The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-22

By Phillips Payson O'Brien | Go to book overview

1

Origins of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance

In the shadow of the Dreibund

Ian Nish

In 1901 the newly built 15,200-ton, ironclad battleship, Asahi, soon to be the pride of the Imperial Japanese navy, slipped down the Clyde from John Brown's yard at Clydebank. It eventually fought with distinction in the Russo-Japanese War. I am not suggesting that Glasgow or its shipbuilders were the cause of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, far less of the Russo-Japanese War. But shipbuilding in Glasgow was one element in a pattern of cooperation which developed between Britain and Japan and contributed with other factors to the creation of the Alliance.

There are many causes of the Alliance, proximate causes and long-range causes. When my book on the Alliance first appeared, the reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement was kind enough to say that I had dealt with the actual negotiations which began in October 1901 in a ball-by-ball analysis. I was hurt but also flattered because historians by the nature of their trade have to offer ball-by-ball analyses. I propose to concentrate on longer-range causes rather than proximate ones, and begin in 1895. There is a problem even with that date because the concept of an 'alliance' between Britain and Japan is mentioned many times earlier - not of course at the level of official overtures being made but at the level of elite conversation. From the time of the Iwakura mission in 1872-1874, people throughout Britain and Europe recognized that Japan was a progressive up-and-coming country and, since alliances were much talked of in diplomatic circles, had good prospects in future of being allied to European countries. 1


Sino-Japanese War and the Dreibund intervention

The alliance that was being talked of came closer to becoming a political reality when Japan and China went to war in 1894. China's resistance, both military and naval, crumbled; and she was forced to sue for peace. The peace negotiations were convened at Shimonoseki on 20 March 1895. But China had already been canvassing for the intervention of the powers on her behalf. It was vital, therefore, for Japan to try to forestall any desire they had to get involved.

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