This paper elucidates the plans for Korea's neutralization by Russia between 1900-1903 and evaluates its connection with Count Witte's Manchurian policy It deals with a series of three attempts to realize Korea's neutrality under the auspices of a "joint guarantee by the Powers," which was invented by the Russian government. In most of the literature reviewed, discussions about Russia's Korean neutralization plans have failed to view them as policies initiated by the government as a whole, and tended to interpret them only as impromptu, unauthoritative proposals by Russian Ministers on the spot. Witte, as the Russian Minister of Finance who had the greatest influence in Russian East Asian affairs, sought to strike separate under-the-table deals with Japan concerning Korea's neutrality. Japan in fact wanted a free hand for itself in the Korean peninsula, however, which seemed to Russia absolutely unacceptable in view of Korea's paramount strategic significance. This study shows that Korea's neutralization was Russia's ultimate goal, and this goal conflicted with lapan's stance on the Korean and Manchurian issues. In the end, these tensions contributed to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904.
The Korean neutralization policy was originated and conducted by Witte. This was due to Witte and his ministry's involvement in all aspects of Russian foreign affairs. Witte's solution to the Korean problem was always connected with the situation in Manchuria, where the Russians wanted to exercise their extraterritorial rights. He brought up the Korean neutralization policy as a temporary means to defend against the lapanese from "getting into Korea" while Russian troops were actively engaged against the Boxer Rebellion in Manchuria. Witte argued that Japan would be handicapped by the expenditures it was making in Korea and that it would be much more susceptible to Russian pressure, especially once the Transsiberian Railroad was completed. All of which would make it easier for Russia to take possession of Korea later, if circumstances required. In other words, Witte was simply searching for a modus vi-vendi until Russian preparations were complete.
Henceforth Russian troops occupied Manchuria on 7 January 1901, Izvolskii, the Russian Minister to Japan, proposed Korea's neutralization under international guarantees, that is, by Japan and Russia, which in substance would divide the Korean peninsula according to each side's sphere of influence. The Japanese government, however, replied that they would not discuss Korea's neutrality until the Russians took steps to move their armies out of Manchuria. By replying through Chinda, the Japanese Minister to St.Petersburg, Japan by-passed lzvolskii who had been entrusted by the Czar with the authority to negotiate the neutraliza-tion issue. The two countries' relations continued to be very strained.
The "war crisis" of Spring 1901, caused by the conflict and mutual distrust between Russia and lapan on the Manchurian and Korean questions, had a number of consequences. First, it tended to unite Japanese statesmen who had previously been undecided with the proponents of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. Second, for Witte, Russia's primary concern was to avoid war with Japan, and the best means for solving the Manchurian problem was to renounce any political intentions in Manchuria and limit Russian interests there to the protection the Chinese Eastern Railway's interest as a private company With regards to Korea, he felt that if lapan demanded the country's annexation, the proper course would be to open the issue to international discussion. Even if Japan seized Korea, Russia should not consider it a casus belli.
Following the "war crisis," a second neutrality scheme was attempted by Witte himself. In July 1901 , when his ideas were accepted as the basis for a plan for the three-stepped evacuation of Manchuria with some reservations, he approached the Japanese Minister in St.Petersburg and suggested, unofficially, a conditional arrangement regarding the crucial Korean problem. Russia, he said, would agree to a settlement making Korea a neutral area, but allow Japan the right to supply the Korean government with administrative and fmancial advisers as well as with a chief of police. In return, Iapan would officially recognize Russia's preponderance in Manchuria. Witte's practical proposals would have conceded Japan"s demands in Korea with some reservations and normalized relations with China.
The main concern of Wiitte's counterpart, however, was Korea, and for Japan it was seen as matter of life and death for Japan to keep Russia out of Korea. Japan could not question the actions of Russia in Manchuria merely on the basis of the London Times revelations of reported Russo-Chinese secret negotiations to consolidate Russia's occupation of Manchuria. By tying in the Manchurian question with Korea they hoped to ascertain Russia's intentions. The Russian proposal ended in failure because Japan would not enter into an agreement concerning Korea until the fate of Manchuria was decisively settled.
Russia did not take this to mean a breakdown in negotiations. In Decernber 1901, while the question of a military retreat from Manchuria was a heated subject of discussion between Russia and China, Witte suggested more specific neutrality terms in St.Petersburg, in talks with Ito, Iapan's former Premier. It is evident that the Russians accepted the Japanese demands with respect to Korea only with the following qualifications: guarantees to maintain Korea's independence, not to use any part of Korean territory for strategic purposes, and not to hinder Russia's free passage through the Korea Strait. In return, Russia was to be left with a free hand in Manchuria. On the other hand, Ito brought with him an itemized plan setting forth Japan's desire for a free hand in Korea commercially, industrially, militarily and politically, as well as offering a guarantee that the country would not be used for military purposes against Russia. In the end, Russia's final plan was refused by the Japanese government. Japan felt compelled to conclude an alliance with England which would provide it with the guarantees it needed for primacy over Korea rather than negotiate an agreement with Russia which would have hindered it in attaining this goal.
The last secret attempt by Russia to achieve Korea's neutrality was the proposal for the "Neutralization of Korea under the joint guarantee of the Three Powers, Russia, Japan, and America." This plan was aborted almost as soon as Russia had begun proposing it, mainly because America had already made a decision not to interfere in a matter being pursued by the Japanese government. At the time lapan questioned Russia"s approaches to America. It is evident that with the first scheduled evacuation in Manchuria coming soon, Witte probably considered the plan as a way of placating America and to encouraging them to develop a new understanding regarding Korea. To restrict Russia's activities in Manchuria and in support of the Anglo-Iapanese Alliance, the United States demanded the "Open Door" policy in China. It should be also noted that the fmal neutralization scheme proposed in September 1902 was a more concrete version of the plan "under the joint guarantee of the Powers' which had been formally proposed in January 1901.
The main feature of the negotiations on Korea's neutralization between Russia and Japan was that the Russian proposals were repeatedly rejected by the Japanese, who were always one step ahead of Russia. The pattern of Russia's abortive schemes for Korean neutrality did not change in official discussions on the Manchurian and Korean questions after August 1903, the period of so-called "war diplomacy." From the Japanese point of view, "the neutralization of Korea" meant the sacrifice of its position on the peninsula. In fact, Japan, not yet viewing itself as a fully independent actor, had the support of England and America behind it. Agreeing to anti-Russian common interests, the Western powers did not stint in their promises of diplomatic support to Japan. It can be surmised that the failure of Russia's schemes to neutralize Korea, aimed at putting lapan's imperialistic ambitions to rest, was a by-product of general trends in power politics in East Asia since the last decades of the nineteenth century.