Source: Here 

By Alexis Vasilis Tsanos, member of the International Relations and Foreign Policy Research Team


Introduction

The East Asian region has always been of great interest in international relations, as it holds great geopolitical power by having a very rich, in natural resources, sea-bed (Beeson, 2009, pp. 500-502). It also consists, according to the International Monetary Fund,  one of the most important economic regions globally, with a world nominal GDP greater than that of the United States of America. Moreover, according to the World Economic Forum (2017), the region has seen tremendous technological growth during the last two decades and holds the number one spot for the most technologically advanced region. As a result, the interest of the international community for the region  has been constantly growing and many countries that comprise it have become key players in international matters.

Two of the major “key-players” in the region are undoubtedly China and Japan, that hold great financial, strategic and technological power and have played major roles in events that shifted the global “status-quo”, thus becoming two of the leading ‘powers’ not only in North-East Asia, but in the world. Furthermore, with China being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the second biggest economy in the world, and with Japan ranking first in technical expertise worldwide, these two states, apart from being amongst the top ten most powerful countries in the world right now, have also contributed to the general growth of the region and led East Asia to become a force to be reckoned with.

The relations between the two states have not always been great and, even though nowadays they manage to attempt to settle their issues through diplomacy and less armed disputes (Katagiri, 2019), that did not use to be the case in the past, as the two countries fought constantly for dominion over the region and had many severe armed conflicts, especially throughout  the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the most immense and impactful of these conflicts was the first Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95, that beset the region and even the attention of the ‘Great Powers’ of the time to the region, leading to a constant shift of power between the two main sides, that heavily impacted the ‘shaping’ of  the region as we know it today. 

Last but not least, through the analysis of the aforementioned event, the ‘shift’ of powers that led to the constitution of the region as we know it today, will be thoroughly highlighted and act as an implicit answer to the question: “ How did the First Sino-Japanese War affect the relations between the two nations?”.

The First Sino-Japanese War 1894-95: A new dawn for the Far East

The First Sino-Japanese War was one of the biggest conflicts in the Far East during the 19th century. It was a clash between the Chinese Qing dynasty and the Empire of Japan, in order to determine who would assert influence over the Korean Peninsula and eventually achieve dominion over the region, as the latter was of vital strategic importance in order to control North-East Asia and ensure security (Greve & Levy, 2017, p. 2)

Throughout the 19th century, Korea, in order to ensure its sovereignty and protection against its neighbor, China, acted as a nominary vassal state for the Qing Emperor and complied with his decrees, even when it came to the states relations with other countries. However, everything changed in 1875, as the Japanese Empire, which was already under the process of westernization, forced Korea to commence foreign trade relations and eventually break free from China, for foreign relations. This would be the first step towards a breach in Sino-Japanese relations at the time.

Later in 1894, an eventful rebellion in Korea, called ‘Tonghak Uprising’, became the cause that started what would be the first Sino-Japanese war. It was a rebellion led by religious causes that aimed to abolish the westernization of the region and establish a nationalistic regime in Korea that would promote ‘equality’ among all people, by minimizing the taxes, banning illegal taxation, focusing on consuming domestic products, thus ceasing the import of foreign products  and, most importantly, by removing all colonial powers from the region, western and Japanese (Kallander, 2010, pp. 1-6). This led to the recently defeated Korean government asking for military aid from China, as Korea had been a nominary vassal state for the latter, in order to secure its sovereignty. Indeed, China provided the requested support, but  it was not the only one to do so, as Japan also sent a military dispatch of 8.000 troops, breaching its commitment to the 1885 Li-Ito (Tienshin) Convention that was signed between the two nations and prohibited uncalled military action in Korea from either side. As a result, China attempted to reinforce its troops, but it was a vain attempt, as Japan sank the vessel that carried the reinforcements. 

Eventually, the war was officially declared on August 1st 1894, and both states issued official declarations that revealed their perspective on the war and the importance of the region. Soon enough, the war took a turn for the worst for the Chinese dynasty, that faced a devastating loss in September of the same year in the Battle of the Yalu River. The Japanese, returning victorious from Pyongyang, ambushed the chinese Beiyang fleet and achieved a huge victory by managing to destroy most of the opposing navy and proved -not only- the technological superiority of Japan, but also the strategic importance of propaganda during warfare. The Empire was able to lure its opponent where they wanted, in order to win, by using cruisers and sending them to the Weihaiwei region, leading to China sending the whole Beiyang fleet to defend it. In the meantime, Japan ensured the victory in Pyongyang, thus pushing the Dynasty’s fleet north towards the Yalu River, where they faced  the entirety of the Japanese fleet (Paine, 2005, pp. 174-189).

Following the devastating, for the Chinese, Yalu River naval engagement, the Japanese did not stop there and were able to push opposing forces back from North Korea and move the conflict towards the region of Manchuria. There, even though in enemy territory, the Japanese empire, thanks to their advanced military technology and tactics, were able to capture main cities in the region. This resulted in getting the upper-hand and continuing a series of military actions that allowed to seize the most important cities and ports of 1 the area, that played a pivotal role in the north-east asian region.

The War reached new heights during the following months, when the first division of the second Japanese Army committed the massacre of Port Arthur, where almost 20.000 chinese civilians were killed. It was one of the most gory events the world had ever witnessed to that point and surprised the international community, as they were not aware that the Japanese could commit such cruelties. Subsequent to the tragic event were the defeat of the Qing dynasty army in the Battle of Weihaiwei and the occupation of the Pescadores isles in 1895, which showed Japan’s power and led the Chinese Dynasty to complete disgrace after the immense losses (Paine, 2005, pp. 197-238).

The War finally came to an end, with the Treaty of  Shimonoseki (1897), that obliged China to give full independence to Korea, and also gave Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula and the Penghu islands to Japan- three extremely strategic points in East Asia, along with with huge war reparations and trade permits for Japanese ships in Chinese rivers. However, due to Taiwan’s refusal to get annexed into Japan, in a last move of power flaunting, the Empire invaded the state and seized it by force, thus signaling the dawn of a new era for East Asia as a whole. 

Impact and Aftermath of the first Sino-Japanese War

The First Sino- Japanese War, on one hand, demonstrated the superiority of Japanese tactics and technology that Japan had invested in almost two decades before the war, leading many other states to start the westernization of their military forces, so as to make them more efficient. Furthermore, the Empire of Japan proved to be a force to be reckoned with and was able to accomplish its main goal: to free Korea from Chinese suzerainty and transfer the Korean Peninsula under the Japanese sphere of influence.

On the other hand, throughout the events of the war and after the final outcome, the Chinese government proved that it lacked in terms of efficiency, both politically and strategically, and  the era of anti-foreign politics in China came to an end, as it was proved that westernized military and technology were superior. Lastly, the Qing Dynasty lost much of its power and prestige and many rebellions burst in a handful parts of the State (Paine, 2005, pp. 367-370).

Moreover, after a short period of time, the whole political landscape started to rapidly change in the Far East. First and foremost, any ‘Great Powers’ of the time took an interest in the region and started forming alliances with the two major states in the region, not out of need to acquire friendly relationships with them, but to be able to control them out of fear of them taking over, as the Great Powers of the world, especially Japan, and tried to show their power multiple times, in order to exploit the natural resources of the East Asian zone. One such example was the Triple Intervention of Russia, Germany and France, that forced Japan to relinquish control of Port Arthur. Secondly, the Chinese government of Beiyang had fallen and a new government- the Kuomingtan, heavily supported by Japan, established nominal control over the Republic of China (Steiner & Steiner, 2005, pp. 715-716), along with the complete abolition of any form of legal slavery in Korea by Japanese officials. Lastly, new tensions started to rise between Japan and Russia that would once more beset the region and cause the intervention of an eight-member international force, which would become one of the first large “humanitarian interventions” in world history.

Last but not least, the war’s impact on the region’s economy was anything but expected. Contrary to what anyone would have thought -even after facing tremendous losses- China’s economy improved, as the government based on the country’s  foreign trade and was able to prevent a large socio-economic crisis (Dong & Guo, 2018, pp. 16-20).

Conclusion 

Even though the First Sino-Japanese War is frequently overlooked by many and is not given proper attention when addressing major events that heavily impacted the world, it is without a doubt one of the most important conflicts in history. It put East Asia on the radar and proved that it was a force to be reckoned with and not just a region full of ports and exploitable resources. Besides, the war of Jiawu was one of the first steps towards modernisation of the East Asian countries and a huge step towards liberation from the tremendous and feared Chinese Dynasty that had  reigned supreme for many centuries.

However, it did not lead to a new era of stability, prosperity and peace, as it was only the beginning of a series of many conflicts that would keep the region ‘busy’ for many decades to come.


References

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Paine, S. C. M. (2005). The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy. Cambridge University Press.

Steiner, Z. S., & Steiner, Z. (2005). The lights that failed: European international history, 1919-1933. Oxford University Press.

The Global Competitiveness Report (2017-2018). World Economic Forum. Retrieved from here.

Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895). University of Southern California. Retrieved from here.


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