Treaty Negotiations in Japan
(Tokyo Correspondent of The Times)
Tokio, July 21st, 1886
After repeated postponements, extended over a period of about two years, the long-talked-of Conference for the revision of Japan's treaties with foreign Powers began its labours in this capital on the 1st of May.
The second meeting took place three weeks later, and thenceforward the representatives met weekly in full Conference, the details of the tariff being considered in the intervals by a special committee.
At the close of the seventh session, on the 27th ultimo, the Conference was adjourned until the 5th of October, to give time for the foreign representatives to obtain further instructions from their respective Governments.
It will, therefore, be opportune at this moment to relate the history of the negotiations up to the important stage that has now been reached.
As was fully explained in The Times of the 6th of March, the basis upon which the Conference began its work was deplorably unpractical and unstatesmanlike.
It was, in fact, merely the shapeless and unrecognizable residue of a Japanese proposal which, after being pared down to a condition of extreme tenuity before its origianl presentment, in order to accommodate it to the crotchets and rival interests of the 17 Treaty Powers, had been yet further disfigured and mutilated during two years of preliminary consideration by the Powers themselves.
In its last state, after this course of treatment, the scheme had reached a form so clumsy and grotesque as to forbid all hope of success for negotiations conducted upon its lines.
It needed no very keen perception to see that, in any system erected on such a foundation, the opening of Japan could only be a piece-meal process, corresponding in its epochs with a series of conventions, each of them subject to difficulties and complications not less formidable than those which have already stamped the whole question of treaty revision in Japan, as hitherto handled, with the character of an international farce.
The scheme, moreover, failed utterly in other cardinal objects which indicate revision.
For, on the one hand, it held out to Japan no prospect of relief within any reasonable period from the stigma of isolation and distrust that so sorely vexes her; and, on the other, it provided no appreciable relaxation of tradal restrictions which, while crippling the Empire's foreign commerce and hindering its development, condemn European and American residents to a state of ostracism and place them virtually at the mercy of a ring of Japanese monopolists at the treaty ports.
It is no wonder, then, that those who were behind the scenes and those who knew something of the gravity with which the whole Japanese people regard the treaty question foresaw from the outset that a statesman like Count Inouye would never assent to the crude arrangement which the Conference had in view when it began its sittings.
In order to recognize fully the unfitness of the foreign proposals, it is only necessary to contrast for a moment the condition of things that existed outside of the Council Chamber with the nature of the scheme which was gravely discussed within it.
Without was to be seen a fair and extensive country, covered with a network of telelgraphs, having many of its principal towns connected by railways either finished or in course of constrution, possessing a respectable army and navy, growing dockyards and arsenals, excellent postal and police services, and a very complete and extensive system of education ; its coast well lighted and visited at every point by steamers flying its own flag; a country inhabited by 37 millions of intelligent and progressive people, among whom, from end to end of the Empire, foreigners might travel in absolute safety, sure of a kindly welcome; a conntry in the remotest parts of which congregations of native Christians worship in churches built and maintained by themselves; and a country offering many solid prospects to foreign enterprise and capital.
Within, at the Conference table, sat a group of diplomatists seeking to devise the slowest possible means of admitting their nations to free residence in that country and free intercourse with its inhabitants, and seeking to maintain as far as possible the exceptional processes of jurisdiction and arrangements for isolated residence which had been deemed necessary in the days when Western ignorance classed Japan with barbarous nations, and when her own anti-foreign traditions lent strength to that misconception.
The force of this contrast must have been painfully evident to the members of the Conference themselves.
Their intelligence cannot but have been shocked by the consciousness that they were deliberating with eyes virtually closed at the actual state of things beyond the walls of the Conference chamber.
At all events, they made no progress.
Week by week their minutes grew into an ever-swelling record of fruitless wrangling and tedious polemics.
The only too evident fact that they were taking part in a solemn farce oppressed the minds and paralyzed their counsels.
Clearly nothing short of a radical change of basis could place them on ground of practical debate.
The question was how could such a change be brought about?
As long ago as 1882 the Mikado's Government had proposed a broad reasonable measure, providing that the openning of the country and the removal of commercial restrictions should proceed pari passu with the abolition of Consular jurisdiction, and at the same time offering ample safeguards for the rights and interests of foreigners during the progress of the change.
This measure, with its scheme of Special Territorial Courts, described in The Times of the 9th of June 1884, was ultimately rejected, at the instance chiefly of the late British Minister.
On its ashes rose another proposal, meagre only, it is true, as compared with the former one, yet afterwards subjected to the ordeal of European paring with such effect that after two years it emerged therefrom in an attenuated state which barely embodied the shadow of a resolve to abolish the system of Consular Jurisdiction, and therefore left no room for any substantial modification of the trade restrictions which are inseparable from that system.
But to even this fragment of reform, the shortcomings of which were described in The Times of the 6th of March were referred to at the beginning of this letter, the Governments of Europe had with difficulty consented.
Was it, then, to be expected that under these circumstances Japan would put forward a new scheme on broader lines?
Having begun with a practicable proposal which the Treaty Powers had cut down to the paltriest dimensions, it was more likely that she would say now, as in effect she did say, "Build whatever edifice you can on the narrow foundation of your own construction.
But, if the task prove impossible, it will be for you to suggest a broader basis."
Happily, at the crisis which had thus been reached, there was one among the leading foreign represntatives sufficiently statesmanlike to grasp the situation and sufficiently courageous to apply the remedy.
The present British Minister, the Hon. Sir Francis Plunkett, had already done much, by his uniformly liberal and sympathetic demeanour in Japan, to soften the impression that England willfully barred the way to any full recognition of this country's international claims.
He had also thoroughly appreciated the fact that, until Great Britain should boldly take the initiative in a just and practical policy, the league of Powers under which her own interests were suffering severely, and by which Japan was bound hand and foot, could never be moved out of conservative grooves.
There were not wanting many among the abler watchers of events on the spot who held that the only effective way of resolving the situation in this wise was for England to separate herself from her associates, or at least to set out alone and let those follow her who would.
This, indeed, was the view which until quite lately found the best support, and which might have continued to do so but for a fortunate coincidence of recent date, to be presently described.
That America wished to join us if we should secede was certain; she, indeed, was ready to go beyond us.
But America does not play an active part in European politics; and it will be easily understood that such a matter as treaty revision in Japan is affected perhaps as much by the attitudes of the Powers of Europe towards one another as by their sentiments towards Japan or their views of commercial interests in the Far East.
If, then, some powerful association of Great Britain with one or more European States should come within the horizen of possibilities, England would be relieved from the strong step of seceding, and would be in a position to end the deadlock at less risk of diplomatic complications with her European friends.
Obviously, for such a purpose, joint action with Germany, which, of the European Powers, has interests in Japan that are second only to those of Great Britain, would be the most powerful and effective.
And here we come to a second happy and unlooked - for conjuncture, which is destined to have a very important bearing on the speedy solution of the treaty problem.
The new German Minister, Baron von Holleben, who reached Tokyo at the end of last March, was soon found to share the liberal views of Sir Francis Plunkett.
He also quickly became his close friend.
Prince Bismarck, moreover, was known to be well disposed towards Japan.
Accordingly, the German and British representatives in due course came together, and, working in perfect harmony and with admirable tact, elaborated a scheme which at length offers a rational exit from the miserable deadlock of the past seven years.
The scheme of Sir Francis Plunkett and Baron von Holleben is in its main features a replica of the Japanese proposal of 1882, already referred to.
It contemplates a dual status for foreigners in Japan.
Those residing in the seven present treaty settlements, and choosing to conduct their business on the old lines and under the old restrictions, will continue to enjoy extra-territorial immunity from Japanese jurisdiction.
Those residing, owning real property, or doing business outside of the settlements will be amenable to Japanese jurisdiction in every respect, with the one exception of capital crimes.
For the protection of the latter class of foreigners special guarantees are provided.
Thus, whether in civil or criminal cases, they will at once come before the higher tribunals, and will there find upon the bench a due proportion of foreign Judges.
These tribunals will not be "Mixed Courts" as that term is commonly understood, for the foreign Judges will be Japanese officials, appointed by the Japanese Government, whose right of free selection is to be limited only by a proviso that the Judges shall be men competent to exercise corresponding functions in their own countries.
In short, the Japanese judiciary will include a number of foreign experts, who will sit with their Japanese colleagues and deliver final verdicts in all cases affecting foreigners.
As for the laws to be administered by these tribunals, penal codes, modelled after the best European systems and highly commended by the most renowned European jurists, have already been in force in Japan's Courts for nearly six years.
Civil codes, similarly found on Western principles and embodying the latest features of Western jurisprudence, are now nearly ready, and the new treaties will not be enforced until those codes have been promulgated and brought into operation.
It will be seen, therefore, that the essential principle of the scheme is to leave undisturbed all foreigners who may wish to remain undisturbed, and at the same time to remove every restriction upon trade, travel and residence in the case of those who may be content to submit themselves to Japanese jurisdiction under the safeguards named above.
The liberal section of the foreign residents will thus be in a position to reap the full advantage of their enlightened views, while the conservative section will be able, for a time at least, to watch the working of the Japanese tribunals before being brought, or placing themselves, under Japanese jurisdiction.
This dual status, however, is only to last for three years, at the end of which period foreingers and Japanese will enjoy equal privileges everywhere in Japan, and be everywhere amenable to Japanese jurisdiction, though the special guarantees for the protection of foreigners will continue in force for a further period of 12 years, or 15 years in all.
If the new system thus outlined meets with the concurrence of all the Treaty Powers - and there is good reason to believe that it will do so, under the leadership of England, Germany, and the United States - the treaties embodying it will probably be concluded before the end of this year, and will go into force at the beginning of 1889, by which time the civil codes will have been completed, together with all arrangements for the establishment of the new Courts of Law.
With regard to the Tariff, it may be said that virtual agreement has existed for some time, though cerain details remained to be adjusted.
Upon one point only is there still a want of unanimity.
At the instance of Count Inouye, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Government have consented that the stipends of the foreign Judges and the other expenses entailed by the proposed arrangements shall be a first charge upon the increase of revenue arising out of the revised tariff.
The outlay under the above heads will be very considerable; for, in addition to the high salaries of about 25 foreign Judges, it will be necessary to provide for the translation of the codes - which, it is stipulated, must be published in English - and for the training of a special class of Japanese Judges, lawyers, and interpreters, all possessing a knowledge of English, which is to be the official language of the Courts.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Mikado's Government is anxious to bring the revised tariff into operation as soon as possible.
Sir Francis Plunkett, on the other hand, guided, doubtless, by his instructions, stipulates that the new tariff shall only come into force simultaneously with the new jurisdiction-that is to say, about two and a half years hence.
Against that it is urged on Japan's part that her unquestionable right to exercise in fiscal matters a latitude which the Treaty Powers have long and persistently denied to her ought to weigh in her favour under the peculiar circumstances of the present time.
She was entitled 14 years ago to claim a revision of the tariff; but interminable negotiations, complicated by the terrible difficulty of reconciling the conflicting interests of a host of Treaty Powers, have barred her title so effectually that after spending millions of dollars upon an extensive system of lighthouses, lightships, buoys, and beacons, she has not yet been allowed to levy a cent in the shape of tonnage due upon foreign vessels entering her ports.
Japan is not rich, and the strict economy demanded from her statesmen makes them hesitate before incurring any fresh obligation.
The costly system of guarantees described above is chiefly a concession to foreign misgivings.
And it would be at least an act of grace, as it certainly would be one of justice, that the accession of revenue which may be expected from the revised tariff should not be needlessly deferred.
The Japanese Minister in London has been instructed to approach Downing-Street on this subject, and to urge the hope of his Government that England will yield a point the decision of what rests wholly with her, and which, if not conceded, will, it must be owned, somewhat mar the excellent effect of her liberal attitude in other directions.
Of that effect it is hardly possible to speak in exaggerated terms.
Slowly and reluctantly the Japanese public had been driven during the past decade to the conviction that Great Britain stood, implacable and immovable, in the way of their long-sustained efforts to gain a fair footing among the nations of the West.
Other Powers might relax their stiff and exclusive attitude and assume a friendly tone.
But as long as England turned her face away the position was unchangeable.
And in this unbending attitude of ours on one particular point there was something strangely out of harmony with the part which England had all along played in furthering Japanese progress.
At every step of that progress English cooperation, incentive, and aid had always been forthcoming.
No Power should have been more familiar with what Japan had accomplished, or more desirous of her further progress.
No Power was as much interested in her commercial development.
Yet, of the whole array of treaty Powers, Great Britain had seemed hitherto the most distrustful and unsympathetic on the question of revising the treaties.
The Japanese people could not understand this, and, failing to find a reason for it, they undoubtedly had begun of late to feel some resentment towards us.
It seemed only natural, and it has all along been their most cherished desire, that England should take the lead in recognizing efforts which she had assisted and even inspired, and in emancipating Japan from the harsher terms of the covenants of 28 years ago.
Yet, not only did she abstain from taking the lead, but her immobility effectually paralyzed all movement on the part of others.
America had long ago declared liberal sentiments.
Germany also had recently promised her friendship.
But without England's assent there could be no hope of a better state of things.
When, therefore, after all these years, Great Britain at length openly abandoned her old posture in favour of a line of policy so amicable and enlightened as that initiated last month by Sir Francis Plunkett the satisfaction of the Japanese Sovereign and his Cabinet was, as may be supposed, unbounded.
It is true that they were not, and are not yet, altogether out of the wood.
The proposals of England and Germany must first be assented to by the rest of the Powers, and cannot be embodied in treaties before next October.
There were, therefore, many considerations in favour of preserving silence in the interim.
But it was not in the nature of the Japanese to coldly withhold their expressions of gratitude, except under imperative restraints.
The intention to treat their country as an equal had at least been manifested, and, however long it might take to give effect to that intention, they were instantly resolved upon leaving no doubt as to its warm appreciation by themselves.
Accordingly, the Mikado invited Sir Francis Plunkett to a private audience on the 16th inst, and addressed him, as follows;
"I have learned with much satisfaction from my Minister of State for Foreign Affairs that the work of revising the treaties has progressed satisfactorily at the present Conference, owing to the friendly efforts and sentiments of yourself and your colleagues; and that at the sixth meeting you and the Imperial German Minister jointly put forward a proposal under which my whole Empire may be thrown freely open to foreign intercourse, and extra-territorial jurisdiction be brought to an end.
It is highly gratifying to me to know that, by the aid of the Governments of Great Britain and Germany, I may now look forward to the early removal of all those obstacles which have hitherto stood in the way of the establishment of full and cordial intercourse between Japan and the Western Powers.
And I trust that your further efforts and sympathy may be successfully directed to the carrying out of a proposal which is so well calculated to promote the interests of the Treaty Powers and the well being of my Empire.
I have taken an early opportunity of receiving you, for the purpose of conveying my acknowledgements of your favourable attitude in this matter, which I have so much at heart.
In order to manifest my sense of obligation to Her Britanic Majesty's Government, I desire to present the Grand Cross of the Imperial Order of the Chrysanthemum to his Royal Highness of the Prince of Wales.
His Imperial Highness Prince Komatsu, who is to leave shortly for Europe, will be charged to carry out my intention, which in the meanwhile I beg that you will be good enough to communicate to Her Majesty's Government."
It may be mentioned that this Order is practically bestowed on Royalty alone, Prince Bismark being the only one of its few possessors who does not wear a crown.
Upon the British Government will now depend the further development of the close and friendly relations which have been thus auspiciously inaugurated between England and Japan.
Space forbids my dwelling, in this already long letter, on the commercial and other benefits that are likely to result from the new course on which we have embarked.
But the military advantages that may be anticipated from cordial co-operation with Japan are of an importance which calls for a few words of comment.
There can be little doubt that in the great struggle which unfortunately must be apprehended, sooner of later, between England and Russia, Japan's natural inclination will be to throw in her lot with the former.
Her alliance, to whichever side it might be given, would undoubtedly be of great value.
Not only has the attractions of fine harbours, a well-lighted coast, excellent coaling stations, and an agreeable climate, combining to constitute a most advantageous base of operations for any conflict in this region of the globe, but her compact and well-trained army, her rapidly growing navy of effective ships, and the high courage and fighting qualities of her troops and seamen, would form adjuncts of no mean order for offensive operations.
Japan's statesmen forsee that, in the event of an Anglo-Russian struggle on the Asian seaboard, it would be hardly possible for them to maintain neutral; and, if England only takes care to preserve and foster the very strong public feeling in her favour which is certian to grow out of a happy settlement of the treaty problem, the voice of the Japanese nation would undoubtedly be raised in behalf of a British alliance.
There is no ground for any misgivings that the feelings of the Japanese on the treaty question have been here set forth in too high a strain.
From a foreign standpoint, no doubt, the scheme explained in this letter seems to concede very little to Japan.
She is ready to do what we have long been urging her to do-what, indeed, we and our associates forced her to begin doing some 30 years ago - namely, to throw open her territory freely to foreign intercourse.
She at the same time agrees to impose upon herself the costly and troublesome task of providing special safeguards for the protection of foreigners within her realm.
Thus, the balance of gain seems to be largely on the foreign side.
Yet to the Japanese the prospective change means a good deal more than we can easily appreciate.
They are an intensely patriotic and high-spirited people, and they have long chafed bitterly at the position of national inferiority to which the Western Powers condemned them 28 years ago.
But at length, first among the peoples of the East, they now see themselves about to cross as equals the threshold of the great family of Western nations, freed from the isolation and stigma of semi-barbarity which have so long oppressed them.
Probably there never was a race more capable of welcoming and appreciating this change; and the Power which maintains the lead in effecting it may count with condfidence on their lasting gratitude.
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