The Treaty Drama in Japan
Tokio, March 11th, 1889
After an interval of more than a year and a half, yet sooner by many months than was expected, the treaty drama is again on the boards, and its reappearance is marked by features of somewhat startling novelty and vigour.
The role of the chief player - for such Japan, having by far the greatest interest in the issue, may be fairly called - is now changed.
No longer content to figure as a patient suppliant for free admission to the fraternity of nations, she has set down her foot with a sturdy resolve to burst the shackles of 30 years of bondage.
One important link, indeed, has already yielded.
The rest will surely follow.
No other crisis of like interest and importance has yet arisen in the long and tangled histroy of the negotiations.
When last I had occasion to write about this vexed and protracted question, I was happily able to speak of England's friendly attitude, and to explain that, though she had been a consenting party to the grotesque web of conditions then proposed for Japan's acceptance by the phalanx of Treaty Powers, her consent was in part the outcome of her traditional policy of maintaining an unbroken combination with her associates, and in part the result of her representative's failure to play the leading role among Western States that justly belongs to, and has always been taken by, Great Britain in Oriental affairs.
Had she then given up the hopeless task of seeking to thrust her own head and the heads of her 15 co-signatories into a hat that could not possibly fit them all; had she recognized that the day was long past when Japan needed to be menaced by a solid confederacy of foreign Powers; had she taken this empire by the hand and led the way in casting off its fetters, she would not only have earned for herself the permanent gratitude of the leading nation of the Orient, but would also have avoided the reproach of figuring as a prominent actor in negotiations that ended in the most unpractical and clumsy network of guarantees, stipulations, safeguards, and concessions ever evolved by any body of diplomatists since the world began.
Yet, though England tamely let herself be dragged at this way and that by interests which could never be reconciled, and although she did not escape the loss of prestige that was bound to result from such self-effacement, she happily did at least retain the credit of having all along meant well.
The Japanese Government continued to believe that, if only her good intentions had been translated into corresponding actions, she might have saved the situation from ending in a fiasco.
Unfortunately, there is now reason to fear that even this much of consolatory reflection must soon cease to be entertained.
It seems quite probable that, though at this moment in a fair position to redeem her past mistakes and recover her lost influence, England is again about to let the opening slip, and whether from thoughtless conservatism or shortsighted statesmanship, to neglect the only opportunity she can hope to have for many years, perhaps for ever, of creating for herself in the country a supreme and unassailable position.
History repeats itself, especially in the record of errors.
A century of kindly effort and conciliatory policy has not wholly bridged over the gulf that we dug between ourselves and the United States when we blindly assumed an unworthy attitude towards their natural aspirations.
A pitfall of a precisely similar kind, though of course on a much smaller scale, now faces us in Japan.
To appreciate the position, it must first be borne in mind that this treaty question has now been carried beyond the domain of diplomatic and official control.
A new force, that of public opinion, which forms one of the most radical features of difference between the Japan of 20 years ago and the Japan of to-day, has henceforth to be reckoned with.
The people look no longer to the military classes for guidance.
The samurai's place has been taken by the newspaper and the party leader.
And, in proportion as respect for personal freedom and the rights of property gains ground, men learn to cast off the old time bonds of clan or class, and to re-group themselves according to the forces of interchanged opinion.
Treaty revision itself has been a means as well of illustrating as of promoting this change.
For, much as the recovery of Japan's judicial and tariff autonomy has been sought by her politicians for the last 15 years, the reproch of her present international status - now become the chief concern of all classes - but little stirred the bulk of the people until the difficulty of removing it by any reasonable adjustment began to attract wide and ever widening attention.
Then the nation, seeing its best statesmen repeatedly baffled by the problem, grew impatient at their ill-success and critical of their capacity; while they, on their side, were driven to defend themselves by frank explanations of the illiberal and self-interested attitude of the foreign Powers.
Then came the negotiations of 1886-7.
These, having raised public expectation to a high pitch by their early promise of success, and having thus brought the whole question into greater prominence than ever, ultimately assumed the humiliating chatacter described in my letters at the time.
So far from fulfilling the high hopes at first created, they ended by clearly teaching the Japanese people that to reconcile the interests of 17 Powers, and to satisfy their prejudices by a tissue of guarantees such as had never before disfigured international intercourse, meant for Japan an even greater, because less justifiable, sacrifice of dignity than that which was involved in the original covenants.
Not until some time after the interruption of the negotiations did it become possible to see clearly what a wave of sentiment had swept over the country during the agitation that preceded and hastened the adjournement of the Conference.
Public opinion then asserted itself with a force before unknown in Japan, and at the same time gathered new strength from so practical a proof of its own power.
Thereafter no Japanese statesman could doubt that, unless the stigma of international isolation were removed, on terms fully consistent with the dignity of the empire, the Government would in due time see itself thoroughly and permanently discredited.
For the moment, however, this question was partly eclipsed by the yet greater problem of the Constitution.
That, as I explained in recent letters, was promulgated on the 11th of February amid such rejoicings as Japan had never before known.
The people received their longed-for enfranchisement with acclamation, and the supremacy of public opinion was solemnly announced from the Throne.
Count Okuma, the Foreign Secretary, when replying to congratulations proffered by the Yokohama Chamber of Commerce, said that one national aspiration yet remained to be satisfied-namely, the revision of the treaties.
He might have said "one national demand, ".
For he and his colleagues full well knew that the people had now become the arbiters of the situation, and that to meet the first Parliament without having obtained Western recognition of the country's rights would be to forfeit all credit for other achievements.
Circumstances beget the men to deal with them.
Count Okuma is an example.
The former head of the powerful Progressionist party (Kaishinto), universally recognized as one of the ablest and most adroit statesmen of his day, and occupying a commanding position in the Government, he is also exactly fitted by temperament to reflect and enforce the sentiment of the time, with which, indeed, his whole character is in accord.
Together with high sagacity and quick resource, he possesses an indomitable will and courage to stake everything in the pursuit of a fixed resolve.
As soon, then, as he had taken up this question of Treaty Revision - having at his back the entire nation and the Government, both of them educated by bitter experience - men felt fully and happily persuaded that it had at length entered in its final stage.
To negotiate separately with each of the great Powers - this was the broad conception of the new policy.
I have explained in previous letters that, while the advantages of such a course were obvious from Japan's point of view, the difficulty of taking it was greatly heightened by the fiction of the most-favoured-nation clause.
Japan had promised by her early covenants that whatever privileges she might grant to any Power should be "freely and equally participated in" by all the signatories of the treaties.
To this very plain language the arbitrary interpretation had been attached that, if one Power purchased privileges on certain conditions, all of the rest became entitled to claim the same privileges unconditionally - a form of participation which, instead of being "free and equal" would be manifestly and essentially free and uneqal.
It was a clear advantage, however, to the foreign Powers to devise and stand by this reading of the clause, which bound them together as a concrete and formidable host.
Especially was it convenient to the minor States, which, besides having but little of the wherewithal for barter, continued to enjoy extra-territorial immunities without providing any adequate judicial substitutes.
Japan, for sheer inability to command a hearing, was driven to put up with this figment of an unconditional favoured nation clause, and to humour where she might have justly scoffed at it.
But it no longer occupies the smallest place in her attention.
She believes that the world would never sanction such an injustice, once brought fairly under the public eye.
She knows, moreover, that she herself will no longer endure it.
Therefore she has approached the Great Powers separately, and had had the satisfaction of finding that they are not averse to dealing with her in this natural and rational manner.
The terms now proposed, though doubtless susceptible of modification in minor details, must be regarded as Japan's ultimatum in fundamental points of principle.
The secrecy preserved in all such affairs during their early stages cannot, of course, be violated.
Broadly speaking, however, it is understood that the contemplated treaty will be chiefly commercial, and that concessions and guarantees relating to jurisdiction will be embodied in diplomatic notes.
Revision of the tariff will be provided for on the lines agreed to at the conference of 1886-7, and the duration of the revised scale will also be as then determined, at the end of which period Japan will become autonomous in that respect.
The extra-territorial problem will be solved as follows.
First, from a prescribed date, which will assuredly fall before the first session of the new Diet in the autumn of next year, foreigners will be freely permitted to travel, trade, reside, or own real property, in all parts of the empire outside the limits of the presnt treaty settlements, provided that, in everything connected with the exercise of those privileges, they become wholly subject to Japanese jurisdiction.
Secondly, the treaty settlements will remain as they are for a short term of years from the date above indicated, at the end of which they will lose their distinctive character and Consular jurisdiction and will become in all respects as the rest of the empire.
Thirdly, it will be agreed by diplomatic notes that, prior to the opening of the country provided for by the first arrangement, a number of competent foreign Judges shall be appointed to sit with Japanese Judges in the Supreme Court of Japan, which has appellate jurisdiction in all cases involving interests or penalties of one hundrerd dollars or penalties of one hundred dollars or upwards; that such foreign Judges shall be in a majority in all cases wherein foreigners are concerned; and that the said arrangememnt shall hold good for a cerain term of years (probably 10 or 12), after which Japan will stand in all respect as to jurisdiction on the same footing as any European State.
Fourthly, and again by diplomatic notes, it will be provided, in respect of the second condition above, that the new civil codes shall have been duly promulgated and put into force three years before the expiry of the time limit therein denoted for the abolition of the treaty-port system; and that authorized English translations of the said codes shall be published a year and a half before the said time of expiry.
It will be seen that these proposals, while not deficient in liberality, are vastly simpler and more practical than the extraordinary jungle of stipulations which grew up under the hands of the negotiators of 1886-7, a jungle in which Japan must have lost her way, just as surely as she must have lost dignity by agreeing to enter it.
No difficulty of execution presents itself on this occasion, and the new conditions, while setting forth all that Japan is prepared to give, will be recognized as equitably satisfying all that the Powers have a right to demand.
From Japan's point of view - and it is well to try and realize this - the case admits of little argument.
Reminded that her civil codes are not yet in existence, and that, while promising at the last conference that they should be in accordance with the principle of Western jurisprudence - as well as that, together with all changes that might be made in them duing a fixed term of years, they should be submitted, virtually for approval, to the Treaty Powers she replies, finally and frankly - first, that they will be in actual operation before the end of the present year, their compilation, indeed, being already finished, and their revison nearly so; secondly that the question of jurisdiction in civil cases was never vital in respect of extra-territoriality, seeing that, even in the days of Japan's feudal system, Western Governments agreed that a moiety of the civil suits in which their subjects or citizens might be concerned (those, namely, wherein a Japanese was defendant) should be adjudicated by Japanese tribunals; and, thirdly, that, as to the nature of her forthcoming civil codes, the whole spirit and history of her modern progress is a fair ampler guarantee for this than written stipulations, however stringent.
Nothing, indeed is less conceivable than that those codes should be in any way at variance with the entire tone of Japanese legislation since the fall of feudalism.
The criminal codes have been in active operation, and before the world, since 1882.
Unanimously pronounced by the first Western jurists to be at least on a level with the best achievements of Europe in the same line, they have been administered without friction or embarrassment; and, despite the strong contrast they present to the Draconian laws and procedure of feudal times, their suitablity to the nation's condition has been fully proved by a steady decrease of crime.
Following them is the newly proclaimed constitution.
This enfranchises the people; insures to them security of life and property, and administration of justice according to the laws; declares the rights of the subject inviolable; grants liberty of speech and public meeting; bestows religious freedom; separates the judiciary from the executive, and guarantees its independence; gives the nation a voice in taxation and its expenditure; and makes the people virtually their own lawgivers.
It would be absurd to suppose that there can be any backsliding from the principles embodied in these things and in the progress of which they are the fruits, or that the civil codes will be any less worthy of approval than the criminal codes and the constitution.
Equally conclusive, if the past be any guide, must be the inferences as to their administration.
That the Japanese people have moral endowments fully qualifying them to assimilate the great reforms on which they have embarked is attested in the clearest way by the experience of the last 25 years.
Western prognostications of embarrassment and failure have, as is well known, attended each new departure in their career of progress.
It was thus with the postal system, in respect of which irregularities and shortcomings were loudly predicted.
It was thus when their criminal code and police and prison systems were launched on Western lines, amid foreign forebodings of miscarriage of justice, increase of crime, and evils of other kinds.
It was thus when they took to financing, constructing, and working their railway system, unaided, in the teeth of gloomy prophesies of pecuniary disaster, prefessional blundering, and culpable mismanagement leading to injury and death.
It was thus, again, when they set themselves to acquire a navy fashioned after Western models and manned entirely by Japanese, despite the warnings and head-shakings of wise seers, who could see no fate in store for Japan's navy but wrecks, explosions, and wrong-headed control.
What, however, is the actual record in these and a multitude of other instances?
Anybody who knows Japan can give the answer, and the only true answer is that in no one instance have the forecasts been in any degree fulfilled.
Success, on the contrary, of the most marked kind has been the issue of every effort.
Again, Japan's educational system, telegraphs, and mercantile marine, her finance - perhaps the most remarkable feature of her record - her public works of many kinds, and a dozen other achievements, bear the strongest testimony to the capacities of her people.
There cannot, then, be the smallest reasonable apprehension that the civil codes - which, be it observed, will represent an incomparably less radical change than did the transition from the criminal laws of feudal times to her present penal codes - will either lack efficient administration or be out of joint with the times.
As for the misgivings, sometimes uttered, that all this progress may be only a thin veneer, and that the old flesh and blood may reassert themselves one of these days, Japan answers them also by pointing to her past.
For, her reception of Chinese civilization 15 centuries ago; her rejection of her own customs in its favour; her adoption of its best features; her steadfastness in maintaining the imported system for hundreds of years, within only such modifications as her own improving genius suggested - these furnish exact parallels to her present conduct.
She will be at least as faithful to Occidental civilization as she was to Chinese; and, just as she welcomed Buddhism for the sake of the arts, the sciences, the literature, and the elements of material progress that came in its train, so, there is reason to believe, will she open her arms to Christianity also as the creed of the nations from which she is borrowing so largely, and with which she aspires to be ranked.
What conceivable reason is there, it may well be asked, for excluding such a nation from the comity of civilized States, and condemning it to the stigma of semi-barbarous isolation?
That is how the position appears to Japan, and to those familiar with her modern history; and she has had no difficulty in resolving that, if just recognition of her title to equal treatment be not voluntarily conceded, she will neither seek it any longer as a suppliant, nor strive to purchase it at the cost of irksome and humiliating concessions.
She communicated her proposals as above outlined to the representatives of the Great Powers-England, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Austria - at the end of December.
By special request, on grounds connected with fortcoming leave of absence, the United States Minister received the proposals a few days before his colleagues.
He at once telegraphed them to Washington, and within 48 hours was instructed by his Government to conclude a treaty on the lines indicated by Japan.
It is understood, however, that, as the Japanese Government desired to allow a reasonable time in the cases of other Powers, the new instrument was not actually executed until late in February.
Japan had previoulsy concluded a treaty with Mexico on terms of absolute equality.
Thus, there are now two Powers whose citizens will soon enjoy entire freedom of trade, travel, and residence throughout Japanese territory.
The European States, however, still hesitate.
It is not that they have raised any radical objections, or shied at the method of separate negotiation.
But, though nearly 11 weeks have passed, none of them has as yet signified its assent.
Meanwhile all eyes are turned towards England.
It is felt that she has now an opportunity - if, indeed, it be not already lost before this letter reaches you - of wiping out some of the errors of her past policy in this country.
That she will consent finally to the Japanese proposals goes without saying.
There is no more chance of her firing a shot or fixing a bayonet in order to perserve Japan's state of ostracism than there is of her sending an army against Paris because of the writings of Max O'Rell.
Even if the Japanese Government denounced the treaties - as many foreign jurists have long recommended - and declared that after a certain date every foreigner coming hither should enjoy exactly the same privileges as a Japanese subject in respect of trade, residence and travel, on exactly the same conditions, no civilized Power would think of lifting an anchor or moving a battalion by way of protest.
But, strongly, though she has been urged towards it, Japan does not at present adopt that exit from her difficulties.
She invites a process of gradual release, by which interests and prejudices will be duly considered; and she provides, as a part of it, special guarantees for the benefit of foreign residents.
It is her ultimatum.
She will assuredly carry out the programme, with the coopertion of the United States, and other Great Powers, and with the approval of liberally-minded men of all nationalities.
It is, moreover, obvious, on a very slight consideration of the subject, that extra-territoriality and the Constitution cannot exist side by side.
One of them must go to the wall, and that one will hardly be the Constitution.
Why, then, does England hesitate; and what good can hesitation do?
Is it wise statesmanship to yield reluctantly at the eleventh hour, when the certainty of ultimate yielding is plain from the outset, and when backwardness means the permanent loss of Japanese good-will?
The present is a crisis in Japan's history.
It will leave a deep mark in the national memory.
Sympathy and liberality in this effort to secure the status that her enfranchised people eagerly insist upon will assuredly be repaid in full measure.
To England she still looks, as the friend from whom she has had so much help in the past, and as the nation whose commercial interests rank above those of all other States.
Nor is it for us a question merely of sentiment and gratitude.
To England the case holds out considerations of more immediately substantial kind.
There is the fact that Japan's foreign commerce is advancing by leaps and bounds, so that, instead of being only one-seventh of China's commerce as it was ten years ago, it is already one-half, and will in all probability be equal to, or greater than, that commerce a few years hence.
There are the facts that Japan is going ahead with astonishing rapidity in very many branches of industiral enterprise, and that, with the active co-operation of shrewed English men of business, the country's development cannot fail to open up new and lucrative fields for the employment of English capital.
There is, again, the fact that the unlocking of the interior will be the dawn of an era of heightened prosperity for the treaty ports, where the real property, mostly held by Englishmen, will become trebled or quadrupled in value.
Why, then, the Japanese ask in amazement, should England, of all Powers, show any hesitation?
Is it, they add, conceivable that conditions which the United States found sufficiently satisfactory to be accepted at 48 hours' notice should be viewed by England with disfavour and misgiving?
After Great Britain, the United States have incomparably the largest interests in Japan, and their citizens have certainly equal reason for scrutinizing the terms on which they agree to submit to Japanese jurisdiction.
Why, then, at this all-important juncture should there be set up between American liberality and British conservatism a contrast destined to sow seeds of ill-will in the hearts of many future generations of Japanese?
The answer can be one only.
It is the old story - perfunctoriness at the Foreign Office when interests of comaparatively small moment are at stake.
If Lord Salisbury had the leisure or the mood to look into the situation, a statesman of his high calibre would not hesitate for an instant.
But the question, doubtless, does not reach Lord Salisbury.
It is suffered to be classed with the mass of minor business that lies in Downing-street pigeon-holes.
Meanwhile, England may be betrayed by sheer inadvertence into forfeiting her chance of winning the grateful regard of 39 millions of the first people of the Orient, as well as of opening up to her merchants and others a new and promising field of enterprise and trade.
Such opportunities were not neglected in the days when Great Britain laid the foundations of her huge Empire.
Their neglect at this epoch will assuredly be remembered with surprise and regret in the future.
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