England's Position in Japan
Tokio, June 29th, 1889
On the 12th instant intelligence reached this capital that Count Bismarck had signed at Berlin on the previous day a revised treaty between Germany and Japan, on the same lines as the new covenant with the United States, the broad features of which were described in my letter of the 11th of March.
If, then, any lingering doubts were felt as to the ultimate effect of America's initiative, they have been dispelled by this latest and highly important move.
Now, at all events, it is beyond question that the policy of combination has received its certain deathblow.
America broke down the first barrier.
Germany, next, has cleared the way in Europe. Russia, Austria, and France are understood to be on the eve of following in Germany's wake.
And, though Downing-Street, apparently as indifferent as ever to British interests and prestige in this country, is meekly allowing other Powers to give us the go-by, it is impossible to doubt that the curtain has at length risen on the last act of the drama, that England's yielding can at most be a question of a few weeks or months, and that all the weary years that have opened and closed on this thorny question are about to end in a solution the only unsatisfactory feature of which to Englishmen in the Far East is the somewhat sorry figure cut by their own country at the most critical epoch.
In view of the strong public feeling on the treaty question which has prevailed in Japan for some years past, and specially since the failure of the Conference of 1886-7, it is not surprising that the recent news was greeted by the people and the newspapers with unmixed approval, congratulation, and joy.
With a unanimity rarely observed on subjects of great national importance, the whole vernacular Press joined in chorus of gratitude on behalf of the Japanese people for Germany's timely recognition of Japan's claims.
Count Okuma at the same time comes in for warm praise on account of his bold and sagacious statesmanship; while the terms of the new treaty, for the first time made publicly known through your columns by my letter already referred to, are generally welcomed, being recognized as a marked improvement on the former proposals, more consistent with the country's dignity, and less submissive in spirit and fact.
Unalloyed satisfaction also prevails at the inevitable and happy ending now to be anticipated from Germany's action.
Not only are the hopes that were disappointed by the break-up of the last Conference once more revived, but men know that there is no reason on this occasion to dread another failure.
And it must be added that, while the opening of the country is now seen to be a reality of the near future, the general sentiment is most friendly to the prospect of mixed residence, and very hopeful of the wonderful things in the way of industrial and other development that may be looked for from foreign association and capital.
It is, of course, impossible that wide discussion of the treaty problem in its present phase should be unattended by comments and contrasts more or less critical as to England's backwardness.
As far as the Japanese Press goes, these are happily marked by praiseworthy moderation.
In no newspaper of repute is there as yet any evidence of resentment or angry feeling towards Great Britain.
Surprise and regret rather than bitterness, and friendly hopes of her speedy acquiescence, characterize the utterances of the leading journals and the leading men in the capital.
Public opinion however, does not hesitate to remind us, albeit for the most part mildly, that it is England who has all along been the body and soul of the confederation of Powers which for 18 years past, whether from unwilingness or from sheer unwieldiness, has stood as an impassable barrier in the way of amending treaties that it has been Japan's right to have amended ever since 1871.
Pain and disappointment are evidently felt that Great Britain, always friendly in spirit and intention to Japan, often most helpful, and all along possessing interests in the country far above those of any other of her associates, should, by hanging back at the moment when the combination she has headed for 30 years is doomed and crumbling to bits, not only embarrass the full and speedy settlement of this dreary question, but run the risk of creating a tide of popular feeling in her disfavour which all her prestige, all her interests, and all efforts to the contrary may be unable to stay.
And to those who can read between the lines it is plain enough that, notwithstanding the mildness and patience of the remonstrances hitherto current, the risk of such an issue is bound to increase with every week, nay every day, that her concession is delayed.
As for the foreign - that is to say English - newspapers at the treaty settlements, they are to the full as congratulatory as their Japanese contemporaries at Japan's forthcoming emancipation from her long-sustained burden and struggles, while hardly less regretful and deprecatory in respect of the secondary position into which Great Britan has been allowed to drift at the close of the drama.
The long-standing local opposition in certain quarters to Japan's efforts and aims has for some years past been gradually dwindling.
Events and facts have proved too strong for even the most conservative and irreconcilable of the British residents at the ports and of the journals which represent them; while any reserve of antagonism that may have been still cherished has within the last three weeks fairly melted away, in presence of the spectacle of their country receding from the supremacy that rightly belongs to it, and tamely taking a back seat in the final scene.
The bare possibility, moreover, that from the 11th of next February their American and German rivals may have free access to the interior, and to the advantages and opportunities which such access will furnish, while they themselves remain shut up helplessly in the settlements, is hardly one to be viewed with complacency by Englishmen of business whose presence in Japan is for the sole purpose of making money.
Hence, while there is a general feeling of gladness that the end of all the last ten years' uncertainty is at hand, there are also signs of impatience at the delay of the Foreign Office, and of fears lest that delay be perchance prolonged until Great Britain is left altogether out of the running.
Meanwhile the position of Englishmen in Japan is not a very agreeable one.
None can help feeling that whatever valid pleas may have existed for Great Britain's tardiness up till a month ago, these can exist no longer.
It is unpleasantly brougaht home to us that, by allowing Germany to anticipate her in the display of goodwill to Japan, England has laid herself open to criticisms which are none the less unpalatable because they are sometimes unjust, and has furnished her enemies with a very good opportunity for making capital at her expense.
It is, of course, fully recognized that her feet may well have been hampered by the commanding weight of her interests, and by the responsibilities of her position as the leading Western Power in the Orient.
It is also understood that, inasmuch as she alone of the treaty Powers has made sacrifices in the past for the purpose of maintaining the principle of combination, she may have felt bound, when America broke away from the league six months ago, to take counsel with her European colleagues before abandoning the policy that she had been chiefly instrumental in maintaining.
Judged, however, by the circumstances anterior to Germany's recent action, England's sustained dilatoriness is unintelligible.
Germany is the Power which, before all others, the British Government must have desired to consult on this treaty question, and in concert with which they would wish to act.
It is with Germany that England has actd for years past in her treaty relations with Japan.
It was with Germany's Envoy that the last British Minister was instructed to cooperate at the Conference opened in 1885.
And it was Sir F. Plunkett and Baron Holleben who, at the crisis when negotiations had reached an apparently hopeless deadlock, came to the rescue with a joint note offering terms that at the time were deemed remarkably liberal.
Yet, despite these links and associations, it is now seen that the business of coferring with the European States has been managed in such a fashion that the very strongest of them all, the very one with which we had tha closest ties on the subject, and which is at the same time our most formidable commercial rival in the Orient, has been suffered to pass over England's head, and sign the amended treaty with Japan some weeks at least - it may prove to be some months - before her.
That such an issue can only be due to the lethargy or perfunctoriness of Downing Street is the inevitable conclusion.
This, at all events, is the way in which the situation is regarded by Englishmen here on the spot.
It seems probable that Lancashire and Yorkshire and other centres interested in trade with Japan will take a similar view of the matter, and that they will not fail to make themselves heard upon it unless something be done, and quickly done, to retrieve our waning position in this Empire.
The Times - Aug. 5th
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