The Washington Conferences (1921-22)

Background to the Conference

There was a clear need to reduce growing tensions in East Asia due to Japanese expansion in the region, tensions that threatened to cause a Naval arms race and, possibly, lead to war.

France was still dreading the return of German aggression and lacked confidence in the League giving them the security that they needed.

In Asia, Japan wanted to expand its territory and wanted to dominate China. However, if this took place, it could ruin the trade relations China had with other countries.

  • Furthermore, The United States was not happy about the Japanese expansion as it did not want to lose its trade with China, while it also had possessions in the Philippines that were threatened by Japanese imperialist urges.

  • Japan was unhappy about the fact that the United States did not recognize Japan's position in Asia, while it also felt threatened by the increasing US navy. Tensions grew and some believed war between them was possible.

  • The UK was very concerned by this as they had a defensive alliance that obligated them to side with Japan.

In 1921, the USA invited eight other nations to Washington DC to discuss naval reductions and the situation in East Asia.

Britain, Japan, France and Italy were invited to join the USA in talks on reducing naval capacity.

Belgium, China, Portugal and the Netherlands were invited to join in discussions on the situation in East Asia.

This led to a series of treaties.

Four Power Treaty- signed by the USA, Britain, France and Japan

All countries agreed to respect each other's rights in the Pacific and far east

Agreed to deal with any future disagreements by negotiation

Formally ended 1902 alliance between Britain and Japan (which had embarrassed Britain) because...

  • Britain's naval rivalry with Germany no longer existed

  • In the event of any conflict between the USA and Japan, Britain would be obliged to side with Japan

Five Power Treaty- signed by the USA, Britain, France, Japan and Italy

The primary objective was to repress further Japanese naval expansion in the waters of the Western Pacific.

  • Japan agreed to withdraw from the sum of its recently acquired Chinese territory

  • Japan will limit its navy to 3/5 the size of the British and US Navy

  • The western powers agreed not to develop any new naval bases near Japan

  • All countries agreed to limit their warship tonnage

      • Britain & USA= 500,000 tons each

      • Japan= 300,000 tons

      • France & Italy= 175,000 tons each

Nine Power Treaty- signed by the USA, UK, Japan, France, Italy, Belgium, China, Netherlands & Portugal

  • It guaranteed protection for China against invasion as countries pledged mutual respect for Chinese territorial integrity and independence.

  • Countries agreed to uphold the ‘open door’ policy, which allowed equal trading opportunities with China for all countries.

  • Meanwhile, Japan agreed to remove its military from the Shantung peninsula.