England, Germany, and Japan
The Times' Correspondent in Tokyo
Tokio, April 5th 1887
While treaty revision is crawling on with steps so slow and painful that after 27 meetings, spread over a period of 11 months, the members of the Conference have as yet barely finished one-half of their thorny task, the public mind in Japan is occupied for the time with two other questions of considerable moment and significance.
One is the rapid increase of German influence and popularity, as apparent in the whole attitude of the present Envoy from Berlin, in the growth of German commerce, and in the recent appointment of several German professors, architects, and others to posts in the Japanese service.
The other is a group of social reforms and novelties, having as their main object an improvement of the position of women in Japan, and finding their most marked expression in a movement, inaugurated by the Empress, for the adoption of female apparel after the Western style.
Both of these subjects were discussed in The Times of the 25th of December, by a correspondent who, as regards the first of them, represented that the recent shower of German appointments is only the natural fruit of Japan's choice of the parliamentary and administrative institutions of Germany as models for her own new Constitution which is to be established in 1890.
But, while undoubtedly correct up to a certain point, that solution hardly goes to the root of the whole matter.
The truth is that behind this question of German influence, as behind nearly every other phase of Japan's relations with the outer world, the familiar spectre of treaty revision is more or less discernible.
In 1882, when Great Britain took the lead in rejecting Japan's scheme of revision - which scheme, as I explained last year, is after all being carried out in its main features at the present time-the Cabinet in Berlin was beginning to give active attention to projects for extending German commerce and colonial emigration.
It happened that Count Ito, now Premier of Japan, visited Europe at this juncture, and spent some months in the German capital, studying the legislative and administrative systems of the Empire.
During the period of his stay he naturally became intimate with Prince Bismarck, and it is reasonable to conclude that the latter then learned all particulars about Japan's condition and prospects.
The great Chancellor is too far-seeing a statesman to have overlooked the opportunity that was presented by Japan's burning desire to be freed from the thraldom of the treaties.
He must have seen - no man of common perception could fail to see - how harsh and unsympathetic was the treatment which the Eastern pioneer of Western progress was receiving at the hands of her treaty friends.
Prince Bismarck, doubtless, also saw how great a chance of distancing all rivals lay within the reach of the Western Power that should succeed in delivering Japan from her difficulties.
England had thus far disregarded her opportunity.
But the German Chancellor, bent as he was on discovering new outlets for the enterprise of his countrymen and new fields for extending the influence of the fatherland, was not likely to be indifferent to the favourable opening before him.
Is it not more than probable that Prince Bismarck then conceived the programme which he has since carried out with his wonted vigour and thoroughness - the programme of establishing a strong lien upon Japan's gratitude?
It has been said that between the Chancellor of Germany and the future Chancellor of Japan an arrangement was practically come to on the spot, defining the nature of the assistance to be rendered by one side and the degree of recognition to be accorded by the other.
This, however, if not a wholly false, is certainly an exaggerated statement in as far as it points to any discrimination against England.
No Japanese statesman-Count Ito, least of all - can be blind to the overshadowing dimensions of British influence in the East, or forget how much of his counrty's recent material progress is due to English impulse and aid.
Those who imagine that Count Ito can have pledged himself in 1882 to follow any set path of international partiality not only mistake the man and underrate the prudent influence of his distinguished colleague, Count Inouye, but also forget the bitter training which Japan had undergone during many years of fruitless effort to soften the prejudices and reoncile the conflicting interests of the 16 signatories of her treaties.
It may be safely asserted that the issue of Count Ito's visit to Berlin in 1882 was simply this - that the German Cabinet then, first and alone among European Governments, acquired a full perception of all the details of the Japanese treaty problem, and appreciated the injustice of holding Japan any longer to the semi-civilized terms of obsolete covenants.
To a statesman like Prince Bismarck, the monopoly of this perception coupled with the fact that Japan had resolved to adopt German constitutional and administrative models, must have seemed an ample guarantee of success in the programme which he then devised.
In the light of this explanation it is not surprising that, last summer, when Sir Francis Plunkett set himself to assist the solution of the treaty deadlock by adopting on Great Britain's part a bold and liberal scheme of revision, he found Baron von Holleben, the new German Envoy, ready and even anxious to join hands with him.
This was, indeed, a juncture which Germany had anticipated.
England, many years of obdurate reserve, had wholly changed her policy towards Japan.
In the past her attitude had been the worst, the only grave, obstacle to treaty revision.
That removed, there was a prospect of an early settlement.
And, true to the programme which he had conceived in 1882, Prince Bismarck had established here in the nick of time an affable Plenipotentiary, armed with most liberal instructions.
Two factors, each in its way important, have thus tended during the last five years to throw Japan, so to speak, into the arms of Germany.
First, the selection of German models of government has led, as explained by your correspondent already referred to, in a perfectly natural and legitimate way, to sundry appointments having a direct relation to pending constitutional changes; while the intimacy and fresh centres of influence thus set up have somewhat extended in other directions the field of patronage in Germany's favour.
Secondly, Japan's just obligations to the first great European Power which gave heed to her in the sore exigencies of her position under the treaties have no less naturally operated to strengthen Germany's footing in the empire.
To these may be added a third factor - the opportunities growing out of concessions and good offices in the dreary work of treaty revision, opportunities little likely to pass unheeded by so shrewd a diplomatist as the German Envoy.
There is yet a fourth factor - in the avenues of private commerce.
German traders show a degree of friendly consideration and courtesy in intercourse with their customers which goes a long way with the polite and sensitive Japanese.
They associate freely with Japanese merchants, learn the language of the country, and seek Japanese co-operation in business matters.
Fifthly, it is right to add that the German employes of the Government are an able and excellent body of men, well chosen, highly skilled in their several lines, and serving the Japanese with zeal and fidelity.
From the above simple chain of causes and effects have sprung all the recent outcries about a German craze, about Japan's being turned into a German colony, about German aggressiveness, and Japanese fickleness, waywardness, and ingratitude.
Yet, surveyed calmly and with full knowledge of the facts, the position does not seem to warrant any of these interpretations.
Without doubt Germany's influence in the country has of late increased.
But it has done so only for the very intelligible reasons here cited.
In one or two directions the Germans horse has perhaps been ridden a little hard.
In so far, however, as it may have been urged, if it has at all, out of ordinary channels, any such transgressions are merely the most recent manifestations of the things that are pretty certain to happen whatever a weak nation has an important point to gain with a host of great Powers arrayed in consort against it.
For the last 10 years treaty revision has been the question most near to the hearts of the Japanese.
More than once England had the opportunity of solving that problem, to her own as well as Japan's great advantage.
More than once she neglected it.
Germany, more complaisant, then stepped in as a friend, and is now making the best of her initiative.
And as long as the principles of fair play are not violated, it is impossible to question the right of the Japanese to bestow their appointments wherever they may wish.
Nor does it appear, after all, that there is anything in the present aspect of affairs to call forth either the complaints or the serious apprehensions of Englishmen.
As far as matters have gone yet, or seem likely to go in the future, the movement is not fraught with any undue elements of rivalry to the broad interests of Great Britain or her commerce.
If there are the same features of German trading competition in Japan as in so many other parts of the world, the defeat of these lies in the hands not of Governments or diplomatists, but of our merchants, manufacturers, and chambers of commerce.
In other matters, if Germany is, for a time at least, being warmed by rays of Japanese official sunshine, England is not on that account being pushed out into the cold.
It is both unnecessary and at variance with the facts to infer that accession of German popularity must needs issue in coolness or ingratitude towards England.
On the contrary, England's position in this country was never higher nor did it ever possess surer elements of ultimate strength, than at present.
There are no signs of wavering or lukewarmness on the part of Japan's leading statesmen in their sentiments towards Great Britain.
Germany, in the natural sequence of events and from special and transient opportunities created by the treaty revision question, has come to enjoy a considerable measure of Japanese goodwill.
But in this she only shares with England, without permanently supplanting her.
And it should not be forgotten that, among other direct proofs to the same effect, a commission of English naval officers has but lately been appointed to the Japanese service.
Lastly Englishmen concerned with Japan may rest assured that Britsh interests here are in safe and competent hands.
Sir Francis Plunkett can be well trusted to guard them against illegitimate encroahment.
He is more than able to hold his and our own in the diplomatic ring, and he is on terms of frank and friendly confidence with the chief members of the Mikado's Government.
It is conceivable, however, that his position at the Conference might be made yet stronger did the Cabinet in Downing Street rise to the level of the situation and come to appreciate the important fact that, whenever it condemns its representative in Japan to an illiberal policy or obliges him to hesitate over concessions which cannot ultimately be withheld, it actually creates opportunities of which Germany never fails to take adroit advantage.
I have spoken here of England and Germany alone among the Western Powers, their positions in Japan being the theme which I set out to discuss.
But readers of The Times will, of course, take heed not to infer from this that with either Germany or England, or even with the two together, rests the solution of a problem in which the United States, France, Russia, Italy, and a half score of other nations have each of them theoretically an equal interest and practically an equal voice.
The Times - May 14th
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