Why did United States choose conflict with Japan over China ?

Especially from 1937 (2nd Sino-Japan war) compared with 1894 (1st Sino-Japan war which basically were an conflict about influence and control in Korea.)

Compared with the Boxer rebellion and the allied forces behavior in Beijing (looting the imperial palace and burning it down.) Together with the very strong anti-Chinese sentiments in the US after the end of 1800's (Workingmen's party of California).

My thinking is that until the 2nd Sino-Japan war, taking over parts of China were basically the goal of every Western country including the United States. So what changed the ideology in the US towards Japan behaving in this way (or did it really change)?

Could one such reason be because FDR, a Democrat was in the White house after a string of Republican presidents (except for Wilson)?

  • 7
    You will need to provide evidence for your non-trivial assertions, particularly that US policy only changed with the 2nd Sino-Japanese war.
    – Spencer
    Oct 31 '20 at 13:58
  • @Spencer - It's obvious that colonial intervention in China in the 19h and early 20th century was seen as legitimate business of civilised nations but something had changed by 1937. Asking what changed and why is a legitimate and interesting question. In fact, the same question could be posed about Abissinia and the answer would likely be the same. And whether it changed in 1937, in 1919 or whenever else should be part of the answer.
    – Pere
    Oct 31 '20 at 16:05
  • 1
    You also need to provide some sort of evidence that the US actually CHOSE anything. That is, you had a China concerned with its internal politics, vs an expansionist Japan. China could be mostly ignored by a largely isolationist US, Japan couldn't.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 31 '20 at 16:46
  • @Atefan Skoglund As I remember the allied forces in the Second Opium war looted and burned the Summer Palace in 1860. I never heard that the Purple Forbidden City in Peking was looted and burned during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, and in fact it is a big tourist attraction today. As I rmember, since about 1899, the USA wanted Chine to be open for business with each and every western country - including the USA - without being the exclusive economic territory of any one country - including Japan, and opposed foreign colonialism in China. This was called the "Open Door Policy".
    – MAGolding
    Oct 31 '20 at 17:26

In the early 20th century, China was more to be pitied, than feared. The anti-Chinese sentiments in California were directed against individual people, not the whole country. It arose against the Japanese as well, with the important difference that the hostility was also against Japan as a country.

Japan also posed a challenge to the United States where it was threatened, the Pacific Ocean. During the Washington Naval Conference of 1922, it was Japan, and not China, that was limited to "3" in the 5-5-3 navy ratios. About 20 years later, Japan bombed the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. China did not that capability. War and hostilities were forced on the United States by Japan.

There was never any chance of China taking over Japan. China was not even a whole country because it was disunited and under the rule of warlords, in addition to competition by the Communist and Nationalist parties. But by the 1930s, there was a real chance of Japan taking over China, or at least a large part of it, and creating a behemoth that was hostile to the United States.

America's policy toward China had been the Open Door Policy that would allow all countries "equal access" to China. Japan wanted to carve up China into spheres of influence, with her getting the largest share.

  • I think it would be more accurate to say that US anti-Chinese sentiments were directed against Chinese immigrants to the US. Chinese people were perfectly ok, even rather interesting culturally, just as long as they stayed in China. Not all that different from the attitude many people have towards Latino immigrants today.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 1 '20 at 2:02

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