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Japan and Russia Building New Ties

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The Russo-Japanese War of 1904 was a military conflict in which a victorious Japan forced Russia to abandon its expansionist policy in the Far East, becoming the first Asian power in modern times to defeat a European power. The Russo-Japanese War developed out of the rivalry between Russia and Japan for dominance in Korea and Manchuria. In 1898, Russia had pressured China into granting it a lease for the strategically important port of Port Arthur in southern Manchuria. Russia thereby entered into occupation of the peninsula, even though, in concert with other European powers, it had forced Japan to relinquish just such a right after the latter's decisive victory over China. Moreover, in 1896, Russia had won rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Chinese-held Manchuria to the Russian seaport of Vladivostok, thus gaining control of an important strip of Manchurian territory. (Kort, 53 & 73)

However, though Russia had built the Trans-Siberian Railroad, it still lacked the transportation facilities necessary to reinforce its limited armed forces in Manchuria with sufficient men and supplies. (Kort, 51-52) Japan, by contrast, had steadily expanded its army since its war with China in 1894 and by 1904 had gained a marked superiority over Russia in the number of ground troops in the Far East. After Russia reneged in 1903 on an agreement to withdraw its troops from Manchuria, Japan decided it was time to attack. The war began on Feb. 8, 1904, when the main Japanese fleet launched a surprise attack and siege on the Russian naval squadron at Port Arthur. The Japanese landed an army in Korea that quickly overran that country; another Japanese army landed on the Liaodong Peninsula, and cut off the DaLione garrison from the main body of Russian forces in Manchuria. The Japanese then pushed northward, and the Russian army fell back after its string of defeats. In October, the Russians went back on the offensive with the help of reinforcements received via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, but their attacks proved indecisive owing to poor military leadership.

The final battle of the land war was fought at Shenyang in late February and early March 1905. After long and stubborn fighting and heavy casualties on both sides, the Russian commander, General A.N. Kuropatkin, broke off the fighting and withdrew his forces northward from Shenyang, which fell into the hands of the Japanese. Losses in this battle were exceptionally heavy, with approximately 89,000 Russian and 71,000 Japanese casualties. The naval Battle of Tsushima finally gave the Japanese the upper hand in the conflict. Japan was by this time financially exhausted, but its decisive naval victory at Tsushima, together with increasing internal political unrest throughout Russia, where the war had never been popular, brought the Russian government to the peace table.

President Theodore Roosevelt served as mediator at the peace conference and in the resulting Treaty of Portsmouth, Japan gained control of the Liaotung Peninsula including Port Arthur and the South Manchurian railroad. Russia agreed to evacuate southern Manchuria, which was restored to China, and Japan's control of Korea was recognized. Within two months of the treaty's signing, a revolution compelled the Russian tsar Nicholas II to issue the October Manifesto, which was the equivalent of a constitutional charter. (Kort, 73-74)

Nearly a century after the Russo-Japanese War, "the two perennial adversaries now seem to be finally embarking on an era of real economic cooperation." (Brooke, NY Times) The Government of Japan and the Government of the Russian Federation are now striving for the reforms aimed at strengthening democracy, making a transition to a market economy, and

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