What Is Japan Doing to China?

By Gilbert Reid

[The Independent; May 17, 1915]

This week the dispute between China and Japan has reached a critical point and in accordance with the custom of The Independent, we present both sides of the case. As spokesman for China, we have the Rev. Dr. Gilbert Reid, Director-in-chief of the International Institute of China, which is carrying on educational work among the higher classes. Dr. Reid was graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1882 and went immediately to China as a missionary, where he has lived ever since. He is the author of "Glances at China, "The Anti-Foreign Disturbances of China," and six books in Chinese. Few foreigners have as intimate a knowledge of Chinese affairs as he has gained thru his long residence and close association with the leading men of the country in times of peace and war.—THE EDITOR.

The war in Europe will change the map of Europe or alter the relative standing of the great powers. The war as thrust most unjustly and inconsiderately into China, will affect the whole Far East. China will be the loser, unless nations have a "change of heart," and Japan will find her day of opportunity and reap great gain.

The Japanese diplomat ranks high not only in tactics, but in strategy. Moreover, the strategy of the party in power is more than minor strategy, which early lays itself open to the light of day, but is grand strategy, waiting for years to be effected, and known in detail only to those possessing the plan.

Now what is the purpose of Japan's grand strategy, so far as outsiders can surmise? It is no other than her domination of Eastern Asia, whether by absorption, by some form of suzerainty, by a confederation with Japan as leader, or by a mild guardianship and a new application of the Monroe Doctrine. The actual form of domination will depend on circumstances. The total elimination of the will of Western powers or partial elimination by making them all inferior factors is the racial aspect of the colossal propositions.


Should this strategy be doomed to failure, it would be bad strategy to "try it on" just now. There would then come in a minor strategy, namely, the domination of all China thru some one of the same four forms suggested for all Eastern Asia. Should this, in turn, be doomed to immediate failure, then it, too, would become bad strategy just at present, but would not altogether be laid aside as an ultimate impossibility.

Under such conditions, Japan would make use of a still more minor strategy, namely, a resuscitation of "spheres of influence" with her much-trusted allies, Great Britain, France and Russia, while China would be under the thumb of all four, and especially of Japan herself.

These three plans of strategy are locked up in the "strong house" at Tokio, but more than once have their main contents been divulged, either thru official utterances of the Government or of the Opposition, thru the press as a "feeler," or thru events which now form a part of history. Japan as a whole has not as yet given support to any one strategic plan; many Japanese even oppose one or all of these ambitious designs.

We will begin with the last strategy and work back to the grand strategy which is first mentioned.

Japan wants to dominate as much of China, as good fortune will permit. By making of Korea a province of the Mikado's domains, she pushed back Russia and got a foothold on the continent according to "geographical gravitation." By taking from China Taels 30,000,000 for retrocession of Liaotung, and by taking from Russia the dominating influence in much more than Liaotung, as far as north of Mukden in Manchuria, she pushed back Russia still farther, got a grip on the strongest fortress along the China coast, and placed herself in easy reach of Peking, should China prove recalcitrant, or should a mutiny disturb "the peace of the Far East."

By the war which Japan waged on China in 1894-5, the island of Formosa became a Japanese possession. A few years later, when spheres of influence were drawn on the map but were never realized in practise, least of all the British sphere, Japan colored for herself the province of Fukien, of which Formosa was a part. Now by the fortuitous events of another war, Japan, which was already an ally of Great Britain, France and Russia, found it opportune to join with her allies in warring against Germany. Her various tactical moves clearly show that her strategy was not to capture Kiaochow in war, and be done with it, or even to spite Germany, but to become a dominating influence in Shantung. Mr. Putnam Weale, writing a few years back, correctly diagnosed her policy when he said:

It is also a fact surely worthy of special note, that wherever Japan sets her foot—no matter how she may have placed it there, and no matter what promises she may have given regarding evacuation—there she remains for good, making her tenure indisputable under specious forms such as the great Napoleon delighted in devising.


The various commendable objects which Japan—that is, the present Government—announced as the moving power, must all be taken as parts of a splendid strategy. She said she was solicitous for "the peace of the Far East" and "the integrity and independence of China." Why did she not effect peace by peaceful measures. And why did she not leave China independent and untrammelled in direct negotiations with the European warring nations to prevent war in China, and China seas, thru some form of neutralization both of Tsingtao and the near China waters? She affirmed her mildness of spirit by advising Germany as to what she ought to do, but why did she not give advice that could be accepted? Why did she not as a neutral country, "friendly to all nations," advise that both British and German ships of war alike intern, and that neither Tsingtao nor Hongkong attach each other? Or, should this be faithless to the Alliance, why did she not actually threaten Germany thus: "If you do not agree to intern your ships, now in China seas, and also agree to make no use of your fortifications for attack on any one of my Allies, our Imperial Government will at once declare war against you?" Or, why did not Japan demand that Tsingtao and the railway be handed over to China for administration, till the war in Europe should come to an end? The reason why Japan did none of these things was because the advice stood a chance of being accepted for the peace of all and the joy of China. Japan was bound not to lose her own chance for testing her strategy.

Was it even Japan's main purpose to attack Tsingtao, until a surrender should be made? The facts belie this suggestion. Merely to get Tsingtao might place her in an awkward position of being morally obligated to return it eventually to China. That would spoil all of her plans. The attack on Tsingtao, as the events of the last four months show, was only a strategic move to get into Shantung as she is now in South Manchuria. To claim that military necessity required her to march across eastern Shantung only proves the incapacity of Japanese militarism in overcoming the small German garrison. To claim that the occupation of the railway, westward to Tsinanfu, and of all the mines worked by Germans, was a military necessity, even after Tsingtao had been completely invested and the hinterland north to Lungkou had been occupied only suggests credulity and gullibility on the part of superficial spectators. The part of the strategy that has "gangagley" has been the unkind intermeddling of her dear ally in taking charge of the northern section of the Tientsin-Pukow railway, and checkmating the wider expansion of Japan's diplomatic strategy.


"But," it may be said, "it is very wrong to be suspicious." Quite so, but it is not wrong to study and analyze a strategy, either in war or diplomacy. To put a spoke in the wheel after the chariot has reached its destination is of no use. To close one's eyes and hide one's head, like an ostrich in a coming storm, may be politic, but is neither patriotic, courageous nor even wise. More than once the suggestion has been thrown out in Japanese newspapers that Kiaochow was to be returned to China, only on the condition that Germany accepted the ultimatum. Genial manners, friendly overtures and soft words are to be expected of diplomacy such as Japan excels in, but it is hardly to be expected that Japan will readily spoil her strategic advantage by withdrawing from what she now has, unless something more than a quid pro quo is offered her or suggested by her. Should she succeed in inducing China to grant her some form of domination—perhaps called helpful brotherliness—over the whole of China, then she might agree to an International Settlement in Tsingtao, with her own predominance well secured, just as in the International Settlement of Shanghai, under British predominance. She might also agree to relinquish the railway and mines of Shantung, if the compensation due Germany by China is paid over to Japan. Some other form of leniency, appearing in striking contrast to the German "mailed fist,", might be devised, if so be that a hold on the whole of China might be secured either by open or by secret agreement. In this case, the smaller strategy would pass smoothly into the large strategy, even as one section of a huge gun slides into another.


This part of our discussion may well close with a quotation from the Premier, Count Okuma, spoken with his usual reserve and moderation, October 28th:

The war will bring about changes in all things and in all countries, and it behooves all Japanese, great and small, to unite in striving that these changes shall prove to the advantage of Japan.... Japan now has continental possessions, and it is felt that China is powerless herself to maintain the integrity of her territory—a weakness which brings the influence of the powers to operate in China, with consequences which may bring about a diplomatic crisis at any moment…. Japan is now a continental as well as an insular country, and requires a strong navy to ensure connection between the different parts of the Empire as well as a defensive army.

This is the sober peace policy of the president of the Japanese Peace Society! The emphasis placed by Count Okuma on Japan's position as not only insular, but continental; on the duty of Japan to reap advantage thru the inevitable changes produced by the present war; on the weakness of China and so her inability to defend herself; on the danger of a diplomatic crisis in China; and on the need of a stronger Japanese army and navy, to meet any possible emergency arising in China—forms a way of transition from the minor strategy of dominating Shantung to the greater, but still minor, strategy of dominating the whole of China.

It is clear that Japan is convinced of the necessity for greater military preparation, first, for her own defense; second, over complications in China; and third, against some one or more foreign powers. Which power does Japan have in mind, as trying to restrict Japanese action in China? It is not at all likely that she fears anything from China; in fact military opposition from China would only facilitate Japan's aggressive operations. The United States is not the country in mind, for that country, while offended by Japanese occupation of islands in the South Seas, is not keen on interfering by force to the relief of China. Germany, too, even as victor, will not be in a position to try military measures against Japan in China. As to Russia, she and Japan have, most noticeably, been drawing nearer to each other since the war began. If there is any restraint placed upon Japan sufficiently great to be called a "diplomatic crisis" it will come from her ally, Great Britain. Already several incidents have arisen which show, that Japan is not altogether pleased with the character of British friendship.


A diplomatic crisis, necessitating increased military preparation on the part of Japan, does not mean any attempt on the part of the Allies or of Great Britain alone to oust Japan from what she already has in Shantung. The struggle which Japan sees before her concerns the Japanese mastery in China, not Shantung.

It is, however, only in a political and military sense that Japan seeks to dominate China. In commercial and financial matters she only expects at the best to win for herself predominance, with no one power totally eliminated. Thus while Japan may be aiming at territorial aggression and political control, she can still maintain that she supports the theory of "equal opportunity," as this concerns the commercial expansion of other nations as well as Japan.

This larger strategy does not necessarily imply that military aggression is to be made the means to reach the end. Rather, military control is to be the end, while diplomacy is to be the means. Still less would Japan have it thought that she is to force herself upon China. She prefers to pose as a friend, and to secure a position in the whole of China by friendly and diplomatic negotiation. She is to help China in warding off the advance of European powers.

Since the fall of Tsintao, it has again been urged in the Japanese press that Japan should seize her opportunity to get control of the administrative and military functions of the Chinese Government thru diplomatic agreement, and, in case the Peking Government should persist in rejecting the friendly overtures of Japan, the Japanese Government should turn to China's revolutionary faction, and, when disturbances should begin, Japan should then make use of her military power to restore order and exercize authority. Force is to be applied only when diplomacy has proved futile.


This strategy does not mean the annexation at once of China. The present move is to secure wider control, or, perhaps a better term, recognized leadership. There have been Japanese thinkers who have succeeded in assuaging American fears, by saying that the policy of Japan in Asia is the same as the Monroe doctrine on the American continent. The only difference is that while the United States will resent European territorial acquisition on the American continent, and desires no more territory for herself, Japan, for more reasons that one, and plausible reasons, desires more territory on the continent of Asia.

That Japan has much reason on her side, so far as foreign countries may view the matter, must be acknowledged. She certainly has as much right to leadership as Great Britain, Germany or Russia. It is from the Chinese point of view, that the reason is against these ambitious schemes of their island neighbor, unless China wants to lose her identity as Korea was compelled to do. If China can withstand the blandishments of Japanese diplomacy and the aggressiveness of Japanese militarism, her future is secured and the contentment of her people will remain. Everything depends on the President as to how much to yield and when to oppose.

Mr. J. O. P. Bland correctly says: "By virtue of geographical propinquity, common literature and close commercial relations, Japan claims (not unnaturally) to be the friend, philosopher, and guide of China in process of regeneration." To use agreeable phraseology, Japan desires, and thinks it her right to be the guardian of China, to ward off incompatible associations on the part of Western or Caucasian nations. The only wise thing' or China to do, it is claimed, is to put herself under the leadership of Japan in reform and regeneration. Then the peace of the Far East will be guaranteed.


With this higher strategy appearing more and more as a possibility, thru the clashings, animosities and wars of European powers, there comes before the "eye" of faith and the glow of Japanese genius the consummation of what we have called the grand strategy—namely, Japan the leader and predominant force in eastern Asia. This high aim not only refers to the nations of Mongolian stock, but to the Malays, the Filipinos, and even the people of India. If a clash should once come with Great Britain over provocative and ungrateful British checkmating, in China, this wider strategy would at once come into play. By presenting the idea as a confederation of identical interests and of peoples of the same race, or by raising the cry "Asia for the Asiatics," and "The Orient against the Occident," there are many even in Western lands who recognize the reasonableness of the movement. When it is claimed that the desire is for the peace, and independence of the Far East, peace advocates and religious thinkers, especially in America, come forward as advocates of Japan against all criticism. There are men in, all these lands of East Asia, as well as in Japan, who have openly espoused this new cause. Religiously and racially, as well as politically, some such combination seems a reasonable one.

The present Japanese Premier, Count Okuma, "The Sage of Waseda," has long been known to favor some such theory, as being intimately connected with the cause of worldwide peace, of which he is a leader.

In this grand strategy there is no thought of annexation by Japan, but of Japan as leader, much as Prussia is leader in the Empire of Germany. The combination is for mutual protection, as opposed to Occidental aggression and tyranny. The purpose is for Japan, not China, still less any European power, to be predominant in eastern Asia.

Preliminary to the execution of this grand strategy in East Asia, there must come the consummation of the minor strategy in China, and before that, of the minor strategy in Shantung. This last is already an accomplished fact, largely thru Japan's entrance into the war at Great Britain's special request. Should the war in Europe continue two or three years, and all the powers at war, including the British Empire; be greatly weakened, it may be expected that a sufficient number of energetic spirits in Japan will insist on seizing the opportunity for greater control in the whole of China, and, with this accomplished, the grand strategy will be a matter of only a few more years for practical realization.

All these diplomatic strategies concern China more than any other power. The problem pressing upon her is whether she has the ability to withstand Japanese ambitions and defend and dominate her own country, Shantung included, and whether Japan can be induced to follow a friendly and peaceful policy to the mutual advantage of all.

Peking, China

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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