Japan and the Race Question at the Paris Peace Conference: A Japanese View in 1919

[Excerpted from Kiyoshi Kari Kawakami, Japan and World Peace (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1919), pp. 45-62]


When on February 15 the first draft of the covenant of the League of Nations was adopted by the Peace Congress, Baron Nobuaki Makino, senior member of the Japanese delegation, delivered a congratulatory speech in the course of which he said:

"I beg to add another voice to echo the congratulatory speeches that have been made on the presentation of a document which is, perhaps, the most important document that has been compiled by man. The great leaders, with staunch purposes, have personified this great movement, a movement involving intricate problems of divers nations, and they deserve the gratitude of their fellow men for successfully piloting to this advanced stage a most effective instrument for the maintenance of the peace of the world. Their names will be written indelibly on the pages of history, and that will be the grateful acknowledgment of humanity for their labor."

At the same time, the Baron expressed a desire to reserve the "privilege of addressing, at a later stage of the discussion of this project, certain propositions which I hope will receive earnest and favorable consideration." If one remembers what the Japanese peace envoys had proposed two days before the adoption of the draft of the constitution of the League, one can surmise what Baron Makino had in mind in making this significant reservation.

It will be recalled that on February 13 the Japanese envoys proposed that the covenant of the League of Nations should include an article abolishing racial discrimination in future international dealings. The Peace Conference, without giving Japan even a semblance of a hearing, rejected the proposal.

Of all rebuffs Japan has met at the peace table, that was the most discouraging. By Japan I do not mean the Japanese Government, much less the Japanese peace envoys. By Japan I mean the Japanese people, for this proposal to eliminate racial discrimination was primarily the proposal of sixty million souls of the Mikado's Empire. One might almost say that it was forced upon the Japanese peace envoys by the masses of Japan. Not that the Japanese Statesmen were not in sympathy with this popular demand, nor that they failed to recognize the logic and reason of the proposition. Convinced as they were of the justice of the argument advanced for the removal of racial barriers, the Japanese statesmen at the helm could not, nevertheless, see their way to put the proposition through the peace conference. However cogent and convincing the reasons might be in favor of the proposal, the Japanese leaders could not but recognize that the peoples of those great western countries, who had long discriminated against the Asiatic races, had not undergone a change of heart. To the contrary, they saw that even the baptism of blood and fire, from which the world had just emerged, failed to consecrate mankind to the ideals of humanity and universal brotherhood. What, then, would be the use of presenting to the Peace Congress such a pretentious proposal as the abolition of racial discrimination? The illustrious statesmen of the OccidentÑWilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd-George, and their enlightened associatesÑmight be broad enough to appreciate the reasonableness of such a proposition, but they, too, were naught but representatives of the multitudes of their respective countries, just as the Japanese envoys represented sixty millions of Nippon. And the multitudes whom those statesmen represented have, to no appreciable extent, altered their attitude towards the Asiatic peoples.

The question of racial discrimination resolves itself, on the last analysis, to the hackneyed expression, "You cannot change human nature." And indeed the war has wrought little change upon human nature. Why, then, has the Japanese public been led to believe that the great statesmen at the Peace Congress may lend ear to a proposition to remove race discrimination? The explanation is simple.

For this miscalculation on the part of the Japanese the naiveté of the Japanese mind is partly responsible. But a greater responsibility rests with the foremost statesmen, publicists and thinkers of Europe and America who seemed, during the period of the war, to vie with one another in expressing themselves in favor of justice and equity as the basic principles of international relations. In no previous war in the history of mankind has the world resounded with such humanitarian proclamations. To the Japanese, there was no doubt that the great war stirred the conscience of mankind and of nations, and created among them a sincere desire to readjust the future relationship among the civilized peoples of the world in accordance with the principles of humanity.

In the movement to awaken this world aspiration for establishing a lasting peace upon justice and humanity, America and President Wilson have figured most prominently. Mr. Wilson's public addresses and his numerous messages to Congress since the beginning of the war contain many passages replete with lofty ideals and noble sentiments. All such addresses and messages have been translated and published in the Japanese press. Every utterance that fell from Mr. Wilson's lips, every sentence proceeding from his pen on the question of the war have been read and studied by millions of Japanese people. Of Mr. Wilson's many noble utterances, one which went most forcibly home to the Japanese mind, is contained in the following passage of his historic war message of April 2, 1917:

"Only a peace between equals can last. Only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit. The right state of mind, the right feeling between nations, Is as necessary for a lasting peace as is the just settlement of vexed questions of territory or of racial and national allegiance. The equality of nations upon which peace must be founded, if it is to last, must be an equality of rights; the guarantees exchanged must neither recognize nor imply a difference between big nations and small, between those that are powerful and those that are weak. Right must be based upon the common strength, not upon the individual strength, of the nations upon whose concert peace will depend. Equality of territory or of resources there, of course, cannot be; nor any other sort of equality not gained in the ordinary peaceful and legitimate development of the peoples themselves. But no one asks or expects anything more than an equality of rights. Mankind is looking now for freedom of life, not for equipoises of power."

From such humanitarian proclamations it seems but natural that the majority of the Japanese, unfamiliar with the complex currents of thought and sentiment in Europe and America, should be encouraged to conclude that, whatever be the attitude of the European statesmen, the illustrious American president, at least, would not turn a deaf ear to their appeals, the cardinal point of which is, in the president's own language, nothing more than an "equality of rights," and a "freedom of life." Would that the Japanese might know that President Wilson, sagacious and sympathetic as he is, could not assume responsibility for all the ills of mankind. His shoulders, already bent under the weight of the white man's problems, could not carry the added burden of the yellow man's problems.

If one realizes the unfeigned trust reposed in President Wilson by the Japanese, one can also appreciate the keen disappointment which was felt by them when Mr. Wilson uttered no encouraging word for the proposal against racial discrimination, which they had caused their envoys to lay before the Peace Congress.

Ever since Japan opened her doors to foreign intercourse, the Japanese have observed that the Occidental nations had two standards of morals or justice,Ñone for themselves, and one for Asiatic peoples. If ever there was an opportunity for the abolition of this anomalous state of relations between the East and the West, the Japanese thought that the present Peace Congress offered such an opportunity. They are wondering whether the feint of hearing, which their proposal received at the peace table, is an indication that the great Powers of the West mean to adhere to the double standards of justice which they have long maintained.

To understand the intense feeling with which the Japanese desired to write into the covenant of the League of Nations an article providing for the removal of racial discrimination, one must know something of the population problem which has been harassing the Japanese.

During the past half century Japan's population has been increasing at an average rate of 400,000 per year. In recent years the rate of increase, instead of diminishing, has shown a tendency to become greater. The year 1917 witnessed a record-breaking increase, totaling 800,000 in round numbers. Fifty years ago Japan's population numbered some 33,000,000; today it has increased to 57,998,000. As the total area of Japan proper measures only 148,756 square miles, the density of population is about 389. While her population has been growing so rapidly she has in the past fifty years sent only 2,690,000 emigrants to various countries, including Hokkaido (North Island of Japan), Formosa, Korea, Manchuria, Hawaii and North America.

All European countries, at certain stages of their internal development, have alleviated the pressure of population at home by encouraging emigration. Moreover, most European countries have acquired vast overseas territories which have proved profitable to the mother countries either as colonies or as sources of supply of raw materials. These two factors emigration and the acquisition of overseas territories have, to no small extent, been responsible for the increase of wages and the promotion of general welfare among the working classes in Occidental countries. Contrary to this advantage enjoyed by the European nations, Japan, one of the most congested countries in the world, has, by agreement among the Occidental Powers, been compelled to grapple with the difficult task of disposing of "surplus population" without seeking colonial territories, and without sending her sons to any of the countries which seem to offer the greatest opportunities to emigrants with modest means. Today food materials produced from Japan's own soil are not enough to feed her own population. With the standards of living growing higher the shortage of food supply becomes more serious.

Germany has always tried to justify her aggressive policy by referring to the necessity of finding a "place in the sun." Yet Germany has always been free to send emigrants wherever she pleased. Her subjects, whether entrepreneurs or laborers, merchants or tillers of the soil, have always been at liberty to settle and engage themselves in various enterprises in all parts of the world. In a sense, therefore, Germany has always had her place in the sun. Were Japan allowed the same freedom and privilege as have been enjoyed by Germany, she would perhaps have little of which to complain. In Japan we see a nation whose need of a place in the sun is not imaginary, as in Germany's case, but decidedly real. What Japan would see the Western Powers grant her is nothing more than what President Wilson calls "an equality of rights." With Mr. Wilson, she recognizes the impossibility of establishing "equality of territory or of resources" among the various nations. Japan asks for no other kind of equality than that which can be gained "in the ordinary peaceful and legitimate development of the peoples themselves."

In spite of the serious pressure of population at home, Japan cheerfully entered into agreement with the United States, Canada, and Australia, restricting the emigration of her people to those countries. These agreements have been observed by Japan in good faith and with the greatest strictness. And yet the governments of those Western countries have not desisted from enacting measures curbing the rights and privileges of those Japanese who have been admitted into those countries in accordance with the provisions of the same agreements. Indeed, this last named discrimination has proved even more galling to the Japanese than the prohibition of emigration that has been imposed upon them. There is reason to believe that the Japanese complaint would be quieted, if the great Powers were to agree upon a principle of non-discrimination to be applied to the treatment of Orientals lawfully admitted into their domains, if not to the larger question of Oriental emigration. As an indication of this conciliatory attitude on the part of the Japanese, I quote the following passages from a recent editorial in the Tokyo Asahi, admittedly one of the most influential organs of public opinion in Japan:

"We do not propose to send our emigrants of the laboring class even where they are not welcome. But we do demand that our countrymen, who have gone abroad in compliance with the provisions of our treaties and are engaged in legitimate business and enterprises in foreign countries, should be accorded the same protection and the same privileges as are enjoyed by other nationals who are settled in those countries. We also demand that our merchants and travellersÑpeople who do not belong to the laboring classÑshould not be made to suffer in foreign countries such inconveniences and restrictions as have never been imposed upon the "white" persons of a corresponding class. These are the essential points which we hope will be seriously considered by those statesmen of the West who are championing the cause of humanity.

"This, of course, does not mean that we recognize the justice of the exclusion policy assumed by certain western countries against our emigrants. To the contrary, we believe that such sparsely populated countries as Australia, most sections of which have only one inhabitant to the square mile, should receive our emigrants. At the same time, we realize that our insistence upon this point will disturb our amicable relationship with foreign nations. Wisdom dictates that we should not insist upon an absolute freedom of emigration for our people of the working class.

"But there is no reason why the exclusive or restrictive measures directed against our working men should also be applied to our merchants and travellers, who, small in number, seek to enter countries controlled by Western nations. For this class of our countrymen, we can reasonably demand an absolute freedom of travel and residence. We must also see to it that those of our countrymen who have been lawfully admitted into such countries are not made objects of discrimination and persecution, and subjected to inequitable laws, often depriving them of the means of livelihood as well as the security of property."

I feel justified in saying that, even if the proposal for the abolition of racial discrimination were adopted, Japan would not insist upon the complete and immediate removal of the barriers which have been erected against Japanese immigration in various Western countries. What Japan will insist upon is nothing more than a fair and just treatment for the Japanese who are entitled to travel or reside in those countries. Nor does she urge that all Asiatic peoples be put upon an equal footing, if the Western Governments find it more practicable to deal with the Japanese independently of other Asiatic races. For Japan certainly has no ambition to be the champion and mouthpiece for her numerous and ponderous neighbors on the continent. At the same time, Japan feels that no nation should be made an object of discrimination at the hand of any Power with which it is on a plane of equality. This is an international usage, unwritten but nevertheless in force. A nation, admitted by universal consent into the comity of the world's foremost Powers, must be accorded the respect and consideration due such a Power. Fortunately or unfortunately, Japan is the only nation in the Orient which has attained such a position. She would fain leave it for the Western statesmen to decide whether she should be put in a class separate from other Asiatic peoples.

The rejection by the Peace Congress of the Japanese contention on the race issue must inevitably accentuate the skeptical views prevailing among the Japanese concerning the league of nations. In principle, the Japanese are, of course, ready to welcome any proposal for the creation of a world court and international commissions to which all international difficulties may be submitted for readjustment. As a practical question, however, they are still at a loss to decide whether such courts and commissions which will inevitably be dominated by the representatives of the Western nations will be capable of doing justice to the claims of Asiatic nations, insignificant both in number and in influence. From the Japanese point of view, Japan's past experiences in dealing with the great powers of Europe and America have been far from reassuring.

To illustrate the skeptical views prevailing among certain classes of Japanese on such questions as a court of arbitration and a league of nations, we may refer to the decision rendered by the Hague Court of Arbitration, in 1905, on the matter of taxation upon the property of foreigners in Japan.

When Japan opened her doors to international intercourse half a century ago, she agreed to set apart certain sections in the open ports for the residential and business purposes of foreigners. In these "settlements" foreigners secured from the Japanese government perpetual leases of lands. Not only were rents on such lands nominal, but they were exempt from all taxation. With the abrogation of the old treaties in 1898 these foreign settlements were also abolished, but even then Japan had to acquiesce in the insistence of foreign governments that the perpetual leases must remain valid.

When the Japanese authorities contracted the treaties exempting the leased lands from taxation they had no intention of extending this prerogative to the buildings which the foreigners would erect thereon. Since the establishment of the leases the foreigners have set up buildings amounting in value to many millions of dollars. Consequently the Japanese government asked them to pay taxes on these buildings, asserting that the immunity from taxation stipulated in the treaties was meant to apply only to the lands and not to the buildings. This contention seemed the more reasonable because rents on lands were but nominal. But the British, French, and German governments took a firm stand against this Japanese interpretation of the treaties. So the dispute was submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in 1904. The tribunal which considered this case consisted of two arbitrators and an umpire. The arbitrators were M. Louis Renault, professor of law in the University of Paris, representing the three European governments concerned, and Mr. Ichiro Motono, the Japanese Minister at Paris, representing the government at Tokyo. The umpire was Mr. Gregers Gram, formerly Norwegian Minister of State. The decision rendered under date of May 22, 1905, sustains the contention of the European Powers that the treaties exempt not only the land but "buildings of every description constructed or which may hereafter be constructed on such land, from all imposts, taxes, charges, contributions or conditions whatsoever." The Japanese representative had, of course, to abide by the decision, but in putting his signature to the document he recorded his "entire disagreement with the majority of the Tribunal both as regards the argument and the conclusion."

The significance of this decision lies not so much in its material effects as in the moral influence which it has produced upon the Japanese mind. From a material point of view, payment or non-payment of taxes upon a few million dollars worth of property is comparatively a small matter. The important point in issue is the principle involved. The Japanese are still firmly convinced of the justice and fairness of their contention on the question above described, and are grieved that their first experience in an international court, to which they had looked up with profound respect, proved disappointing. They are indeed impelled to wonder whether an equitable judgment can ever be meted out to an Asiatic nation by a tribunal in which the majority of judges are men identified with Occidental governments. This apprehension must inevitably be intensified by the denial of the Peace Congress to recognize that racial difference should not be permitted to interfere with international intercourse.

It cannot be denied that in the past the nations of the West have applied to Asiatic peoples standards of justice and equity quite different from those applied to themselves. Even those Westerners and those Western organizations professing to advocate internationalism have been incapable of redeeming themselves from this traditional attitude. This is best illustrated by the attitude of Socialists and labor unionists in Europe and America. The Allied Labor Conference held at Leeds in July, 1916, adopted a programme guaranteeing to the working people of all countries "freedom to work in any country where employment is available under equal conditions with its citizens." To the International Labor Conference now being held in Paris, American labor has submitted a platform containing the provision that "no political or economic restrictions meant to benefit some nations and to cripple or embarrass others " shall be adopted by any country. Did the labor leaders of Europe and America, in adopting such provisions, have in mind the working classes in the Orient, as well as their fellows in the Occident? If they did, their acts certainly have not conformed with their principles. When Socialists in Europe and America pledge themselves to internationalism they are thinking only of Europe and America, forgetting that across the oceans teeming millions are crying for larger fields of activity. When the trade unionists of Europe and America speak of the brotherhood of workers, they are thinking only of their own race. They complain that Japanese working men work for low wages, ignoring that, if the teeming masses of England or America were bottled up in a small archipelago as are the Japanese, their wage scale would not have risen as rapidly as it has. When the pacifists of Europe and America advocate world peace, they seem to mean maintenance of peace by sustaining the status quo of the relations of the East and WestÑby permitting the West not only to continue its occupation, in all parts of the world, of more territory than it is justly entitled to possess, but also to exclude from such territories all dark-skinned races whose overcrowded home lands afford not only scant opportunity to their natives, but are themselves often subject to ruthless exploitation at the hands of the West. A Western nation may declare a Monroe Doctrine, but is reluctant to accord an Asiatic nation a similar privilege. The West expects the East to open its doors to the enterprises and even exploitation of the white race, but reserves the right to slam its own doors in the face of the East.

It is highly doubtful that this anomalous relationship between the Orient and Occident will be appreciably altered by the organization of the League of Nations which refuses to accept the obviously just principle that no race in the league shall be discriminated against in any of the countries bound by its covenant. As far as Asia is concerned, the League is not likely to be a harbinger of glad tidings. Even the former German colonies will, under the euphonious title of mandatory, be controlled by a Western nation or nations, which will exclude therefrom all Orientals as they have excluded them from other territories in their possession. The Far Eastern peoples, then, must not, under the new world regime, expect much brighter days, but must be prepared to trudge along the same thorny path as heretofore, making the best use of their own resources, and endeavoring not to trespass upon the domain monopolized by the great Powers of the West, even if they have to trample upon one another within their own sphere in the sheer struggle for existence.

Since this chapter was written Japan has revised her proposition, making it clear that she does not seek free immigration and that her sole object is to safeguard the rights and privileges of her nationals who are already in or may hereafter be admitted into, foreign countries in conformity with treaties (such as the "gentlemen's agreement") which she has entered or may enter into with other nations. This is the principle which Japan proposes to apply equally to all nations which are members of the League.

As the manuscript goes to press (April 30) the fate of this proposal is still uncertain.