Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact


SDHF Newsletter No. 398 The Road to the Greater East Asian War Part 21, Chapter 6 -1

Nakamura Akira, Dokkyo University Professor Emeritus
(English Translation: Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact)
Part 21, Chapter 6: US Retaliation: Washington Naval Conference-1
November 2, 2023

The Armistice of November 11 was signed in 1918, bringing the European war, which had persisted for four years and four months, to an end. As one of the five powers, Japan participated in the peace conference that commenced in January 1919, along with Britain, the US, France, and Italy.
Japan’s agenda for the conference included three main items: (1) continued control of former German interests in Shandong province, (2) conveyance to Japan of former German possessions north of the equator in the Pacific, and (3) a proposal for the abolition of racial discrimination.
As to (1), China’s demands for the return of Shandong were rejected; the transfer of German interests in Shandong to Japan was recognized in Article 156-58 of the Treaty of Versailles. Japan’s request for conveyance of former German possessions in the South Pacific was easily approved. Though the Japanese proposal for racial equality met with unyielding intransigence from the “white” nations, 11 of the 17 League of Nations Commission delegates voted in favor of it. However, Woodrow Wilson, the Commission’s chairman, ruled against its adoption, insisting that the vote be unanimous. If it had been adopted in 1919, the Immigration Act of 1924 would surely not have come into being, and one of the causes of conflict between Japan and the US might have been eliminated.
Japan took over German interests in Shandong, China, and German possessions in the Pacific. The Lansing-Ishii Agreement, signed in 1917, won American recognition for Japanese special interests in Manchuria. Japan’s influence in the Pacific region was significantly strengthened.
After World War I, Germany no longer had a Far Eastern or Pacific presence. The Russians needed to concern themselves with the civil war that followed the revolution. Although France had colonized Indochina and retained concessions in China, French influence in the region decreased pronouncedly. However, since the war, the US had demonstrated its strength by becoming the world’s creditor nation. It refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles, having shifted its focus from Europe to the Far East. It was at that point, after Japan had acquired more power in the Pacific region, that the US began to confront Japan head on.
The opportunity for the US to retaliate against Japan did not arrive for about two more years. The stage this time was the Washington Naval Conference, held in Washington, D.C. between November 1921 and February 1922. There were three major items to be discussed.

Anglo-Japanese Alliance
Given that threats from Russia and Germany had vanished, the US wanted the alliance discarded, since keeping it might place the US in the position of a hypothetical enemy nation. Also, if it continued to exist, Japan would have free rein in China.

Problems in the Far East and Pacific
The Lansing-Ishii Agreement was essentially an improvised affair intended to appease Japan for the duration of the war. When the conflict came to an end, the US attempted to dispose of it. Moreover, during the Siberian Intervention the US attempted to broaden the Open Door policy to include Maritime province.

Naval arms race
In August 1916 the US decided upon a three-year project involving the construction of more than 150 ships, aiming to build a navy second to none. Japan responded by coming up with a plan for an Eight-Eight Fleet in 1920. When we look at the naval construction race between Japan and the US, not in terms of monetary strength, but from the standpoint of facilities (docks and harbors) and shipbuilding expertise, we see Japan clearly had the advantage over the US. Moreover, the American naval program stimulated British naval construction, too. Not only did the naval arms race among three great naval powers and concomitant sense of urgency become important facets of world politics, but also imposed a crushing financial burden on the nations involved.

MOTEKI Hiromichi, Chairman
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact