Japan had few raw materials, so it was forced to import raw materials from elsewhere in Asia. Industrialization enabled Japan to dominate the sale of manufactured goods, especially textiles, to nearby countries. Japan was determined to establish itself as a great nation, free of the Western domination plaguing China. One of the Meiji leaders said: “We would do better to treat China and Korea in the same way as do the Western nations.”
Japan’s military benefited from both rapid industrialization and from its geography as an island nation. China, its natural rival, was crippled by Western intervention. Japan had another geographic advantage over Europe and the US, since it was closer to Asian targets of imperialism.
Japan viewed itself as a land favored by the Gods, a land that others should recognize as superior. This view led to conflict with Korea. In 1868 Japan sent Korea an announcement of the Meiji restoration. The message implied that Japan's monarch was superior in status to Korea's monarch. The Koreans rejected the announcement. Japan felt insulted by the response, and diplomatic exchanges failed to calm the situation.
In the 1870s, the Japanese navy attacked Korea to prove its military superiority. In 1876 Korea signed a treaty with Japan, granting the Japanese in Korea exemption from the jurisdiction of local law, exemption from tariffs, and recognition of Japanese currency at ports of trade.
In 1878 a branch of a Japanese bank was established in Korea, encouraging more Japanese merchants to do business in Korea.
By the 1890s, Japan was weighing expansion into Russia. Japan's military strategists viewed Korea as a zone of defense. In 1894, a peasant and anti-foreign uprising occurred in southern Korea. Korea's king called on China for help in suppressing the riots. Japan objected, claiming that this violated an earlier agreement. Patriotic activists claimed that Japan's national honor was at stake. Japanese soldiers took control of Korea's royal palace. By the end of September, 1894, Japan's army was in control of most of Korea. The Japanese forced out of Korea's government those who favored China.
Japanese army divisions marched across Korea into China. China's outdated military was overwhelmed by Japan's modern forces. China ceded territory to Japan, including the island of Taiwan. China permitted the Japanese to live and trade there.
A group of leading Taiwanese, aided by rebellious Chinese officials, defied the Japanese and declared Taiwan a republic. Japan sent in troops, and Taiwan became part of the Japanese empire.
Power brought Japan respect from Britain, which signed a commercial and navigation treaty with Japan. Other nations soon signed treaties with Japan as well.
Britain viewed Japanese imperialism as a defense against Russian expansion. The US government supported Japan, while France and Germany supported Russia.
Pressure from Russia, France, and Germany resulted in Japan returning its Chinese territories to China, but other countries claimed some Chinese land. For example, Britain leased Hong Kong for 99 years.
Russia sent a military mission to Korea. In 1898, Russia and Japan agreed to refrain from interference in Korean politics and to consult with each other before sending military or financial advisors to Korea.
Source: Imperialism to 1900
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