“The story of the Anglo-Japanese alliance has all the elements of a romance.
“Born out of a common desire of Japan and Great Britain to defend their vital interests in the Far East which were being seriously menaced towards the end of the nineteenth century by the slow but steady encroachment by Russia in Manchuria, North China, and Korea, it was not, however, consummated until a series of political vicissitudes and diplomatic reverses which both Powers had suffered convinced them of the community of their interests and the advantages of a defensive alliance.
“It is an open secret that long before ever considering Japan as a worthy partner, Great Britain had riveted her eyes upon China whom she had regarded as a potential ally rich populous and strong enough to cope with the Russian Colossus. These two countries, Russia and Great Britain, had been traditional enemies. Their interests conflicted in the Far East, in the Middle East, and in the Near East. Russia was in secret alliance with France ever since 1891, and with the assistance of ally she was able to have everything very in her own way in Europe as well as in the East. On the other hand, without a political partner, Great Britain was forced to play a lone hand in all Eastern affairs.
“It was then, as it is to-day, a cardinal point of the British foreign policy to defend British interests in India at all costs.”
– China, the United States, and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, by Ge-Zay Wood, 1921
The first Anglo-Japanese Alliance was signed in London at what is now the Lansdowne Club, on January 30, 1902, by Lord Lansdowne (British foreign secretary) and Hayashi Tadasu (Japanese minister in London). A diplomatic milestone that saw an end to Britain’s ‘splendid isolation’, the alliance was renewed and expanded in scope twice, in 1905 and 1911, before its demise in 1921. It was officially terminated in 1923.
The possibility of an alliance between United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Empire of Japan had been canvassed since 1895, when Britain refused to join the triple intervention of France, Germany and Russia against the Japanese occupation of the Liaotung peninsula during the first Sino-Japanese War. The case was strengthened by the support Britain had given Japan in its drive towards modernization and their cooperative efforts to put down the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901).
In the end, the common interest truly fueling the alliance was opposition to Russian expansion. Negotiations began when Russia began to move into China. Nevertheless, both countries had their reservations. The UK was cautious of abandoning its policy of ‘splendid isolation’, wary of antagonizing Russia, and unwilling to act on the treaty if Japan were to attack the United States.
The alliance’s provisions for mutual defense prompted Japan to enter World War I on the British side. Japan attacked the German base at Tsingtao in 1914 and forced the Germans to surrender. The Treaty also made possible the Japanese seizure of German possessions in the Pacific north of the equator during WWI, a huge boon to Japan’s imperial interests.