The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-22

By Phillips Payson O'Brien | Go to book overview

9

Great Britain and Japan's entrance into the Great War, 1914-1915

Peter Lowe

Developments in the first week of August 1914 marked the most dramatic phase in the history of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The partners had to determine their responses to the momentous events unfolding in Europe. Despite growing tensions in their relationship before August 1914, the allies regarded the Alliance as having continuing value and reassurance; however, the month of August 1914 may be described as the decisive watershed in that for the first time Britain was indisputably more dependent on Japan than Japan was on Britain. The largest empire in the world required Japanese assistance in meeting a German naval threat. Exactly how Japanese aid would be provided, and what this would denote formally, remained to be established, but there could be no doubt that the relationship was entering a new stage - the most challenging one since the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Pragmatism and opportunism characterised British and Japanese reactions - the British were pragmatic and the Japanese were opportunistic. This should not occasion surprise, since the unpredictable concomitants of war mean that the interests of states have to be advanced or defended as interpreted by policy-makers. 1

On the eve of the outbreak of war in Europe, Britain and Japan were locked in increasingly acrid exchanges over their respective political-economic interests in the Yangtze valley of China. Britain was determined to preserve its dominance of this vast region and Japan was endeavouring to subvert British ascendancy. 2 Friction was promoted by the repercussions of revolution in China and attendant instability which worried the Japanese more than the British. Despite considerable disagreement within and outside Japanese governing circles over how to exploit the instability in China, there was consensus that Japan must adopt an interventionist approach and restrict the ambitions of the European powers in China. 3 The two principal personalities in the respective direction of British and Japanese policies were Sir Edward Grey and Baron Kato Takaaki. They were highly experienced, able and tenacious figures. Grey had specialised in foreign and imperial affairs within the Liberal Party and Kato had served for a lengthy period as ambassador in London. It is appropriate to consider the two men further before turning to the issues confronting them in August 1914.

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