How did WW1 fan the flames of conflict in East Asia?

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1. WW1 in East Asia

When World War One began, the German port of Tsingtao (Qingdao) in China became a key battleground. Japan wanted to increase its power in East Asia and allied with Britain against the German forces.

When the Germans were defeated the Japanese decided to stay put and keep the territory for themselves.

At the peace conference after the war China lost out to Japan who were allowed to keep Tsingtao. Many in China were outraged and nationalist protests sowed the seeds of revolution. Meanwhile Japan was emboldened and sought more power and land. Less than two decades later the two countries would be at war.

2. Historic rivals

For centuries China and Japan had been "as close as lips and teeth", exchanging culture and commerce. Yet by the end of the 1800s the two countries came to blows in the first Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5.

3. The Battle of Tsingtao

In the opening weeks of the conflict German war ships at the port of Tsingtao made it a key British target. With 23,000 Japanese soldiers enlisted to help, Britain launched an attack on the German stronghold.

4. ‘A dagger pointed at the heart of China’

At the end of the war the nations of the world met in Paris to decide the terms of the peace. Both Japan and China were given a place at the negotiating table as a reward for helping the Allies.

Under the terms of the resulting Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to give up its colonies. The Chinese hoped this meant the port of Tsingtao and the surrounding area of Shandong would be given back to them. In the last stages of the war, China had joined the Allied war effort and sent over 100,000 labourers to maintain the trenches on the Western Front. They hoped their efforts would be rewarded

However, Japan saw Tsingtao as a spoil of war. It turned out the allies had made conflicting promises to both parties.

The Twenty-One demands

During the war the Chinese government had in fact agreed to give Shandong to Japan. After taking the port Japan issued the Chinese with Twenty-One demands, including continued occupation of the territory. China's weak and divided government had been unable to refuse.

The Chinese argued that Shandong was “the cradle of Chinese civilisation” and must be returned. But the Western powers – leading the peace process – gave the territory to the Japanese.

Birth of the Communist Party

The Chinese delegates left the conference early, refusing to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Japanese control of Shandong was seen as “a dagger pointed at the heart of China”.

In China the nationalistic “May 4th Movement” rose up in protest outside the Tiananmen gate in Beijing. Many were disillusioned by China’s treatment at the hands of the Western powers, which pushed some nationalists towards the radical left. In 1921 the Chinese Communist Party was formed.

5. Japan on the march

Click to see how Japan expanded its territory after World War One.

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China's War With Japan 1937-1945, by Rana Mitter

6. Conflicts kindled by the peace of WW1

Decisions made at the Paris peace conference after World War One have resulted in conflict across the globe.

World War Two

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World War Two

Reparations demanded from Germany caused hyper-inflation, unemployment and misery in in the 1920s, leading to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. WW2 followed.

Yugoslav Wars

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Yugoslav Wars

In Europe, the Treaty created Yugoslavia, a country made up of disparate peoples. 80 years later, bitter war broke out between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats.

Conflict in the Middle East

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Conflict in the Middle East

The treaty created Iraq from territories populated by people from different religious and national backgrounds. 100 years later sectarian violence continues.