Asian and Pacific theatre of World War I
Entente conquest of German colonies in Asia and the Pacific
author Paul Boșcu, July 2018
The Asian and Pacific theatre of the Great War consisted of various naval campaigns between the Entente and German forces during witch the Germans were driven out of their colonies in the Pacific. The only notable land campaign was the siege of Tsingtao, in China, where Japanese troops captured the city from German hands.

Please support History Lapse by making a $5 donation (PayPal, credit card or bitcoin).

bitcoin: 1PpagscXKttC5FidgV2WQNRaBgSPwjvP9Z
The Asia and Pacific theater of the Great War consisted of a series of naval battles and the Entente conquest of German colonies in the Pacific and China. The most significant land battle was the Entente siege of Tsingtao in China and the battles of Bita Paka and Toma in German New Guinea. The campaign is notable for Japanese intervention, on the Entente side. At the end of the war all German and Austrian possessions were lost.

Besides Tsingtao, the Japanese navy also used the opportunity of the war to seize the German Pacific islands north of the equator. Britain could hardly protest too strongly when its own dominions similarly seized the opportunity to further their colonial ambitions. New Zealand had occupied Samoa, and Australia laid claim to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. But British anxieties were focused on the activities of the Japanese army on the continent of Asia.

Alone of the belligerent powers, Japan made sure that — for all the war's inbuilt pressures to the contrary — conflict served the purposes of its policy. For the political theorist, what is extraordinary about this outstandingly successful use of war for the achievement of political objectives was that it was carried out by a government that was weak and divided.

The military value of Japan's contribution to the Entente should not be underrated just because it remained limited by Japanese policy objectives. Japan entered the war as Britain's ally, not as a member of the Entente, and it did so as an Asian empire, not a European one. Therefore it was within the confines of the navy and of the Pacific that it elected to operate, and it is within these confines that its military value should be judged.

Japan’s initial assistance to the Royal Navy, which enabled the Chinese trade to resume within three weeks of the war's outbreak, was sustained throughout the war. In 1916 it was extended to the Indian Ocean, and in January 1917 to the Mediterranean. In 1918 the Japanese flotilla was the most efficient of the Entente naval units in that theater.

Russia too derived direct military benefit from its relationship with Japan; in addition to security on its eastern frontier, its arms purchases from Japan totalled 430,000 rifles and 500 heavy guns by the end of the first year of the war. Japan's military contribution can be even better appreciated if stated negatively rather than positively. Without it, the ability of Britain and Russia to concentrate on Europe would have been considerably diminished.

The Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 was designed by the British to deal with the balance of power in the Far East. It had never been intended as a weapon against Germany. However, in August 1914 the Admiralty’s anxiety about the defense of British trade in the Pacific caused it to change tack. The Japanese navy included fourteen battleships. The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, asked the Japanese for limited naval assistance in hunting down German armed merchantmen.

In the minds of Australians the danger of invasion lay not just with Germany. Japan was seen as a threat which was as great and more immediate. Racism underpinned the fear. But Japan was Britain’s ally.

Most of the elder Japanese statesmen (the genro) and service chiefs believed that the Anglo-Japanese alliance had outlived its usefulness. Crucially, these were not the views of Kato Takaaki, the foreign minister, who had served as ambassador in London and who was an ardent anglophile. He wished to exclude the elders from government, to assert the cabinet’s control over the armed forces and to put parliamentary politics on a secure footing.

The war in Europe was, in the words of Inoue Kaoru, an elder Japanese statesman, ‘divine aid ... for the development of the destiny of Japan’. Like many others in Japan, as in Australia, Inoue interpreted international relations in racial terms. Just as the current war in Europe could be seen as a conflict between Teuton and Slav, so a future war would pit the yellow races against the white. Grey’s invitation was therefore a ‘one in a million chance’ to establish Japanese suzerainty in China, and therefore in Asia, while the European powers were engaged elsewhere.

Of all the world’s statesmen in 1914, Kato proved the most adroit at using war for the purposes of policy. Domestically he exploited it to assert the dominance of the Foreign Ministry and of the cabinet in the making of Japan’s foreign policy. Internationally he took the opportunity to redefine Japan’s relationship with China. In doing so he was not simply outflanking the extremists opposed to him; he was also honoring his own belief that Japan should be a great power like those of Europe. An essential aspect of that status was imperialism, as Britain itself showed.

The navy's building standards were set by the United States. Its leading strategic theorist, Sato Tetsutaro, argued that Japan's maritime security was contingent on its ability to strike a decisive blow against the enemy in the latter's home waters. He concluded that the Japanese navy therefore required a capability equivalent to 70 percent of that of the United States.

This was a figure which reflected the global consequences of regional naval arms races: Theodore Roosevelt's battleship program, which found part of its justification through Tirpitz's expansion of the German fleet, increased the American 'threat' to Japan, but at the same time the American navy's division over two oceans diminished it.

The navy had selected the United States as its yardstick for the convenience of its building program. But the rivalry was given an edge by anti-Japanese racism in California, and derived geopolitical reality from America's westward extension across the Pacific, to Hawaii, Samoa, the Philippines, and Guam. The Japanese fleet's maneuvers of 1908 assumed that its enemy was the United States, and in 1910 the Japanese navy studied the problem of attacking the Philippines.

The United States did not figure on the Japanese Army's list of potential enemies. Its focus was not maritime but continentalist; its expansionism was directed not into the Pacific but to the mainland of Asia. Thus, the rivalry between the two Japanese services had a strategic spine. The navy saw the army's continentalism as risky and expensive. Japan in Asia should emulate Britain in Europe: it should seek an ally, in this case China, in order to create a protective buffer against Russia.

Rebellion in Korea gave the army its opportunity to further its continental interests. It suppressed the uprising with considerable ferocity, and the formal annexation which followed brought Japan's frontier adjacent to that of Russia.

Japan declared war on Germany. It had every intention of keeping its involvement limited: it never seriously entertained the idea of sending troops to Europe, although it did deploy a squadron of ships to the Mediterranean in 1917. But, equally, it was not going to conform to the constraints on its actions suggested by the British. It immediately set about the capture of Tsingtao by means of an amphibious assault. Japan occupied the Marianas, Marshalls and Carolines during October 1914. Transferred to her by mandate after 1918, they were to form the outer perimeter of her island stronghold in the war against the United States twenty-five years later.

Germany was no danger to Japan. But in 1895 Japan had acquired Taiwan and had secured treaty rights in China. In 1905 the defeat of Russia rendered Korea first a Japanese dependency, and then — in 1910 — a colony. In the decade before the First World War, Japan behaved in China as did the great powers of Europe, promoting informal empire through exports and advocating the sort of modernization from which their own development had so recently benefitted.

War in Europe presented a double challenge to the Far East. First, Japan itself had twice recently used war to advance its own interests in the region with considerable success. Second, the nation’s spheres of influence in China, guarded by their own troops, provided the opportunity for European rivalries to spread.

Domestically, the decision to enter the war required of Kato some adroit political footwork. The cabinet convened to consider Britain's request. Kato persuaded it to support him. But cabinet government in Japan, still largely shaped and staffed by the bureaucracy, was not powerful enough to proceed without the backing of the genro, the navy, or the army. The cabinet reconvened with the genro in attendance. The latter were cautious, given Germany's military prowess and Japan's relative economic weakness. The services, on the other hand, saw in war the opportunity for the implementation of both their spending programs.

Kato emerged triumphant. Japan told Britain that it would declare war on Germany, arguing that the latter was threatening peace in the Far East and that the alliance had therefore been called into operation. The claim was doubtful. Formally speaking, Germany had done nothing to trigger the terms of the alliance. But, by insisting that this was the banner under which Japan fought, Kato gave himself maximum freedom of movement within the Far East. Japan's purpose was to eliminate German influence in China.

Kato wanted to capture Tsingtao. China, and those Britons involved with China, were alarmed. The Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey, replied that he would rather Japan did not enter the war than that it should do so on such terms. The alliance was committed to the maintenance of China's integrity, not to its partition. Kato now argued that public opinion in Japan was sufficiently agitated to make it impossible for him to reverse his policy. It was true that the Tokyo crowd played an active role in Japanese politics after 1905.

Entry to the war was calculated to appeal to Japanese nationalism, and to the demands for an aggressive foreign policy manifested by populists. But in fact the outbreak of the First World War was not marked by crowd demonstrations; anti-Germanism was both tardy and somewhat contrived. However, once again Kato's tactics succeeded.

The danger that Kato's appeal to Japanese domestic feeling opened up before Grey was far more awful than that of Japanese entry on the side of the Entente — it was that of Japan's abandonment of the alliance and even of its siding with Germany if that served the interests of its China policy. Britain therefore accepted Japan's involvement in the war. Its statement, that Japanese action would be restricted to the China Seas, to the 'Asiatic waters westward of the China Seas', and to 'territory in German occupation on the continent of eastern Asia', was designed to appease the United States and the Dominions. Japan neither approved it nor honored it.

The biggest of the German overseas naval bases was Tsingtao on the Shantung peninsula in China. The East Asiatic Squadron, which was based there, consisted of two armored cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and three light cruisers, all under the command of Graf von Spee. It was numerically comparable and qualitatively superior to the British ships based on Hong Kong. The main danger, however, came not from the sea but from inland. Japanese and British troops landed in China and attacked the city. The German garrison surrendered.

The dominions of both Australia and New Zealand had begun the creation of their own navies just before the outbreak of the war, and each had built a battle cruiser, but neither ship was available for use against Spee. HMS New Zealand was not even in the Pacific: she had been deployed to the North Sea to improve the naval balance against the main German fleet. HMS Australia was in the right ocean, but the Commonwealth of Australia was determined that she would be used for the close defense of its own territory.

Germany had presumed that the principal threat to Tsingtao would come from the sea; its landward fortifications had been designed to check the Boxers, a secret society which had orchestrated an anti-foreigner rebellion in 1900. An overland approach breached China’s neutrality. The British contributed two battalions to a Japanese force of 60,000 and therefore colluded (not for the last time in this war) in the infringement of the rights of neutrals - a principle which they had ostensibly got into this war to defend.

China had declared its neutrality. In reality, the network of leases and informal spheres of influence meant that its neutrality was bound to be conditional. Tsingtao was connected to the main internal communications of China by a railway to Tsinan. The line was not owned by the German state, but was nonetheless the fruit of Sino-German commercial collaboration. The Germans used it to draw into Tsingtao their reservists scattered throughout China; Japan, in its turn, once landed on the Shantung peninsula, extended its control over the railway as far west as Tsinan itself.

Heavily fortified and defended by 3,000 German marines, Tsingtao presented a formidable military obstacle to any attacker. The Japanese and British, taking no chances, commenced a deliberate siege. Three lines of defense confronted the attackers. The first two were abandoned by the Germans without resistance. Against the third, the Japanese dug parallels in regulation siege-warfare style and opened a bombardment with 2-inch howitzers.

During the last attack a night-time infantry assault was delivered, across a No Man's Land which had been reduced to 300 yards in width, and the following morning Captain Meyer Waldeck, the naval officer serving as governor, surrendered his force. His marines had lost 200 men killed, against 1,455 Japanese fatal casualties. It had been a brave, if purely symbolic resistance.

Japanese troops were home by Christmas, and their total losses in the First World War were less than 2,000. The Tsingtao campaign was sufficiently short and decisive to ensure that Kato retained the initiative in policy. He presented China with the so-called 21 Demands, divided into five groups. The first four groups sought to extend direct Japanese control over Shantung, southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, and to buttress its trading position elsewhere; those in the fifth group were dubbed ‘wishes’ rather than ‘demands’, and aimed to secure for Japan the sort of privileges already accorded to the other great powers.

Kato’s aims were economic rather than annexationist. But the objectives of the army, of big business and of pan-Asiatic nationalists were more directly political and military. Kato miscalculated the effects of his own success, and by 1916 the elders and the army had reasserted their hold on government. Admirers of German rather than British styles of government, they began to orientate themselves for what they saw as the coming struggle with the United States.

The timing of the delivery of the twenty-one demands, soon after the fall of Tsingtao and in the immediate context of a debate with China over the extent of the Shantung war zone, suggested that Japan was doing little more than tidy up after its defeat of the Germans. China cancelled the war zone.

Although China did not ask Japan to withdraw from Tsingtao for fear of creating the impression that it had used Japan to defeat Germany for its own ends, it argued that Japan's occupation of Tsingtao was temporary, pending the reversion of the German lease to China. Japan, of course, believed that the German lease should be bestowed on Japan, and feared that reversion to China would not preclude the re-emergence of Germany in China after the war. The dispute over Tsingtao provided the immediate context for the formulation of the twenty-one demands.

The twenty-one demands were a maximum program. Kato had incorporated the views of all interested parties, including the army, the navy, big business, and the pan-Asiatic nationalists. But Kato himself reckoned to do no more than consolidate Japan in Shantung, southern Manchuria, and eastern Inner Mongolia. This, after all, was what he had gone to war for, and what he had concluded — from various statements by Grey — that Japan's ally would support.

China responded by persisting in defense of its sovereignty. At a cabinet meeting in May 1915 the Japanese decided to drop group five in its entirety. Therefore the demands contained in the ultimatum served on China by Japan, although far milder than those contained in the original draft, can have been no more mild than Kato himself originally anticipated. China duly accepted their terms two days later.

The Sino-Japanese treaty secured Japan's hold on southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, ceded Germany's economic rights in Shantung to Japan leaving the settlement of the leasehold to the final peace settlement, established the Han Yeh Ping company as a Sino-Japanese concern, and embodied the non-alienation of Fukien.

The only legitimate Japanese objection to Kato's diplomacy was that he might have achieved as much with greater stealth if he had proceeded gradually and waited until 1919 for confirmation of what he had gained. But that argument assumed a knowledge that the war would not end sooner, and that when it did the European powers — in particular Russia and Germany — would not be in a position to press their Asiatic claims with greater strength.

If Kato failed it was not as a diplomat but as a domestic politician. The nationalists, led on by the inclusion of their aspirations in group five, were frustrated by the length of the negotiations and their final outcome. The genro were annoyed at their exclusion from the processes of diplomacy. By sidelining the genro Kato ran the risk of empowering the army, which the genro had hitherto held in check, and which saw force as a solution to the crisis. The government became weakened, and Kato was removed, ultimately to be replaced as foreign minister by Ishii Kikujiro.

Kato's handling of the twenty-one demands, and in particular of group five, came to be seen as a diplomatic blunder in part through these domestic divisions.

Germany’s loss of Tsingtao left the East Asiatic Squadron without a base. But Spee had never intended to contribute directly to its defense. The basic presumption of cruiser warfare was that cruisers should retain their freedom of maneuver as long as possible. Spee’s ships should therefore have dispersed. By scattering he would force a superior enemy to follow suit. He would be free to direct his attacks against vulnerable targets, such as merchant ships and harbors, and he would avoid a battle in which the enemy could concentrate strength against weakness.

When Spee told his captains what he intended, Karl von Müller of the Emden disagreed. Spee’s scheme would keep his command intact, but it would do so at the price of the principles of cruiser war, and it would not threaten Britain’s commerce at its most vulnerable points. Spee agreed to the extent that he allowed Müller to detach the Emden from the squadron and to make for the Bay of Bengal. Over two months, the Emden raided Madras and Penang, captured twenty-three vessels, and sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer. Müller applied the principles of cruiser warfare to brilliant effect.

The Emden was surprised and sunk by an Australian light cruiser as she was raiding the wireless station on the Cocos Islands. Even then the Emden’s exploits were not over. Müller had put a landing party ashore on Direction Island. It seized a schooner and sailed to the Yemen. After crossing to the Red Sea, it braved the desert, despite attacks by hostile Arabs, and reached Damascus and then Constantinople. A German journalist greeted the party on its arrival by asking its commander, Hellmuth von Mücke, which he would prefer, a bath or Rhine wine: ‘Rhine wine,’ replied von Mücke.

Spee’s squadron set a course for the Marshall Islands. The swift destruction of the German wireless stations in the Pacific forced Spee to observe radio silence, and so helped him hide in the vastness of the ocean. As he left Samoa he doubled back towards Tahiti as darkness fell. At Tahiti his good fortune deserted him. He bombarded Papeete. Papeete had no wireless of its own, but a French steamer was able to report the attack, and so confirmed what some of his pursuers were beginning to realize: that Spee was aiming for South America. His pursuer, Sir Christopher Cradock, caught up with him but suffered a crushing defeat.

Sir Christopher Cradock, commanding the Royal Navy’s Western Atlantic Squadron off South America, was one of those who had suspected that Spee was headed for South America. It was a rare flash of intuition: a brave man, he was not particularly intelligent, and believed that ‘a naval officer should never let his boat go faster than his brain’. To cover both the western Atlantic and the eastern Pacific, Cradock was obliged to divide his command, taking only four ships round the Horn. The Admiralty intended to reinforce them, but the attacks of the Emden and Spee’s north-westerly course after the attack on Apia persuaded it that it must have been mistaken about Spee’s destination.

The Admiralty’s orders to Cradock were ambiguous - the consequence of an offensive-minded First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who could not resist the temptation offered by the wireless to direct operations from London on the basis of outdated intelligence. The Admiralty certainly told Cradock that it was his job to seek out the enemy, and only by leaving Canopus did it seem that he would have the speed to do so. The trouble was that he now lacked the firepower to be effective when he found Spee.

Spee used only one vessel, the light cruiser Leipzig, to transmit wireless signals. Cradock heard the signals and fancied that he might catch the Leipzig in isolation. In fact, Spee’s squadron had rendezvoused with two cruisers, including the Leipzig, off Easter Island. Cradock used HMS Glasgow in exactly the same way. The Germans heard the Glasgow’s signals and closed with her off Coronel.

Cradock closed up to the Glasgow. While the setting sun was in the Germans’ eyes, his ships had a temporary advantage, but as soon as it sank over the horizon the British ships were silhouetted against a reddening sky. Spee kept his distance until the light was right, and then opened fire. Cradock’s flagship, Good Hope, was hit before she opened fire and sank within half an hour; HMS Monmouth followed two hours later.

It was a crushing victory, but Spee was realistic about his options. When he called at Valparaiso to bunker, he told an old friend: ‘I cannot reach Germany; we possess no other secure harbor; I must plough the seas of the world doing as much mischief as I can, till my ammunition is exhausted, or till a foe far superior in power succeeds in catching me.’ He set course for Cape Horn and the Atlantic.

The British responded to the news of Coronel by detaching two battle cruisers, Inflexible and Invincible, from the Battle Cruiser Squadron in the North Sea. Commanded by Sir Doveton Sturdee, they reached the Falkland Islands. What followed was a disaster for the Germans: the almost complete destruction of their forces, with Spee himself dying when his flagship SMS Scharnhorst was sunk. By the end of 1914 the German cruiser threat to Britain’s maritime trade was all but eliminated. So large was Britain’s merchant fleet that the achievements of Spee, Muller and others were in statistical terms insignificant.

Spee could have given the Falklands a wide berth, but once again his propensity for action got the better of him, even though his shell stocks were running low. As the Gneisenau closed on Cape Pembroke, its senior gunnery officer spotted the three-legged tripod masts characteristic of Dreadnoughts, the all-big-gun battleships pioneered by the British in 1905.

The battle cruisers had been developed by Jackie Fisher, the First Sea Lord, for action exactly like this. They combined the hitting power of the battleship with the maneuverability of the cruiser. Inflexible opened fire at 16,500 yards, although her guns were calibrated for 12,000 yards. Sturdee avoided closing beyond about 14,000 yards, the maximum range for the Germans’ 8.2- inch main guns.

Spee looked for a break in the weather, knowing that the British had the afternoon and evening of a South Atlantic summer to deal with their foe. Scharnhorst was sunk at 4.17 p.m. Aboard the Gneisenau, ‘debris and corpses were accumulating, icy water dripped in one place and in another gushed in streams through panels and shell-holes, extinguishing fires and drenching men to the bone.’ Out of ammunition, at 6.02 she, too, went down. One of Spee’s two sons, Heinrich, drowned with the Gneisenau. The other, Otto, was on the light cruiser, Nürnberg. She was overhauled and sunk, as was Leipzig. Only Dresden escaped: she was not run down until 14 March 1915.

China was already in chaos, following the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912. The president of the Chinese republic, Yuan Shih-kai, claimed the credit for moderating the humiliation of the 21 Demands and suggested that he become emperor, seeking the backing of the Entente for his bid. Internal division within China created Japan’s opportunity to advance its indirect control over the remainder of the country. China declared war on Germany, but the real danger came from Japan. Its purpose was not to fight the war but to attend the peace conference in order to regain Shantung and reassert its sovereignty.

In November 1915 Yuan suggested that the Entente powers support his candidature in return for China's entry to the war. He now recognized that belligerence might be the price of entry to the peace negotiations. China could then press directly for the return of Tsingtao. In June China tried to curry the support of the Entente by offering infantry and arms: the former were to provide labor for the Western Front and the latter were German-made rifles, many of which had still not been paid for.

In London the Foreign Office had been cautious, not least because its Far Eastern policy was predicated on the existing alliance with Japan rather than on a putative arrangement with a weaker power. But within China itself some Britons, including Yuan's political adviser George Morrison, encouraged the president. The British military attaché was attracted by the offer of men; British business interests saw the opportunity to eliminate German competition in China.

The military governors of south China turned against Yuan, and the Japanese army encouraged their rebellion by supplying them with military advice. The Japanese economy boomed in the First World War, not least on the back of Japanese investment in China and exploitation of China’s labor and raw materials. Deprived of money and munitions, and geographically isolated, the revolutionary warlords made slow progress at first.

Warlordism increased the leverage of military advice. The revolutionaries in the south accepted it in the name of republicanism; those in the north in the hope of a Manchu restoration. Once again Japanese policy was caught between competing attractions: the establishment of a separate enclave in Manchuria now or the exercise of indirect control throughout China in the future. The dilemma was resolved on 6 June 1916, when Yuan died just as he was about to flee into exile.

Japan acknowledged Yuan’s successor as president, Li Yuen-kung, who became the advocate of parliamentary government, the representative of the south and of the revived Kuomintang. Opposed to him was Tuan Chi-jui, the prime minister and the spokesman of the military governors. To describe Chinese politics from June 1916 in terms of two distinct divisions is to disguise the factionalism and self-interestedness manifest within each. In its weakness each grouping looked outside China for support. China's discord therefore strengthened Japan's hand, while Japan itself could protest its respect for Chinese integrity.

Britain saw concessions to Japan in China as a reasonable return for Japan's contribution to the war effort and for security in India. For many in China, the only way forward now seemed to be belligerence and an even closer relationship with Japan, in the hope that once it had stability it could then eject its unwelcome partner.

After the battle of the Falkland Islands, Grey suggested to Kato that the occupation of the German Pacific territories should be temporary pending the final peace settlement. If Germany was then still in a dominant position on the continent of Europe, the islands would be bargaining chips for the restoration of Belgium. Kato accepted the principle, but concluded that 'the Japanese nation would naturally insist on the permanent retention of all German Islands north of the equator'. Thus, the removal of the German threat in the Pacific had been achieved by the activation of that from Japan.

For Australians and New Zealanders the exchange was a poor one. The Dominions contended that the surrender to them of New Guinea, the administrative centre for all the German Pacific islands, implied Australian control of the entire network. But, though an explanation for the antipodeans' slowness to act themselves, their argument carried little weight when compared with possession.

Lewis Harcourt, the colonial secretary in London, switched from being the spokesman of Dominion concerns in Britain to being the emissary of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in Australia. Nor were his efforts without success. Australia's complaints tended to obscure its recognition that the alliance had actually worked to defend it from attack. With considerable ease and minimal expense, the German south Pacific islands had been added to the bounds of the British empire and formed a fresh defensive buffer to the north.

London's efforts to contain Japan or to argue that the occupation of Germany's Pacific colonies was temporary were spoiled by the determination of its Dominion partners to turn conquest into commercial exploitation. Furthermore, the colonization of New Guinea was not moderated, as it was in Micronesia, by attention to the welfare and education of the indigenous population.

The perceived benefits of sub-imperialism eased the Dominions' sense of loss. Australia and New Zealand accepted the de facto division of power at the equator. In 1916 British war aims policy included the retention by Australia and New Zealand of their south Pacific acquisitions and by Japan of theirs in the north Pacific. Therefore, although the secret Anglo-Japanese agreement of February 1917 continued to embody a caveat allowing for the outcome of the peace negotiations, each of the contracting parties recognized the permanence of the other's possessions.

Britain, for all its double standards in the matter, was a satiated power, committed to maintaining the status quo in the Pacific, and only responding to the allocation of the German colonies because the circumstances of war forced it to. Japan, on the other hand, was an emergent empire, which had entered the war in pursuit of its Pacific policy, instead of shaping its policy around the fact of its being at war. In August 1914 it faced no threat to its territory or to its vital interests.

The First World War, by emptying the Far East of Europe's exports and by making the European powers dependent on Japanese support, provided Japan with opportunities for penetration and expansion. The only problem was that Japan's attentions were not focused primarily on Germany: the north Pacific islands were an incidental bonus. Japan's aims lay in China, a neutral state whose integrity was a declared objective of the Anglo-Japanese alliance.

Britain's readiness to concede to Japan can only be interpreted as weakness if strategy is interpreted in terms of war aims and their achievement. Britain's global priority between 1914 and 1918 was a victorious conclusion to the war with Germany. The Anglo-Japanese alliance was so managed by the Foreign Office (and by the Admiralty) that it made a significant contribution to that objective.