chapter  2
14 Pages

The Anglo- Japanese alliance and international politics in Asia, 1902–23

ByANTONY BEST

The creation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1902 was one of the most significant developments in shaping the history of East Asia in the twentieth century. Coming into being at a moment of great instability, this powerful naval and military Great Power combination dominated the region for the next twenty years, allowing Japan and Britain to survive both Russian and German challenges to their regional interests. This apparent success meant that after the alliance’s demise, and particularly in the troubled years leading up to the outbreak of the Pacific War, many politicians and commentators in Britain and Japan looked back on these days as a halcyon period in which the two countries had cooperated to their mutual advantage.1 There was in this nostalgic assessment an assumption that the alliance had rested on broad common interests and that it had brought a much needed element of stability and order to the region’s volatile politics. This positive image of the alliance is interesting for it naturally raises the question of whether the original Anglo-Japanese alignment and its subsequent revisions were consciously intended to construct a regional order. Could it be said, for example, that the Anglo-Japanese alliance was deliberately designed to bring about a strategic balance of power encompassing all of East Asia and which would contain any challenge to regional stability? To go even further one might, in addition, ask whether the emergence of the alliance reflected the existence not just of military imperatives but also of the larger political, economic and ideological forces that were shaping the region’s destiny. In other words, was the alliance a strategic manifestation of the liberal ‘open door’ regime in China favoured by Britain and the United States and did it stand in opposition to the more overtly imperialist ideology of the continental European Great Powers? Finally, in contradistinction to those who later romanticized the alliance, one might ask whether it was Anglo-Japanese differences over these very issues that eventually led to the alliance’s termination and its replacement by the treaty system that was agreed at the Washington Conference of 1921-22.