by James Graham
Published: May, 2004
Once the dust had settled in Manchuria, Japan exploited its position to increase its influence in the area at China's expense. To achieve its aims Japan had negoiated with Russia a number of accords concerning China at Portsmouth that it imposed on China in 1905. Secret protocols of the treaty prevented China from constructing railways parallel, near or prejudicial to Japan's. New claims were also made for Manchurian railways, mines, timber and fishing rights. The most important right Japan gained was to link the SMR to its Korean railroad via the An-feng line. This allowed troops to be deployed to Manchuria rapidly if required. In 1906 Japan reorganised the South Manchurian Railway (SMR) Company to exclude China from any meaningful participation. Chinese officials in Manchuria tried to delay, block and prevent these rights as best they could however they received little help in this activity from Peking. At that time the Chinese government felt it simply had no choice but to accept an increasing Japanese presence in Manchuria.
Japan and Russia consolidated their respective positions in Manchuria after the war by agreeing to working together to keep other powers out and minimising Chinese government power in the area. American interest in railways in Manchuria which reached a peek under Secretary of State Philander Knox forced the two old enemies to work together. The Russian-Japanese Treaty of July 1907 publicly marked off their spheres of influence and respected the "independence and territorial integrity of the Empire of China." Secretly the two countries agreed to respect only each other's rights and powers and to defend the status quo against China. Their relationship was reinforced by a further agreement in July 4 1910 that omitted any obligation to support the open door or the integrity of China. In their respective spheres Japan and Russia exercised special jurisdictional and administrative powers. These included the collection of taxation, deployment of police, the transfer of property and the employment of a limited number of railway guards. In the Liaotung leasehold Japan's powers of administration and sovereignty were unlimited save the right to alienate the territory. This situation remained until the outbreak of war in 1914.
It is arguable how powerful and successful the Chinese officials stationed in Manchuria were. That officials responsible to a government in Peking were even present in Manchuria illustrates that China never lost complete sovereignty over Manchuria. After 1897 the Liaotung leasehold was in practice completely detached from China however this was only a very small, albeit strategic part of Manchuria. To maintain and build Chinese sovereignty in the remaining part of Manchuria policies of frontier defence and self-strengthening were undertaken. This involved the promotion of Chinese run railways, banks, mines and factories. Hsi-liang as governor-general of Manchuria between 1909 and 1911 argued in favour of all four projects but was constantly unable to obtain finance for any major project in this time. Peking was not only extremely weak but the Japanese and Russians were able to successful prevent foreign bankers loaning any money designed to strengthen China's position in Manchuria.
Above all frontier defence meant settlement as China's enormous population was an advantage that the foreign powers could neither mitigate nor match. The Qing dynasty's repeal of prohibitions preventing Han Chinese settlement in the Manchu homeland led to the Manchurian population increasing from six million in 1897 to 15-17 million by the end of the dynasty. It is debatable as to how much the Chinese authorities can take credit for this however, as the increase was more likely a natural phenomenon of population pressure in central and northern China. China's frontier defence thus achieved little that would not have occurred without a central government.
Diplomatically China's greatest effort in this period went into persuading the United States that an independent China was crucial to its interests in East Asia. This policy followed a long Chinese tradition of playing one Barbarian off against another and thereby preventing any of them from dominating China. Li Hong-Zhang had organised the Li-Lobanov Treaty precisely to play Russia off against Japan. The US for its part was convinced that its domestic problem of overproduction could be cured by new overseas markets. It was further believed that if Manchuria was lost to foreign control it would lead to the general partitioning of China. These concerns by the turn of the century were held for all of China by Great Britain and the United States, a concern great enough that American Secretary of State John Hay sent a note in September 1899 and again in July 1900 to each foreign power urging them to respect China's territorial integrity and to permit open trade in China. The notes were the start of a decade of joint Sino-American effort to ensure China's territorial integrity in Manchuria. The effort brought almost no results apart from the psychological benefit America's active support had on the Chinese and the pause it gave Russia and Japan. The end of the Qing dynasty in 1911 precipitated the complete collapse of the open door. Ultimately the US could achieve no concrete or vital interests in Manchuria due to Japanese and Russian obstruction. Thus they has no choice but to seek an accommodation with Japan. Likewise the Chinese side after many disappointments had lost faith in the US by 1911 and viewed it as only vaguely different from other powers.
China starting from a position of strength in Manchuria in 1894 increasingly lost sovereignty over the area. By 1914 the majority of Manchuria was neither independent nor under the complete control of a central Chinese government. Defeated in war and unable to stop the first 'modern war' being fought on its soil any continued Chinese control of Manchuria no matter how small was an achievement, but an achievement that the Chinese governments can claim little credit for as only inter-power rivalry and Han Chinese settlement prevented the complete detachment of the area from China.