An Island, Alone in the Sea
The expansionist route that Japan pursued during the 1930s has historically been linked with domestic issues during this decade. However, ahead of the upcoming publication of Foreign Office Files for Japan 1919-1930, I found myself uncovering documents telling a different tale and presenting reasons, during the â€˜20s, as to why Japan chose this route.
Japan had fought alongside the Allies during the First World War, aiding the British in Malta and capturing Tsingtao from the Germans. After the war Japan was inducted as a member of the League of Nations and held a place at the Paris Peace Conference that would lead to the Treaty of Versailles.
At the conference, the first signs of Japanâ€™s isolation from the Allies began. Japan proposed that a racial equality clause be included in the treaty; such a clause was not intended to promote universal equality, but instead to ensure that Japan be recognised as an equal by the Western powers.
Japan appeared justified in requesting the clause; after all this once isolated nation had swiftly risen on the global stage. Following this, the Meiji Restoration further shaped Japan into a dominant power which proved victorious in both the First Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese War.
The proposed clause was not to be. While the clause received a majority vote, it was overturned by chairman Woodrow Wilson after Australia strongly opposed it, claiming it would undermine their â€˜White Australia Policyâ€™, a policy described by the Australian Premier in an interview with a newspaper, as an â€˜indispensable oneâ€™. Further frustration would follow when Japan was denied those Pacific territories they had annexed for the Allied cause.
Considering these factors, Japanâ€™s advocacy for the Asian Co Prosperity Sphere during the 1940s becomes clearer; they had been rejected as equals by nations once considered allies. Japanâ€™s expansion was further curtailed by the Washington Conference; where their navy was limited more than any Western powers. The Japanese, as seen in an issue of the Japan Advertiser, argued that â€˜the ratio of 10-6â€™ on capital ships, â€˜is unfairâ€™ and â€˜destructive of peaceâ€™. Japan needed raw materials but instead of being aided by the West, they were isolated, and to some degree directed down the path they chose during the 1930s and 1940s.
The Foreign Office files contain numerous documents and contemporary newspaper reports, representing Western and Eastern views, on this delicate and complex period of Japanese history; one that would see Japan step upon the path it did during the next two decades.