The Political Situations in Japan
Nagasaki, October 1st, 1892
In one respect the present political situation in Japan resembles that in England.
A new Ministry has recently assumed the seals of office, and Parliament and the country are waiting to see what their policy and their programme will be.
In neither case can any definite forecast be hazarded; for though Count Ito, the new Prime Minister, is confronted by no such problem as that of taking to pieces an old Constitution, he has yet the far from easy task of keeping intact a new one; while the subject of Treaty Revision is at least a stubborn thorn in Japanese as is that of Home Rule in British politics.
Nay, the historical analogy may be pushed one point further; for just as the revolutionary struggle in Ireland has not passed without the assassination of an English Minister, so the treaty conflict in Japan was signalised at an earlier stage by an equally murderous, though happily a less fatal, attack upon Count Okuma, one of the leading Japanese statesmen.
Here, however, popular suspense will sooner be allayed; for the Diet meets again in November; and the speculations with which the native Press is filling the holiday season as to the programme of the new Administration will be in process of solution almost as soon as these lines are in print.
In one further particular are the two situations akin.
Count Ito is probably the best known Japanese statesmen outside his own country.
His expereience, his tact, his individual responsibility for the new Parliamentary Constitution, render him the most respected and influential of Japanese public men.
Already once Prime Minister and the first President of the House of Peers, he now retruns after an interval in which he has seen other Ministers come and go in the preliminary heat consequent upon a new order of things, in order to mould into durable shape the offspring of his own political creation, and to endeavour to give something like stability to the administration of his country.
With him are associated in the Cabinet his life long colleague, Inouye, a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and, perhaps, the most daring and original of Japanese statesmen; Count Yamagata, himself a former Premier, who now holds the portfolio of Justice and Mr. Mutsu, a highly travelled and accomplished statesman, who has represented his country at Wasghington before being transferred to the Foreign Office.
The only public-man of the very first rank who is outside the new Ministry is Count Okuma, the author of the famous attempt at treaty revision that culminated in the before - mentioned attempt upon his life, and who, for no very well ascertained reason other than that he is the acknowledged leader of the Progresssionist party in the House of Representatives, is supposed to be more or less in opoposition.
The new Government may almost claim to be a Ministry of all the Talents, and undoubtedly the summons of Count Ito by the Emperor upon the fall of the Matsukata Cabinet in the past summer, and the composition of his Administration, have excited the liveliest satisfaction in political circles in Japan.
A few caustic censures on clan government have scarcely broken the general concensus, on the one hand, of congratulation that the true leaders have at length consented to lead, on the other hand of judgement held in suspense until they have shown of what stuff they are made.
I have enjoyed the pleasure of meeting and conversing on the political situation with Counts Ito and Inouye and with Mr.Mutsu; and a foreigner may perhaps be allowed to join in the chorus of respectful salutation which is being addressed to them by their fellow countrymen.
The question of the hour is the attitude which will be adopted by the Government towards Parliament when it meets that body in November; and the impression prevails that a modus vivendi will be arrived at that will at least assure quietude to the Ministry on the threshold of its existence.
Last year the budget was so systematically opposed that it was never passed at all; and recourse had to be made to a clause in the Constitution, admitting in such a case of the readoption of the estimates of the previous year.
It will doubtless be the object of the new Ministry to escape the indignity of such another rebuff by eonomics that may conciliate the financial Puritans of the popular party.
But a decision will also require to be come to on the question of the further postponement or the early promulgation of the Civil and Commercial Codes; and inasmuch as with this question is bound up the whole of the larger subject of treaty revision, Count Ito will be confronted at an early stage with a problem of the first magnitude.
Let me, by a brief historical retrospect, explain the intimate connexion of the two problems.
The treaties which regulate the commercial relations of Japan with foreign countries; and which provide for the separate jurisdiction in the treaty ports of the subjects of the 18 signaroty Powers, have been concluded at various periods since the first American Treaty was signed by Commodore Perry in 1854.
A clause in Lord Elgin's treaty of 1858 provided for future revision, upon the notice of either of the high contracting Powers in 1872.
But at that time neither party was in a position to move; and on the various occasions since, when revision has been seriously attempted, the endeavour has resulted in failure owing to the difficulty of reconciling the conflicting claims of the foreign Powers, who have been averse to stepping down from their pinnacle of vantage without either a definite quid pro quo or at least a guarantee that they will not suffer by the surrender; and of Japan who, with a natural consciousness of her steadily improving position and of the obligations of natural dignity, whittles away one by one the counter-concessions which she was at first prepared to make, and even talks about exacting conditions herself.
I do not share the feelings of either of those schools between whom public opinion, as represented in books and newspapers about Japan seems to be directed, namely, those on the one hand the sentimental side of whose nature, inflamed, if they are Japanese, by patriotism, if they are foreigners by contact with an engaging people and a pretty country, revolts against what they describe as a great national wrong, whereby Japan has been cheated out of her birthright, and is being kept in perpetual exile in the tents of Edom: or, on the other hand, those who argue for the strict letter of the treaties ad aeternum, and decline to make the smallest concession to the vast change that 30 years have effected in the status of modern Japan.
The former attitude is adopted naturally enough by Japanese writers; foolishly, as it seems to me, by the majority of English and American tourists in Japan, who, without an inkling of what is going on behind the scenes, or of the labours of those whom they condemn, pronounce ex cathedra upon a situation of which they really know as little, as, for example, they may do of the difference between old and modern lacquer.
The second or ultra-Conservative attitude is taken up by many of the merchant class in the treaty ports, who, for perfectly honourable but selfish reasons, would like to maintain the status quo as long as they can.
As a matter of fact there is quite sufficient justice on both sides of the controversy to admit of temperate discussion and of amicable agreement; and the energies of the true friends of Japan should be directed to minimising the points of friction and broadening the basis of possible compromise, instead of sharpening their blades for a further abortive encounter.
With approximate fairness the two cases may be thus stated: Japan demands judicial and tariff autonomy, from both of which she is excluded by the treaties.
She demands the former because it is derogatory to the dignity of the civilized Power to have alien Courts of Justice sitting within her territories, and because she claims to have acquired a jurisprudence based upon the best European models.
She demands the latter because she is precluded at present from utilizing her imports and exports, except upon certain narrowly prescrbed lines, as an expanding source of Imperial revenue.
If she can get these two main concessions (she would, of course, like a few more thrown in) she is prepared to open the entire country to foreigners tomorrow.
She takes her stand therefore, ignoring the present treaties, upon the solid facts of her attained position and prestige, and upon an appeal to the enlightened sympathies of foreign nations.
The merchants, on the other hand, for whom the Powers, through their Ministers, are the official spokesmen, are not particularly keen about the opening up of the country, in which they do not see the prospect of great mercantile advantgage to themselves; whilst they are genuinely alarmed at the proposed abolition of Consular jurisdiction and the settlement of all cases on which they may be concerned as litigants in Japanese Courts and before Japanese Judges.
They point to the admitted facts that the recognized Courts have not been long-established, and that the Bench, though occupied by Japanese who have been partially educated in Western Universities lacks alike the tradition and the distinction of European Judiciaries.
They contend that miscarriage of justice would result, in the main from the ignorance, sometimes, perhaps, from the prejudice of native Judges.
They fear the risk and complexity of processes before a strange Court in a strange language; and they resent the possible subjection of their lives and homes to the domiciliary visits of native policemen.
Some of their papers publish very wild and silly articles about the inherent incapacity of the Japanese for the exercise of judicial authority of any kind; although I suspect that many of the British merchants who may be involved as litigants in the Courts of the petty South American Republics would not so very greatly object to a change of venue to the Courts of modern Japan.
But though these more extravagant diatribes may be disregarded, there is undoubtedly a substream of truth in the apprehensions of the foreign trading community, and any attempt to precipitate too hasty a solution might involve the Japanese Government itself in difficulties which it had not contemplated.
In what quarter, then, does the solution lie?
The answer will be found in a brief examination of the various proposals for treaty revision that have so far been made by Japanese statesmen to the foreign representatives, or vice versa.
Their history has been one of unbroken disappointmernt and failure; but it has also been marked by certain signs of progressive development which may lend guidance to statesmen at the present stage.
Three times in the last ten years have Japanese Foreign Ministers made overtrures to the treaty Powers.
The first of these was Count Inouye, the present Minister for Home Affairs, who, in 1882, originally suggested the ultimate abolition of consular jurisdiction and the ad interim discussion of terms.
A preliminary conference was summoned in 1884, and memoranda, prepared by the British and the Japanese Governments, were successively submsitted.
The negotiations continued till, in 1886, the actual conference of all the treaty Powers met in Tokyo, when a definite scheme initiated by the English and German Governments, was propounded and passed through many of the preliminary stages both of examination and acceptanace.
There were to be a large number of foreign Judges on the Japanese bench, the conditions of whose appointment and removal evoked much hostile criticism in the native Press.
The promised codes and future amendments therein were to be submitted to the foreign Powers - an additional source of national irritation.
It was not surprising that upon these points the negotiations at length broke down in 1887, although it is to be regretted that the opportunity was lost of effecting a settlement on conditions even a contracted edition of which would have been far more favourable to the scruples of foreigners than any future treaty is now likely to be.
Undeterred by the failure of his predecessor, Count Okuma resumed negotiations in 1888; but, having learned by experience the mistake of dealing with a Round Table at which the representatives of 18 nations, with conflicting interests were seated in conclave, he approached the Powers individually, offering, in place of an elaborate scheme of Courts with foreign Judges, the presence of a majority of foreign assessors in the Supreme Court in cases where foreigners were concerned.
A space of three years was to elapse between the promulgation of the prmomised codes and the final abolition of consular jurisdiction.
Upon these lines the United States, Germany, and Russia had already signed treaties; and Great Britain, the vast preponderance of whose commercial interest in Japan renders her in every case the arbiter of the situation was within measurable distance of the same end, the nature and extent of the securities to be given for the administration of justice to foreigners being one of the few points still undetermined, when, public opinion having been already gravely excited in Japan at the proposed appointment of alien Judges, and being further inflamed by the promulgation of the new Parliamentary Constitution and the impending elections for the first Diet, an attempt was made with a dynamite bomb upon the life of Count Okuma in October, 1889.
The statesman escaped, though seriously mutilated.
The would-be assassin killed himself.
But his ulterior object had been gained, for once more treaty revision was dropped like a hot coal from the terrified fingers of the plenipotentiaries at Tokyo.
Nor could their retreat be fairly set down to cowardice, seeing that public sentiment, though not behind the assassin, was in open sympathy with the motives that had actuated him to a deed which was the more significant that it by no means stands alone in the annals of modern Japan.
Since that date the opening of the Japanese Diet, and the rapid growth of national self respect and of ill-marshalled but powerful public opinion which it has produced, have not combined to render a settlement more easy, while they have provided Japanese statesmen with an armoury of defensive pleas which a purely irresponsible Government could not previously employ.
Nevertheless, Vicount Aoki, Foreign Minister in the succeeding Government, gallantly re-entered the lists in 1890; and it is understood that his overtures, which were naturally directed in the first place to the removal of the lingering vestiges of British opposition, were met in the most favourable spirit by the Administration of Lord Salisbury; and that it now only rests with the Japanese Government itself by the fulfilment of conditions which it has more than once admitted to be reasonable, to enter upon the fruition of the long struggle for complete national autonomy whose successive stages I have described.
What must be the leading features of any such solution will be manifest from what has already been said.
In the first place, the full text of the entire civil and commercial codes (the criminal code and the codes of criminal and civil procedure being already in operation) must be promulgated, translated, and put into satisfactory operation.
No nation can with justice call upon the subjects of another, even within its own territories, to exchange a position of judicial security, established by treaty and ratified by long and successful experience, for the dubious protection of an inchoate, an imperfect or an ill-comprehended body of law; secondly, a period must elapse in which the mew codes thus promulgatedd shall be tested by practical operation, the Judges becoming accustomed to the exposition of rules which involve in many cases a complete revolution in Japanese customary law, and the new law itself acquiring public respect by pure and consistent interpretation.
Not until after such a probationary period can foreigners reasonably be expected to yield to the Japanese demand for complete jujdicial autonomy; thirdly, these conditions having been realised, the final abandonment off extra-territorial jurisdiction may fitly be made to synchronize with the entire opening up of the country.
Other points may well become the subject of diplomatic pour parler and of intermediate agreement.
Such, for instance, are an extension of the present passport system in return for a revision of the tariff; and the novel but intelligible Japanese demand that foreigners shall not be allowed to own real property or to buy shares in Japanese banks, railways or shipping companies.
This last requisition which is the latest outcome of native susceptibilities, is due to a not unfounded alarm that the superior wealth of foreigners might enable them, unless carefully guarded by law, to acquire a commanding hold upon the national resources and that Japan might some day find herself in the humiliating position of an Asiatic Peru.
Means ought to be found without great difficulty of reconciling her apprpehensions with the reasonable demands of foreign residents possessing a large stake in the fortunes of the country.
The materials for a successful settlement lie, therefore, ready to hand, and it will depend upon the tact and savoir faire of the Japanese statesmen, with whom the initiative now lies, to use them for good or for evil.
It will be obvious, however, how much turns upon the question of the new codes and their promulgation, the decision as to which is the pivot of the political situation.
As matters now stand, the commercial code has already been promulgated, but not translated, and the date of its operation, originally fixed for January 1, 1890, stands postponed till January 1, 1893.
Those portions of the incomplete civil code which have seen the light stand similarly postponed.
In the last session of the Diet, however, the drift of popular opinion was clearly indicated by the passing with much enthusiasm by both Houses of a Bill, introduced by a private member, for further postponing the operation of both codes till December, 1896, in order to submit them in Japanese interests to a thorough overhauling.
It was with little effect that Viscount Enomoto, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, pointed out the intimate connexion between the codes and the subject of treaty revision, and urged the Chamber not once more to slam the door in the face of those who had at length shown such a temperate willingness to open it.
Conservative alarm at the innovations introduced by the new codes, particularly in the law of inheritance and in other matters affecting family life, and at the subversion of the immemorial religious traditions of the country, joined hands with the Radical aspirations of young Japan to settle the question of treaties, not as the Powers like, but upon her own terms and on a footing of absolute equality;, and the Bill was carried by majorities of more than two to one in both Chambers.
It had not received either the assent or the veto of the Emperor when the recess began and the late Ministry resigned; and it will thus be among the first duties of Count Ito to advise His Imperial Majesty upon this momentous subject.
Hitherto it has been generally believed that the Premier is favourfable to the further postponement of the codes for more careful examination and for possible modification, so as to meet some of the objections which they have encountered.
Such an attitude, moreover, is consistent with that deference to the humours of the Diet with which I have credited him in my previous letter.
Nor need it act as an impediment to the larger question of the treaties so long as those parts of the codes only are postponed that relate to native customs and religious ideas, while those are put into operation by which foreigners would be affected.
If such a division be practicable, this would provide a form of compromise at once reasonable and judicious.
On the other hand, should the postponing Bill be placed intact upon the Statue-book, there vanishes for four more years the chance of treaty revision and the opportunity of finally settling a question that has baffled the foremost intellects of Japan for more than a decade, that has fretted the susceptibilities, and further delay in which might even compromise her amicable relations with foreign Powers.
Upon the decision, therefore, of the new Japanese Cabinet the development of their conntry in the immediate future very largely depends.
They can no longer pretend that the treaty Powers are the obstacle that blocks the way.
In their own hands lies the initiative, and, as a consequence, the responsibility.
We may hope that the high reputation which Count Ito and his colleagues deservedly enjoy, alike in the estimation of their countrymen and in the respect of foreign statesmen, will be a guarantee for careful forethought and prudent decision.
By no Power certainly would Japan be welcomed more cordially into the comity of nations, with whom already she shares so many common relationships, than by ourselves, who fill in the West the role which she aspires to play in the Far East, and whose commerce and energy have contributed so largely to her own expansion.
The Times: 1892 - Nov-23th
Going Back to Article List