised when the moment arrived in French Indo-China and in the Dutch colonies in the East Indies. This possibility, which has not escaped the attention of the Allies, will tend to harden them in their view that the war must be fought to a finish; for if it is not, it will soon be the Far East, and not, as in the past, the Near East, which will provide further and dangerous complications.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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