The Japanese Annexation of Korea in 1910
Following the Russo-Japanese war (I904-05), Japan tried to establish hegemony over Korea. Korea itself was largely hostile to Japan, whose technological superiority was seen as a ‘hand-me-down’ from the Europeans; as well as this, Korea’s largely dismissive of Japanese cultural attainments.
Ito Hirobumi spoke to journalists in July 1907 after the abdication of Emperor Kojong. He said “’Japan sees no need for annexation. Annexation is very troublesome and Korea needs self-rule…. We will be satisfied to see our two flags flying side by side”. At this time, Japan had defeated China and Russia and believed that she had the right to do the same in Korea. “If Korean opposition could be muted and the people finally brought to see this logic, then Japan might be able to retain ultimate control through its advisory apparatus rather than a formal takeover”.
The Japanese initiated the annexation of Korea by making a series of loans to Korea as well as having Japanese officials appointed to consultative positions in the Korean government. “By early I906, a loan of 1 million yen had been arranged by Ito and Japanese advisers served in the Korean police department, finance and imperial household ministries”.
“After a year’s negotia-tion with Ito, the Korean government, and the second Saionji cabinet, the Oriental Development Company (Toyo Takushoku Kabushiki Kaisha) was launched in the fall of 1908. It was to be a joint Japanese-Korean venture, not unlike the original plan for the South Manchurian Railway Company, and, like the latter, functioned in practice as a Japanese government satellite”.
In May 1907, Japan was resisting annexation, instead she called for either a far more obligatory contract from the Korean government, or that Kojong should give up the throne to his simple-minded son. Korea did both. Not too long after making veiled threats of war, the Korean government was pushed into signing a treaty whereby the Resident-General’s power was lengthened to deal with wholly domestic Korean subjects, and Japanese nationals were selected to vice-ministerial stations all the way through the Korean government.
On the 22ndAugust 1910, the Japanese-Korean Annexation treaty was signed. For the Koreans, even today, this marks a national day of shame. The contract became null and void in 1965.
The Japanese annexation of Korea was a remarkable feat for Japan. She had always been in the shadow of China’s cultural glory which had rewarded her with a position of authority in East Asia. For Japan, her military strength in Korea was supposed to earn her the respect of Asia. Instead, it only served to earn her the hatred and loathing of the rest of Asia.
Lone, Stewart (1991) The Japanese Annexation of Korea 1910: The Failure of East Asian Co-Prosperity, Modern Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press.