A Guide to the United States’ History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Lew Chew (Loochoo)
Lew Chew (sometimes referred to as Loochoo, more commonly known as Ryukyu) is a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean off of the Asian coast. Today it is known as Okinawa, and is one of the island chains that constitute modern-day Japan. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, Lew Chew was an independent kingdom that specialized in trade between Japan and mainland Asia.
U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry signed a treaty with Lew Chew on July 11, 1854. Other European powers followed with similar trade agreements, which led to increased unease from Lew Chew’s northern neighbor, Japan. In late 1874, Japan started to more closely incorporate the Lew Chew islands into the Meiji Empire. In 1875 Japan posted a military garrison in Lew Chew. The Japanese Government annexed Lew Chew in 1879, abolished the Lew Chew monarchy, and made it the southern frontier of the Japanese islands. By 1882 China recognized Japan’s hold over the Lew Chew islands as de facto. .
Mutual Recognition, 1854.
The first formal act of recognition between the United States and Lew Chew occurred on July 11, 1854, when U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry signed a treaty.
Establishment of Diplomatic Relations.
The United States and the Kingdom of Lew Chew never established diplomatic relations.
Treaties and Agreements
This treaty allowed for courtesy and friendship to be shown to all U.S. citizens who visited Lew Chew, as well as for hospitality provided to shipwrecked U.S. vessels off of the Lew Chew coast. The compact also stipulated that U.S. vessels could hire a Lew Chew pilot to guide them safely past the reefs and not (or out of) the harbor for $5.00.
Issues Relevant to U.S. Foreign Diplomacy
Potential Conflict of Interests with Japan.
One of the issues raised by the U.S. treaty with Lew Chew was that, as the Government of Japan aggregated greater control over the islands, they began to insist that all business by foreign governments pertaining to Lew Chew be conducted through the Japanese Department of Foreign Affairs. The position of the United States on these orders was that the independence of the islands “was a disputed matter in which the United States could not interfere unless its rights under treaty stipulations with any of the powers concerned in the controversy be endangered.” This question was negated when Japan directly took over the Lew Chew islands in 1879, making them a part of Japan.
- John Bassett Moore, A Digest of International Law (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906).
- Payson J. Treat, Japan and the United States, 1853-1921 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1929).