Britain entered into an alliance with Japan in January 1902.
This meant an end to Britain's previous policy of isolation.
The alliance with Japan was designed to restrict Russian
advances in China and Central Asia. Britain aimed, in theory,
to maintain the integrity of China, and, in practice, to keep
others out of the Yangtze Valley. The alliance would enable
Britain to reduce its naval commitments in the Far East, and
prevent the possibility of bargaining between Russia and Japan.
There was some opposition within Britain to the new alliance.
Arthur Balfour, First Lord of the Treasury, protested to
Lord Lansdowne, the Foreign Secretary, that it might embroil
Britain in a war with Russia and (because Russia was allied
with France) even with France. Nevertheless, in spite of
Balfour's concerns, the alliance with Japan was not a true
end to isolation. The terms of the alliance made it unlikely
that Britain would be drawn into a war in pursuit of Japan's
aims and, whilst Germany welcomed its restricting effect
on Russia's position, it was also a reinforcement of the
extra-European focus of Britain's priorities.
In seeking a solution to Britain's isolation, some politicians
and writers, notably H.G. Wells, turned to the USA. Although
commentators discussed the advantages and disadvantages
of a trans-Atlantic alliance, in reality Britain had little
choice but to seek good relations with America. The USA
had recently acquired Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii from
Spain: in terms of population and of military and economic
strength it far outstripped Britain, which was quite unable
in military terms to defend its interests in Canada.
In effect, by 1901 (if not earlier) Britain had conceded
supremacy to the USA in the Pacific, in Central America
and in the Caribbean. This balance in the relationship was
reflected in the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of November 1901,
in which Lord Lansdowne capitulated on the issue of the
international construction and operation of the Panama Canal.
However, like Britain, the USA had its own domestic concerns.
The assassination of President McKinley in October 1901
raised the spectre of a worldwide phenomenon of anarchism
and terrorism, and, with hindsight, foreshadowed the assassination
of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the event that sparked
the First World War.
|In 1901 China was reeling from the effects
of the Boxer Rebellion, which had broken out in 1898 and had
been crushed in 1900. The rebellion was initiated by the Boxer
sect (I-ho ch'uan), which had emerged in northern China in
response to recent crises - war with Japan, famine, drought
and plagues of locusts - and in protest at the level of foreign
involvement in China. Britain, in particular, had had commercial
interests there for more than half a century, and controlled
much of China's overseas trade. Other foreign powers, notably
France, the USA, Russia and Japan, also had ambitions for
profit and power in the country, and there was considerable
tension among them.
|By the end of 1899 the Boxers had
received high-level support within China and constituted a
serious military force. In June 1900 they laid siege to the
diplomatic and Roman Catholic compounds in Beijing (Peking),
but were routed by the arrival of a large international force
in August. 1901 saw the aftermath of the rebellion: under
the Boxer Protocol of 7 September, the foreign powers decided
to exact an indemnity from China, rather than occupying and
dismembering the country.