Relations with Japan

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An American diplomatic mission to China in 1843 produced a treaty guaranteeing the position of the United States with regard to trade with China. In Japan, however, the feudal leaders were not easily persuaded to allow foreign influences that might threaten their traditional system.

In 1852, concerns about American sailors shipwrecked near the Japanese coast, combined with an interest in bringing about a commercial trade, motivated the United States to pursue amicable relations with that country. President Millard Fillmore sent a fleet of warships under the command of Admiral Matthew Perry to deliver a letter along with gifts to the emperor, with the aim of starting negotiations.

So rigid were the Japanese in forbidding foreign contact that they would not allow ships bringing their own citizens home to land. When Acting Secretary of State Conrad explained to Secretary of War Kennedy the nature of the mission to Japan, he provided the following example:

So rigorously is this system of exclusion carried out that foreign vessels are not permitted to enter their ports in distress, or even to do an act of kindness to their own people. In 1831, a Japanese junk was blown out to sea, and, after drifting for several months, was cast ashore near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. An American ship, the Morrison, undertook to carry the survivors of the crew back to their country, but, on reaching the bay of Yedo, she was fired into from the neighboring shore. She repaired to another part of the island and attempted to land, but, meeting with the same reception there, she returned to America with the Japanese on board.

When Perry`s fleet entered Tokyo harbor, the Japanese were so impressed with the display of force that they agreed to change their policy. A treaty with Japan was concluded on March 31, 1854.

Japanese immigrants to the United States following the Civil War were hard-working and successful, to a degree that elicited the resentment of native-born Americans. Tensions over Japanese immigration were eased with the Root-Takahira Agreement of 1907, which was a "gentlemen`s agreement" to abate the flow of immigrants to the western United States.

An aspect of the agreement that was not immediately recognized was the significance of acknowledging Japan`s annexation of Korea and its influence over Manchuria. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japan had established its military superiority over the only other indigenous military power of consequence. Following World War I, its ambitions increased, provoking the Manchurian crisis. Fighting involving soldiers of China and Japan began July 1937. On October 6, 1938, the United States joined the League of Nations in declaring Japan to be the aggressor. Japan replied that a new situation had ended the former "Open Door Policy."

The United States was not prepared to see its rights in China diminished, and so on December 31, 1938, Joseph C. Grew, the American ambassador to Japan, delivered a note to the Japanese government:

The admonition that enjoyment by the nationals of the United States of non-discriminatory treatment in China-a general and well established right-is henceforth to be contingent upon an admission by the Government of the United States of the validity of the conception of Japanese authorities of a "new situation" and a "new order" in East Asia, is, in the opinion of this Government, highly paradoxical.

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