The Japan-Mexico Treaty 1888 and the Most Favored Nation Clause in the Unequal Treaties
Luis Amadeo Hernandez
October 10, 2010
The Japan-Mexico Treaty 1888 was the first treaty that Japan concluded in equal and reciprocal terms with a Western Nation during the most crucial period of Japan's modern diplomatic history as it was the revision of the Unequal Treaties.
The generic name "Unequal Treaties" refers to 16 international conventions that Japan signed between 1854 and 1874 with the Western Powers. These treaties were unilateral, not reciprocal, all citizens of the treaty nations enjoyed extraterritorial privileges that rendered them, for all intents and purposes, immune from Japanese justice. Even more onerous and problematic, these treaties denied Japan of tariff autonomy, and autonomy in the treaty ports.
In 1883, Mexico proposed to Japan to conclude a treaty based on absolute equality to serve as support and precedent for Japan to denounce the Unequal Treaties. Japan declined the Mexican offer adducing that it was first necessary to obtain the revision of the Unequal Treaties, to avoid extending, the new advantageous conditions of an equal treaty to the Treaty Powers, by way of the Most-Favored-Nation clause. Japan carried forward the Treaty Revision Conferences between 1882 and 1886 without obtaining any significant progress.
Five years later, in 1888, despite the fact that the Treaty Powers had neither renounced the MFN clause, nor revised the extra-territoriality provisions, Japan concluded its first equal treaty with Mexico. How did the Japanese government solve this impasse? This paper addresses this question as well as the arguments and motivations that shaped the new unconditional interpretation of the MFN clause, or Ōkuma Doctrine.
The cornerstone of the treaty system was the Most Favored Nation clause. This paper delineates the main features of the MFN clause emphasizing the Conditional and Unconditional MFN interpretations. It also explains why this MFN was the main obstacle for the revision of the Unequal Treaties, and how this problem was solved by the Ōkuma's interpretation; his conditional interpretation of the MFN, is called the Ōkuma Doctrine.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 26
Keywords: Japan Mexico Treaty, Most Favored Nation Clause, Unequal Treaties
JEL Classification: K33, F02working papers series
Date posted: February 18, 2011
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