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Paris Peace Conference and Japan’s Design on China

Dr. Yizhong Sun (孫益重博士) 
When the WWI began (1914), the Japanese declared war on Germany in order to take over German concessions in China. ‘When there is a fire in a jeweler’s shop,’ according to a Japanese diplomat, ‘the neighbors can’t be expected to refrain from helping themselves.’ This shows a key defining feature of Japanese culture. According to a famous Japanese historian, there has not much moral fiber of propriety in Japanese cultural tradition.

In January 1915, Japan delivered to China a harsh set of 21 demands for new concession that would have effectively turned large parts of China into Japanese colonies, US Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan protested mildly but undermined his own protest with the admission that ‘territorial continuity creates special relations between Japan and these districts [in China].’Japan felt their requests were justified, more so after Bryan’s ‘territorial contiguity’ phrases. US President Woodrow Wilson asked Bryan to tell Japan’s ambassador in the United States that such demands were incompatible with Chinese independence and ‘the maintenance of an open door to the world.’

During the war, the Japanese had been promised title to German islands in the North Pacific and the German concessions in Shandong Province of China by a secrete treaty with Great Britain, and they hoped to use American entrance into the war in April 1917 as a lever to pry some recognition of these concessions out of Washington.

In September 1917 they sent to the United States a special delegation headed by former foreign minister Kikujiro Ishii. His mission was to obtainan American guarantee that the United States would not try to influence China against Japan and that it would recognize Japan’s sphere of influence in South Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. Wilson overruled Japanese demands and affirmed the Open Door policy.

On November 2, 1917, the two countries signed a memorandum between Ishii and US representative, Robert Lansing a counselor to the State Department. According to the memorandum, both governments supported the Open Door but declared that ‘territorial propinquity created special relations between countries.’ It also stated that the United States recognized Japan’s ‘special interests in China, particularly in that part to which her possessions are contiguous.Based on this agreement, Japan justified tightening their grip on Shandong in 1917 and demanding further concession from China in 1918.

After the armistice on November 11, 1918 ended the war with Germany’s defeat, anticipation in China ran high. There were triumphant parades in Beijing, and an exuberant crowd demolished the memorial that the Qing had been forced to raise in honor of the Germans killed by the Boxers. The Beijing government was now headed by yet another Beiyang-faction president and premier; Duan Qirui had resigned in October 1918, but before doing so had used the huge Japanese loans to enhance his own military power and had continued to build a network of secret deals with the Japanese.

The Chinese delegation to the postwar treaty negotiations in Paris, sixty-two member strong, was headed by 5 capable diplomats who had never been fully briefed on what to expect. They were greeted at Versailles by the shattering announcement of the chief Japanese delegate that early in 1917, in return for Japanese naval assistance against the Germans, Great Britain, France, and Italy had signed a secret treaty guaranteeing ‘support [of] Japan’s claims in regard to the disposal of Germany’s rights in Shandong’ after the war.

On April 30, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson agreed with British PM David Lloyd George and French Premier Georges Clemenceau to transfer all of German’s Shandong rights to Japan.

This decision set off the May 4 Movement in 1919. Chinese students and demonstrators, by surrounding their nation’s delegation in their Paris hotel, had forcibly prevented the delegates from attending the signing ceremonies. The Versailles Treaty ended up without China’s endorsement.

In the 1920s, Japan briefly went through a period of democratic experiment, and there was a pause of expansionist drive. The Great Depression after 1929 renewed Japan’s sense of vulnerability. Japan has never had much natural recourses and had to depend on the outside world not merely for prosperity but even for survival. Japan had to look for overseas resources and markets. In 1931 and 1932 the Kwantung army took over Chinese Northeast (or Manchuria to the west) and set up ‘Manchukuo’ under the nominal rule of the last Qing emperor, Puyi. The ‘Manchukuo’ would serve as the launching pad for a militarized Japan to plan a full scale war of aggression against China starting July 7, 1937.

From this brief history, we can conclude that we have to fight for our own freedom. The west has never been reliable despite its rhetoric about promoting justice and self-determination. Fortunately for us, the generation of the May 4th Movement had risen to the challenges, organized anti-Japanese resistance movement, and kicked out the Japanese in 1945.

2013© 大芝加哥地區中國和平統一促進會
Chinese American Alliance for China's Peaceful Reunification