The Reconstruction of the Japanese Cabinet
January 11, 1890
Count Okuma's resignation of the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, which took place on the 14th ult. was virtually a foregone conclusion.
That the great task of treaty revision, which he had so nearly brought to a successful issue, would have to be either suspended for a term or modified in some important details was sufficiently evident from the storm of opposition and agitation that had been raised about it in this country before the recent attempt on the Minister's life; and, although the reconstruction of the Cabinet, which body, as I announced in my last letter, had resigned some weeks before, was deferred until Count Okuma should be sufficiently convalescent to be consulted as to his own intentions, the chance that a statesman of his well-known sturdy character would acquiesce in any large measure of departure from the programme which he had inaugurated and pursued with such remarkable courage, tact, and firmness was all along seen to be of the slenderest kind.
Two of Japan's ablest public men - first Count Inouye, then Count Okuma, have thus been sacrificed, at least temporarily, in the cause of treaty revision.
On the second occasion, the Minister has suffered for his devotion by an outrage which cost him the loss of a limb, and which, but for a happy chance little short of miraculous, would have cost him life itself.
And, as with Count Inouye, so with Connt Okuma, the fruits of their labours were snatched from their grasp at the very hour when succss seemed most nigh and certain.
It cannot, however, be too clearly laid down that the failure of Count Okuma's scheme of revision is due in a vastly greater degree to the strife and friction of Japanese political parties than to any demerits, real or fancied, in the scheme itself.
Count Okuma, it will be remembererd, led, when out of office, the Kaishinto, or party of progress, one of the most powerful political organizations in the Empire.
When, during the first half of last year, his treaty negotiations were carried forward with the highly-promising measure of success which I described at the time, the Kaishinto and its organs were at no pains to disguise their exultation over the course that affairs had taken in the hands of their former chief.
Unfortunately for him and for the country, this song of triumph proved as fatal as it was certainly premature and indiscreet.
Jealousy and hostility, passing at length to bitter recrimination, were the results; and the cry of opposition, at first raised, withoit doubt, by the Kaishinto's rivals for purely party purposes, rapidly acquired a force and magnitude little dreamt of at the outset by its originators, great enough to blast the hopes of the scheme, and culminating finally in the recent political crisis.
It is not necessary to claim for Count Okuma's measure of revision that it was theoretically perfect, or free from conditions open to sentimental objection when viewed through the spectacles of national susceptibility.
The proposal to appoint four or five alien judges to administer Japanese laws from the Japanese bench, which was made the stalking-horse of the recent agitation, can at best be regarded as an alternative necessitated by the exigencies of the case - as the most practicable means to exit from a situation daily becoming more impossible as the date of the operation of Japan's new Constitution rapidly draws near.
The point is that this expedient would certainly have passed unheeded, or, at least, have been acquiesced in without demur by the public of Japan, if the unwary exultation of the Kashinto had not lashed their rivals into a fever of opposition, and called forth that torrent of angry and exaggerated declamation, seasoned with inflamatory appeals to the people's pride, on which, and not because of any lack of merit in itself, this fourth attempt to solve the terrible problem of the treaties has come to grief after a year of struggle.
It is not too much to say that, in the calmer mood of a twelvemonth ago, the very measure now overwhelmed in the strife of parties would have been accepted gratefully by the mass of the people.
The real importance and magnitude of the work achieved by Count Okuma and his able predecessor, Count Inouye, in the most difficult of all posts in the Japanese administration, though for the while lost sight of in the din of political warfare, will be fully recognized and appreciated hereafter, when men are cool enough to realize the true causes of failure, and to measure the value of the seeds which those distinguished men have sown.
The constitution of the new Cabinet was announced on Christmas Day.
One of its most conspicuous features is that it no longer contains the names of Counts Ito, Inouye, and Okuma, men who are almost as well and favorably known abroad as at home, and the loss of whole services to the State at this important epoch cannot be sufficiently regretted for the country's sake.
On the other hand, Count Yamagata's appointment as Minister-President of State, in succession to Prince Sanjo, is a satisfactory guarantee of harmony in the new organization.
No public man in Japan is at present his equal in popularity with all parties to which may be addded that he is a Minister of long experience and great prudence and moderation, and that he enjoys in a high degree the confidence and respect of the people.
He still retains the portfolio of Home Affairs.
The Foreign Office falls to Viscount Aoki, formerly Envoy to Berlin, and for some years past Vice-Minister of the Department, under the leadership successively of Counts Inouye and Okuma.
The country has yet to learn the qualities as a statesman of the Minister who now consents to step into the breach where two such capable men have fallen.
But it is certain that he brings to his new post a wide experience of Japan's foreign relations, especially in the matter of the treaties, together with a liberal and cosmopolitan breadth of view, and that no one is more keenly alive than himself to the dominant weight of English interests in Japan, and to the enormous importance to his Government of Great Britain's friendlship.
The only other Cabinet changes are that Count Inouye is succeeded in the Department of Agriculture and Commerce by his late Vice Minister, Mr. Iwamura, and that Count Ito's post as President of the Privy Council is now taken by Count Ohki.
Count Okuma becomes a Privy Councillor, and Count Inouye has been appointed to the office of Jakonmoma Giko, or Lord-in-Waiting, hitherto held exclusively by members of the old feudal nobility.
It seems difficult to believe that a Japanese Cabinet without the names of Ito, Inouye, Okuma, or Kuroda can be either very strong or very lasting; and possibly the present one neither will nor is intended to outlive the convening of the first Parliament.
Its constitution, however, has evidently been designed with a view to the strength that may be expected from harmonious working; and, under the prudent leadership of Count Yamagata, it may at least be expected to serve the purpose of tiding sucessfully over the present stormy political period.
As yet, the intentions of the new Cabinet in respect of treaty revision are wrapped in secrecy.
But it will, no doubt, be possible befere long to inform you fully on the subject.
Meanwhile, there is nothing in recent events and changes to shake the opinion on which I ventured a few weeks ago - namely, that, while neither assenting, on the one hand, to an indefinite postponement of the negotiations, nor, on the other hand, attempting to preserve with Count Okuma's programme in the teeth of opposition at home and abroad, the Government will take the middle course of once more essaying a settlement of the problem by some such modifications of the recent proposals as shall tend to satisfy foreign scruples without offending the susceptibilities of the people.
The Times - Mar.1st
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