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26 June, 2013
An Outline of American History
United States and Asia
by U.S. Department of State


Newly established in the Philippines and firmly entrenched in Hawaii, the United States at the turn of the century, had high hopes of a vigorous trade with China. Since China's defeat by Japan (1894-1895), however, various European nations had acquired naval bases, leased territories and established spheres of influence. They had also secured monopolistic trade rights as well as exclusive concessions for investing in railway construction and mining development.

In its own earlier diplomatic relations with Asia, the American government had always insisted upon equality of commercial privileges for all nations. However, idealism in American foreign policy was at odds with the desire to compete with Europe's imperial powers in the Far East. In September 1899 Secretary of State John Hay addressed a note to the powers concerned, resulting in the doctrine of the "Open Door" for all nations in China -- that is, equality of trading opportunities (including equal tariffs, harbor duties and railway rates) in the areas they controlled. Despite its idealistic component, the "Open Door," in essence, became a diplomatic maneuver to gain the advantages of a colony without the necessity of wresting one from the Chinese.

With the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the Chinese struck out against the foreigners. In June, insurgents seized Peiping (Beijing) and attacked the foreign legations there. Hay promptly announced to the European powers and Japan that the United States would oppose any disturbance of Chinese territorial or administrative rights or of the Open Door policy. Once the rebellion was quelled, it required all Hay's skill to carry out the American program and to protect China from crushing indemnities. In October, however, Great Britain and Germany once more signaled their adherence to the Open Door policy and the preservation of Chinese independence, albeit under foreign domination, and other nations soon followed.

In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt responded to American labor's fears of competition by persuading the Japanese government temporarily to suspend emigration of laborers to the United States. Otherwise, American dealings with Japan during the latter half of the 19th century and well into the 20th century were mainly cordial and uneventful. One unusual encounter involved President Roosevelt's mediation of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, during which he warned Germany and France not to intervene on Russia's side against Japan. As a result of his efforts in working out a settlement, Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

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