Washington Conference and Treaties (1921 - 1922)

Washington Conference and Treaties
Washington Conference and Treaties

In 1921 President Warren Harding of the United States called an international conference in Washington, D.C., and invited representatives of Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, China, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal to attend.

The issues at hand were a looming naval race between the United States and Japan, the uneasiness felt by Great Britain and among some Commonwealth nations over the continuation of the AngloJapanese treaty, and failure to settle the Shandong (Shantung) Question between China and Japan at the Paris Peace Conference.

U.S. secretary of state Charles Evans Hughes and British foreign secretary Sir Arthur Balfour cooperated to achieve the following results:
  1. The Four-Power Pact between the United States, Britain, France, and Japan, in which each pledged mutual respect of each others' interests and to consult and seek diplomatic solutions to problems that concerned them. This pact replaced the AngloJapanese treaty and would last 10 years.
  2. The Five-Power Treaty (also called the Naval Limitations Treaty), in which the United States, Britain, Japan, France, and Italy pledged a 10year naval holiday in capital ship building, to limit the tonnage of individual battleships, and other provisions. The five principal naval powers' respective naval strength would be based on the 5:5:3:1.75:1.75 ratio. Although this ratio gave the United States and Britain naval superiority, it made Japan supreme in the western Pacific. It was to last through December 31, 1936.
  3. The Nine-Power Treaty (which included all nine countries represented at the conference), in which all eight powers other than China pledged to respect the Open Door and territorial integrity of China and to refrain from seeking special privileges in China. This treaty took a historic principle of U.S. diplomacy (the Open Door policy) and made it international law. China failed to win an immediate end to the unequal treaties and to gain tariff autonomy but was permitted to raise its import tariffs from 3.5 percent to 5 percent. Britain, the United States, France, and Japan agreed to close down the independent postal systems they had established in China, and Britain agreed to return to China its naval base at the port of Weihaiwei.
In addition, Hughes and Balfour acted as intermediaries in bringing together the delegates of China and Japan to settle the Shandong Question, which had been unresolved at the Paris Peace Conference.

The controversy was whether China should regain sovereignty over Shandong, which had been abridged since 1898 by Germany, or whether Japan should be allowed to maintain a sphere of influence over the province. British and U.S. diplomats served as observers in 36 meetings between Chinese and Japanese delegates that culminated in the Sino-Japanese treaty in February 1922.

Japan agreed to evacuate from Shandong, return the Jiaozhou (Kiaochow) naval base, and sell the Jinan-Qingdao (Chinan-Tsingtao) Railway to China over a 15-year period. Japan agreed to these concessions largely as a result of Anglo-American pressure, adverse world public opinion, and a moderate government under Prime Minister Hara Kei, who was, however, assassinated just as the conference opened. Taken together, the Washington Treaties forestalled a naval race and improved international relations in East Asia.