The Treaty of Portsmouth by Kan'ichi Asakawa

Nothing in the world's diplomacy of recent years has seemed to me so unique and so instructive as the peace conference at Portsmouth. The envoys of the belligerent Powers met on a remote neutral ground, and, after a month of negotiations of the most striking nature, agreed on a treaty which redounded to the honor of both parties but which neither party considered as honorable. Let us make a brief survey of the progress of this interesting conference, for it throws light upon the meaning of the treaty itself.

It was on the 10th of August that Baron Komura presented twelve terms of peace for discussion. To these, M. Witte gives a written reply on the 12th. Then the terms discussed one by one, and the agreements and disagreements of the envoys were recorded, until, by the 19th, a complete deadlock had been reached on four points out of the twelve, on which there was an absolute disagreement. These ten days, from the 10th to the 19th, constitute a period by itself, for, when it came to an end, the envoys had exhausted their powers and there was nothing left but rupture. It was at this crisis that President Roosevelt urged both Powers, for the sake of peace, to arrive at some compromise of their differences. This move created a new situation in which unforeseen developments took place again and again which were neither of the making nor within the control of any person or any party. During the ten days, from the 20th to 30th, surprise followed surprise, an adjournment succeeded adjournment, in which neither the hopes for the fears of the outsider had the slightest foundation of facts. At first, Japan accepted President Roosevelt's appeal for compromise by dropping two of the four disputed terms, namely, the surrender of the interned vessels and the limitation of Russia's naval power in the East, and proposing that Russia should repurchase northern half of Sakhalin for an amount which might cover a large part of the war expenditures. The public opinion of the world now urged that Russia should accept this compromise in substance, but M. Witte would agree to no payment under any disguise, although he later consented to yield the southern half of Sakhalin. He thus made it appear as if the question of war or peace were staked upon the single issue of money, while in fact there was a territorial issue besides the pecuniary. M. Witte may well have doubted that his tactics would succeed and that the candid opinion of the world would, as he wished, say, if peace failed, that Japan went to renew the horrors of war for mere money. But, even if M. Witte's conviction wavered, there was no mistaking the Czar's instructions concerning money. The war party was bent upon a continued war: not a cent of indemnity, and, if possible, not an inch of territory, should be given to the enemy. Of the three parties on Russia's side, that is, the Czar, the war party, and M. Witte, it is impossible to say how much their views coincided and how much they disagreed. Nor does any one know what were the concessions made by both parties. It also contains other matters, such as the fishery and the Sakhalin questions, but let us regard them as mere side issues, which they are. The fundamental points relates to Korea and Manchuria, for it was in those territories that the war was waged and that it brought about those important changes which the treaty has definitely recognized. We shall make an attempt to see the nature of some of these changes and weigh their significance for the immediate future.

In this discussion, we are compelled to remember the economic background of entire situation. For, whether or not a nation is conscious of its economic issues, they are as vital as its physical laws, and, in case of Japan's relation to East Asia, they are so profound and far-reaching that it seems impossible for anyone to study the Eastern question without a general understanding of these issues. It is now well-known that Japan is fast passing from an agricultural to an industrial stage of life; and that her production of food-stuffs and raw material is becoming every year inadequate to feed her rapidly growing population and manufacture, so that the new nation has to be more and more supported by an increased importation of raw articles and food-stuffs and an increased exportation of manufactured goods. There are cardinal points in the material life of the Japanese nation. It is precisely here that the development of and an open trade with Korea and Manchuria is of paramount importance to Japan as a growing nation, because no other region on earth is so important to Japan than these countries as sources of raw and food articles and as markets for manufactured goods. This is, however, only Japan's side of the story. The legitimate interests of these three regions----Japan, Korea and Manchuria----are common and must largely grow in common. To take only a few illustrations. The grains exported by Korea and Manchuria and the beans and bean-cakes exported by the latter go almost entirely to Japan, as well as the gold from Korea now forming nearly 40 percent of her entire export trade. Japan's exportation of cotton yarns and cotton goods to Korea and Manchuria is already large and increasing. At Niuchwang, hitherto the only practical port of Manchuria for foreign trade, cotton yarns and cotton goods constitute nearly 60 percent of its annual import trade (1903), and the grains and bean products, which nearly all go to Japan, form about 80 percent of its export trade. If Japan on the one hand and Korea and Manchurian trade would at once be reduced by more than four-tenths and the Korean trade by nearly three-quarters of its annual value, and, moreover, Korea and Manchuria would lose the greatest stimulus for the development of their resources and consequently their purchasing power of the goods of all foreign nations. Losing the increasing supplies from and increasing exports to Korea and Manchuria would of course, seriously cripple Japan. The more one studies the economic life of East Asia, the more overwhelming appears the profound and growing community of interest between Japan, Korea and Manchuria.

With this general economic situation in mind, we can now proceed to examine the changes in Korea and Manchuria, which have been brought about since the war began, and which the new treaty has ratified. Let us take Korea first.

No one need be reminded of the close geographical and historical relations that have always existed between Japan and Korea. Prior to the opening of recent hostilities, Russia, as you remember, had made serious efforts, among other things, to occupy points on the northern frontier of Korea, and to lease the now famous harbor of Masampo as the naval base of her Pacific fleet. The quick descent of Japan upon Seul early in February 1904, however, at once changed the entire situation. Russia precipitately withdrew from the Korean Capital. When Japan forthwith concluded with Korea the protocol of alliance and reform, on February 23. By this protocol, Japan pledged herself to uphold the independence and the territorial integrity of Korea, as well as the safety of her Imperial house; Korea, in turn, promised to adopt Japan's advice and assistance in the interest of reform. This protocol became the foundation of the relations of the two Empires.

The question at once arises as to what is meant by "reform" and what is its ultimate purpose. Reform in this case evidently has two sides, economic and political. In its economic aspects, does "reform" mean the creation of circumstances favorable to the quick exploitation of Korea's resources by the Japanese? This is certainly one interpretation. Another and very different interpretation is that "reform" means, not the exploitation, but the development, of the resources; not exploitation for the sole interest of the Japanese, but development for the large and increasingly large common interests of the Koreans and the Japanese. Which of these two economic interpretation forms the motive of Japan's "reform" of Korea? Again, on its political side, reform may mean either a gradual absorption of Korea's sovereign functions, never to be restored, by Japan, or a gradual training of Korea, under Japan's tutelage, for a complete self-government. In other words, Japan may strengthen her position against foreign aggression by either making Korea an efficient, independent advance-guard of Japan, or, if Korea should prove incapable and untrustworthy, by strongly arming and governing Korea as if she were a part of the Japanese Empire. I have presented four possible interpretations---two for the economic and two for the political side---of the so-called "reform" of Korea under Japan's advice and assistance. The practical divergence of policy according as to which forms the guiding principle of reform would in the long run be tremendous. Did Japan start with any definite principle of reform, or did she not commit herself to any principle but leave much to be decided by the future course of events. The record of the past twenty months does not fully enable us to answer this question. I shall merely enumerate some of the things already done, which will show you how delicate and complex the question is, and how full of besetting temptations Japan's task is.