Taft and the Far East

President Taft’s aims in the Far East were to protect the territorial integrity of China and to promote the Open Door policy. Underpinning those aims was a desire to advance American business interests; an altruistic concern for the Chinese was secondary, at best.

Taft’s desire to see American entrepreneurs competing against the British and others in China, did not elicit much support in the business community, whose leaders saw the markets as distant and the risks immense.

In 1911 Taft, aided by the persistent Secretary of State Philander C. Knox, arm-twisted J.P. Morgan into heading a consortium of investors to assist in the construction of a railroad in central and southern China. Britain, Germany and France were the other partners and deeply resented the Americans' late-blooming interest.

A second railroad venture also resulted in frayed feelings. Theodore Roosevelt had worked to quiet tensions with the Japanese by informally acknowledging their position in Manchuria. Both the Russians in the north and the Japanese in the south were actively building railroads.

Unlike the situation in central China, American businessmen wanted to be involved in Manchuria. Taft and Knox cooperated and went so far as to try to preempt the Japanese position; the Japanese were furious, believing that they had earned their rights in the area through their victory in the Russo-Japanese War. This mishandled American plan soon collapsed.

Dollar diplomacy in the Far East was a Taft administration failure. In the effort to advance American interests, the United States managed to offend Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Russia.

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