A Statesman for the Twenty-First Century? The Life and Diplomacy of Shidehara Kijuuroh (1872-1951)

Mr. Klaus Schlichtmann

Lecture 1995-04-10

The cherry blossoms were still at their height when a goodly assemblage, including the ambassadors of Venezuela and Cambodia, gathered in OAG House to hear Mr. Klaus Schlichtmann speak on "A Statesman for the Twenty-First Century? The Life and Diplomacy of Shidehara Kijuuroh (1872-1951)"

Shidehara Kijuuroh, a leading diplomat during a critical period of Japan's history and a postwar prime minister, was born on 11th August, 1872, to a land-owning family in Kagoma, near Osaka. He grew up in the intellectual climate of the liberal People's Rights Movement initiated by Nakae Chohmin, one of the scholars of Western ideas. After graduating in 1895 from Tokyo Imperial University, where he was recognized as an outstanding student, he entered the diplomatic service, and was first sent to Inchon in Korea as Vice-Consul under Ishii Kikujiroh. He established good relations with the British representatives, and formed a close friendship with the younger sister of the minister, John Newell Jordan, and even considered marrying her at one stage. At this point world opinion still supported Japan's presence in Korea, and this only changed after the Russo-Japanese War.

Shidehara's next appointment was to London in 1899, and he stayed there until December, 1900, after which he was sent to Antwerp as Consul. This was the time of the First Peace Conference at The Hague, Netherlands, the first international conference convened in times of peace to discuss the peaceful settlement of disputes between nation-states. In 1902 Japan and Britain formed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, which was instrumental in bringing about Japan's victory in the war with Russia. During this period there was great hope and enthusiasm in Europe for a new age when national aims could be attained by peaceful means. Among the Japanese leadership opinion was divided. Japan was still concerned with the abolition of the unequal peace treaties and distrustful of the intentions of the Western powers; moreover she was still influenced by Bismarck's advice that it was better to rely on arms than on international law.

In 1903 Shidehara married Iwasaki Masako, of the family that controlled Mitsubishi and was associated with the Kenseikai Party which in the 1920s became identified with parliamentary democracy, pacifism and free enterprise. Masako was a Christian, and under the influence of the Christian pacifist ideas of Uchimura Kanzoh, and may in turn have influenced her husband. 1904 found Shidehara back in Tokyo, serving in the Telegraphic and Research Department of the Foreign Ministry until 1911, once again under Ishii Kikujiroh. During this period he became closely associated with an American adviser, Henry W. Denison, from whom he obtained a thorough knowledge of international treaty law and standard Western legal philosophy, which he added to his own personal qualities essential to a diplomat; an excellent memory, moral integrity, and patience. In appearance he was always a Western gentleman, with bowler hat and walking stick, and tailor-made suits from London. His English ability was such that he used to draft his reports in English and then translate them into Japanese. He ignored the traditional Japanese hierarchical customs and the "giri-ninjoh" philosophy. His professional attitude was to act on his own initiative and do what the situation required, regardless of public opinion.

Following the failure of the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907, preparations were made to hold a third conference in 1915, in the hopes that the warlike powers could be outvoted. These hopes were fostered by the Chinese revolution of 1911, Japan's attainment of full sovereignty, and the International Races Conference in London. In 1912, Shidehara was sent to Washington to assist the ambassador at a time of strong prejudice against Japanese immigration, and he was able to alleviate most of the grievances. (At the end of that year Prime Minister Saionji Kinmochi was forced out by General Katsura Taroh; there was a general uprising, and the Katsura cabinet was toppled.) In 1913 Shidehara was sent as counsellor to the embassy in London, and in 1914 to the Hague and Copenhagen as minister plenipotentiary. It is likely that these missions were related to the British efforts to avert war. During his time abroad Shidehara was influenced by two British diplomats. From ambassador James Bryce, with whom he associated in Washington, he learnt never to lose sight of the long-term perspectives in international relations. From Sir Edward Grey he learnt that the two most important principles of diplomacy were high moral standards and non-partisanship.

From 1915 to 1919 Shidehara served as vice-minister for Foreign Affairs under five different ministers, beginning with Ishii Kikujiroh. In 1916 he successfully thwarted the efforts of the military to set up a buffer state in Manchuria by informing the unsuspecting foreign minister of the military's secret plans. He was not successful, however, in deterring the government from responding to allied calls for intervention in Siberia after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917.

From 1919 to 1922 Shidehara was ambassador to the United States. At this point he tried to bring about an honourable retreat from the Siberian adventure (in common with the other allied forces), but was powerless against the autonomous command structure which the military enjoyed overseas. He was appointed chairman of the preparatory committee for the Versailles Peace Conference, and in welcoming the establishment of the League of Nations he referred to the importance of public opinion in regulation international affairs; indeed public opinion in Japan at the time favoured his policy of peaceful economic development, cooperation and international understanding. Subsequently he became chief negotiator at the Washington Naval Disarmament Conference of 1921-22, the success of which was due to his untiring efforts. His guiding aim was to strengthen Japanese security and sovereignty in the Pacific vis-a-vis China and the West within limits clearly defining each nation's sphere of interests, thus making impossible the intervention of any Western power in the Orient. Shidehara was able to restore to China Shantung and most of the rights extorted by Japan in the Twenty-One Demands. His success was based on a strict adherence to principles, such as the tactics of peaceful "negotiation and compromise"; his diplomacy harmonized two apparently contradictory principles - idealism and pragmatism.

In 1924 Shidehara became Foreign Minister in the coalition Cabinet under Katoh Takaaki of the Kenseikai. In this capacity he concluded a number of trade agreements, worked for the recognition of Chinese tariff autonomy, granted diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union, and was instrumental in preparing for the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which renounced wars of aggression. Unfortunately, the rising tide of nationalism in China produced a reaction in Japan demanding a stronger military policy. In 1927 the Cabinet of General Tanaka Giichi sent troops into Shantung to check the advance of the Kuomintang forces. Then the Chinese warlord in Manchuria, Chang Tso-lin, was assassinated, and suspicion focused on Japanese officers in Mukden. The Tanaka cabinet resigned, and in 1929 Shidehara once more became Foreign Minister under Hamaguchi Yuukoh, and once again tried to conduct a positive China policy. But events, including the depression, were against him. In 1930 there was an attempt on Hamaguchi's life, and Shidehara became acting prime minister for a time. Then in 1931 the publication of a book about the American tappings of Japanese secret messages at the time of the Washington Disarmament Conference led to a public outcry, which contributed to the resignation of Shidehara and his Cabinet.

After his dismissal from the government, Shidehara kept his seat in the House of Peers, and stayed in the mansion in the Rikugien given to his family to live in until 1938, when it became too dangerous for him to stay in Tokyo and he moved to Kamakura. Even then he continued his efforts for containing Japanese aggression. In 1941 he had a secret meeting with Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro to try to prevent him from starting war in Indochina, which, he said, would inevitably bring the United States in. In the same year he was also called upon to draft a proposal to be negotiated in Washington to keep the USA neutral, but unfortunately this fell through because of America's mistrust of the inner workings of the Konoe Cabinet. Shidehara was also one of a group that put out peace feelers probing the possibility of bringing an early end to the war.

With the end of the war, Shidehara became Prime Minister in October, 1945, and between then and May, 1946, he reintroduced an effective political party system, organized the repatriation of Japanese soldiers, took care of the purge, and was responsible for revising the constitution. There were two drafts of what was to become Article 9, one containing provisions for maintaining military forces, the other eliminating them. The former was to be presented to the Occupation authorities, but Shidehara paid a visit to MacArthur and obtained his consent to the clause renouncing war. It was Shidehara also who drew up the Emperor's statement renouncing his claim to divinity and thus preserved the "Tennoh"-system in a new form.

Shidehara failed to be reelected in June, 1946, but kept his seat in the upper house, where he became speaker in 1949, and was made a minister of state in the Yoshida Cabinet. He died on 10th March, 1951, before the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, but he had lived to see Japan established as the first nation to renounce war. In today's world, still dominated by power politics, "Shidehara diplomacy" may still seem too idealistic, although the weapons developed today have made war simply barbaric. So we may call him a far-sighted politician for the 21st century.

Little time was left for questions, and the meeting was brought to a close with a vote of thanks proposed by Dr. Ronald Suleski.


Adapted from "The Asiatic Society of Japan Bulletin No. 5", May 1995, compiled by Hugh Wilkinson.