Created on: January 19, 2013 Last Updated: January 21, 2013
Fighting in the Far East represented just a small part of the experience of the Great War, but like the other theaters of war, it carried powerful consequences in the long term. Perhaps the most significant consequences in the Far East stem from the involvement of the Empire of Japan, which joined the Allied cause in August 1914. Japanese contributions to the war effort were limited, but effective.
In a time when most of the countries of the Far East, including China, were the subjects of colonial activity, Japan made itself a colonial power. The nineteenth-century visit from the American fleet showed Japan that it could no longer afford to remain aloof from the outside world. The country dedicated itself to the task of modernizing its society and increasing its international power, and nothing demonstrated its success like the stunning defeat Japan inflicted on Russia in 1905. This was not, however, the first acknowledgment of the growth of Japanese power; in 1902, Great Britain concluded an alliance with Japan to guarantee support against possible Russian aggression.
Subsequent diplomacy removed the threat of a Russian attack on British holdings, but Japan proceeded with a war against Russia on its own behalf. The effort earned the Japanese high respect in the rest of the world for the quality of their military, especially their navy, as well as the foundations of an empire of their own. They had already controlled the Korean peninsula; after the war with Russia, they added to this the territory of Manchuria. The Japanese were keen to extend this empire.
The arrival of World War I offered the prospect of doing so. War with Germany offered the prospect of modest reward with minimal risk. Siding with the Allies meant cordial relations with all of Japan’s immediate neighbors, including the other colonial powers. The Germans had a notable concession in China (Kiaochow Province) and a number of Pacific islands, and Japan hoped to benefit from the availability of poorly-guarded territory. The western powers, including the neutral United States, were unhappy at the prospect of seeing Japan gain too much, but Britain felt constrained by circumstances to accept that risk. Most importantly, the balance of naval power in the Far East was too close for Britain’s comfort. German naval strength was too near Britain’s own strength, and the support of a powerful navy was quite desirable.
Specifically, Britain cultivated Japanese intervention over Germany’s
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