The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-22

By Phillips Payson O'Brien | Go to book overview

14

India, pan-Asianism and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance

Antony Best

In 1924 when the new Labour government was considering whether or not to cancel the construction of the Singapore naval base, the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir David Beatty, produced an extensive memorandum that set out what he saw as the potential costs of abandonment. Above all else, Beatty stressed the danger posed by Imperial Japan to British interests in Asia. In so doing he eluded to the most recent example of Japanese ambition, noting:

The behaviour of Japan during the late war should not be forgotten. Seeing us in the throes of a great struggle, she did not scruple to attempt to stir up trouble in India. The extent to which we can rely on her good will or trust her solemn undertakings, must be reckoned in the light of this recent experience. 1

In retrospect, this might seem an odd outburst, for the general historical image of Japan during the Great War is that, apart perhaps from the excesses of the twenty-one demands, it served as a loyal ally and provided much needed naval support to the Entente powers. Moreover, the termination of the Alliance in 1921 is not often discussed in terms of the difficulties created by imperial rivalries between the allies, but is usually attributed to the importance of American and Canadian pressure on Britain to abrogate its link with Japan. However, Beatty was not alone in his belief that Japan's wartime behaviour had shown that it was untrustworthy, for other commentators, such as the diplomat Sir Miles Lampson and the former editor of The Times, Henry Wickham Steed, made similar observations. 2

What then had Japan done to raise the ire of Beatty and his ilk and to what extent had its activities contributed to the end of the Alliance? Some work has already attempted to answer these questions. For example, both Ian Nish and T.G. Fraser have argued that British suspicions of Japanese activities in India during the Great War were exaggerated and unwarranted. In particular, they have asserted that Whitehall and Calcutta allowed a number of relatively minor bones of contention, such as the presence in Japan of the Indian revolutionary, Rash Behari Bose, to cloud their judgement. In

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