The Treaty between China and Japan
(From a Correspondent at Tokio, date unknown)
(Appeared on The Times on July 28, 1885)
The issue of the negotiations concluded at Tientsin between China and Japan, having reference to the tragedy which was enacted in the Corean capital on the 6th and 7th of December, is regarded throughout the Far East with satisfaction, not unmixed with surprise.
Few can have expected a result which, while putting an end to an immediate crisis that at one time looked very grave, has relieved a strain of long standing between the two Empires, and bids fair to exercise a large and lasting influence for good upon their future relations.
The whole transaction brings into strong relief the moderation and sagacity of the Plenipotentiaries who conducted it.
So adroitly, too, has their diplomatic game been played and settled that each country claims to be a winner; for Japan is well pleased at having got virtually all she asked for without being required to make any sacrifices, while China believes that she has achieved a compromise unexpectedly favourable to herself.
Some amusement as well as instruction may be gained by an analysis of the chief motives and moves in this singular contest, in which, as will moreover be shown, there lay behind the action of China's representative a far-seeing political aim which cannot but arouse interest in England at the present time.
Notwithstanding all rumours to the contrary which have been spread by the newspapers of the Treaty Ports, Japan's real demands were moderate enough.
She firmly believed and maintained that China, by the action of her troops in Corea - which resulted in the brutal murder of 36 Japanese tradespeople, and sundry other outrages - had committed a breach of international comity.
But to seek reparation for those deeds was the least important part of the prudent intentions of the Tokio Foreign Office.
Japan, though temporarily incensed, was throughout friendly to China at heart.
No apology, therefore, was to be asked for; still less an indemnity.
The actual sufferers by the riots had already been recompensed by the Corean Government, and Japan, to use her Ambassador's own words, was resolved from the outset that there should be "no taint of money" in the negotiations with China.
The only claims, therefore, which Count Ito, the Japanese Envoy, was charged to make were that China should disavow the acts of her soldiery, punish the officers who had been in fault, and agree to withdraw her troops from Corea on condition of Japan doing the same.
The last-named stipulation was clearly the most difficult, as it was also the most important, of the three.
It was an essential point to the prevention of future complications in Corea.
Both countries are alike interested in preserving the peninsula from foreign aggression, and both alike know that any strife about Corea between themselves would be the surest way of inviting such aggression.
But, after what had lately occurred there, the continued presence of Chinese and Japanese troops would be a standing menace of collisions.
Hence, the manner of settling this question of their withdrawal was certain to affect closely the future, not only of the peninsula, but of the relations between Japan and China.
Yet it was a question which needed very delicate handling.
Besides the nominal purpose of the presence of Chinese troops in Soul, which was to keep the King of a tributary State upon his throne, it was well known to both sides that the more serious object was to thwart supposed designs of Japanese aggression, the Chinese having long harboured a suspicion that Japan aims at nothing less than the absorption of Corea into her empire.
In order, therefore, that the third demand should succeed, especially when coming from Japan, it was necessary to convince the Chinese that their distrust of Japan was groundless - to satisfy them that the handful of Japanese troops in Corea was there, under special treaty provisions solely for the protection of Japanese life and property, and that the Mikado's Government sought, only to come to a frank and friendly understanding with China on the whole question.
This, then, was the cardinal purpose of Count Ito's mission - a mission fraught with risk and difficulty, and in which he had to fill the double role of a complainant and a friend.
It has happened well for both countries that a negotiation of so much delicacy and importance should have been entrusted to two such men as the Viceroy Li Hung Chang and Count Ito.
The latter, to peculiar charms and frankness of manner, adds diplomatic tact and acumen, and sincerity and firmness of purpose, qualities which have placed him, in the foremost rank of Japan's many capable public men.
Pochili's great Viceroy, on the other hand, as the world has long known, is probably the ablest, certainly the most just and enlightened, of Chinese statesmen; and it was much to Japan's advantage that the case of her adversary was placed in the hands of the only high officer in China who has the courage of his opinions and is powerful enough to give them effect.
Nevertheless, Li had to be persuaded, and persuaded moreover in such a fashion that his jealous enemies at Pekin might not be able afterwards to triumph over him.
With the bitter sequel of the Fournier Convention still fresh in his memory, he was little likely to be in a mood for making pacific agreements, unless his position could be so fortified that assent to Japan's proposals should be made to wear the aspect of victory.
It was doubtful, indeed, whether he altogether welcomed the fresh responsibility which had been put upon him and former events had shown that he was not himself wholly free from suspicions of Japan's designs in Corea.
But if matters could be so contrived that, on the one hand, the public should infer that Li had been called in to help the Government out of a difficulty, while, on the other, both the Court party and the populace should give him credit for having largely cut down Ito's demands, the chances of a happy solution would clearly be much improved.
Tientsin had been named as the place of negotiation, and on Ito's arrival from Japan he found Li waiting there to receive him.
Yet, in the light of the foregoing considerations, it is not surprising that the Japanese Ambassador should have insisted on proceeding in the first place to present his credentials at Pekin, and that this resolve met with no serious opposition from Li.
The ten days spent in the capital were a really occupied only in the usual formalities.
But when the Embassy returned to Tientsin to begin its actual work, it was not necessary to remove the impression which had got abroad that Li's aid had been invoked to carry out negotiations which had failed at Pekin.
Neither was there any need to rebut the highly-coloured beliefs already entertained by the Court and people as to the nature and extent of Japan's claims.
Li's position was thus admirably safeguarded at the very outset, while Japan's prospects were materially benefited.
In the conference which followed, Ito wisely gave priority to the chief points of his instructions, and was met in so accommodating a spirit that the withdrawal of the troops from Corea was apparently agreed to at an early stage.
For the rest, China's aim seemed to be rather to insist, though with no attempt at proof, that the Japanese had been chiefly to blame for the tragic events at Soul than to refute the charges brought against her own officers.
For a time the negotiations dragged.
Li, it is to be observed, was assisted by two Commissioners, whose duties doubtless were not limited to the mere direct business of the mission, and one of whom was publicly committed by his own previous reports to obstinate denial of any fault on the side of China.
To further delay matters, the conferences had hardly begun when the news arrived that preliminaries of peace with France had been arranged, on terms advantageous to the Chinese.
A triumph such as this was not calculated to make China very pliant towards Japan, and it apparently needed all Count Ito's resources of mind and manner to win the Viceroy's true sympathy and assent.
These, however, were at length cordially given, and a final settlement seemed to be close at hand.
But at the eleventh hour harmony was once more broken by China's claiming the insertion of a clause which should empower her to send troops again to Corea whenever she might deem it necessary to do so.
Plainly, a bargain giving this right to China only would have been ludicrously one-sided, and have placed Japan in a very false position, besides involving a public admission on her part that China had superior claims over the peninsula.
The difficulty was at length got rid of by an agreement that both countries should possess the right referred to in cases of necessity.
This was a significant concession on the part of China, since by it she for the first time placed Japan on the same footing with herself as towards Corea.
It will not be supposed that this or the other points of discussion were settled very easily or quickly.
On the contrary, China's full conversion only took place suddenly, on the seventh and last day of conference, when the Japanese had nearly abandoned all hope of a friendly settlement.
Then, however, being at length convinced that there was nothing more to follow, and that Japan was evidently prepared to fight rather than recede from the very moderate position she had taken up, the Chinese assented freely to everything that Count Ito had asked for.
They agreed to withdraw their troops from Corea within four months, on the conditions named above, and to reprimand and otherwise punish the officers and soldiers who were responsible for the outrages at Soul.
It was also jointly resolved to invite the Corean King to establish a sufficient armed force, to be trained by officers from a third Power, for the due maintenance of order.
Japan had the best of reasons for this stipulation.
Twice in three years her Legation had been burnt, her Envoy forced to retreat from the capital, her people assassinated, and their property destroyed.
The singularly happy issue of these deliberations must, without doubt, be attributed mainly to Viceroy Li's broad and generous views, and his evidently sincere wish to establish an entente cordiare between the two nations - a wish which certainly cannot have been weakened by Count Ito's admirable presentment of Japan's case, and the personal liking he so readily inspires in those who are brought into contact with him.
In China, where everyone believes that Li succeeded in largely reducing Japan's demands, the new Treaty has given general satisfaction.
In Japan, it has been received with high approval by all moderate men.
This, indeed, was only natural.
For it cannot be disguised that Japan had taken a very serious step by despatching an Envoy of Count Ito's importance, with another Cabinet Minister, Count Saigo, as his associate, to settle a difficulty which, after all, could hardly, under any circumstances, have been made a sound pretext for war.
The fact that this course was virtually forced on the Government by the angry feelings which the news of the Soul tragedy had excited throughout the country did not lessen its real significance.
Japan had been driven to take up a position in which apparently she must either succeed or fight.
Yet success was very doubtful.
Any untoward circumstance affecting the negotiations, or the appointment of a plenipotentiary less enlightened or less moderate than Viceropy Li, might have seriously embarrassed the Mikado's Government, or have plunged the two countries into a deplorable war.
A mission faced by such chances and dangers, and with such delicate work to do, might be almost said to succeed if it avoided total failure.
When, therefore, it became known that Count Ito had not only obtained justice for the past, but had dispelled some long-standing prejudices and done much to provide aginst friction in the future, it is no wonder that the more intelligent of his countrymen welcomed a result which included all that they had desired.
But the really interesting feature of the whole affair lies in the deeper motives which prompted Li Hung-Chang's complaisance towards Japan.
By those who know anything of that remarkable man's wide views and commanding character it will be readily understood that a possible offensive and defensive alliance between England, Japan, and China would have for him attractions sufficient to render the furthering of such an object one of the chief ambitions of his life.
An achievement such as this would certainly secure to himself almost unbounded power at Pekin, and might before long establish him as the virtual ruler of the vast Chinese Empire.
But it would do even more than this.
It would constitute a powerful combination as against China's natural enemy, Russia strained as they are at present, Li might reasonably look forward to such a combination at no distant date.
Success, too, might dispose of all anxieties respecting that disbanding of his 80,000 trained soldiers which he has now to face.
Even a fulfilment of the dream of China's ruling class - the recovery of the Amoor or "cradle of the Emperor" - might perhaps be counted among the prospects of the future.
Such are some of the possibilities which occupy the mind of China's most powerful and ambitious statesman, and which doubtless contributed to the recent friendly settlement with Japan.
The opportunity at Tientsin was an opportunity of forging the first link in Li's scheme.
Indeed, there is reason to believe that he would even have liked to enter at once into a close compact with Japan alone for preserving the integrity of Corea.
But, clearly, Japan could not at present consent to a Chinese alliance, except in concert with a Western Power.
The paths of the two countries are too widely divergent.
While China maintains her old attitude of isolation, Japan has advanced far on the path of civilized progress.
Attempted coalition under these circumstances could only lead to friction, and end in rupture such as has been narrowly escaped on the present occasion.
Not until China fairly throws off her mantle of seclusion will really close union of the two Empires become practicable.
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