The Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905) was a military conflict that had its origin in Japanese and Russian competition over the Korean peninsula.
In the late 1800 hundreds many western nation competed over the wealth in Asia. At the same time as Japan made remarkable effort to become a modern state. Japan was eager to release herself from the unequal treaties imposed by the western powers in order to become an equally as strong player on the world stage. Japan had reasons to occupy Korea which led her into war and victory against China in 1885. As a result China handed over control over Korea and numerous other territories to Japan. International pressure forced Japan to give back Port Arthur to China which later fell in Russian hands. Russia had large military and political presence in Manchuria and parts of Korea, and they increased their military during the boxer rebellion much too Japanese protests. Both sides used diplomatic efforts as to reach an agreement on how to end the Korea questions and the arousing tensions. But all diplomatic relation was broken off by Japan in February 1904, shortly after the Japanese launched an attack against the Russians at Port Arthur. The Japanese forces defeated the Russian in the war, making Japan the first Asian country that had ever defeated a western nation in war.
In 1853 the Commodore Matthew Perry reached Uraga in Japan on orders by the American President to open up Japan for trade. This resulted in the end of to Tokugawa and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. What was to follow was a rapid modernisation and industrialisation of Japan never before seen in history. Japans effort to strengthen itself was to gain international recognition in order to remain independent and to abolish the unequal treaties imposed by Commodore Perry. In doing so Japan managed to instead of being subject to colonisation to become a coloniser herself. This development is explained by Jansen that Japan was threatened on all sides by approaching colonisers and Japan had to join the colonisers to secure its own independence. In addition, social Darwinism had in the 19th century emerged as philosophy and Japans ambitions were to climb on the evolutionary ladder to secure its independence. Imperialism were to be the next natural step for Japan to gain access to the resources for the benefit of Japan and therefore begun its expansion on the Asian mainland. In 1894 the Japanese cabinet added as a policy that the acquirement of foreign territory was necessary to keep its independence, the year after Japan attacked China with the excuse to secure Korea’s independence.
The conflict between Russia and Japan can be said to have its roots in the Sino Japanese war. Civil unrest in Korea between rival parties in 1894 supporting either Japan or China forced the Chinese and Japanese authorities to send military reinforcements. Consequently the tension escalated and a declaration of war was made on August 1st. China, now a weak country after being exploited by western powers could not defend herself against the modern Japanese army and it took only until November before the Chinese was driven out of Korea. As a result of the Japanese victory and the signing of the treaty of Shimonseki Japan gained full control over Korea, the Liatong peninsula with Port Arthur, Taiwan, Pescadores islands, the opening of treaty ports, and a war indemnity of 500 million yen. Japan had now joined the ranks of imperialist countries to the fully and they began to regard themselves as belonging to the privileged, civilized nations and should from now be treated according to her newly gained status. Japanese thrill of their victory was however to be short-lived when Russia supported by France and German (the triple intervention) pressured Japan to give up Liatong peninsula which Japan did on May 5th 1895. This was a devastating blow to the Japanese pride as well as the realisation that the western camp was to stand together against any Japanese expansion, especially obvious was this when Russia was granted a 25 year lease of the Liatong peninsula in 1898 where they intended to station its pacific fleet at the ice free Port Arthur. Russia was to appear as Chinas protector against further Japanese influence and on June 3 a treaty was signed to mutually defend each other against potential Japanese aggression.
Both Japan and Russia actively worked to establish spheres of influence. In Japans case priority laid in controlling Korea and Manchuria. The Japanese leadership desire to control Korea was seen as a security measure to defend the Japanese home islands. It was thought that if a foreign power was to gain control over Korea they would gain a strategic advantage over Japan, and Russia was seen as the greatest threat. Similarity, Russia was concerned about Japans expansion on the continent which they saw a threat to the poorly populated Siberia. Russia was rapidly on the move eastwards with the construction of the trans-Siberian railway which was to shake the balance of power in the region. On the economic stage, Russia managed in 1897 to open the Russo-Korean bank which and thus gained control over Koreas domestic finances, a further blow to Japanese attempts of power.
The Boxer rebellion in China in 1900 that caused several uprisings and terror against the colonisers was the effect of the long exploitation of China. They were given the name “Boxers” due to their affiliation with secret societies. This rebellion was to grow large and in 1901 the Boxers attacked and occupied foreign embassies in Beijing. As response and attempted to bring order the so called Eight-Nation alliance which included Russia and Japan was to deploy 20,000 troops in China. Russia took the opportunity to deploy troops in Manchuria to protect its interest there. These troops had been promised to be withdrawn as long there were no disruption, which gave the Russians legality not to take this promise to seriously. This was much disturbing for the Japanese who called for the Chinese to hasten the removal of the Russians from Southern Manchuria, an act that added further tension between the two Countries.
Ito Hirobumi, former Prime minister of Japan went in November 1901 to St Petersburg to mediate a treaty together with Russia. The proposed offer was that, if Japan recognises Russia’s presence in Manchuria Russia should in turn recognise Japans sole rights in Korea. This offer was known as the “Man-Kan Kokan”, simply meaning the exchange of Manchuria for Korea, but his suggestion was however to be declined by Russia. What the Russians weren’t aware of was that the Japanese minister in London, Count Hayashi had begun to negotiate a defensive pact with the British. The alliance that was made official in 1902 meant simply that if any of the two countries got engaged in war the other would remain neutral, but if a third party interfered in any conflict they was to aid each others. Russia could therefore not rely upon any assistance from it ally France in any possible conflict. This gave Japan the power and confidence they needed in the power-struggle against Russia. The Russians must have been very surprised and concerned over the Japanese diplomatic success in Britain.
In the summer 1903 negotiations resumed about the question of Manchuria. Japan now backed by its alliance with Britain was now in a much more favourable position and this was noticeable in the Japanese demands, as they now wanted sole rights over Manchuria as well as restraint on Russian influence in Korea. The Russians ignored the Japanese demands and the Russians tsar’s response “there will be no war because I do not whish it”. Such comment clearly indicates great underestimations of the Japanese strength and determination by him.
Japan broke the diplomatic relations with Russia in February 1904, shortly after the Japanese military attacked the Russian fleet in Port Arthur. The Russians did not expect such bold move by the Japanese and were completely surprised, especially as the official declaration of war was not to be announced until February 10. The war lasted for 18 month and peace talks were held in Portsmouth, USA on July 8, 1905. Japan was represented by Foreign Minister Komura whilst Russia was represented by Sergej Witte, and the American President Theodore Roosevelt acted as mediator in the negotiations. There had been great sacrifices in human lives with some 89,000 Russian and 71,000 Japanese casualties. However, as being regarded as the victor in the war Japan had demanded rights of territory in South Manchuria, Korea, Sakhalin, and access to a number of ports; a Japanese demand for indemnity was raised as well. Most strikingly and important in this conflict was that never before in history had an Asian nation manage to defeat a western power in war and this victory was by many seen as the culmination of what had begun with the Meji restoration. The western camp could no longer ignore the strength and determination of Japan.
In conclusion, Japan was forced to rapidly modernise and develop itself in order to get rid of the unequal treaties imposed by the United States through Commodore Perry. Japan feared that if not a rapid development of the nation was done Japan would follow the same fate as so many other Asian countries, becoming a western colony. As a consequence The Meji revolution gained speed and an ever increasing demand of raw material and manpower was required to keep it up. The Japanese leadership did everything it could to gain international recognition and elevate on the world social ladder. In this era of imperialism Japan thought that the most rapid way to do so was to acquire its own colonies and turned its eyes west to Korea. Japan also feared that the increasing activity in the area and the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway would strengthen the Russians and form a great threat to Japanese interests in the area. Russia on their hand had similar fears of the Japanese activities, and tensions between the nations grew stronger. Russia saw its chance during the boxer rebellion to divert troops to Manchuria with the promise they would be removed as soon as tensions ceased. This caused much disturbance and diplomatic efforts were made in the attempt to remove the Russian troops. The Japanese failed in this attempt, but they succeeded in signing a defensive pact with Great Britain which gave the Japanese security of not having to fight against a third part in a possible war against Russia. Japan who now had built up its military strength saw as the only opportunity to defend its interest in Korea and Manchuria was by attacking the Russians militarily. 18 months later Japan was the winner of the most important war she had ever fought.