Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact


SDHF Newsletter No. 394 The Road to the Greater East Asian War Part 18, Chapter 5 : Japan and World War I-2

Nakamura Akira, Dokkyo University Professor Emeritus
(English Translation: Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact)
Part 18, Chapter 5: Japan and World War I-2

In April 1917 the US finally decided to enter the war. Following the example set by Britain and France, Japan, as one of the Allied nations, welcomed this news, and dispatched Ishii Kikujirō to the US as special envoy on a congratulatory mission. Having already concluded agreements with other Allied nations, the Japanese were intent on arriving at an understanding with the Americans about Far Eastern policy during the special envoy’s visit.

On November 2, 1917, after hammering out their different points of view, Ishii and Secretary of State Robert Lansing signed an official document, an exchange of notes, at the State Department. That was what is referred to today as the Lansing-Ishii Agreement.

The beginning of the agreement, which stated the main point, reads as follows:

The government of the United States and Japan recognize that territorial propinquity creates special relations between countries, and, consequently, the government of the United States recognizes that Japan has special interests in China, particularly in the part to which her possessions are contiguous.

Later we have the following:

The government of the United States and Japan deny that they have any purpose to infringe any way the independence or territorial integrity of China, and they declare, furthermore, that they always adhere to the principle of the so-called “open door” or equal opportunity for commerce and industry in China.

Here the nuance is a bit different from that of the foregoing passage. And it is the interpretation of this part that left room for subsequent dispute.

On August 11, 1919 at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Lansing was pressed by Sen. William Borah and other Republicans to explain why the Democratic Party had seemed to concede that Japan had special interests in China. Lansing explained that Japan’s “special interests in China” as described in the agreement were economic in nature, not political. But this completely contradicts with open door or equal opportunity for commerce of industry in China.

Griswold explains the situation as follows:

Lansing complained of the circumstances that made necessary his concession to Japan’s “special interests;” resorted to legal quibbling to limit their scope and, at Paris, did his best to undo them altogether. In 1917, American diplomacy was preparing, not retreating from, the greatest of all its offensives against Japanese expansion. Whatever comfort Japanese diplomats may have derived from the letter of the agreement, they were soon to discover that its spirit was not one of compromise. It was a stop-gap measure, a temporization, a grudging concession to the gnat of Japanese imperialism when the United States was girding itself to destroy the dragon of German autocracy.

The Agreement was abrogated in April 1923. You might say Japan was deceived.


MOTEKI Hiromichi, Chairman
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact