O

Open Door Policy

A foreign policy framework based largely on commerce and trade that stipulates that all nations should have equal trade and commercial opportunities in a given area. Although the genesis of the Open Door Policy can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, it gained renewed interest at the turn of the twentieth century and is most associated with U.S. secretary of state John Hay (1838–1905) vis-à-vis the great-power rivalry in China.

The British first conceptualized and enunciated an open door policy in the aftermath of the First Opium War (1839–1842), a conflict fought largely over issues of trading rights. In a series of treaties negotiated between the British government and Chinese officials, both sides agreed—in principle at least—that China should be open to trade and that the Chinese government should not promulgate policies antithetical to that goal. This era was the commencement of Western imperial interests in China, and Great Britain was determined to keep the fabled China market open to Western interests. During the 1885 Berlin Conference, European leaders tacitly recognized the principle of the open door when they concluded that no African colonial power should erect trade barriers in the Congo. In retrospect, the conference did little to suppress the mad dash for African colonies, but it did institute measures to prevent great-power economic rivalry in the region.

The American enunciation of the Open Door policy came chiefly as a result of the Spanish-American War and the U.S. annexation of the Philippines and Guam, which for the first time made the United States an East Asian colonial power. Several factors compelled the William McKinley (1843– 1901) administration (1897–1901) to embrace the Open Door Policy. First, as imperial competition and economic rivalry in China heated up, American policy makers feared that a China divided into competing spheres of influence would be disastrous for U.S. territorial and colonial interests in the Far East. Second, many U.S. policy makers viewed the opening of markets in China as key to American economic prosperity, although the power of the China market in this era was greatly exaggerated. Third, even though the United States had a credible naval deterrent in the Western Hemisphere, it did not have the ability to effectively project its military power in Asia at the turn of the century. Thus, the Open Door Policy was seen as a substitute for U.S. military hegemony in China.

Beginning in September 1899, Secretary of State Hay sent a series of diplomatic dispatches (subsequently called the Open Door Notes) to the major colonial powers: Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan. The thrust of his dispatches was a plea that all nations have equal access to trade and commerce in China. The British, who had already applied the Open Door Policy in their own affairs, affirmed their commitment to the policy in China. The five other nations, however, were studiously noncommittal to the proposal. In November 1899, the Boxer Rebellion began in

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China at War: An Encyclopedia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Note on Transliteration xiii
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction xix
  • A 1
  • B 17
  • C 27
  • D 99
  • E 109
  • F 119
  • G 131
  • H 155
  • I 181
  • J 183
  • K 201
  • L 219
  • M 255
  • N 295
  • O 333
  • P 341
  • Q 355
  • R 369
  • S 383
  • T 439
  • U 465
  • V 473
  • W 475
  • X 495
  • Y 509
  • Z 525
  • Appendix- Chinese Dynasties and Governments 547
  • Chronology 553
  • Glossary 567
  • Selected Bibliography 571
  • Editor and Contributors 583
  • Index 587
  • About the Editor 605
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