David R. Buck

Date of Graduation


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By examining in detail the conference records as well as a variety of personal collections and writings, this dissertation investigates the U.S. role at the Washington Conference, 1921-22, specifically the forgotten aspects of the “Questions of the Far East.” Historians have traditionally focused on the Five-Power Treaty (limitation of naval armaments) or the Four-Power Treaty (alliance in East Asia). So prominent has been this focus that some scholars have contended that the conference produced a so-called Washington system, which replaced the existing imperialist system and defined East Asian relations throughout the 1920s. Yet, the conference also produced the Nine-Power Treaty and related resolutions, which reflected such significant issues as the Open Door, tariff autonomy, railway control, and extraterritoriality. This study seeks to examine these too-often overlooked issues and to highlight the central question of who would control China—the Chinese or the foreigners. Although this study examines Japanese, Chinese, and British policy, it concentrates on U.S. actions. Believing itself to be uniquely dedicated to China's interests, American policymakers approached the Washington Conference as an occasion to enhance China's position and distinguish U.S. policy further from old world imperialism by expanding the Open Door doctrine. Yet, when the opportunity arose at Washington to grant China greater rights, the United States failed to back its rhetoric. Instead, America engaged in the balance-of-power politics that it claimed to despise, rather than extending the “helping hand” it professed to be offering. Not only did the conference fail to construct a Washington system, but the United States and the Powers maintained the status quo of imperialism, albeit a cooperative imperialism in China.