Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Japan's Empire a threat

Shanghai 1932: Chinese 19th Route Army defends against Japanese invasion. This is the thirteenth in a series on Australia's early intelligence activities, the ninth on the life of Harry Freame.  

While the Freame family was absorbed in the day-to-day rhythms of life in the Kentucky of the 1930s, the world was changing in ways that would bring Harry back to his old life and have tragic consequences for them all. 

Japan had entered the First World War with a clear objective, the creation of an empire to rival that of the European powers and the US.

Prior to the War, Japan had added Taiwan (1895) and Korea (1910) to its Empire. The War gave it the German holdings in China and the Marianas, Caroline and Marshall Islands in the Pacific that had been part of German New Guinea.

Japan had not finished. In 1931, it invaded and conquered Northeast China (Manchuria), establishing a puppet state, Manchukuo, with the last Manchu Emperor of China, Puyi, as official head of state.

On 28 January 1932 came what is called the 28 January or first Shanghai incident.

Anti-Japanese feeling had been rising. On January 18, five Japanese Buddhist monks, members of an ardently nationalist sect in Shanghai, were severely beaten. The police response caused anti-Japanese rioting.

On 28 January Japan responded with military force. After heavy fighting against Chinese forces, the Japanese imposed their will. In a League of Nations brokered truce, the Chinese Government was forced to withdraw all Chinese troops, making Shanghai a demilitarised zone.

This Japanese victory sent shock waves around the world.

It was the first time that carrier aircraft had been used to bomb a city. An inferior force measured by numbers had been able to triumph. And in so doing, an entire international naval fleet based at Shanghai had been bottled up by Japanese blockade.

In January 1934, an Imperial Naval conference was held in Singapore to consider the growing Japanese threat. Australia was represented.

There were at least  two ironies about this conference.

The first was that Japanese intelligence had improved to the point that two of their spies were able to send every detail to Tokyo. The second was that British signal intelligence had also improved to the point that they were able to decode the spies’ reports!

Some action would follow, although it was too slow. Again, the Australian Government dragged its heels.

Australia saw a threat, but it wanted the British and the other Dominions and colonies to pay for the intelligence activities required to monitor the threat. That would prove a costly error. 

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 May 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   


Johnb said...

I think Jim to understand Australia’s international position and the legal framework within which it operated you need to understand the history of Australia’s Dominion Status within the British Empire. Dominion status commenced in 1901 and didn’t end until 1953, during that extended time period the legal parameters an Australian Government could operate in were defined by a succession of Conferences and Agreements covering the relationship between Australia and Imperial Britain. As Japan was a Treaty Ally of Great Britain what Australia could and couldn’t do in relation to Japan was restricted by its legal status as a Dominion within the British Empire. You have referenced in an earlier blog how the Australian Navy, in particular, sought to push the boundaries of the permissible depending on the political cover it had in Canberra.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. Your comment took me on a slight if interesting sidetrack. Once I have posted last week's Freame post I will bring a short note up on the diplomatic background. The Australian Constitution explicitly granted the Parliament control over external affairs, although acts were subject to royal assent and could be disallowed. The 1931 Statute of Westminster gave the dominions full legislative freedom, although Australia did not ratify it until 1942. As you note, evolving relationships were governed by agreements and conferences but also by sentiment and convention as well as a certain practicality including a desire by Australia to have its cake and eat it too! I'm not sure of the significance, though, of the end of 1953?

Johnb said...

Yes Jim there is a deal of complexity in the legal arrangements between what had been the Imperial Power and the Colony, each of those who were granted Do inion status trod their different paths. I found this a useful primer on the Treaty of Westminster 1931 and what it meant when ultimately adopted retrospectively by Australia in 1942.
Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942 - Documenting Democracy
It defined the equal status of the Dominion Parliaments with the British Parliament,.. It was the first legal clarification of the status and relations of Britain and the Dominion of Australia.
As Australia had not adopted the Act by 1939, Australia’s then Prime Minister Robert Menzies considered his Government still bound by its predecessor duties, that being, that once Great Britain had declared War then Australia was also bound by that declaration of War. I understand It wasn’t until PM John Curtin refused to accept the legal allocation of Australian Forces by the British War Cabinet plus the new diplomatic and political arrangements being made with the United States needing legal cover that the Westminster Act was radopted in 1942 and retrospectively to legalise all Australian Defence and External Affairs arrangements made since 1939. The significance of 1953 was the passing of the Royal Styles and Titles Act 1953 arising out of the emergency Commonwealth Prime Ministers meeting 1952, a meeting that had been preceded by an emergency Finance Ministers meeting in January of that year. I have just found this chronology of Australia’s journey to Sovereignty from the ABC. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-12-07/australia27s_last_brick_of_nationhood/41892.