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Introduction: East Asia and international order, 1900–68

ByANTONY BEST

The international history of East Asia in the twentieth century is a subject that is essential to any understanding of the modern epoch. Its significance for modern world history can most obviously be explained in two ways: first, that the region was from the 1890s onwards the scene of fierce competition between the European Powers for access to its markets, and, second, that the interest displayed by Europe led the leading indigenous states in the region, Japan and China, to fear for their security and provoked them into co-opting modernity and transforming themselves into Great Powers in their own right. As a result of this Great Power competition for influence, East Asia became for much of the twentieth century a flash-point of national rivalries second only to Europe itself and thus exerted a profound impact on international politics. For example, the battle for control of the region played a major role in shaping the two conflicts, the Second World War and the Cold War, which defined the nature of the second half of the century. Thus to comprehend why the Second World War proved to be the pivotal event in the collapse of European hegemony one must look at the rise of imperial Japan and the threat that its quest for regional predominance posed to the British, French and Dutch presence. Furthermore, to grasp why the Cold War became such a dangerous conflict in the 1950s and 1960s one has to study the emergence of Communist China and its poisonous rivalry with, first, the United States and, then, the Soviet Union. The fascination with the rise of Japan and China as Great Powers and with their frequently turbulent interaction with the West has naturally meant that international historians of East Asia have tended to focus their attention almost exclusively on the conflicts that marked the rise of these states to this exalted status. They have therefore studied eruptions of violence such as the RussoJapanese War, the Pacific War and the Korean War from every conceivable angle. However, the tendency to concentrate on the immediate origins, course and consequences of wars can produce a simplistic reading of regional history, where national security and military outcomes are the sole determinants. The obvious danger in this is that one can lose sight of other significant forces, such as ideology and trade, which helped to shape the history of the region. This is important for it is clear that the potent challenge that the region posed to European imperialism existed in political and ideological as well as military forms,

for the rise of nationalism and modernization in Japan and China as a form of resistance to European imperialism had a galvanizing influence on nationalist movements across Asia. In addition, the development of economic growth in East Asia, first in Japan and then in China, soon eroded the domination that the European powers exercised over regional trade and had the effect of stimulating the development of complex trading networks that linked the region with the indigenous merchants of Southeast and South Asia. Moreover, the inevitable focus on the conflicts that have scarred East Asia means that another aspect of regional politics has been largely overlooked, namely the efforts by states and non-governmental organizations to cooperate together to regulate various aspects of international interaction in the region.1 It is important to rectify this deficiency and not to focus solely on realpolitik because this region, largely because it was such a clear source of potential instability, witnessed a number of significant international innovations and initiatives that had broader repercussions for the world as a whole. For example, it was largely the dangers posed by Great Power naval competition in East Asia in the wake of the Great War that gave rise to the world’s first serious effort to introduce arms limitation in the shape of the five-power treaty of 1922.2 Around the same time, concern about the dire internal condition of China led to states and activists coming together to attempt to regulate or even suppress the opium trade and to an international organization, the League of Nations, engaging in what, in retrospect, could be termed the world’s first development programme. This does not, of course, mean that these attempts at cooperation were all successful, far from it. However, the fact that the Powers felt the necessity, in the face of regional instability, to engage in such efforts provides an important commentary on how international politics and norms of behaviour evolved in the twentieth century. Moreover, these developments show that the idea, inspired by the inability of the League of Nations to resolve the Manchurian crisis of 1931-33, that internationalism had no place or influence in East Asia is fundamentally unsound. If anything the problem in East Asia in the inter-war period was not that internationalism had failed to set root in the region, but that too many different orders existed, with the Washington system, based on the ‘open door’, competing with, rather than complementing, the League of Nations. Here too, the course of events in the region has important implications for understanding the more general history of the inter-war period, for if internationalism only complicated the task of resisting Japanese aggression, what conclusions might be drawn for Europe in the same years? Inspired by the need to examine more closely the broad forces that shaped the region, this volume brings together a range of British, Japanese and North American scholars to provide a different history of East Asia from 1900 to 1968. Instead of concentrating on war origins, the chapters in this book analyse how the development of the region was influenced by ideological competition, by both multilateral and unilateral efforts to instil order, and by the changing nature of international trade. The topics scrutinized include the concept of the ‘open door’, the rise and influence of progressive internationalism in the form of the

League of Nations, the development of anti-Western internationalism in the shape of pan-Asianism, the European retreat from empire, and the significance of intra-Asian trade. In order to show how these forces influenced East Asia, the volume focuses on their effect on one of the key relationships that shaped the region, namely the complex ties that existed between Britain and Japan. In the first chapter Ian Nish sets the scene for the book by reviewing the state of the existing literature on Anglo-Japanese relations in the first half of the twentieth century. In particular, he does this in the light of the recent completion of the Anglo-Japanese History Project whose conclusions were published in five volumes by Palgrave-Macmillan between 2000 and 2003.3 This project decided to go beyond studying the traditional area of politics and diplomacy and dedicated volumes to economic, strategic and cultural themes in order to demonstrate the breadth of the interaction between the two countries. The result was that the five volumes created a far richer picture than had existed hitherto in which it became clear that competition in one area of mutual activity was usually balanced by relative cordiality elsewhere. In addition, Nish provides an expert overview of the failed quest for regional order in East Asia, which began with the signing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1902 and ended with the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941. International order in East Asia in the period of European hegemony arguably began with the development of the treaty-port system in China and its attendant ‘open door’ for commerce. To a degree, one might say that this nineteenth-century construction had an internationalist progressive aspect to it, for, as the child of the British ideology of free trade, it stood opposed to territorial gain and used law and regulation to ensure open access for all to the China market. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, its star appeared to be waning as the British predominance in Western relations with China came to be challenged by the European Great Powers, and in particular Russia. The second chapter by Antony Best in this volume provides a fresh interpretation of the moment in which the treaty-port system came under challenge by assessing the degree to which the Anglo-Japanese alliance was designed not merely to contain Russia but also to protect the ‘open door’ order. It argues that the British perceived the alliance as an essential underpinning to the ‘open door’ in China and as a way of ensuring that the latter country was not divided into spheres of influence. In contrast, Japan saw the alliance largely in terms of national security against the Russian threat. Over time these conflicting interpretations and interests led the alliance into a period of prolonged decline. Accordingly, by the end of the Great War Britain sought a new way of defending its interests and was drawn to working with the similarly inclined United States to uphold the ‘open door’ and contain Japanese ambitions in China. The international order established at the Washington Conference in 1921-22 should therefore be seen not merely as an expression of American internationalist thinking in the wake of its failure to join the League of Nations but also a reflection of a long-standing British and American interest in an order based on the ‘open door’. Complementing this emphasis on the ‘open door’ as an international order, Robert Bickers in the third chapter focuses on the machinery that underpinned

the Western semi-colonial regime in China. He begins by outlining the mechanisms by which British power was projected into China after 1842 and then looks at how the integration of Japan into the concert of Powers from the 1890s onwards gradually undermined its influence. The chapter concentrates on one key manifestation of the British presence: the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. Bickers examines the evolution of this unique multilateral institution and how the desire to get Japan to accept the ‘open door’ order led to Japanese being recruited into the service. He demonstrates that the subsequent AngloJapanese rivalry for supremacy over the Customs Service, down to the appointment on 11 December 1941 of Kishimoto Hirokichi as Inspector-General, acts as a parallel commentary on the growing competition for influence between the two Powers. He argues that the challenge posed by Japan in this field mirrored other struggles for influence, such as that for control over the Shanghai Municipal Council. The threat to the ‘open door’ was not, however, restricted to the rivalry that existed between the Great Powers and the preference of some for ‘spheres of influence’. Somewhat ironically, opium, the very commodity that had originally propelled the West into forcing its own commercial rules on to East Asia, was itself a source of disorder for it threatened to dissolve the political and social glue that held China together. From the late nineteenth century onwards there were calls in the West to regulate and ultimately suppress the international trade in opium and in Chapter 4 Harumi Goto-Shibata looks at this largely neglected and perhaps surprising area of international cooperation. Goto-Shibata outlines the pre-Great War origins of the movement to control the production and use of this drug and how this then developed in the 1920s into a concerted effort by the League of Nations to create a formal committee mechanism to regulate trade and restrict domestic use of opium. She analyses why this attempt to establish international supervision proved difficult to establish and outlines why the system collapsed in the 1930s. In doing so, she points to one of the most striking developments of the inter-war period, namely the way in which, just as Japan began to eschew international cooperation, China began very consciously to adapt itself to the rules and language of internationalism. This was, of course, a political calculation, for this strategy was designed to curry favour with the West and bring international pressure to bear on Japan, but, in itself, it provides a clear demonstration of the importance of internationalism in shaping East Asian history in this turbulent period. In the fifth chapter Joseph A. Maiolo explores another aspect of inter-war international cooperation, namely how naval competition between the Great Powers evolved from the Washington Conference of 1921-22 up to the outbreak of the Second World War. He shows that quantitative naval limitation came about in 1921-22 in the form of the Five-Power Treaty because Britain and Japan shared a powerful common interest in preventing the United States from outbuilding their respective fleets, something that was well within the capabilities of American industry and finance. By the mid-1930s, however, this arms limitation order began to break down. Crucial to its demise was the fact that the

Japanese naval leadership was no longer prepared to accept the inferior status that they perceived the Five-Power Treaty as imposing on Japan. Thus, while Britain attempted further revision of the naval arms limitation order by introducing qualitative controls, the Japanese rejected it altogether in actions that mirrored their withdrawal from the League of Nations and refusal to honour the ‘open door’. Japan’s move away from cooperation with the Western powers should not, however, be seen as an outright rejection of internationalism, for some of the tenets of that approach to international affairs were evident in its attempts to reconstruct the East Asian order in its own image in the 1930s and 1940s. In Chapter 6 Masataka Matsuura illuminates Japanese thinking about international order in the 1930s by studying one of the most controversial issues relating to Japanese foreign policy, namely the degree to which it was influenced by panAsian thought. As Matsuura rightly observes, the effect of pan-Asianism on policy formulation has been largely neglected by historians, because scholarship has often approached the subject from the perspective of intellectual history, while studies of the political events that led to the ‘Greater East Asian War’ have concentrated on bureaucratic politics and the decisions of ‘rational actors’.4