England's Policy in Japan
(From a Correspondent)
Tokyo, June 19th 1885
It is a fact, unfortunately but too manifest to observant resident in Japan, that England's position and influence in the country have ceased to be such as they were formerly, or such as her dominant interests clearly entitle her to.
It is equally plain that this decline must be attributed to an unwise reluctance on her part to abandon a line of policy no longer conducive to her own advantage or in harmony with the altered circumstances of the time.
That policy is the policy of united action on the part of all the Treaty Powers - a policy inaugurated as towards Japan by Great Britain some 25 years ago, and latterly adhered to with a pertinacity which prompts the belief that its bearing on the present state of things cannot have been very thoroughly considered.
Few of those who know the history of our early intercourse with Japan will deny that the principle and practice of co-operation were at that time reasonable and wholesome enough.
So long as something more than mere persuasion was needed to drag her out of her place among the hermit nations there was a wonderful magic in those identical notes by which, from time to time during the first decade in the life of the treaties, the united body of the foreign Powers moulded the Shogun's Government to their will.
No nation, however strong, could resist those demands and live.
Yet, if they were menacing and even terrible engines of pressure, they at least had the merit of doing their work well and quickly, and the Japanese themselves now gladly admit the wisdom and efficacy of high-handed dealings which, however distasteful at the moment, served to lay the foundation of their country's present status.
But from the time when the object of those methods had been gained - when Japan, cutting herself adrift from the past, fairly joined the comity of nations, and began a career of progress which has been shown by 17 years' experience to have no parallel in history - it followed that the old principle of combination was, or ought to have been, doomed to an early death.
The whole situation, in fact, has since that period undergone a complete metamorphosis.
Instead of Japan needing coercion to impel her into Western ways, it is she who now finds her onward path blocked by the very Powers which forced her into their company.
Co-operation exists still, having long outlived its time; but, instead of being used for its former healthy purpose, it is clung to, in its most objectionable form, partly as a means of preventing any one unit in the combination from outdoing its fellows, and partly perhaps from a conservative unwillingness to move out of existing grooves.
Unfortunately for England, it so happens that, by a curious chain of circumstances, she, of all the Powers, has been impelled into taking the lead in the maintenance of this obsolete principle.
Thus placed she finds herself in the invidious position of obstructing, or seeming to obstruct, Japan's long sustained efforts at emancipation from some of the more stringent provisions of the early treaties.
But this is the very thing which, on grounds of general policy or expediency, England least desires to do.
Nevertheless she gets, whether justly or unjustly, the credit of doing it.
Thus, while standing in her own light, she at the same time undermines her interests by figuring as a stumbling-block in the way of Japan.
Hence her present unpopularity, and hence that steady decline of her influence and prestige which no Englishman can view without regret.
The situation is a highly peculiar and complicated one, and calls for a little further explanation of details.
In the first place, it must be remarked that treaty revision is as much as ever a burning question among the governing and educated classes in Japan.
To obtain some modification of the diplomatic instruments of a quarter of a century ago, which bound Japan hand and foot to the concrete host of the Western Powers, had been the ruling desire of her people ever since the year 1872, when first she became entitled to press for revision.
Latterly that desire has grown with an intensity proportioned to the many delays and disappointments which have characterized negotiations, begun indeed in 1879, but carried on at such a snail's pace that matters have as yet hardly passed the stage at which Japan originally formulated her desires.
Already twice the stipulated life-spun of the early covenants has elapsed, yet they still retain the vigour of youth, and this in spite of the fact that the necessity as well as justice of extensive remodelling, both in respect of questions of extra-territoriality and of Japan's claim to regulate her tariffs, have for some time past been admitted by the whole of the Treaty Powers.
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the Japanese have fretted at delays certainly but little flattering to diplomatic methods and most inconvenient to all concerned, or that the moods displayed by the several Powers have come to be the standards of Japanese regard.
It is not a part of my purpose in this letter to review in detail the long series of causes which contributed to procrastination in the past.
Something must of course be said for accidental hindrances and for time necessarily taken up in efforts to clear the ground for reciprocal action.
There can be no question, however, that until last year England showed a more or less marked unwillingness to bend in any practicable way to Japan's desires.
She, in fact, placed herself in the van of opposition, and by doing so effectually frustrated all chance of an early settlement.
For Great Britain's interests in Japan far exceed those of any other Power.
About one-third of the whole commerce is hers, and nearly one-half of the foreignersf resident in the country, Chinese excepted, are British subjects.
From this, and from the peculiar operation of the most-favoured-nation clauses, it followed that the course taken by England in such a matter as treaty revision virtually regulated, as indeed it still continues to regulate, that of her associates.
The magnitude of her interests restrained her from yielding to any other Power the right of determining the length to which concessions to Japan might go.
The whole responsibility, whether for action or inaction, for good or evil, thus came to be placed on England's shoulders, and she has all along been regarded, not without justice, as the chief cause of the extraordinary delay in revising the treaties.
But the point which demands more immediate notice is the position we hold at the present moment in this much-vexed question.
If that position is in effect no happier than it was prior to 1884, it may at least be claimed that the general spirit of England's policy has of late changed very much in the direction of dealing liberally with Japan.
When Mr. Plunkett, in the spring of last year, came out to fill Sir Harry Parkes's post as British Minister in Tokyo, he came prepared to make extensive and friendly concessions in matters of the tariffs and of extra-territoriality and Consular jurisdiction - in a word, to inaugurate a cautious but steadily progressive policy, acceptable to the Japanese, and certain to work beneficially for all concerned.
Japan, indeed, does not seek to go any farther at present than England is ready to go with her.
The latter Power, moreover, is willing to proceed by degrees to yet larger concessions, concurrently with Japan's ability to furnish good proof of their urgency.
No sooner, however, had this new policy been announced than the rest of the Treaty Powers, who till then had been content to follow snugly in England's wake while she bore the whole odium of obstructiveness, began one by one to create difficulties, by setting up individual claims as conditions of their agreement.
One wanted to have its silk admitted at a nominal duty, another its coral, another its kerosene, another its tobacco.
One sought unrestricted facilities for the purchase of silkworms' eggs.
Some of the representatives hesitated from want of instructions, others from apathy, others found their interest in delay.
Some objected to this, others to that.
In short, it soon became evident that the clumsy partnership of nations was no better able to make up its mind to a common basis of agreement than it had been at any time since 1872.
Count Inouye, the Japanese Secretary of Foreign Affairs, is not only one of the ablest and wisest members of the Mikado's Cabinet, but a Minister whose sagacity, energy and tact would earn for him a high position in any group of Western statesmen.
Yet he found himself powerless to control the tide of obstruction and self-interest that was now let loose upon him from all sides.
Mr. Plunkett is a diplomatist of the best English type, and has personal qualities which in a case of this kind leave nothing to be desired.
But his efforts to bring about loyalty and unanimity might almost as well have been addressed to reconciling the zealots of sixteen conflicting religious creeds.
"One cannot make a hat to fit seventeen different heads" was the remark lately made to me by a leading Japanese official; and in this remark he struck plainly enough the key-note of the existing deadlock-namely, the principle of cooperation.
That is the millstone which, hung round the neck of the problem by England herself - who alone has the power, though she at present lacks the will, to remove it - really hinders a solution.
Great Britain, notwithstanding her avowed wish to follow the course best conducive to her own interests, the interests of her colleagues, and the well-being of Japan, renders that wish null and void by sticking to a combination as destructive of her position and repute in the country as it is opposed to the dictates of practical common-sense.
In order to maintain that combination, she suffers herself to insist on a strict observance of the favoured-nation clause in its most aggravated shape - that is to say, stripped of every possible feature of reciprocity, and providing that, if Japan should grant privileges or immunities in exchange for concessions to any one of the Treaty Powers, each of the others shall be entitled to the same advantages without giving any sort of consideration for them.
In other words, the entire body of the Powers, so long as this stipulation remains in force, bind themselves to that which practically constitutes a guarantee that no one of them shall enter upon a more liberal line of policy until the day, should it ever come, that will find the whole family of one mind and mood, and agreed to work together in unity.
That a great nation like England should head or even tolerate a league of this nature can only be accounted for by supposing her to hold exaggerated views as to its necessity.
Plainly this is the case.
She doubtless believes that adherence to the old policy of combination is the sole way of checkmating the rivalry and covert antagonism of her associates, and that these are sufficiently formidable to British interests to warrant the sacrifice of every other consideration that affects the case.
There can be no question that, so far as distrust of some of the associated Powers goes, such beliefs might be not altogether without justification.
The past furnishes proofs of adroit manouvering behind England's back, to make political capital at her expense, and to lay on her the whole burden of a harsh policy, which, though admittedly possessing more valid motives for her than for her partners, has been clung to less openly, but none the less inflexibly by each one of them, America alone excepted, and for similar purposes of self interest.
And certainly England has reason to suspect that some of her colleagues, if not held tightly together, are quite capable of giving her the slip, by granting, in exchange for privileges to be ceded by Japan, concessions upon which England puts a much higher price.
But it is by no means so clear that we have weighed correctly either their real power to harm us or the grave drawbacks of our chosen measure of self-protection.
As for the former, a simple weapon of defence, as will be presently shown, lies ready to our hand.
As for the latter, some indication has been already given of the disastrous effects of co-operation on our position and prospects.
With England, as with all other Powers, the main purpose of intercourse with Japan is to exercise the fullest possible commercial privileges.
Japan now offers us important and long-sought additions to existing facilities in exchange for certain reasonable concessions which we are ready to grant without reserve.
To effect this exchange is obviously our legitimate policy.
It is a policy favourable to mutual interests and in harmony with the principle of progress and fair-play.
If it had not been for co-operation those principles would have been carried into practice a year ago.
As it is, we remain bound up with 16 more or less jealous colleagues, by a chain of our own forging, foolishly fearful lest, if we loosen it, they should turn and rend us, and, on the other hand, faced by the alternative that just so long as we refrain from loosening it so long must we continue to defeat our own aims, desert our lawful policy, suffer in interest, popularity, and reputation, and hinder the progress of a friendly State.
There can be little difficulty in discerning the best path out of this dilemma.
Were England to take the lead in forsaking a combination long ago obsolete and now in everybody's way, America certainly, and most probably Germany, would at once follow suit.
This done, the whole difficulty would virtually disappear, for the remaining Powers could hardly fail to abandon further opposition.
England, while relieving herself from an odious and embarrassing position, would earn the gratitude of the Japanese Government and people, regain her old supremacy in the foreign councils of the nation, and greatly improve her commercial position and prospects.
The objection, not unlikely to be raised, that if we give up combination in Japan we must do the same in other Oriental countries, such as China, may be very easily met.
It is only another way of saying that the Western Powers are to be denied the exercise of discrimination, and that under no circumstances can any Eastern Power hope to raise itself above the level at which alone the practice of combination can be at all fitly applied.
A year ago The Times ended a leading article on the Capitulations in Japan by remarking that "It rests with England in the main to say what will be the character of the relations to the outer world of a great Empire inhabited by 37,000,000 of human beings gifted with rare industry and aptitude and moving steadily along the high road of civilization."
If any change has taken place since those words were written, it is that England's position and obligations have been somewhat accentuated by recent events.
Unexpected complications, arising out of the Russian question, the seizure of Port Hamilton, and Corean intrigues, already begin to loom in these regions; and Great Britain will do well to lose no time in strengthening her influence with such a desirable friend as Japan.
-Times, August 19th
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