This Day In History: The Japanese Issues An Ultimatum To Germany (1914)

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On this day in histroy, in 1914, the government of Japan sends an ultimatum to Germany. It demanded that the Germans remove all their land and naval forced from the North Pacific and surrendering the Chinese city of Tsingtao. This was Germany’s main base in the Pacific  and the location of Germany’s largest overseas naval bases, it was located on China’s Shantung Peninsula—to Japan. The deadline for the ultimatum was   noon on August 23rd 1914.

War had been declared in Europe some two weeks previously. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand resulted in tensions that led to the major European countries declaring war on each other. The British and the Japanese had become close during the period before the war. Tokyo wanted to become a major power in the Pacific at this time.

The British Prime Minister Sir Edward Grey, had requested limited naval help from the Japanese navy in hunting down German  ships. The British wanted to make sure that the Germans could not threaten merchant shipping in the Pacific. Japan happily agreed, seeing the war as a great opportunity to  secure more territory and prestige in the Pacific region. The war was for Tokyo a “divine aid…for the development of the destiny of Japan.”

The Japanese had an alliance agreement with Britain dating from 1902. As part of this agreement, they decided to help the British in the Pacific and China and ensure that the Germans did not threaten their ally.  As a result, they issued the ultimatum.

The ultimatum stated

“We consider it highly important and necessary in the present situation to take measures to remove the causes of all disturbance of peace in the Far East,” . The aim of the ultimatum was  “ to safeguard general interest as contemplated in the Agreement of Alliance between Japan and Great Britain.” When Germany did not respond, Japan declared war on August 23; its navy immediately began preparing an assault against Tsingtao. With Britain contributing two battalions to Japan’s force of 50,000, the Japanese approached the German base through technically neutral China. On November the 7th, the German naval and military forces at Tsingtao surrendered,  after a brief battle and siege. The Germans battleships escaped the Japanese in the Pacific but they were later to be destroyed by the British at the Battle of the Falklands.

1200px-Russian_battleship_Pobeda_on_the_Kronstadt_roadstead_1901
Japanese battleshipWWI

The Germans did not respond, the government in Berlin may have been preoccupied and the local commanders were in a state of shock. The Japanese decided to take Tsingtao with the help of the British. The Japanese sent some 60,000 men to take the city and the small German garrison had no choice but to surrender. The Japanese occupied the city and were to remain in occupation for several decades, despite protests from the Chinese.

The most important initial result of Japan’s entry into World War I on the side of the Allies was to free a great number of Russian forces from the east. Russia had fought Japan in 1905 and because Japan had entered the war on the western allies side there was now no danger from Tokyo.

With the allies distracted by their own affairs in Europe. The Japanese were able to exploit a weak and divide China. They looted China of its economic wealth and took its raw material for practically nothing. This allowed the Japanese economy to grow at a rapid rate.

As part of the post-war settlement at Versailles, Japan was given control of the Pacific Islands that had been under  German rule and allowed to maintain its hold on Shantung in China. However, many Japanese were angered that they did not get more and by the way that they were treated. The Japanese felt that they were being poorly treated because the Europeans and Americans were racist.

Japan’s aggressive actions against China was to herald a period of Japanese intervention in that country, that culminated in the invasion of China in the 1930s.

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