Twenty-one Demands (1915)

Twenty-one Demands (1915)
Twenty-one Demands (1915)

Immediately after Japan declared war against Germany in August 1914, it sent troops to the German sphere of influence in Shandong (Shantung) Province in China and conquered it. It was part of Japan's plan to take advantage of the preoccupation of Western powers in World War I to expand its control of China. On January 18, 1915, it delivered the Twenty-one Demands to Chinese president Yuan Shikai (Yuan Shih-k'ai).

They were divided into six groups as follows:
  1. China recognizes Japan's assumption of all of Germany's privileges in Shandong, including control of ports, railways, mines, and other interests.
  2. China grants Japan a special position in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia including rights to develop mines and factories, an extension of the existing Japanese lease of Port Arthur and Dairen, and railways in the region from 25 to 99 years.
  3. Joint operation of China's iron and steel industries.
  4. Non-alienation of coastal areas to any other country.
  5. Japan to control the Chinese police and military, and to provide advisers to other branches of the Chinese government.
  6. China ordered to keep the demands a secret.

Yuan Shikai was in a quandary because he realized the seriousness of the demands but was at the same time trying to become emperor. He realized that he could not succeed without Japan's blessing. He thus tried to temporize while at the same time leaking the provisions to the press.

Yuan was unsuccessful in his attempt to enlist Western support. Japan had already assured its allies Great Britain and Russia that it would not infringe on their rights in the Yangzi (Yangtze) valley and Mongolia, respectively, and the United States merely reiterated its commitment to the Open Door policy in China.

Prime Minister, Okuma Shigenobu, issued the "twenty one demands" to china
Prime Minister, Okuma Shigenobu, issued the "twenty one demands" to china

Japan offered Yuan a carrot, expressing its willingness to restrict the activities of anti-Yuan Chinese in Japan if he cooperated, then sent him an ultimatum demanding acceptance of the first four groups of its demands while agreeing to postpone discussion of group five to a later date. Yuan capitulated, signing an agreement on May 25, 1915.

Japan's Twenty-one Demands inflamed the Chinese public and stirred Chinese nationalism. In protest, many Chinese students studying in Japan returned home, while merchants in China organized an anti-Japanese boycott.

Yuan Shikai's ineffectual response contributed to his unpopularity and the defeat of his imperial ambitions. It also demonstrated the retreat of Western imperialism in China beginning with World War I and the rise of Japan as the imperialist power in Asia.