Japan’s international status in 1919

How did Japan benefit from the First World War?

The First World War served as an opportunity for Japan to increasingly expand its influence in Asia.

During the first world war, Japan declared war on Germany, seizing Germany's military bases on the Shandong Peninsula in the north of China, while its navy occupied Germany's South Pacific possessions.

In 1915, while the First World War was taking place, Japan issued China with its "Twenty- One Demands". This included China agreeing to give the Shandong Province to the Japanese and to grant commercial privileges in Manchuria to Japan. Additionally, China wouldn't be allowed to lease any more coastal territory to other powers and was to accept political, financial and military advisers sent from Japan.

These demands caused a sharp reaction from Britain and the USA, and also angered many within the Japanese government as they believed these actions would damage Japan's reputation. Therefore, the demands were modified.

In terms of their economy, Japan was able to take advantage of the First World War as it left them a vacuum to take more control of economical markets. They supplied goods to the allies and also filled the trade market of Asia which was left open as the allies focus deviated from their colonies. Therefore, Japan significantly developed its industry and became more self-sufficient as they would rely less on imported goods from industrialised nations.

Japan also saw the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 as another opportunity to expand.

After Russia had withdrawn from the war through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Allies sent soldiers to support 'the Whites' in the Russian Civil War against the Bolshevik 'Red Army'. Meanwhile, Japan sent 70,000 men, despite originally agreeing to send just 7,500 men. These men remained after the end of the civil war and British, US and French forces had already left. However, they eventually had to withdraw in 1922 as they were defeated by the Bolsheviks.

While international mistrust towards Japan grew, many Japanese were criticising the government as the cost of the failed involvement in Russia was high, and the army, which the government had been unable to control, had significantly lost prestige.

The Outcome of the First World War for Japan

At the Versailles Conference that followed the First World War, Japan was originally able to secure the former German Pacific islands as a mandate and gain control over the Shandong Province of China. These gains would confirm Japan as an important economic power on the Asian mainland and as the main naval power in the Western Pacific.

Japan had tried to include 'Racial Equality Clauses' in the terms of the League of Nations, which would set all races as equal. However, this was a failure as leaders in Britain and the USA claimed that their countries were afraid that this clause would increase Japanese immigration into their countries. Although this reason was largely invalid and unrelated to the equality clauses.

All in all, the League of Nations was supposed to be an organisation which united all nations, but what was the point of the assembly if the League of Nations would not put in their charter that all races are equal?

Wilson had the idea of self-determination in his thirteen points as he believed that Eastern European countries rule themselves, but it was evident that he did not believe in the equality of race globally as he voted against the equal-race charter.

Japan’s resentment towards the European Powers increased after the conference as the powers reversed their decision to hand over the Shandong Province to Japan. Although the province was originally given to Japan, it was now handed over to China (despite, this, Japan was able to maintain some level of influence after deals with warlords).

The Japanese felt that all together, these factors showed Western dominance over Japan even further.