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British External Threat to Japanese Empire in 1938 Essay

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2020

Introduction

This essay presents an assessment report on the British Empire as an external threat to the Japanese Empire in 1938. The British Empire had considerable resources in Asia. Japan had created a mission to be the greatest Empire in Asia, the South Seas, and toward the end of the 19th century, the Japanese nationalism emerged during the Meiji period (Gordon par. 3).

Japan focused on enhanced industrialization, mass education, centralization, and massive military recruitments and investments (AETN UK 1). Western powers undermined Japanese imperial desires and weak military position. The Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924 even restricted the movement of the Japanese to the US. Japanese nationalists considered such decisions as provocative. Consequently, Japan appeared more xenophobic, emperor-driven, held a strong Asian-oriented view, and it considered the alliance among the US, the British Empire, Dutch, and Chinese Empire – the so-called ABCD encirclement – as a threat to its empire.

The British Empire in Asia – A stronger Maritime Position and Expansion reflecting scenario planning and critical historical trajectories

By 1897, Queen Victoria controlled the vast empire ever witnessed in global history (Ferguson par. 1). The British Empire had acquired 9.5 million square miles of territory by 1860, which rose to 12.7 million by 1909 (Ferguson par. 1). In fact, this figure represented 25% of the global land surface. In addition, the British Empire controlled about 444 million people globally.

The British Empire led others in the scramble for Africa, the Far East, and multiple islands located in the Pacific. The Empire had more than “one continent, a hundred peninsulas, five hundred promontories, a thousand lakes, two thousand rivers, ten thousand islands” (Ferguson par. 1).

Before the Japanese imperialism ambition, the British Empire had already set its interests in Asia, leading to the development and maintenance of strategic interests that could challenge any other rivals.

The British Empire moved faster using the Silk Route to establish trading bases across India in Banda, Bantam, and Surat and even in Hirado, Japan. It established the English East India Company, making it a formidable force in Asia.

It engaged the Dutch Empire in constant wars throughout the 17th century and emerged the second best.

The Empire developed its resources in Bombay in the West, Calcutta in the East, and occupied Madras located in the south as strategic locations for trade and protection. Consequently, the Empire became extremely influential in the region after the war that lasted seven years. The British Empire defeated the French Empire using its Royal Navy and further developed its resources in Asia after acquiring the right to collect taxes in Bengal, creating a long-term guaranteed source of income and adequate resources to expand its military operations and tax collection in Asia.

The Company grew wealthier and occupied other trading blocs, including China with a strategic base in Singapore to monitor trading activities. Tea and silk in China were the major attractions for the Empire, whereas it only offered the British silver to Chinese.

The British Empire had now developed a significantly dominant position in vital countries, including China and India. In fact, in the 19th the British Empire dedicated its resources to economic and military power expansion, defense of its trade interests and routes or simply scrambling for empty spaces. As a result, it established strategic territories in the Middle East region to protect the trade routes to India. Further, the British Empire occupied Burma, Borneo, and the Malay States as vital trading routes.

The Japanese must also account for the massive resource from Her Majesty’s Government. For instance, after the Indian Mutiny, the Government of Her Majesty provided even more resources for the establishment of the Raj Central Asia. In fact, the Japanese Empire should observe how the British Empire protected its interests in the Crown of India against Tsarist Russia. The British Empire found it logical to expand its military interests to protect its most vital trading destinations, China and India now referred to as the British Asian Empire.

The Japanese Empire must also appreciate that the British Empire had all the benefits associated with China, including economic ones without many responsibilities. As such, they were a vital source of resources with minimal investments in the Empire (Luscombe par. 5).

Previously, the British Empire had successfully supported its merchants and compelled the Chinese government to abandon deterring activities in commerce. The Japanese Empire must have learned some important lessons about the so-called Opium War of 1839. The Royal Navy had a greater influence on the less developed Chinese fleet. Consequently, the British Empire made any demands they deemed fit on China before suspending major barriers and ending the bombardment of strategic ports. After these experiences, the Chinese government had no choice but to cede the island of Hong Kong. Hong Kong became an independent island with trade rights to mainland China.

From the British Empire’s involvement in Hong Kong, the Japanese Empire could have learned that the British Empire was a tough negotiator and could not lose its potential strategic interests.

The rising Japanese Empire could have noted how the British Empire transformed Hong Kong into a thriving economic free port that attracted many trades, including from mainland China. Moreover, Hong Kong was also strategically important for migrants from the mainland who were looking to settle outside China.

In Asia, the British Empire had become opportunistic. This implies that they never missed any chance to expand the Empire. For instance, the British Empire recognized an opportunity during the Second Opium War of the 1860s. As a result, the Empire acquired the Kowloon peninsula and Ngon Sun Chau. Consequently, the British had more resources for further expansion, including expanding facilities at the free port. The Empire further chartered more land and islands for nearly a century.

In 1912, China suffered a revolution followed by long-term chaos. Moreover, Japan invaded China, sending more refugees to British colonies for the needed labor.

The period between 1914 and 1918 was characterized by a major war. These wars generally weakened the British Empire and other European powerful rivals, such as the French Empire and the Dutch Empire. The Middle East experience of the British Empire and the French Empire provides valuable lessons to the Japanese Empire. For instance, the Ottoman Empire was strategically destroyed within four years of sustained fierce fighting (Kitchen par. 3). Once the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the British and France Empires started to scramble for the vacancy.

The rise of the Japanese Empire was however a major threat to the dominant position of the British Empire in the region.

The British Empire and Japanese Empires were initially allies because both Empires believed that they shared similar ideologies and foundations of their nations and global aspirations. In the 1920s, however, the US convinced the British Empire to abandon its alliance with Japan (Harman 1).

SWOT Analysis for the British Empire

Strength
  • A vast global empire (25% of the global land surface)
  • Massive resources (military, people, labor, and wealth)
  • Strategic colonies for safeguarding its interests
  • Support from Her Majesty
  • Advanced Royal Navy
  • A leader in trade and exploitation of resources
Weaknesses
  • Lost in some battles
  • Challenges in acquiring more colonies in the Middle East
  • Inability to manage the territories effectively
Opportunities
  • Further expansion into Africa and China
  • Seeking for more strategic alliances
  • Conquer weaker rivals, including Ottoman, the French, and the Dutch
Threats
  • Aggressive expansion of Japan, France, and German
  • Massive resources dedicated to wars eventually leading to the fall of the Empire (Ferguson par 9)

How the relative strengths of the British Empire could have opened up opportunities for the Japanese imperialism

The Japanese Empire could have studied and gained militarily from post-war outcomes. For instance, it was evident that the British Empire acquired its vast territories by the 1920s, and any gains made during acquisitions and wars were retained. However, this success also led to revolts that were difficult to contain around 1919 to 1922. Egypt erupted in 1919 and Punjab engaged in riots while Ireland witnessed the bloodiest civil revolt (Leake 1-29). For the Japanese Empire, it could learn how the British Empire managed its vast Empire and eventually failed gradually.

The British Empire focused on protecting India and its communication trade routes, which were responsible for massive expansion. That is, if Japan wanted to expand, then it had to develop critical infrastructures to achieve that aim.

The British Empire had come out victorious from World War I. This implies that the Empire had mastered the art of war and controlling large territories. The Empire made it clear that it would exploit business opportunities for wealth creation while building military prowess (Townsend par. 5).

The British Empire had a single real center of power – Her Majesty. Conversely, the Japanese Empire relied on figurehead emperors often characterized by internal divisions (Asia for Educators 1).

As resistance grew and threats from other Empires emerge, Japan could have opted for anti-competitive opportunities to protect its empire and territories, specifically in the Asian region.

Works Cited

AETN UK. Imperial Japan. 2015. Web.

Asia for Educators. Japan’s Quest for Power. 2009. Web.

Ferguson, Niall. Why we ruled the world. 2003. Web.

Gordon, Bill. Explanations of Japan’s Imperialistic Expansion, 1894-1910. 2003. Web.

Harman, Chris. “Analysing Imperialism.” International Socialism Journal 99 (2003): 1. Print.

Kitchen, James E. Colonial Empires after the War/Decolonization. n.d. Web.

Leake, Elisabeth Mariko. “British India versus the British Empire: The Indian Army and an impasse in imperial defense circa, 1919–39.” Modern Asian Studies (2013): 1-29. Print.

Luscombe, Stephen. Asia and the British Empire. n.d. Web.

Townsend, Susan. Japan’s Quest for Empire 1931 – 1945. 2011. Web.

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