No. 283.
Mr. D. W. Stevens to Mr. Evarts.

No. 13.]

Sir: Referring to my No. 11, in relation to the departure of Mr. Hanabusa, on the Japanese man-of-war Hi Yei Kwan, for Corea, and the rumored probability of difficulty between that country and Japan on account of the imposition by the Corean authorities of a tax upon imports and exports, I have the honor to inform you that on the 19th instant Mr. E. M. Satow, Japanese secretary of the British legation, left Nagasaki, in [Page 613] Her Majesty’s ship Egeria, for the island of Quelpart, on the Corean coast. The ostensible object of Mr. Satow’s mission was to thank the Coreans for their kind conduct toward the crew of the British merchant vessel Barbara Taylor, to which I alluded in my No. 11. I have learned from a trustworthy source that Mr. Hanabusa’s departure was hastened on receipt of the news of Mr. Satow’s intended journey, and that the Japanese Government ascribe to the dispatch of the Egeria another, or, at least, an additional object to that made public. It does not seem probable, however, that Mr. Satow can, at the most, do more than report to his government the condition of the Japanese colony at Fusan, and, perhaps, the attitude which the Coreans would presumably assume should advances be made for the object of concluding a treaty with them.

There has been a decided change in the tone of the Japanese press with reference to the Corean question since last I wrote upon this subject. I inclose an extract from the Nichi Nichi Shinbun, the semiofficial organ of the government, in which the writer argues that the independence of Corea is necessary to the well-being of Japan; that friendly relations should be maintained with the Coreans, and that, while they must not be allowed to continue their obstructive policy, every effort should be made to induce them to enter into a just tariff convention, by which the interests of both countries will be promoted. The demand for immediate redress for the alleged violation by Corea of the treaty rights of Japan, which lately seemed to be the general sentiment of the press and people of the capital, has given place to milder counsels, and there now appears to be a disposition to avoid anything more violent than diplomatic remonstrance.

A curious feature of the discussion which has arisen upon this question in the foreign and native press, is the allusion made by certain of the English editors to Russia and her relations with Japan. The Russian bugbear, if I may be allowed the expression, has on this occasion been paraded before the Japanese with a solemnity which would be impressive were it not ludicrous.

Japan is warned of the imminent danger in which she stands from her proximity to Russia, and it is intimated, by no means ambiguously, that in these perilous times Great Britain is her natural friend. The manner in which Russia is thus made to do duty on all occasions and under any pretext was amusingly illustrated by a recent article in the Japan Weekly Mail, a journal generally considered the exponent of the cultured English class in Japan. Speaking of the rumor that the Russian Government is about to dispatch several men-of-war of improved armament, &c., to these waters, the editor of the Mail gravely remarks:

These news are more threatening to Japan than to England. We can increase our squadron in the Pacific and China seas with ease and give our commerce the requisite protection. But if Russia choose to seize Yezo or the Tsushima group as “a base of operations,” how do the Mikado’s advisers imagine they could stop her?

The fact that the relations of Russia and Japan are most friendly, and that there is not even the shadow of a probability that Russia will perpetrate such an act of gross treachery and injustice as that intimated, seems to have no weight with writers like the editors of the Mail. While, of course, the manifest bias and inconsequence of such assertions are their best answer, it is to be regretted that their constant repetition has led certain writers of the native press to indulge in reflections upon a friendly power which are as discreditable to their good sense as they are to their fairness.

I have, &c.,

[Page 614]
[Inclosure in No. 13.—Translation from the Nichi Nichi Shinbun (from the Japan Gazette), November 27, 1878.]

Mr. Hanabusa, chief secretary of the foreign office, the envoy to Korea, left by the corvette Hi Yei Kwan. Previous to his departure the Korean Government imposed heavy internal taxes on imports and exports with the intention of causing the cessation of trade with Japan. The merchants in Fusan were much distressed by this new system of levying taxes, and the general notice of Japan has been given to the discussion of measures how best to deal with the Koreans. One opinion is that, as the Korean authorities attempt unreasonably to compel Japanese to retire from their country and to stop all communication by the imposition of taxes, we are justified in threatening them by a display of force, or to compel them to agree to our proposals in regard to the tariff in order to protect our interest and advantages. Others take quite different views, urging that, as Korea is a young country, she does not know what trade means—whether it is advantageous or injurious—and the Japanese may endeavor to lead the obstinate Koreans to follow the example of more civilized nations. Thus, owing to differences of opinion as to what should be done, there is also a wide difference in opinion as to the mission of the envoy, now on his way to Fusan.

We consider that, although the purpose of the envoy is not known, as diplomatic affairs of this sort are kept secret, it may be the object of the government to compel Korea to conform to proposals from us that are supported by a threatening parade of force. This may be, but tariff and trade regulations to promote and preserve mutual benefit and convenience are expected to be arranged by a conference to take place between the envoy and the Korean authorities. We understand this from the reason that, as far we are concerned in Korea, Japan and that peninsula have most important influences on eastern countries, and we must endeavor to avoid any jealous misunderstanding between Japan, China, and Korea, in order to preserve the most friendly relations. The new system of levying taxes adopted by the Korean authorities is not for the purpose of protection, but merely to stop trade. As it is an extraordinarily heavy tax, it must be reduced more or less, but we do not desire to compel the Koreans to adopt a tariff of the lowest rate merely for our own advantage. The general condition of trade in Fusan for the past year shows it to be very dull, although a few kinds of imports and exports are increasing on a small scale. It is therefore hopeless that Korea will become a treasury for Japan in the future. Notwithstanding we cannot abandon this poverty-stricken country if only for the reason that it lies in a position of the utmost importance for Japan, it must not be annexed or occupied by any other power. With this necessity before us, it is most prudent for us to conduct our negotiations in a manner calculated not to inspire the Koreans with hostile feelings towards us. Since the years of Bunroku (1591–’95), in which Hideyoshi made an expedition to Korea, the Japanese and Koreans have been unfriendly; and the latter nation was compelled to sign the treaty of frendship with us against their wish. Let us consider the general feeling and condition of Japan twenty years ago. What aversion had we shown to foreigners? What opposition did we show to trade? On these considerations, we can, without difficulty, found an opinion upon the action of Korea with regard to foreign intercourse. Therefore we have a right to expect that a tariff should be framed for the convenience of both parties, as was done here by the late Mr. Town-send Harris, minister for the United States. This should be explained to the Koreans, for it is an important matter for us at present to let the Koreans know thoroughly our views on the subject.

As we have pointed out in the Nichi Nichi Shinbun of previous dates, the Eastern question has gradually advanced further east, reaching the center of Asia, and it will appear in Korea in the future. For several years Russia intended to add Turkish empire to her dominions and to possess Constantinople. The reason why Russia is so greedy for possession of the Ottoman capital is that the city is so situated as to command the Mediterranean Sea, and it would give Russia opportunities to attack Southern Europe. Korea is the Turkey of the east of Asia, and Fusan is Constantinople. If it falls into the hands of Russia, and her land forces can join the naval transports and navy at Fusan, Russia will then have no difficulty in advancing toward Japan on one side while she can also threaten China on the other. Since 1856 she has extended her dominions in the north of China, and added various provinces in Central Asia, but as she has possessed no good harbor in the east, she cannot satisfy her voracious and savage greed in that direction. In winter Russian harbors in Europe are frozen up, and her men-of-war are locked up for more than half the year. Napoleon Bonaparte said that if he permitted Russia to possess Constantinople, he should secure another ally; but that ally would soon become the sole ruler of the world. From that time no change in the possession of Constantinople has taken place, the integrity of this important position being secured by the treaty of Berlin. If Russia takes possession of Korea in the east of Asia she will be a robber. This matter is a most important question to eastern countries, all of which will suffer by Russian aggression.

[Page 615]

Korea occupies an important position in the East. When we have to discuss the question of the East, we must consider by whom the peninsula may be governed in order to preserve peace and the balance of power. If it be found advantageous to leave Korea to govern her own subjects as an independent state, we must then consider under what conditions she will exist. Since Russia first began to cast avaricious eyes upon Korea, several years have elapsed. Glancing back to 1861, the Russian man-of-war Ashirotte arrived off the coast of the island of Tsushima, where the Russians landed and formed camps under pretext of repairing their vessel. This occurred in February. At this time the allied troops of England and France were engaged in war with China. Russia declared her resolve to be neutral, but she was ready to enter into alliance with either of the contending powers whenever she saw it would be advantageous. In order to prevent Russia from aiding China, it was most important for England to station her troops at Tsushima or Korea. Admiral Kazakavitch, commander of the Pacific fleet of Russia, having heard of this movement, ordered the captain of the Ashirotte to occupy the island of Tsushima, where the British vessels followed by command of the minister of England in Yedo. Both the British and Russian vessels stopped several months in spite of the protests and requests made by our government to leave the island.*

This occupation was not ordered by the Russian Government. By this digression we desire to show our readers that seventeen years ago the island of Tsushima attracted notice, as important as Cyprus has lately clone in regard to Turkey. In 1862, the Tokugawa Government sent ambassadors to the treaty powers to require the opening of Hiogo, Niigata, Osaka, and Yedo to trade, to be deferred owing to civil disturbances in Japan. When the ambassadors arrived in England, the late Earl Russell, secretary of state for foreign affairs, persuaded them to open the island of Tsushima to foreign trade; and we read in the London Protocol:

“(The envoys of the Tycoon accredited to Her Britannic Majesty announce their intention) ‘on their return to Japan to submit’ (to the Tycoon and his ministers) ‘the policy and expediency of opening to foreign commerce the port of Tsushima in Japan, as a measure by which the interests of Japan will be materially promoted.’”

On their arrival at Paris, the envoys were advised by M. Thouvenel, minister for foreign affairs, to do the same, and we do not read in the treaty of Paris: “On their return, the Japanese ambassadors will endeavor to induce their government to open Korea to trade”—though these words correctly represent the verbal advice given to our envoys. When the envoys went to Russia, they found there quite different opinions, and Gortschakoff, minister of foreign affairs, said that any such courses must be followed by severe injury to Japan.

From these we can clearly judge the purpose of these countries. They differ in opinion, because they desire to promote their own advantage, not that of Japan. Let us examine what is advantageous and what disadvantageous to Japan with regard to Korea! As the island of Tsushima is in a most important position, being close to Korea, there should be an army and navy stationed there. After that we should teach the Koreans to understand the benefit likely to arise from opening their country to trade. The Korean peninsula must not be occupied by Russia or China. According to the present condition of things the latter country has no power to do anything in the east. Will, then, the Japanese take possession of Korea? This we do not think. Not only is the Korea of no value to Japan, but as it now is it is a perpetual barrier against other nations.

From this it is clear that the independence of Korea tends to maintain the balance of power in the East, and is consequently advantageous to Japan. The most necessary thing to be done by us now is to preserve friendly relations with the Koreans, whom we can gradually lead on to civilization and instruct them to enter into treaties with England, France, and other countries, in order to preserve their independence. As the peninsula forms an important factor in the great Eastern problem, it is necessary for the government to make preparations in anticipation of possible, and indeed probable, events.

  1. This is quite incorrect, as Sir James Hope, the commander of the British naval force at the time in China, actually forced the Russians to leave Tsushima. It is said he used threats of opening tire upon earthworks which would soon have been turned into permanent batteries. Sir James Hope’s services to Japan on this occasion should have protected him from the erroneous and injurious comment.—Ed. J. G.