Lansing-Ishii Agreement (1917)

Lansing-Ishii Agreement (1917)
Lansing-Ishii Agreement (1917)

The scramble for concessions in China opened in 1898 when Germany established a sphere of influence in Shandong (Shantung) Province. In 1914 Japan joined World War I against the Central Powers in accordance with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, conquered German-held islands in the northern Pacific, and drove the Germans out of Shandong.

China remained neutral partly due to Japanese pressure. To ensure its right to Shandong, Japan presented a set of Twenty-one Demands to China in January 1915. They included China's agreement to the transfer of German rights in Shandong to Japan.

China leaked the terms of the demands to the United States, hoping for its intervention in vain, partly because the administration of President Woodrow Wilson was preoccupied with events in Europe. Unable to resist Japanese pressure, China acceded to most of the terms of the Twenty-one demands in May 1915.

Japan subsequently negotiated secret agreements with Russia, Great Britain, France, and Italy that secured its claims to Shandong in postwar peace negotiations. In November 1917 Japan sent special ambassador viscount Ishii Kikujiro to Washington, ostensibly to congratulate the United States for joining the Allied cause but also to obtain U.S. agreement with Japan's claims on Shandong.

In the resulting Lansing-Ishii Agreement (negotiated with U.S. secretary of state Robert Lansing), the United States recognized that "geographic propinquity creates special relations between nations," thus tacitly acknowledging Japan's special position in China. They also signed a secret protocol in which both nations pledged not to seek special privileges in China that would infringe on the existing rights of friendly nations.

While the United States believed that the agreement upheld Chinese interests and the Open Door policy, Japan took it to mean the United States had accepted Japan's "paramount interest" in China. Its future in Shandong secure, Japan then allowed China to declare war against Germany and other Central Powers.

Japan further consolidated its position in Shandong in 1918 by signing a secret pact with the warlord then in power in China whereby in exchange for a Japanese loan, that warlord agreed to additional concessions to Japan in Shandong.

Japan came to the Paris Peace Conference after World War I as one of the Big Five powers, while China had the lowly status of an associated power. Japan also came armed with secret treaties bolstering its claim to Shandong.

China pleaded for the return of Shandong based on President Wilson's support of the right of national self-determination and the fact that its declaration of war with Germany had terminated previous treaties and agreements between the two nations.

Wilson's eventual acquiescence to Japan's demands on Shandong, over the objections of Secretary of State Lansing and other U.S. delegates, became an important issue when the Versailles Treaty with Germany was presented to the U.S. Senate for ratification and factored in its rejection. Thus the Lansing-Ishii Agreement further embroiled the United States in East Asian international relations.