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Why did the Japanese invade Manchuria?
The first major test for the League came when the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931.
Since 1900 Japan's economy and population had been growing rapidly. By the 1920s Japan was
a major power.
1. It had a very powerful army and navy army leaders often dictated government policy.
2. It had a strong industry, exporting goods to the USA and China in particular.
3. It had a growing empire which included the Korean peninsula.
The Depression hit Japan badly. Both China and the USA put up tariffs (trade barriers)
against Japanese goods. The collapse of the American market put the Japanese economy in
crisis. Without this trade Japan could not feed its people. Army leaders in Japan were in no
doubt about the solution to Japan's problems they wanted to build up a Japanese empire by
In 1931 an incident in Manchuria gave them the opportunity they had been looking for to
expand the Japanese Empire. The Japanese army controlled the South Manchurian Railway. In
September 1931 they claimed that Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the railway. In retaliation
they overran Manchuria and threw out all Chinese forces. In February 1932 they set up a
puppet government in Manchuria or Manchukuo, as they called it which did exactly what
the Japanese army told it to do. Later in 1932 Japanese aeroplanes and gunships bombed
Shanghai. The civilian government in Japan told the Japanese army to withdraw, but its
instructions were ignored. It was clear that it was the army and not the government that was in
control of Japanese foreign policy.
to the League.
it was not invading as an aggressor, but simply settling a local difficulty. The Japanese argued
that China was in such a state of anarchy that they had to invade in self-defence to keep peace
in the area. For the League of Nations this was a serious test. Japan was a leading member of
the League. It needed careful handling. What should the League do?
There was now a long and frustrating delay. The League's officials sailed round the world to
assess the situation in Manchuria for themselves. It was September 1932 a full year after
the invasion before they presented their report. It was detailed and balanced, but the
judgement was very clear. Japan had acted unlawfully. Manchuria should be returned to the
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However, in February 1933, instead of withdrawing from Manchuria the Japanese announced
that they intended to invade more of China. They still argued that this was necessary in
self-defence. On 24 February 1933 the report from the League's officials was approved by
42 votes to 1 in the Assembly. Only Japan voted against. Smarting at the insult, Japan
resigned from the League on 27 March 1933. The next week it invaded Jehol.
Why did the League fail?
The League was powerless: