Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview
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Crisis and Compromise: East Asia

At the very time in April when the controversy of the Italians and the Yugoslavs was rising to a crest, the plenipotentiaries of Japan spoke up for the rewards that their nation had been promised. Under agreements that had been made in 1917 with the Allies, Japan, in addition to receiving title to the German islands that lay in the Pacific north of the equator, also was to take over the rights that Germany had held in China's Shantung Province under a ninety-nine-year lease. 1. The Japanese delegates were disappointed when they learned in January of 1919 that they would receive the Pacific islands not outright, as they had expected, but under the qualifications of a League mandate. Moreover, their forebearance was taxed when their demand for an acknowledgment of racial equality in the League Covenant was rejected. 2. Now, in April, they were still without any recognition of their claim to the preferred status that Germans had enjoyed in territory in Shantung that Japanese armed forces had seized. The Chinese government at Peking had declared war on Germany on August 14, 1917, thus terminating the German rights.

The claims of Japan touched vital interests of the United States: not only the security of its Pacific frontier and the Philippines, but its future relations with China as well. The Department of State was committed to a policy of long-standing that had grown out of American impulses to befriend the Chinese people and to trade with them. The United States had stood apart from the infringement upon China's territorial integrity by colonial powers, while at the same time benefiting from the security that was provided by this infringement. The American government had sought no special concessions of its own, and for two decades it had advocated the preservation of an "open door" for the educational and commercial enterprise of all nations. At the same time American citizens had contributed generously to improve the conditions of life in China.

Japan, a late entrant in the quest for outlets overseas, had been asserting political influence in many parts of China so effectively that Americans wondered whether the Chinese people would be able to absorb the Japanese intruders as they had absorbed earlier invaders. 3. In 1915 Japan, following the example of colonial powers of Europe, had given Peking a forty-eight-hour ultimatum presenting twenty-one demands. It required the transfer of all German rights in Shantung to Japan and also asked for special privileges in other provinces of China. The ultimatum had provoked a public warning from the United States government that it could not recog‐

The texts of the secret agreements between Japan and its allies may be found in the D. H. Miller papers, box 89, III, 11, L.C. The texts were sent to the American commissioners after they discovered on February 5 that they lacked definite information, minutes, ACTNP, February 5, 1919. Lansing summarized the pacts for Wilson, Lansing to the secretary of state, February 26, 1919, Wilson papers.
See above, p. 310.
See Willoughby's report on China, in Miller, My Diary, doc. 420.


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Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919
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