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Pacific Strife

Pacific Strife: The Great Powers and their Political and Economic Rivalries in Asia and the Western Pacific 1870-1914

Kees van Dijk
Series Editor Tak-Wing Ngo
Series: Global Asia
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 568
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  • Book Info
    Pacific Strife
    Book Description:

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s, colonial powers clashed over much of Central and East Asia: Great Britain and Germany fought over New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, Fiji, and Samoa; France and Great Britain competed over control of continental Southwest Asia; and the United States annexed the Philippines and Hawaii. Meanwhile, the possible disintegration of China and Japan's growing nationalism added new dimensions to the rivalries.Surveying these and other international developments in the Pacific basin during the three decades preceding World War I, Kees van Dijk traces the emergence of superpowers during the colonial race and analyzes their conduct as they struggled for territory. Extensive in scope,Pacific Strifeis a fascinating look at a volatile moment in history.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1619-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. 9-12)

    This book grew out of another one:The Netherlands Indies and the Great War. Writing it made me realise how much international developments in the Pacific in the previous decades had shaped Dutch anxieties about the Netherlands being able to hold on to its colony in the East. The conduct of the mighty colonial powers of those days, quarrelling over acquiring new territory and trying to expand their spheres of influence, made the Dutch position in what the Dutch considered their colony and their sphere of influence in Southeast Asia appear far from safe. The feeling was that the powers...

  4. 1 Steam and Istmus Canals
    (pp. 13-20)

    On 17 November 1869 the French Imperial steam yacht,L’Aigle, leading a procession of ships, was the first vessel to sail the Suez Canal. On board was Eugénie, Empress of France, wife of Napoleon III. The naval pageant was the climax of days of festivities celebrating the opening of the canal. There were balls, fireworks and public entertainment on a grand scale, while the streets of Alexandria were decorated with flags and arches. At night lighted torches on roofs illuminated the city. In the harbour the men-of-war and merchantmen displayed coloured lanterns. The host was Ismail, the Khedive of semi-independent...

  5. 2 Rivalries in the Western Pacific
    (pp. 21-42)

    Between 1870 and 1914 six countries became involved in competition over economic and political influence in the Western Pacific. Three of them were old established colonial powers: Great Britain, France and Russia. The others were relative newcomers: the United States of America, Germany and Japan. The United States had entered the scene after Great Britain had recognised its independence in 1783. Germany and Japan gained economic prominence, which allowed them to look for overseas expansion, only in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. It was Germany, with its ambition to become a world power, complete with a mighty commercial...

  6. 3 Planters, Traders and Labour in the South Pacific
    (pp. 43-62)

    In July 1879, the Dutch Consul General for Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania informed his Minister of Foreign Affairs in The Hague about a treaty just concluded between the German Empire and Samoa. With the French in New Caledonia, the British in Fiji and the Germans having obtained for the first time a firm footing in Polynesia, he concluded that a miniature Europe was taking shape in the Pacific.¹ He wrote about developments in the South Pacific in which the lead in European expansion had been taken by adventurers, enterprising individuals and commercial firms, turning to their respective governments to...

  7. 4 Fiji: The Start of Anglo-German Rivalry in the Pacific
    (pp. 63-80)

    By the 1870s an explosive situation had emerged in a number of places in the Western Pacific. In some island groups, Fiji, Samoa and the New Hebrides, a combination of incessant factional strife amongst the Islanders and ruthless competition within the foreign community had created a situation hardly conducive to estate agriculture and trade. As was not uncommon, also elsewhere in the Pacific, a weaker party in a domestic war or threatened by outside forces might, of its own free will or urged by foreigners to do so, turn to European nations and the United States, offering sovereignty in return...

  8. 5 The Samoa Conflict
    (pp. 81-96)

    Shortly after the problems over land titles and loans on Fiji had arisen, the German and British Empires fell out over control over Samoa, an island group much smaller than Fiji, and which in those days was about three days’ steaming away. In Samoa missionaries had already done their work. Since the 1830s two Protestant missionary societies had been active on the islands: the London Missionary Society and the Methodist Wesleyan Missionary Society. In the mid-1840s, the French Roman Catholic Marist Brothers had joined the fray, but Protestantism remained the dominant religion among the Samoans. By 1850 almost all Samoans...

  9. 6 Germany Enters the Colonial Race
    (pp. 97-120)

    In November 1882, a Bremen merchant and tobacco trader, F.A.E. Lüderitz, informed the German Foreign Office of his intention to purchase land and establish a trading post in South West Africa. By selecting a spot just outside British territory he could circumvent British import duties on his merchandise, which he stressed would all be of German make. Eventually, he might even exploit the copper and silver fields in the interior. Lüderitz foresaw one problem: if he carried through his plans the British would not hesitate – as they had done at the Gold Coast – to take possession of any...

  10. 7 The New Guinea Protectorates
    (pp. 121-146)

    Detecting a new mood in Berlin the New Guinea Consortium – which had been renamed Neu-Guinea-Compagnie in May 1884 and which, setting earlier reservations aside, Robertson & Hernsheim had joined – renewed its contacts with the German government. On 27 June 1884 Hansemann and Bleichröder informed Bismarck by letter that the preparations to establish themselves in New Guinea, which had been temporarily shelved because of the Queensland annexation of April 1883, had been resumed. Dr Otto Finsch, an explorer, zoologist and ethnographer, had been taken into the company’s employ. Finsch was an old friend of the Godeffroy firm. In 1880 he...

  11. 8 Great Britain, Russia and the Central Asian Question
    (pp. 147-160)

    In early 1885, when London and Berlin were negotiating a solution for their dispute over New Guinea, Great Britain experienced one of its many political scares. The panic was occasioned by developments in Central Asia, a part of the world where Russia and Great Britain were engaged in an almost century-old imperialist rivalry. Though a fair distance away from the Pacific, the real and imagined conflicts in Central Asia would weigh heavily on the relations between the powers in the Pacific and in Europe. Russia and Great Britain were the main actors, but the proximity to Afghanistan, and thus to...

  12. 9 Samoa Remains a Source of International Tension
    (pp. 161-176)

    With the proclamation of the protectorate over Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land and adjacent island groups, the German territorial expansion in the South Pacific had almost come to a halt. Only Germany’s position in Samoa remained unsettled. There the relationship between the three main foreign competitors, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, continued to be an uneasy one. Economic rivalry, political strife and nationalist emotions, all played a role. About the German community Robert Louis Stevenson (1892: 34) noted, ‘Patriotism flies in arms about a hen; and if you comment upon the colour of a Dutch umbrella, you have cast a stone against...

  13. 10 The Emerging Economic World Powers
    (pp. 177-200)

    A frequent lament in Great Britain in the 1890s was that, in the past, the British had virtually monopolised China trade and that now others were demanding their share. British business circles bewailed the progress other nations were making and were inclined to accuse the British government of apathy, of not doing enough to promote and protect British commerce in the Far East. Sometimes such observations went hand in hand with complaints about trade protectionism by other powers in their colonies and protectorates and the subsidies that foreign governments, those of France, Germany and Japan, gave to railways, shipbuilding and...

  14. 11 Great Britain, France and Southeast Asia
    (pp. 201-226)

    To the north, in continental Southeast Asia, lay another area of conflict between the European powers, in this case between France and Great Britain. France had acquired its first foothold in Indochina, or Further India as the British preferred to call it, in 1859. This happened after France, in a joint expedition with Spain, had ordered a fleet to Annam to punish that kingdom for the persecution of Roman Catholics converted by French and Spanish missionaries. In February 1859 Saigon (present-day Ho Chi Min City), according to the British author Norman (1884: 158) the ‘finest harbour’ in Annam, was occupied,...

  15. 12 The French Expansion Westwards into Southeast Asia
    (pp. 227-244)

    Later, proponents of an active French policy in Southeast Asia and China would deplore the fact that after establishing a protectorate over Tonkin France had lost interest in colonial expansion. Étienne (1897: 20) wrote about France having become ‘indifferent if not hostile for such a long time’ towards colonial adventures. Ferry (1890: 5), in his effort to defend his past policy, detected an ‘anticolonial monomania’ in France, while a Lyon trade mission to the south of China would deplore the almost complete lack of interest in and enthusiasm for French endeavours abroad (Chambre 1898a: 443).

    The reality was a little...

  16. 13 Russia, Japan and the Chinese Empire
    (pp. 245-266)

    In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the Chinese Empire became one of the prized targets in the race to carve out spheres of influence and expand colonial empires. China had, in practice, long been closed to maritime foreign trade, which between 1757 and 1842 had been confined to Guangzhou. In that year the treaty of Nanjing (Nanking), signed after Great Britain had defeated China in the First Opium War (1839-42), had forced China to open five treaty ports to British ships and traders and to cede Hong Kong to Great Britain; the latter much to the dismay of...

  17. 14 Thailand and Beyond
    (pp. 267-294)

    Just as today, around 1900 China’s immense population was looked upon in the West as a huge potential consumer market; making China a promising destination for exports and for money to invest; especially, some reasoned, after economic development would give rise to a large group of Chinese having money to spend (Chambre 1898a: 450-1). It was thought that building up an infrastructure, in particular the promised construction of railways, would produce big profits and would greatly facilitate trade. Foreigners were also eager to exploit China’s natural resources. One of the regions where competition between the powers became intense was southern...

  18. 15 The Scramble for China: The Bay of Jiaozhou and Port Arthur
    (pp. 295-316)

    In 1880 one of Japan’s senior military officers, if not the most important one, Yamagata Aritomo, called attention to the danger that the modernisation of the Chinese army and navy posed to Japan’s safety. At the same time, the fortifications built to defend Japan’s coast were not only intended as a deterrent against a Russian attack from the sea, but also against a Chinese invasion, should Japan and China become involved in a military conflict over Korea (Drea 2009: 52, 55). The might of China, which as Norman (1884: 259, 287-8) wrote, had ‘made great strides’ since 1860 ‘in what...

  19. 16 The British Reaction: Wei-Hai-Wei
    (pp. 317-336)

    On 9 January 1898 the British Cabinet met to discuss the new, and as people did not fail to mention, novel, unanticipated situation in northeast Asia. It was decided that Great Britain would not seek territorial expansion, unless it was forced to do so by circumstances. The prospect of occupying part of China did not appeal to the British government. It carried with it, Balfour would say in the House of Commons repeating the familiar argument, the ‘unmixed evil’ of ‘responsibility for populations not always very easy to deal with’.¹ What London did was to suggest, still in January, a...

  20. 17 The Scramble for China Continues: Guangzhouwan and Tibet
    (pp. 337-358)

    France became a full partner in all of this, guarding and expanding its interest in southern China. In early 1897, when the Anglo-Chinese Agreement of February of that year was finalised, it gained a guarantee from China that the island of Hainan (which, some had speculated at the time of the Sino-French War of 1884-85, the French would claim after victory) and its adjacent coast would not be ceded or leased to another power; a promise that was not put into writing, probably to prevent other powers from coming to similar arrangements (Scott 1885: 329; Chandran 1977: 260). The following...

  21. 18 The Failed Annexation of Hawaii
    (pp. 359-380)

    In 1842 the American President Tyler had cautioned his countrymen not to expect too much of the opening of China: ‘[T]he cheapness of labor among the Chinese, their ingenuity in its application, and the fixed character of their habits and pursuits may discourage the hope of the opening of any great and sudden demand for the fabrics of other countries’. But, he continued, Western products did ‘find a market to some extent among the Chinese’ (Tyler 1842). Americans had traded with China in Guangzhou, the country itself was among the first powers to enter into a treaty with China, and...

  22. 19 The United States Becomes a Colonial Empire
    (pp. 381-400)

    The campaign for the annexation of Hawaii gained new momentum after McKinley’s inauguration on 4 March 1897. One of his appointments (made at Lodge’s request), making Roosevelt Assistant Secretary of the Navy, would have far-reaching consequences. Roosevelt, an early advocate of the annexation of Hawaii and much more resolute than his chief, Navy Secretary John D. Long, would make a significant contribution to the aggressive turn American foreign policy would take. In Hawaii circumstances had also changed. There, Harold M. Sewall, a ‘Cleveland appointee’, had taken the place of the deceased Willis as American ambassador. Sewall was as much an...

  23. 20 The Partition of Samoa
    (pp. 401-416)

    The American Empire was not yet complete. There was still another flashpoint in the Pacific: Samoa. Peace, if one might call it so, had not lasted long in Samoa and the archipelago once more became a focus of intense international rivalries and unpleasantness at the end of the 1890s. This time the British and Americans were the aggressors, but the Germans with their newWeltpolitikwere equally belligerent. Some were convinced that the previous deal had been to the detriment of their country. Or, as Rear Admiral Diederichs wrote to his wife, ‘we bear the costs and others earn the...

  24. 21 The Russo-Japanese War
    (pp. 417-438)

    After the Boxer Rebellion and the progress Russia had made in Manchuria, Great Britain briefly saw in Germany a partner in trying to prevent the partition of China and to halt a Russian expansion in Asia. Such a pact would have had the additional advantage that Great Britain would have found a European ally that could put pressure on the Russian western frontier; thus pinning down troops there that otherwise could be deployed for a further Russian military advance in northern China and along the frontiers of Afghanistan.

    In London one of the people looking for a rapprochement with Berlin...

  25. 22 Great Britain’s Search for Secure Colonial Frontiers
    (pp. 439-462)

    On 12 August 1905, two years before it was to expire and about a month before St Petersburg and Tokyo signed their peace treaty, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 was adjusted. This time, with the British not ruling out a Russian revenge attack elsewhere to make up for its reversals in Manchuria, India was included in its scope. The preamble mentioned as one of the objectives of the renewal the ‘consolidation and maintenance of the general peace in the regions of Eastern Asia and India’. Article IV noted that Great Britain had ‘a special interest in all that concerns the...

  26. 23 The United States, Japan and the Pacific Ocean
    (pp. 463-488)

    On 29 July 1905, just before the start of the Russo-Japanese peace negotiations, American Secretary of War William H. Taft and Japanese Prime Minister Katsura Taro signed a secret memorandum in Japan in which Washington recognised Japanese control over Korea and Tokyo that of the United States over the Philippines (an easier target of a Japanese attack than Hawaii). In doing so, Washington conveniently forgot that the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation that it had concluded with Korea in 1882 held the mutual obligation to mediate and ‘bring about an amicable arrangement’ should ‘other Powers deal unjustly or...

  27. 24 Epilogue
    (pp. 489-498)

    The Anglo-Russian Convention did not bring the British government what it had hoped. One setback was that as a follow-up to a meeting in Potsdam between Nicholas II and Wilhelm II in November 1910, the Potsdam Agreement was signed in St Petersburg on 19 August 1911. Germany and Russia had come to an understanding on the construction of a railway from Baghdad to Khanikin on the Ottoman-Persian border and from there to Tehran, giving Russia a rail link with the Baghdad Railway and providing Germany access to north Persia. In the eyes of contemporaries and later historians, Potsdam caused the...

  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 499-510)
  29. Index
    (pp. 511-520)
  30. List of Treaties, Agreements and Joint Statements mentioned
    (pp. 521-524)
  31. Back Matter
    (pp. 525-526)