Canada's Window on Asia: The Establishment of the Tokyo Legation in 1928-1931

By Lynhiavu Tou Chu Dou | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Canada's Window on Asia: The Establishment of the Tokyo Legation in 1928-1931


Lynhiavu Tou Chu Dou, Journal of Canadian Studies


Canada's Window on Asia: The Establishment of the Tokyo Legation in 1928 - 1931

TOU CHU DOU LYNHIAVU

Canada's decision to establish diplomatic ties with Japan in 1928 was an important foreign policy initiative. It represented a clear if reluctant recognition on the part of the Department of External Affairs of the importance of Asia - Pacific in general, and Japan in particular. It also reflected the need for Canada to have a "Far Eastern" policy. Canada and Japan had just signed an agreement on immigration, and Japan was Canada's fourth largest trading partner. The Japanese producers demanded protective measures, and the Tokyo Legation worked hard trying to protect Canadian interests. The Depression and the collapse of international trading systems, meanwhile, rendered it doubly difficult for the Tokyo mission to maintain Canada's favourable trading relation with Japan. Finally, the Legation provided Ottawa with vital information on Japanese internal politics and external relations, although Ottawa did not always use this information accurately in its statements during the Manchurian Crisis: the Legation was too small to cover all of Asia - Pacific and thus could not give a "China View" when the Manchurian Crisis occurred. The attempt to gather materials essential for the formulation of Canada's "Far Eastern" policy proved beyond the reach of a single understaffed diplomatic mission. It was, nevertheless, an important first step.

On 18 September 1929, Herbert M. Marler, in full diplomatic uniform as Canadian Minister to Japan presented his credentials to Emperor Hirohito. The audience came one year after the 1928 decision to establish formal diplomatic ties with Japan. With this decision Canada would no longer entrust its interests to Britain, intending to carry the Imperial Conference of 1926 to its logical conclusion. Canada's first diplomatic missions, therefore, were in London (in the form of the High Commissioner's Office) and Washington. Socio - economic, political and military considerations required that Canada maintain and promote the Anglo - American friendship, but Canada's francophone population also ensured that a diplomatic mission with France(f.1) would come sooner rather than later. The decision to establish a legation in Japan, however, surprised many.

Until very recently this 1928 decision received little scholarly attention. Some academics have suggested that the move reflected Prime Minister Mackenzie King's geo - political perspectives.(f.2) Yet, these historians, like officials of the Department of External Affairs, comment only occasionally on the topic.(f.3) The little research done on the 1920s and 1930s has focused largely on trade and immigration. Indeed, some suggest that Canada's primary interest in this diplomatic exchange was the desire to control immigration, with trade a secondary consideration.(f.4) This interpretation is incomplete. Trade and immigration dealings with Japan have a long history dating back to the nineteenth century; immigration had been handled satisfactorily without having either immigration agents at the source of the problem or diplomatic ties.(f.5) In 1907, Canada had negotiated with Japan a "Gentleman's Agreement"(f.6) which by 1923 restricted Japanese labourers in Canada to only 150 arrivals and by 1928 to a total of 150 immigrants per year. The Tokyo Legation, however, facilitated the implementation the 1928 Canada - Japan immigration agreement.(f.7) All these ad hoc measures had proven to be effective, and so it would appear that diplomatic ties were not a pre - condition for dealing with immigration and trade issues.

Canada, however, wanted closer and better economic ties with Asia. Although the legendary riches of the Orient had long attracted attention, trade was slow to develop.(f.8) The first official contact between Canada and Japan took place in 1889, when both nations signed the "Convention for the Exchange of Money Orders" between the Canadian Post Office Department and the Japanese Communication Department. …

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