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Far Eastern questions: Britain, the Washington system, and international cooperation in China, 1919-1922

Capistrano, Andrew (2022) Far Eastern questions: Britain, the Washington system, and international cooperation in China, 1919-1922. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004513


The Washington Conference (1921-1922) produced several major treaties redefining relations between Britain, Japan, the US, and China. Japanese historians generally characterize these treaties as forming an interlocking and mutually reinforcing ‘Washington system’—based on regional Anglo-American-Japanese cooperation and a multilateral ‘open door’ policy in China—which replaced the prewar diplomatic system of alliances and ‘spheres of influence’. But because the Washington system literature tends to focus exclusively on US-Japan relations with respect to China, Britain’s role at the Conference remains unclear. In the standard view, building on the work of Akira Iriye, the Washington system originated from an ‘American initiative’ to replace the ‘old diplomacy’ in the Far East with ‘new diplomacy’. Some historians argue that Britain was an ‘imperialist’ power aligned with Japan in defense of the ‘old diplomacy’, while others suggest it was part of an Anglo-American combine to impose the ‘new diplomacy’ on Japan. However, most ignore Britain’s role altogether, citing a prominent critique by Ian Nish that British diplomats did not perceive the treaties as an interlocking and reinforcing ‘system’. This thesis examines British diplomacy before and during the Conference and provides a more nuanced characterization of the Washington system’s origins. It argues, first, that British diplomats had an incentive to let their US counterparts appear to lead the negotiations, which obscures how Britain acted as a mediator between the US and Japan and created the conditions for their rapprochement. Second, Britain viewed the Washington treaties as neither ‘old’ nor ‘new’, but rather as an updated—even improved —version of the prewar order adjusted to postwar conditions. Third, the Washington treaties were mutually reinforcing in the sense that none could have emerged in isolation without a wider multi-issue settlement. In fact, Britain more than any other power understood this factor. !

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Andrew Capistrano
Library of Congress subject classification: C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CD Diplomatics. Archives. Seals
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Best, Antony

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