The late 19th century was an age in which powerful western nations were competing to colonize Asian nations. When Qing (present day China) was defeated in the Opium Wars and invaded by the UK, Japan faced the risk of being the next target. And the Meiji Restoration broke out over the future of Japan. It was a dispute between groups supporting the Emperor and those supporting the Shogunate that ruled Japan at that time. The new government formed by the victorious supporters of the Emperor succeeded in carrying out a modernization of Japan. They then adopted a policy of promoting national wealth and military strength in preparation for invasion by Western nations. Japan was afraid that if Asian countries failed to modernize, sooner or later they would be colonized, and Japan encouraged the Joseon Dynasty (present day Korea), which was a vassal state of Qing at that time, to modernize and become an independent nation. However, the Joseon Dynasty continued to remain under the old political system, and the Qing dynasty viewed Japan’s actions towards Joseon as an attempt to interfere with the Qing regime. This eventually led to the Japan-Sino War, which Japan won. In 1897 Joseon was no longer a vassal state of Qing, but an independent nation, officially changing its name to the Korean Empire. After that, Russia aimed to expand its influence to the south, putting pressure on Japan. Perceiving this as weakness on Japan’s part, Korea approached Russia. This became a turning point and the Japan-Russia War occurred in 1904, which Japan won after a fierce battle. Japan distrusted Korea’s opportunistic policy makers and seized diplomatic and military rights to the country, making it a protectorate. The leader of Korea appealed to the Hague Conferences in 1907, saying that the treaty with Japan was unfair. However, the international community didn’t acknowledge their claims. In 1909 ITO Hirobumi, the first Japanese Resident-General of Korea (Japan’s first Prime Minister) was assassinated by a Korean. Ito had opposed the annexation of Korea. This paved the way for it. Well-disposed powers in Korea towards Japan and the international community supported the annexation. Many people take the view that Russia would have occupied the country if Japan hadn’t annexed it. The main purpose of the colonial policies of western countries was exploitation. Japan actually invested a huge amount of money in Korea’s infrastructure – including the construction of schools and roads – just as they had done in Japan. This is why Taiwan and Palau, which were governed by Japan in a similar way, are now pro-Japan. Taking a global historical view, a significant amount of people say that Japan played a huge role in encouraging the independence and modernization of Asian countries.
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