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Assess the Extent to Which Japanese Foreign Policy Led to the Pacific War

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Assess the Extent to Which Japanese Foreign Policy Led to the Pacific War

Assess the extent to which Japanese foreign policy led to the Pacific war

Japans foreign policy was initially a response to western intimidation however it soon took on its own imperialistic traits that were backed heavily by new found nationalism. It was this nationalism that altered the balance of Japanese foreign policy and triggered the start of the Pacific War. It was this in conjunction with the instilled military dominance of political Japan and the string of disappointing foreign policy set backs that led to their adoption of more aggressive foreign measures, which can consequently be considered as a primary driving force on the road to the Pacific war.

When assessing the role of Japans foreign policy in the led up to the Pacific war one needs to look back and the birth of Japanese imperialism and the start of foreign policy its self. Japan saw the need to modernize after Commodore Perry and his imposing naval fleet broke down Japans isolationist wall in 1853, they also feared the fate of China which had been divided into western ‘spheres of interest’. It was these early events that opened up Japanese foreign policy which consequently set in place effective industrialization strategies that contributed to Japans modernization. This successful ‘catch up’ to the Western powers was manifested in expansionalist policies being played out through their own foreign strategies. The first target was Korea, a tributary state of China at the time. This resulted in the first Sino- Japanese war in 1894 and entrance of Japan as a major military force. The treaty of Shimonoseki was signed in the aftermath; Japan claimed numerous Chinese territories including Korea, Taiwan, Ryuknu islands and southern Manchuria, the Japanese empire was born. With the birth of this empire came increasing tensions with Russia and international recognition in the form of the Anglo- Japanese treaty. The treaty was made between Britain, France and Japan and stated that if war broke out between Russia and Japan neither of the European nations would come to Russia’s aid. This was a momentous step in Japans foreign policy as it was to Japan an indication of their acceptance amongst the ‘big boys’ in Europe. This boost in ego was dramatically increased following the triumphant victory in the Russo- Japanese war 1905.

It was the first time an Asian nation had defeated a dominant Western power in modern history, it cemented Japans place as a world power and fuelled a sense of racial superiority and confidence as a world power over other Asian nation; both of these factors contributed to the uptake of more aggressive and expansionalist foreign policies which were the primary instigation of the Pacific War.

The outbreak of WW1 in 1914 was seen as a great opportunity for Japans international ambitions. The war saw Western eyes being drawn away from the personal ambitions in the east and back to the greater domestic issue of war in Europe. Japan had quickly signed up on the side of the allies and in doing so seized numerous German concessions in China as well as in the Pacific, including the Marshal, Carolina, Maraina islands as well as German New Guinea all of which were seen to be in the ‘buffering’ zone between the US, it appeared their pacific colonies were gravely compromised, alarm bells began to ring. Japan were spared the cost of war, she remained largely uninvolved yet was strengthened immeasurably in terms of trade and industry which was fuelled by the appetite of her war burdened allies. Yet Japan crossed the expansionalist line in the eyes of the Western Powers as her unquenched ambitions turned to China.

China was seen by the Japanese as its own ‘manifest destiny’ this was reinforced by its new found sense of racial superiority. However Japan ‘over played her hand’ in the words of Willmott with her infamous 1915 ‘Twenty One Demands’ on China. The demands were a measure of aggressive foreign policy that presented Japan as a threat to Western Powers in the Far East, and is consequently considered an act of foreign policy that contributed to the outbreak of war in the Pacific. The demands sought to establish China as a practical puppet state of Japan; this was not expectable to other European nations that believed they had a valid sphere of interest in China. The demands were also considered a threat to the US wish for an “open door policy” in China, if the demands were accepted by China it would eliminate Western interest in the area leaving Japan with a potentially overwhelming advantage in the region. Consequently Western pressure was placed upon the policies and Japan was forced to withdraw the demands. Secretary of State Bryan told Japan in November 1915 that “the US cannot recognize any agreement… impairing the treaty rights of the US and its citizens in China or the international policy

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