JAPAN'S PART IN THE OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR H It took Japan less than half a century to rise to power and become a major world player. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Japan turned to Western technology in order to avoid the fate of China, namelyWestern dominance. By the 1890s, Japan had so far modernized and strengthened itself that it was able to join in the scramble for possessions in China. In 1902, it signed a treaty with Great Britain which recognized its new status among other things. At the end of the First World War, Japan was invited as one of the winning powers, to participate in the Peace Conference. In reality, however, the Japanese found that they were not considered equal to the Europeans and the Americans. This Western hypocrisy caused Japan to lose faith in the Western powers and pursue a pan-Asian order, with Japan as its leader. In order to become self-sufficient, Japan needed the raw materials of East Asia, as well as "living-space" for its surplus population. This pan-Asian vision threatened European and American interests in the region, which therefore opposed it. Japan found itself by the 1930s with a choice:-to confront the Western powers, especially the United States, and thereby risk war, or to retreat and accept humiliation and a loss of power. This essay is going to examine how Japan reached that position by the 1930s and how it made the choice for war. I am going to argue that Japan's policies were shaped more by fear and a feeling of weakness, than by a confidence in its own military strength and its racial superiority, which has been the more accepted view among historians.
By 1914 Japan had already demonstrated its new strength by becoming the first Asian power to defeat aEuropean one, in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. World War I gave Japan the opportunity to pursue expansionists goals in Asia without «ny diplomatic risks. As an ally of Britain, Japan declared war on Gennany, which allowed it to seize German colonies in the Pacific including the Chinese one at Kiachow. Japan then concentrated on extending its control over China whiletheEuropeanpowersweretoopreoccupiedtore^t. Inl915,JapanpresentedChinawhh.he Twenty-One Demands, which extracted economic concessions, and, if they had all been accepted, would have turned China into a virtual colony.- In 1916, Japan's European allies recognized Japan's gains, and at the Paris Peace Conference Japan represented one of the five major powers, the only Asian nation to do so. I. had joined the ranks of the exploiter, and wanted to be treated equally, but it did not get the racial equality clause in the League of Nations Covenant that it had asked for.2 Instead Japan was awaried Germany's rights in China, convicting the Allied promise ofself-detennination. to the (ury of the Chinese. This episode left the Japanese with a bitter, lasting impression that the sincerity of Westerners was no. real and that the West wanted to keep Japan down. The peace talks in far-off Europe and the entry of Japan into the League of Nations did not change thegoalsofJapan-s military. The Japanese Imperial Navy possessed the third largestfleet in the ' Edwin P. Hoyt, T.p.n". War: the Gn-at Pacific Conflict (Toronto, 1986), p.24 2 Ibid.. p. 47
world and wanted to make it capable of defeating the United States.3 However limitations agreed to under pressure from the other powers at the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22 made this impossible. Japanese nationalists, already a powerful force, were not happy about this and resented Japan's treatment by the West. Later, at the London Naval Conference of 1930, the British and the Americans demanded further limitations, which the Japanese saw as a serious threat to their naval superiority in the Pacific. However, after the treaty's expiration in 1936, Japan was free to pursue naval construction that would upset the balance of power in the Pacific. Another matter which caused problems between Japan and the West...
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