Appendices - Hirohito's War
D: THE JAPANESE EMPIRE - FROM CO-PROSPERITY TO TYRANNY
The Four Phases of Japan’s Imperial Expansion: There were in essence four phases of Imperial expansion. In the first phase after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the new government first set about establishing control of the northern island of Hokkaido, which was sparsely populated by the indigenous Ainu. Colonisation was encouraged and military control imposed to prevent the possibility of Imperial Russia’s creep southward from the Sakhalin Island. In the decade after the restoration the Japanese population of the island grew from just 48,000 to over 250,000. In a further move to establish control over its immediate neighbours, in 1879 Japan established control of the kingdom of the Ryuku Islands (including the main island of Okinawa) which had formerly been a tributary state to both China and Japan.
The second phase of Empire moved from tidying up of borders to expansion. The principal targets were Korea (a Chinese tributary state) and Formosa. After defeating China in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1896, Japan took control of Formosa and assumed the primary foreign relationship with Korea – a position that was further strengthened after the defeat of Imperial Russian forces in Manchuria at the Battle of Mukden and at sea at the Battle of Tsushima. In 1910, Japan, after murdering Korea’s queen, formerly annexed Korea. In World War II Japan took advantage of Germany’s European preoccupations to absorb significant elements of Germany’s Asian Empire – including the Mariana Islands.
Somewhat thwarted in its imperial ambitions at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which only allowed it to retain the parts of Germany’s Asian empire north of the equator, Japan became a model citizen of the new international order based around the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Washington and London Naval Conferences. However the Japanese Army broke out of this containment when it albeit reluctantly agreed to back its Army’s occupation of Manchuria after the Mukden Incident that they had engineered as a casus belli. The puppet state of Manchukuo was established in 1932. This third phase of Japan’s Empire continued with a creeping Japanese takeover of Inner Mongolia and Northern China until the Marco Polo Bridge Incident brought the start of all out conflict with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist (Kuomintang) government and a takeover of the main coastal industrial cities of China’s east coast including the capital Nanking. In 1940, the Vichy government of French Indochina was forced to yield to a Japanese occupation of North Vietnam followed by a complete occupation of Indochina in July 1941.
The fourth phase of Imperial expansion was initiated with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the invasion of northern Malaya and the attack on American forces in the Philippines. The conquest of Malaya, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and the islands of the central Pacific including Wake (USA) and Tarawa (Great Britain) was followed by the conquest of Burma, and the oil rich British Borneo and the sprawling archipelago of the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese Empire reached its apogee with the occupation of the north coast of New Guinea and the Australian protectorate of the Bismarck Archipelago.