The Anglo-Japanese Alliance 1902-1952

J.D. Hargreaves reviews the delicate truce that existed between Britain and Japan in the early years of the twentieth century.

Two striking features distinguished the alliance with Japan, concluded by Great Britain on January 30th, 1902; originally pointed out by. Mr. Henry Norman in the House of Commons on February 13th, 1902, they have been frequently emphasized by. historians since. It was the first time that a British government had admitted the need for a peace-time military alliance, such as had become almost obligatory for European powers; and it was the first agreement of the kind between a European and an Asiatic power. Both observations were true; and both have been laden with more significance than they will bear. The really decisive turns, in British foreign policy as well as in relations between East and West, were still to be taken. Fifty years later, the alliance is best seen as an expedient to which the British government had been driven by their isolated position in Europe; an attempt to defend imperilled interests in the Far East without forfeiting freedom of action elsewhere. In number and intensity the worries of the Foreign Office had long been growing— there was the decline of Turkish power in the Eastern Mediterranean and of British influence at Constantinople, the conflicts with Russia in Central Asia and with France in Egypt, the unexpectedly hard struggle for supremacy in South Africa. The Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95 introduced a new problem—“infinitely graver,” in Rosebery’s words, than the old Eastern question—the problem of protecting and permitting the expansion of Britain’s considerable trade with China. Hitherto British policy had opposed foreign territorial encroachment upon China, but not commercial competition; its accepted formulae were independence, integrity, and the “open door.” After China’s surprising defeat by Japan, however, these slogans appeared to need reexamination.

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