Anglo-Japanese Alliance - Motivations and Reservations

Motivations and Reservations

The possibility of an alliance between United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Empire of Japan had been canvassed since 1895, when Britain refused to join the triple intervention of France, Germany and Russia against the Japanese occupation of the Liaotung peninsula. While this single event was an unstable basis for an alliance, the case was strengthened by the support Britain had given Japan in its drive towards modernisation and their cooperative efforts to put down the Boxer Rebellion. Newspapers of both countries voiced support for such an alliance; in the UK, Francis Brinkley of The Times and Edwin Arnold of the Telegraph were the driving force behind such support, while in Japan the pro-alliance mood of politician Okuma Shigenobu stirred the Mainichi and Yomiuri newspapers into pro-alliance advocacy. The 1894 Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation had also paved the way for equal relations and the possibility of an alliance.

In the end, the common interest truly fueling the alliance was opposition to Russian expansion. Negotiations began when Russia began to move into China. Nevertheless, both countries had their reservations. The UK was cautious of abandoning its policy of "splendid isolation", wary of antagonizing Russia, and unwilling to act on the treaty if Japan were to attack the United States. There were factions in the Japanese government that still hoped for a compromise with Russia, including the highly powerful political figure Hirobumi Itō, who had served four terms as Prime Minister of Japan. It was thought that friendship within Asia would be more amenable to the USA, which was uncomfortable with the rise of Japan as a power. Furthermore, the UK was unwilling to protect Japanese interests in Korea and likewise the Japanese were unwilling to support Britain in India.

Hayashi and Lord Lansdowne began their discussions in July 1901, and disputes over Korea and India delayed them until November. At this point, Hirobumi Itō requested a delay in negotiations in order to attempt a reconciliation with Russia. He was mostly unsuccessful, and Britain expressed concerns over duplicity on Japan's part, so Hayashi hurriedly re-entered negotiations in 1902.

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