Yesterday in International Law – February 26

By: Whitney Tolar

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Photo Credit: mariusz kluzniak

On this day 140 years ago, Japan and Korea concluded negotiations for the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876. Though Japan essentially forced the Treaty upon Korea, part of Korea’s motivation for signing the Treaty with Japan stemmed from concerns regarding European Imperialists taking control over many other Asian nations at the time. Korea felt that Japan would be a relatively safe economic partner compared with the Western powers. The Treaty would end Korea’s status as a tributary state of the Qing Dynasty, opened three ports to Japanese trade, and granted the Japanese extraterritoriality in Korea.

Unfortunately for Korea, this agreement with Japan proved to be the first of many unequal treaties they would sign with foreign nations. Japan’s goal in signing the Treaty with Korea was to emulate the actions of Western nations which had previously taken advantage of Japan and other Asian countries. In years following the Treaty of 1876, China, fearing that Japan would gain too much control over Korea, encouraged Korea to sign a series of similar treaties with European nations and the United States. These treaties began to chip away at Korea’s sovereignty.

Ultimately, the Japan-Korea Treaty which was intended by negotiators to give Korea greater economic autonomy accomplished exactly the opposite, and in 1910, Japan declared the Korean Empire dissolved and established that Korea was at that point under Japanese rule.  

Whitney Tolar is a J.D. candidate at Berkeley Law. She is a student contributor for Travaux.

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