Root-Takahira Agreement

President Theodore Roosevelt worked to improve diplomatic relations between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Two important steps in this direction were made by his helping to end the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and his arranging to have the Great White Fleet visit Tokyo (October 1908). The Root-Takahira Agreement (November 1908) was a third.

The terms of the agreement were hammered out in Washington, D.C. Secretary of State Elihu Root and Japanese ambassador Takahira Kogorō met frequently and exchanged written notes, negotiating the terms. The final agreement reiterated a number of provisions that had already been addressed in other “gentlemen’s agreements” between the two powers (including the Taft-Katsura agreement of 1905).

Hoping to avoid a military confrontation in the Pacific, both parties pledged to maintain “the existing status quo” in the region. The U.S. would recognize Japan’s pre-eminence in Korea and Southern Manchuria; and Japan would consider the Pacific Ocean to be an open avenue of trade, furthering U.S. economic interests in East Asia. In addition, both parties would recognize the others’ insular territories in the Pacific (especially the U.S. territories of the Philippines and Hawaii). They agreed to consult together in the event of an Asian crisis that threatened the status quo. Japan also promised to honor the Open Door in China, a U.S.-backed policy advocating free trade and equal economic opportunities for all nations.

The agreement seemed to signal cordial relations between the two rising powers. However, there were some who saw it as a “stalking horse” designed to gauge Japanese receptiveness to U.S. interests in Asia. Critics attacked President Roosevelt for sacrificing Chinese interests in Manchuria and Korea for the sake of improved relations with Japan. Others were concerned that the accord did not include measures to ensure China’s independence and territorial integrity. In time, clashing U.S. and Japanese objectives in the Pacific led to war between the two countries.