Russian Foreign Relations :the Far East, 1858-1918

A.) Russia's quest for an Ice-Free Harbour

In 1858, Russia annexed the AMUR PROVINCE, in 1860 the COASTAL PROVINCE. China ceded both territories in what it still regards as UNEQUAL TREATIES. In 1860 Russia founded the port city of VLADIVOSTOK (translating to 'ruler of the east'). In 1891, construction on the TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY began.
Russia was still unsatisfied, for Vladivostok, close to Korea's border, still froze over for several months every year. The goal Russia strove for since Peter the Great, a ocean harbour ice free year round, was still not achieved.
Once the rumour spread that Korea would have granted such a harbour, PORT LAZAREFF, on it's eastern coast to Russia. Britain acted on that rumour by occupying the island of KOMUNDO, called Port Hamilton by the British, in 1885; they evacuated it in 1887.
In 1897, Russia, Germany and France, in a concerted diplomatic action, forced Japan to waive some of it's gains made during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894/95. In 1898 China granted PORT ARTHUR (modern Dalien) on Manchuria's southern coast as a concession to Russia. Work to connect it with the Trans-Siberian Railway was begun immediately; Russia regarded Manchuria, Mongolia and Sinkiang it's sphere of interest.

B.) The Russo-Japanese Border

Japan in 1854 opened itself up for trade with the west. Hitherto it's policy had been isolationist, not taking notice of Russia's advance in Siberia. In 1875 Japan and Russia signed an agreement over it's border, which left the KURIL ISLANDS with Japan, the island of SAKHALIN (Jap. Karafuto) with Russia.

C.) Russo-Korean Relations

Under King KOJONG, Korea had begun to establish ties with western countries (Japan 1876, USA 1880, Germany and Britain 1883) and to open itself up for foreign trade. Japan pursued the policy of supporting Korea growing more independent from China - it was still a Chinese vassal state, although Chinese influence in Korean politics was minimal. In the TREATY OF SHIMONOSEKI (1895) China renounced it's sovereignty over Korea, and Japan regarded Korea it's war trophy.
Aware of Japan's dominant influence in Korea - there were Japanese troops in the country - Korean officials looked upon Russia as a power which might counterbalance the former. Russia's minister in Seoul, KARL WAEBER, was an amiable man, widely admired. The Japanese, in an attempt to oust the Pro-Russian faction, had the royal Kyongbok Palace occupied. However, King Kojong was able, with his son, to flee to the Russian legation which provided him with protection.
Japan had committed a diplomatic blunder, and Korea had managed to place itself under Russian protection, without actually being declared a protectorate. Russia and Japan were well aware of each other's power, and for the years coming, their influence in Korea was balanced, just as Chinese and Japanese influence was balanced in the years preceding the Sino-Japanese War.
At first, Russia did not take advantage of it's position. Only after Karl Waeber had been replaced by the new minister PAVLOV did Russia demand a logging concession in a district just across the border from Manchuria.


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on April 29th 2001, last revised on February 4th 2005

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