The Twenty-One Demands (Japanese: 対華21ヶ条要求, Taika Nijūikkajō Yōkyū, simplified Chinese: 二十一条; traditional Chinese: 二十一條; pinyin: Èrshíyī tiáo) were a set of demands made during the First World War by the Empire of Japan under Prime Minister Ōkuma Shigenobu sent to the weak government of the Republic of China on January 18, 1915. The demands would greatly extend Japanese control of Manchuria and of the Chinese economy, and were opposed by Britain and the United States. In the final settlement Japan gained a little but lost a great deal of prestige and trust in Britain and the US.
The Chinese people responded with a spontaneous nationwide boycott of Japanese goods; Japan's exports to China fell 40%. Britain was affronted and no longer trusted Japan as a partner. With the First World War underway, Japan's position was strong and Britain's was weak. Nevertheless Britain (and the United States) forced Japan to drop the fifth set of demands that would have given Japan a large measure of control over the entire Chinese economy and ended the Open Door Policy. Japan obtained its first four sets of goals in a treaty with China on May 25, 1915.
Japan had gained a large sphere of interest in northern China and Manchuria through its victories in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, and had thus joined the ranks of the European imperialist powers in their scramble to establish political and economic domination over China. With the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution, and the establishment of the new Republic of China under General Yuan Shikai, Japan saw an opportunity to expand its position in China.
Japan demanded recognition of its seizure of the German spheres of influence in China, and also wanted new powers over the Chinese government that had the potential of making China little more than a puppet state.
Japan, under Prime Minister Ōkuma Shigenobu and Foreign Minister Katō Takaaki, drafted the initial list of Twenty-One Demands, which were reviewed by the genrō and Emperor Taishō, and approved by the Diet. This list was presented to Yuan Shikai on January 18, 1915, with warnings of dire consequences if China were to reject them.
The Twenty One Demands were grouped into five groups:
- Group 1 confirmed Japan's recent seizure of German ports and operations in Shandong Province, and expanded Japan's sphere of influence over the railways, coasts and major cities of the province.
- Group 2 pertained to Japan's South Manchuria Railway Zone, extending the leasehold over the territory for 99 years, and expanding Japan's sphere of influence in southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, to include rights of settlement and extraterritoriality, appointment of financial and administrative officials to the government and priority for Japanese investments in those areas. Japan demanded access to Inner Mongolia for raw materials, as a manufacturing site, and as a strategic buffer against Russian encroachment in Korea.
- Group 3 gave Japan control of the Hanyeping mining and metallurgical complex in central China; it was deep in debt to Japan.
- Group 4 barred China from giving any further coastal or island concessions to foreign powers except for Japan.
- Group 5 was the most aggressive. China was to hire Japanese advisors who could take effective control of China's finance and police. Japan would be empowered to build three major railways, and also Buddhist temples and schools. Japan would gain effective control of Fujian, opposite the island of Formosa (modern Taiwan).
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Knowing the negative reaction "Group 5" would cause, Japan initially tried to keep its contents secret. The Chinese government attempted to stall for as long as possible and leaked the full contents of the Twenty-One Demands to the European powers in the hope that due to a perceived threat to their own political and economic spheres of interest, they would help contain Japan.
After China rejected Japan's revised proposal on April 26, 1915, the genrō intervened and deleted ‘Group 5’ from the document, as these had proved to be the most objectionable to the Chinese government. A reduced set of "Thirteen Demands" was transmitted on May 7 in the form of an ultimatum, with a two-day deadline for response. Yuan Shikai, competing with other local warlords to become the ruler of all China, was not in a position to risk war with Japan, and accepted appeasement, a tactic followed by his successors. The final form of the treaty was signed by both parties on May 25, 1915.
Katō Takaaki publicly admitted that the ultimatum was invited by Yuan to save face with the Chinese people in conceding to the Demands. American Minister Paul Reinsch reported to the US State Department that the Chinese were surprised at the leniency of the ultimatum, as it demanded much less than they had already committed themselves to concede.
The results of the revised final (Thirteen Demands) version of the Twenty-One Demands were far more negative for Japan than positive. Without "Group 5", the new treaty gave Japan little that it did not already have in China.
On the other hand, the United States expressed strongly negative reactions to Japan's rejection of the Open Door Policy. In the Bryan Note issued by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on March 13, 1915, the U.S., while affirming Japan's "special interests" in Manchuria, Mongolia and Shandong, expressed concern over further encroachments to Chinese sovereignty.
Great Britain, Japan's closest ally, expressed concern over what was perceived as Japan's overbearing, bullying approach to diplomacy, and the British Foreign Office in particular was unhappy with Japanese attempts to establish what would effectively be a Japanese protectorate over all of China.
In China, the overall political impact of Japan's actions was highly negative, creating a considerable amount of public ill-will towards Japan, contributing to the May Fourth Movement, and a significant upsurge in nationalism.
Japan continued to push for outright control over Shandong Province and they won European diplomatic recognition for their claim at the Treaty of Versailles (despite the refusal of the Chinese delegation to sign the treaty). This in turn provoked ill-will from the United States government as well as widespread hostility within China. A large-scale boycott against Japanese goods was just one effect. In 1922 the U.S. brokered a solution. China was awarded nominal sovereignty over all of Shandong, while in practice Japan's economic dominance continued.
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