Anglo-Japanese Treaty Brings Japan into World Markets Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1902 ended Great Britain’s “splendid isolation” and brought Japan into the circle of great world powers.

Summary of Event

The Anglo-Japanese Treaty was signed on January 30, 1902, by Lord Lansdowne, the British foreign secretary, and Hayashi Tadasu, the Japanese minister to Great Britain. The treaty raised Japan from a second-class to a first-class world power and signaled the end of Great Britain’s uncontested dominance of the industrial world and world trade. Anglo-Japanese Treaty (1902)[Anglojapanese Treaty] Diplomacy;Great Britain Diplomacy;Japan [kw]Anglo-Japanese Treaty Brings Japan into World Markets (Jan. 30, 1902)[Anglo Japanese Treaty Brings Japan into World Markets (Jan. 30, 1902)] [kw]Treaty Brings Japan into World Markets, Anglo-Japanese (Jan. 30, 1902) [kw]Japan into World Markets, Anglo-Japanese Treaty Brings (Jan. 30, 1902) [kw]Markets, Anglo-Japanese Treaty Brings Japan into World (Jan. 30, 1902) Anglo-Japanese Treaty (1902)[Anglojapanese Treaty] Diplomacy;Great Britain Diplomacy;Japan [g]England;Jan. 30, 1902: Anglo-Japanese Treaty Brings Japan into World Markets[00400] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 30, 1902: Anglo-Japanese Treaty Brings Japan into World Markets[00400] [c]Trade and commerce;Jan. 30, 1902: Anglo-Japanese Treaty Brings Japan into World Markets[00400] Bertie, Sir Francis Salisbury, third marquis of (Robert Cecil) Lansdowne, Lord (Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice) Hayashi Tadasu Katsura Tar{omacr} Komura Jutar{omacr}

As the major European powers and the United States became increasingly industrialized in the latter half of the nineteenth century, their governments were spurred to search for, and secure, foreign markets for the goods pouring out of the new factories. The Far East was an area of particular attraction for both Great Britain and the United States. Since midcentury, both had been building commercial contacts and outlets, first in China, then later in Japan.

China in particular was ripe for plucking. After the British had forced their way in, in the 1840’s, they continued to expand their influence. They had already acquired Hong Kong in 1842, and they established trading centers in many other cities of China. Badly misgoverned, China was unable to withstand the demands for special status and favorable trade opportunities.

Japan, although it had resisted contact with the West, was finally opened to Western influence by the naval expeditions of Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1853 and 1854. In 1858, in the Edo Treaty, Japan extended trading privileges to a number of Western nations, along with some special privileges common in the Far East, particularly extraterritoriality, or the right of foreign nationals to be tried for criminal offenses by their own consular officials, not in courts of the land where the alleged offenses occurred.

Japan experienced rapid Westernization during the Meiji era, Japan;Meiji era beginning in 1868 and extending into the twentieth century. At the same time, Japan began to build a modern military machine, particularly a navy, about which the country sought British advice. Most of the ships added to the growing Japanese navy between 1870 and 1900 were built in British shipyards. The leading Japanese naval officers were sent to Great Britain for training, and British naval practice became the standard in the new Japanese navy.

A mark of Japan’s modernization was a commercial treaty signed by Great Britain and Japan in 1894. This treaty provided for the ending of extraterritoriality for British subjects in 1899 (a major aim of the Japanese, for they regarded the concession of extraterritoriality as a mark of inferiority) and made possible the introduction of a modern ad valorem customs tariff, similar to that in use in Great Britain and other major industrial powers.

Japan signaled its arrival on the world scene by invading China in 1894. Its modernized army quickly overwhelmed the backward Chinese, conquering both Korea (which previously had been a Chinese protectorate) and parts of Manchuria as well as seizing Port Arthur. The Chinese sued for peace and concluded the Treaty of Shimonoseki Shimonoseki, Treaty of (1895) with Japan in 1895. The European powers intervened to force Japan to give up some of its gains; they were anxious to preserve unrestricted trade access to all of China. This access was enshrined in the famous “open door” policy Open door policy (U.S. toward China) of the United States toward China, announced in 1899; all the other Great Powers nominally agreed to it.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Great Britain was becoming increasingly conscious of its isolated state. Most of the European powers now had large industrial sectors of their own and competed with Great Britain for marketing outlets in what is now called the Third World. Great Britain was not seriously in competition with Japan. Great Britain was the major European nation trading with China and was anxious to preserve access to that market, but the possibility of an alliance with Japan began to look increasingly attractive as Great Britain found itself overstretched, particularly in naval strength. An alliance with Japan would enable significant elements of the British navy kept in the Far East to be returned to the European theater.

There were advantages for Japan, too, in a close alliance with Great Britain. For one thing, it would assure Japan of access to British financial markets, a particularly important consideration at the turn of the century, because Japan’s successful war with China had almost totally depleted military and naval supplies, and the country would need outside financing to rebuild its military and naval resources. Many Japanese saw Japan as the Pacific counterpart of Great Britain, an island nation protected from invasion by the surrounding sea but needing the nearby continent for the natural resources largely lacking on the island. Of particular importance to Japan was Korea. Although Japan had secured recognition of its predominant influence there (Korea was nominally independent), it feared Russian desires. Above all, however, Japan wanted to join the “club” of the world’s Great Powers.

Japan and Great Britain carried on an elaborate courtship. Circumstances in Japan were favorable. Both Prime Minister Katsura Tarō and Foreign Minister Komura Jutarō favored such a relationship. The Katsura government had just come to power, and the successful conclusion of an agreement with the world’s leading industrial nation would be a tremendous feather in its cap. Moreover, the Japanese minister in London, Hayashi, was also an ardent advocate of such an alignment. In mid-April, Hayashi telegraphed to his government the outlines of an agreement as he saw it. It would include joint recognition of the “open door” in China, freedom of action for Japan in Korea, and military alliance. Should one party to the agreement become involved in war with a third power, the other power would remain benevolently neutral; but if one party should become involved in war with two other powers at the same time, the other party would come to the aid of its ally. The agreement would be confined to the Far East.

In Great Britain, the idea of an alliance with Japan met with a favorable reception in two quarters. The British naval leaders, who had long advocated that Great Britain should maintain a navy equal in strength to that of any two other navies, were finding this a costly program. If they could secure naval protection in the Far East by an alliance, much of the British navy stationed there could be reassigned to Europe, where the buildup of the German navy was causing increasing concern. The idea of an Anglo-Japanese alliance also found a fervent supporter in one of the leading permanent officials of the Foreign Office, Sir Francis Bertie. In July, 1901, Bertie prepared a memorandum in which he outlined the advantages to Great Britain in such an alliance. It would forestall any agreement between the Japanese and the Russians for dividing up northern China between themselves. Great Britain could offer naval support to Japan to help protect its dominant position in Korea, and with British support Japan’s navy would far outrank the growing Russian naval presence in the Far East. In return, the Japanese would recognize Great Britain’s paramount commercial interest in the Yangtze Valley of China as well as in southern China; that is, Hong Kong and the adjacent mainland.

Although the British doubted at first that the benefits to them of such an alliance would make it worthwhile, by November the notion was beginning to look more attractive. Lord Lansdowne had secured the approval of the prime minister, the third marquis of Salisbury, in October. In November, serious negotiations between Lord Lansdowne and Hayashi began. Great Britain added to the items under discussion a proposal that both navies would cooperate in providing dockyard and coaling facilities for each other.

In the end, the public clauses of the treaty were rather general. Both parties agreed to maintain the status quo in the Far East. Both parties recognized the territorial integrity of both China and Korea. Great Britain recognized Japan’s special position in Korea, and Japan recognized Great Britain’s special position in the Yangtze Valley. Each party acknowledged the other’s right to act should public tranquillity in either area be threatened. Should either party become involved in war with a third power, the other party agreed to remain neutral.

The treaty, to last for five years, was signed on January 30, 1902. No ratifications were required, and the treaty became operative immediately. After five years, the treaty would continue, but each signatory would be entitled to terminate it on one year’s notice. Diplomatic notes were exchanged, providing for close naval collaboration.

Although a few carping criticisms appeared in the British press when the alliance became public in February, generally the British press reacted favorably to the treaty. For the Japanese government, it was a triumph to be trumpeted. The favorable Japanese public reaction helped substantially to give the Katsura government an unusually long lease on power.


Although the treaty resulted in no immediate and obvious business and commercial advantages, in a larger sense the pact had extensive long-range effects. The alliance had one important financial consequence: It made it much easier for the Japanese government, and for private businesses as well, to borrow money in Great Britain. There was still much to be done in rebuilding Japan’s military and naval resources, depleted by the war with China in 1894-1895, and a conflict with Russia over dominance in Korea and Manchuria was looming.

The alliance had commercial advantages for the Japanese in the Far East as well. Japanese businesses were encouraged to develop the Korean market, and many Japanese emigrated to Korea, largely in connection with Japanese enterprises there. By 1903, thirty thousand Japanese were living in southern Korea. Japanese nationals had acquired numerous parcels of important waterfront real estate in Korea, although mostly as part of a Japanese government initiative to deny them to Russia, which sought land in Korea for a warm-water naval base.

For Great Britain, the advantages were less obvious. To be sure, the fact that the Japanese and British fleets would now work together in the Far East meant that less money would have to be spent on maintaining a full-scale British naval presence there; that in turn would mean lower taxes. The British commercial presence in China was also now more secure; given that Great Britain had a larger trade with China than did all other foreign countries combined, that was a significant advantage. British firms in Hong Kong and Shanghai could look forward to the future with confidence. The risk that other European powers would challenge their dominance in the Yangtze Valley was effectively removed.

The alliance was more important for what it did to the constellation of world powers. It made it possible for the Japanese to challenge, and defeat, the Russians in the Far East in three short years, without fear of intervention by another Great Power, because such action would have triggered British intervention on Japan’s side under the terms of the treaty. Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)[Russojapanese War] Even though the mediation of President Theodore Roosevelt prevented the Japanese from reaping all the fruits of their victory, no one could now doubt that Japan was indeed a Great Power.

The alliance was revised in the light of the Japanese victory over Russia. In 1905, a new, more extensive agreement was signed. Japan sought a tighter guarantee, fearing that Russia would seek revenge for its defeat. Great Britain, fearful that Russia would turn its expansive tendencies southward, toward Afghanistan and India, looked for an expansion of the Japanese commitment. Although the Japanese declined to be bound to provide a specific number of troops in the event India was attacked (in retrospect, many British military experts concluded that using Japanese troops in India would not be a good idea anyway), the area covered by the treaty was extended to include India, not only the Far East. Japan received Korea, in effect, as a colony. Each party agreed to assist the other were either of them attacked in the area of interest defined by the treaty, thus binding the two nations more closely in the event of war than had the treaty of 1902. This latter treaty was extended in 1911, continued automatically during World War I, and terminated in 1923 only as a result of the Washington Naval Conference in 1921. Anglo-Japanese Treaty (1902)[Anglojapanese Treaty] Diplomacy;Great Britain Diplomacy;Japan

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dennis, A. L. P. “The Anglo-Japanese Alliance.” In University of California Publications in International Relations, edited by Edwin Landon and Frank M. Russell. Vol. 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1934. Presents a relatively brief account of the specifics of the negotiations leading up to the signing of the treaty, based on published sources only.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Monger, G. W. “The End of Isolation: Britain, Germany, and Japan, 1900-1902.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser. 13 (1963): 103-121. Offers a brief summary of the events surrounding the treaty. For more extensive coverage, see the same author’s book, cited below.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The End of Isolation: British Foreign Policy, 1900-1907. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1963. Devotes a full chapter to the Anglo-Japanese Treaty and the alliance. Account is based on access to the British diplomatic records as well as on published sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nish, Ian. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance: The Diplomacy of Two Island Empires, 1948-1907. 2d ed. London: Athlone Press, 1985. Excellent work on the Anglo-Japanese alliance is based not only on British diplomatic records but also on Japanese records. Covers the period from 1894, the date of the Treaty of Commerce, to 1907, which saw the end of the Russo-Japanese War and the completion of the second Anglo-Japanese Treaty. Treats all the negotiations in exhaustive detail.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nish, Ian, and Yoichi Kibata, eds. The Political-Diplomatic Dimension, 1600-1930. Vol. 1 in The History of Anglo-Japanese Relations, 1600-2000. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. Collection of essays provides comprehensive coverage of diplomatic relations between Great Britain and Japan from the time of earliest contact between the two nations. Includes index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Brien, Phillips, ed. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-1922. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. Collection of essays on various aspects of Anglo-Japanese relations in the period directly following the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty. Includes index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steiner, Zara. “Great Britain and the Creation of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.” Journal of Modern History 31 (1959): 27-36. Straightforward account based only on British sources.

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