NINETY-NINE per cent of the Englishmen and Americans in the Orient have strong suspicions that when Japan moves her troops to any particular locality in the Far East, Japanese soldiers, Japanese influence and, very probably, Japanese jurisdiction will be cemented to that locality so tightly that a temporary expedient will drift in time into a permanent occupation.
A study of conditions in the Orient in 1916 and 1917 shows ample reason for an abandonment of such theories or at least a very whole-sale alteration of them.
The fact that the wars which Japan has waged with foreign powers have been for her national security rather than for territorial aggrandisement, or at least that national security has been the leading factor in Japan’s war policy, is a conclusion which clever students of Oriental affairs are becoming daily more willing to accept.
Japan’s continual encroachments on the sovereignty of China, particularly in Manchuria, have very naturally obscured the real issue at times. A man who has seen and studied Japan’s efforts to get a commercial foothold in Eastern Inner Mongolia cannot be blamed if he fails to see wherein the security of the Japanese Empire has necessitated some of the measures which Japan has allowed her officials and her nationals to adopt.
Nevertheless the underlying motive of Japan’s policy to-day is fear. Japan is afraid of isolation. A certain number of Japanese jingoes write and talk continuously about Japan’s greatness and her ability to press military domination. In no country in the world is there a greater difference between the loud-mouthed jingo of the nation and the sober, responsible statesman. On frequent occasions a series of articles in some paper of the comparative standing of the Tokio Yamato talk brazenly about the abrogation of the Anglo-Japanese treaty, or the forcing by Japan of America and Australia to change their laws in accordance with Japanese wishes. One of Japan’s publicists frequently contributes an article to some magazine or review in Japan which, if taken seriously, would lead the reader to believe that not only was Japan’s security thoroughly established, but that she was in a position to dictate to the other great powers as to whatever policy she decided to follow in the Far East.
People who read these things and from them judge Japan make a woful mistake. The most long-headed among the Japanese have long seen that Japan’s position among the nations of the world required friendly co-operation and sympathy with some powers and actual alliance with others.
Russia’s encroachments in the Far East prior to the Russo-Japanese war were actually a serious menace to Japan’s security. Imperial Russia was a potential menace to Japan subsequent to the war which ended in 1905.
When, in the early part of this century, Count Hayashi in London brought off the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and made it the basis of Japan’s foreign policy, he procured for Japan something that was so patent a necessity for the Island Empire of the East that it has been held by many students of Oriental affairs to have been, until the present war, a one-sided affair, very much to Japan’s benefit.
While Japan has so arranged her railways that they ring ’round her rocky island coasts and are planned with every eye to their strategic value in time of possible warfare, the vital de-fence of Japan rests in her ability to keep open the sea routes which allow her to keep touch with the outside world. The fact that it is extremely unlikely, if not impossible, for any power to conduct a successful military operation on Japanese territory does not alter the fact that, should Japan be overwhelmed at sea and her islands surrounded by a hostile cordon of battleships and cruisers, her ultimate defeat would be certain.
In plain English, Japan’s security has demanded for many years, and always will demand, an alliance with a power which is sufficiently strong at sea so that Japan will be freed from the danger of isolation.
A very brief study of Japan’s history is required to show how gradually is coming the more general adoption in Japan an adoption which is by no means general as yet-or the more statesmanlike and common-sense view of Japan’s position internationally in contradistinction to the militarist and aggressive policy of those Japanese who have an inflated idea of Japan’s importance and capacity.
The outcry of the Japanese press in 1915 against England and the almost universal criticism by Japan’s newspapers of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was promulgated and fostered by the extreme militarist group. It was one of the signs in 1915 of a last, dying effort on the part of the old militarist element to assert itself. Another of its expiring struggles to impose its policies on the country was the effort to force on to China the infamous Five Group Demands.
In those days Japan’s foreign policy was in the hands of the Genro, or Elder Statesmen. The Premier, Count Okuma, was a mere tool in their hands. He and his Cabinet had no voice in the foreign policy of Japan. A better element in Japan was coming to the fore. The younger group of Japan’s statesmen realised the weakness of Japan’s position. The Genro were aged men; their lives were drawing to a close. An increasing number of the thinkers of Japan saw that when the Genro passed, a system and a policy would pass with them.
As the eyes of the Japanese began to open to that situation, two schools took definite form: one was the militarist school, which based its ideas and theories upon German thought and German teaching. As in Germany, the professor, scientist and publicist faction supplied many advocates to the point of view held by the militarists. The opposing school represented a more liberal line of thought. It realised Japan’s weakness if isolation should be its portion whether that isolation would be military or economic. It saw that Japan’s commercial future in China was of vital necessity to Japan’s successful development. The raw materials of the Asiatic continent must be procured by Japan, as she has insufficient mines of her own. Japan’s manufactured products must be marketed in China if she would continue the development of her industries and commerce. China became recognised as a necessity to Japan. Moreover, the new school of thought realised that the only possible method by which Japan’s ideals could be attained was by gaining the friendship of China rather than its antagonism.
In October, 1916, when Count Terauchi be-came Premier, Japan was standing at the cross-roads. Already those who had argued that Japan should follow the policy of Germany, were meeting more and more opposition. Terauchi, supposed to be militarist, pure and simple, showed that he held many liberal ideas. He declared at the outset that the policy of his Government would be to cooperate unequivocally with the Allies. He more than once displayed evidences that he conscientiously desired to live up to his obligations, so far as the war was concerned, and that so long as he was at the helm in Japan she could be depended upon to do so, at least to the extent of his power to guide his country and his countrymen.
Then came with 1917 the entrance of the United States into the war. America was no longer the great quiescent, dormant power on the other side of the Pacific, but was taking rapid steps toward becoming one of the strongest naval and military powers in the world. That change in Japan’s great neighbour to the eastward put the final nails in the coffin of the policies of aggression advocated by Japan’s extreme militarists. The only argument which they can bring to bear today against the liberal policies of New Japan is a croaking prophecy that Germany may be able to emerge victorious from the war. If Germany won, the element in Japan which has advocated that their country should follow in the footsteps of Germany would be undeniably strengthened. But even Japan, so far away from the conflict in Europe and so little informed as to the actual progress of events, is beginning to realise that Germany cannot win the war.
Japan is taking advantage, commercially and industrially, of the situation created in the Orient by the World War. She is leaving no stone unturned to gain a foothold wherever opportunity presents and is developing situations which she knows well may not exist for many years. This is particularly true of China. So long as Japan conducts her negotiations in the open, however, her crying need for Chinese raw material and her equal need of China as a market for her manufactured products give no little excuse to her efforts in that direction. She is again spurred by fear.
If she failed to take advantage of the absence of many of her competitors, she could never hope to successfully compete with them in certain lines and in certain localities. The desire on the part of Japan to push her commercial propaganda during the war almost assumes the character of a fevered rush for some newly discovered goldfield. She wants all the advantage she can get. She knows she is going to need it when the war is over and the great commercial and industrial nations turn their eyes to the Far East. She knows that she will need every advantage she has gained, and more, in the business war that is coming one day in the Orient. The advanced Japanese is under little hallucination as to the capability of most Japanese industrial concerns to hold their own on equal terms with the big manufacturers of America, England and Germany.
Just as her need for national security demands friendship and alliance with a group of great powers, so her ultimate industrial and economic welfare depends to a considerable extent on friendly relations with some of her most strenuous competitors.