Empire of Japan–Russian Empire relations

Empire of Japan–Russian Empire relations

The Relations between the Empire of Japan and the Russian Empire (1855-1922) were mostly hostile due to the conflicting territorial expansions of both empires. Diplomatic and commercial relations between the two empires were established from 1855 onwards. Though imperial control over Japan was not fully restored until 1867, Japan was at least in name under control of the Japanese emperor and as a consequence it is appropriate to speak of the "Empire of Japan". Though the Russian Empire officially ended in 1917, no successor state appeared until 1922: the Soviet Union. The relations between the two empires predate the Soviet-Japanese relations (1922-1991) and the Russo-Japanese relations (1991-present).

Establishment of relations (1855-1860)

Russia established diplomatic and commercial relations with Japan by three treaties between 1855 and 1858 (see Treaty of Shimoda, Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin and Admiral Ivan Unkovsky).

Apparently, these treaties were prompted by the forcible opening of Japan in 1854 by U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry.

Deteriorating relations and war (1860-1914)

Three changes have found place during the second half of the 19th century, which caused a gradual shift to hostility in the relations between the two countries. Firstly, while Russia had expanded to the shores of the Pacific since 1639, their position in the region had remained weak. This changed from 1860 onwards, as the Russian Empire by the Treaty of Peking acquired from China a long strip of Pacific coastline south of the mouth of the Amur and began to build the naval base of Vladivostok. As Vladivostok was not a ice-free port, the Russian Empire was still striving to obtain a more southern (thus Chinese) port. Secondly, Japan became an emerging industrial and military power since the opening in 1854. Thirdly, China became increasingly internally weak. Due to these changes, competition between the two empires for Chinese territory arose.

Treaty of Saint Petersburg

In 1875, the Treaty of Saint Petersburg gave Russia territorial control over all of Sakhalin and gave Japan the Kuril Islands. Japan hoped to prevent Russian expansionism in Japanese territories by clearly delineating the border between the two empires.

The First Sino-Japanese War

Japan defeated China in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). After this war Russia faced the choice of collaborating with Japan (with which relations had been fairly good for some years) at the expense of China or assuming the role of protector of China against Japan. The tsar chose the second policy, largely under the influence of Count Witte. Russia as one of the three European powers of the Triple Intervention (France and Germany were the other two) pressured Japan to give up some of its territorial gains from that war. Japan eventually ceded the Liaotung Peninsula and Port Arthur (both territories were located in south-eastern Manchuria, a Chinese province) back to China.

Much to Japan's astonishment and consternation, Russia then concluded an alliance with China (in 1896 by the Li-Lobanov Treaty), which led in 1898 to an occupation and administration (by Russian personnel and police) of the entire Liaodong Peninsula and to a fortification of the ice-free Port Arthur. Russia also established the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railway, which was to cross northern Manchuria from west to east, linking Siberia with Vladivostok. Germany, France and even Great Britain also took advantage of the weakened China to seize port cities on various pretexts, and to expand their spheres of influence. When in 1899 the Boxer Rebellion broke out and the European powers sent armed forces to relieve their diplomatic missions in Peking, the Russian government used this as an opportunity to bring a substantial army into Manchuria. As a consequence, Manchuria became a fully incorporated outpost of the Russian Empire in 1900.

Japanese containment of Russia

In 1902 Japan and the British Empire forged the Anglo-Japanese alliance, which would last until 1923. The purpose of this alliance was to contain the Russian Empire in East-Asia. In response to this alliance, Russia formed a similar alliance with France and began to reneg on agreements to reduce troop strength in Manchuria. From Russian perspective, it seemed inconceivable that Japan, a non-European power which was considered to be undeveloped (i.e. not-industrial), and almost bereft of natural resources, would challenge the Russian Empire. This view would change when Japan started and won the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05).

The war was ended by the Treaty of Portsmouth. Both Japan and Russia agreed to evacuate Manchuria and return its sovereignty to China, but Japan was leased the Liaodong Peninsula (containing Port Arthur and Talien) and the Russian rail system in southern Manchuria with access to strategic resources. Japan also received the southern half of the Island of Sakhalin from Russia.

The alliance with Britain had served Japan greatly by discouraging France, Russia's European ally, from intervening in the war as this would mean war with Great Britain. (If France would have intervened, it would have been the second hostile Power which would trigger article 3 of the Treaty.) The alliance was renewed and strengthened in 1905 and 1911. The treaty expired in 1921 and was officially terminated in 1923.

World War I (1914-1917)

The alliance with Britain prompted Japan to enter World War I on the British (and thus Russian) side. Since Japan and Russia were allies by convenience, Japan sold a couple Russian ships, which Japan had captured during the Russo-Japanese War, back to her.

Russian Civil War (1917-1922)

During the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), Japan occupied Vladivostok as an Allied Interventionist Force.

ee also


*Russian history, 1855-1892
*Russian history, 1892-1917
*Sino-Russian relations
*Russo-United States relations


*Anglo-Japanese relations
*Sino-Japanese relations
*American-Japanese relations

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