Secret Treaties: The 1916 Russo-Japanese Agreement

One of the maxims of early Bolshevik foreign policy was an end to secret treaties, a promise they delivered on soon after coming to power. Revelations promptly appeared in Pravda and in Izvestiia. The Chinese embassy in Petrograd kept an eye on these publications, sending those of interest to Beijing. These included initiatives to push Germany out of Chinese markets, Russo-Japanese diplomacy over China’s entry into WWI, and the British response to German peace initiatives – conveyed by the neutral Spanish government – in autumn 1917.

Communiques from the Russian ambassador to Japan published in Izvestiia No. 241, 1 December 1917.

Of greatest interest, however, was the 1916 Russo-Japanese treaty that came to light in Pravda on 19 December. So anxious was Ambassador Liu to get the text to Beijing that he sent the newspaper clipping off on 24 December without a Chinese translation. A member of staff was dispatched to obtain the French original, which was sent one week later along with an interesting postscript.



On the 24 of this month [December], unclassified letter No. 20 was sent enclosing the Russian text of the 1916 Russo-Japanese secret treaty. Since this treaty was originally in French, and the Russian text published by the workers’ and soldiers’ newspaper was a translation of the French, the choice of words may not be precise. Hence our staff member Li Baotang, on the pretence of being a student doing research, went to the confidential secretariat of the Russian Foreign Ministry and copied the original French draft of the treaty. I am sending it via express mail together with a Chinese translation for Your reference. With deepest regards, Liu Jingren.

Addendum: It is rumoured that before the Bolsheviks toppled the Kerensky government, Foreign Minister Tereshchenko had already decided to transfer the Ambassador in Peking, Kudashev, to Serbia, with the head of the Far Eastern Department [G.A.] Kozakov succeeding him. The vacant position in the Far Eastern Department was to be filled by the former Ambassador in Peking, [I.Ia.] Korostovets. They were not able to disclose this before the uprising occurred, whereupon the matter lapsed. Kozakov has been dealing with far eastern matters in the Foreign Ministry for many years, his foreign policy towards China has always proceeded on the basis of encroachment, humiliation and suppression. The Russo-Japanese alliance, the ultimatum of 1910 [sic] directed at us, the Russo-Mongolian treaty and various other infringements on our country’s sovereignty were all his handiwork. When [V.N.] Krupenskii was redeployed to Tokyo, former Foreign Minister Sazonov wanted to confer the post on him [Kozakov], but he declined on account of his elderly mother. After the revolution, he saw how things were deteriorating in Russia and requested the China posting, but failed at the last moment, since circumstances forced him out of office. One might say that this was our country’s good fortune. In future, if he does seek to become the ambassador to China, it would not be easy, and in the event that this occurs, we may naturally refuse to recognise him. With best wishes, Liu Jingren.

Letter from Liu Jingren, 29 January 1918 (sent 31 December 1917). Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), p. 231.
Russian translation of the 1916 Treaty as published in Pravda No. 207, 19 December 1917.  The Treaty is editorialised as presaging “joint armed action against America and Britain before summer 1921”.

The 1916 Treaty capped off a period of rapprochement that followed Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War; the tsarist empire was keen to secure its far eastern frontiers and head off American influence in China. With the outbreak of WWI, Japanese armaments and diplomatic support also became important issues for Russia. Kozakov had been an important member of the 1915 mission – led by Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich – sent to court the Japanese into providing munitions and a security agreement in exchange for a segment of the Chinese Eastern Railway. This Treaty was a direct outcome of the mission.

Despite Pravda’s supposed scoop, the secret terms of the treaty were already known to the allies of Russia and Japan: France and Britain respectively. Its two public provisions alone, however, were enough to provoke protests from America and China. The secret articles underscored how Russia and Japan sought to demarcate spheres of influence in northern China.

Traité Secret entre la Russie et le Japon
Le Gouvernement Impérial de Russie et le Gouvernement Impérial de Japon, désireux de consolider leurs relations sincèrement amicales établies par peurs conventions secrètes du 17/30 Juillet 1907, du 21 Juin/4 Juillet 1910 et du 25 Juin/8 Juillet 1912, se sont mis d’accord sur les clauses suivantes destinées à compléter les accords ci-dessus mentionnés :

Article I
Les deux Hautes Parties Contractantes, reconnaissant que leurs intérêts vitaux exigent que la Chine ne tombe sous la domination politique d’aucune tierce Puissance hostile à la Russie ou au Japon, se mettront franchement et loyalement en communication chaque fois que les circonstances l’exigeront, et s’entendront sur les mesures à prendre pour empêcher qu’une pareille situation se produise.

Article II
Dans les cas ou par suite des mesures prises de commun accord comme il est prévu a l’article précédent, laguerre serait déclarée entre l’une des Parties Contractantes et une des tierces Puissance visées par l’article précédent, l’autre Partie Contractante, sur la demande de son Alliée, lui viendra en aide, et dans ce cas chacune des Hautes Parties Contractantes s’engage à ne pas faire la sans un accord préalable avec l’autre Partie Contractante.

Article III
Les conditions dans lesquelles chacune des Hautes Parties Contractantes, prêtera son concours armée à l’autre Partie Contractante, comme il est stipulé à l’article précédent, et les moyens par lesquels ce concours sera effectué, seront établis par les autorités compétentes des deux Hauts Parties Contractantes.

Article IV
Il est bien entendu toutefois qu’aucune des Hautes Parties Contractantes ne sera tenu à prêter a son Alliée l’aide armée prévue par l’article II de la présente Convention sans s’être assurée, de la part de ses alliées, un concours répondant à la gravite du conflit imminent.

Article V
La présente convention entrera en vigueur aussitôt après la date de sa signature et restera exécutoire jusqu’au 1/14 Juillet 1921.
Dans le cas où chacune des Hautes Parties Contractantes n’aurait notifié douze mois avant l’échéance de ce terme son intention de faire cesser les effets de la Convention celle-ci continuera à être obligatoire jusqu’à l’expiration d’une année à partir du jour où l’une ou l’autre des Hautes Parties Contractantes l’aura dénoncée.

Article VI
Le présente Convention restera strictement confidentielle entre des deux Hautes Parties Contractantes.
En foi de quoi, les Soussignés, dument autorisés par leur Gouvernements respectifs, ont signé cette Convention et y ont apposé leurs sceaux. Fait à Petrograd, le 20 Juin/3 Juillet 1916, correspondant au 3ème jour du 7ème mois de la 5ème année de Taisho.
Signes: Sazonov, Motono

Original French draft of the Russo-Japanese secret treaty. Ibid., Appendix A, pp. 4-5.

For the Chinese, the publication of the Treaty furnished further proof of Russian and Japanese imperial aggression. It fuelled Liu’s antipathy towards Kozakov, whose involvement in the Treaty was listed alongside Russia’s 1911 ultimatum demanding trade concessions in Mongolia, and the 1912 Russo-Mongolian agreement guaranteeing the latter’s autonomy. Nevertheless, it was America’s response that mattered most to the erstwhile signatories. Japanese diplomats offered lukewarm reassurances to Washington, while Kozakov penned a response, published in June 1918, that the Treaty was in fact directed against Germany.

G.A. Kozakov, first secretary in the Beijing and then Tokyo missions from 1904 to 1910, and head of the Far Eastern Department from 1914. Source.

At any rate, Kozakov’s rumoured ambitions were never to bear fruit. Although he had been charge d’affaires in the Beijing embassy for a month in 1905, he did not wish to work for the incoming bolshevik regime. He died in 1918 after fleeing Russia – unmourned, perhaps, by the Chinese who considered him a direct threat to their interests in Northeast and Inner Asia.

One thought on “Secret Treaties: The 1916 Russo-Japanese Agreement

  1. Pingback: The Bolsheviks’ Anti-Imperial Overtures – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

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