The Taiwan expedition (台湾出兵)

The Taiwan expedition refers to the Meiji government's dispatch of military troops to Taiwan in 1874. It was the first overseas development of troops by the Meiji government and the Japanese army, which also refers to as botansha jiken (Mudan incident) or seitai no eki (Seitai Campaign).

The Ryukyu Kingdom belonged to both Japan (the Satsuma domain) and Qing on the Chinese continent during the Edo period and the territorial dispute became a political issue after the establishment of the Meiji government in Japan.

In October 1871, a Ryukyu-controlled ship was caught in a violent typhoon and went missing on their way home after carrying nengu (annual tribute) from Miyako Island to Shuri. The ship drifted and washed ashore on the Southern Taiwanese coast. There were 69 government officials and crew members on board. Sixty-six people (the other three drowned) who drifted ashore asked aborigines (an aboriginal tribe of Taiwan now called Paiwan) for help, but they were abducted to their village after all.

The abductees apparently could not communicate with the aborigines, for they escaped from the village on December 17. The aborigines considered the escapees to be their enemies and killed 54 people by beheading them one after another. Twelve survivors were saved by Han (Chinese) immigrants and transported back to Miyako Island by way of Fuzhou in Fujian Province under the protection of the Taiwan Prefectural Administration. Although the Meiji Government sought compensation from Qing for the incident, the Qing Government refused, saying it was beyond their jurisdiction. That floored the Meiji Government, which had little experience of diplomatic negotiations and no knowledge of international customs, and the case was left untouched for the subsequent three years.

U.S. Consul General to Xiamen in Qing Dynasty, Charles E. LeGendre, who learned about the case, suggested to the Foreign Ministry through a resident envoy to Japan that Japan punish the barbarians. Foreign Minister Taneomi SOEJIMA met with LeGendre through U.S. envoy to Japan, Charles E. DeLong, while Interior Minister Toshimichi OKUBO showed interest in LeGendre's opinion. At that time, the Meiji Government was divided over ideas such as Seikanron, a proposal to subjugate Korea, in which Satsuma domain clique including Sukenori KABAYAMA and Kagoshima Prefectural councilor Tsunayoshi OYAMA were suggesting that Japan dispatch troops to Taiwan. Behind those hard-line ideas was the fact that they were seeking a vent for dissatisfaction of 40 to 50 thousand warriors who had lost their position because of Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures).

Although Toshimichi OKUBO gained the initiative, rooting out pro-Seikanron members during Meiji roku-nen no Seihen (Coups of 1873), Emperor Meiji's pronouncement of that time was that Japan postponed (not abandoned) dispatching troops to Korea due to a border dispute with Russia, which left a strong possibility for reigniting demand from pro-Seikanron once the border with Russia was determined (The Treaty of Saint Petersburg was signed on May 7, 1875.)
Therefore, Okubo planned to send troops to Taiwan, which seemed to be easier than Korea to conquer. In April 1874, Banchi Office (Taiwan Expedition Office) was established and Shigenobu OKUMA was appointed as director general and Lieutenant General Tsugumichi SAIGO as commander of the Taiwan expeditionary force, giving them full authority. There was opposition to the expedition from within the government as well as from British envoy Harry Parkes and the U.S. Among others, Takayoshi KIDO, who continued to oppose, submitted a letter of resignation on April 18 and resigned from his post as a councilor, saying that dispatching troops to Taiwan was inconsistent with rejecting Seikanron because both means sending troops to foreign countries. Therefore, the government once decided to postpone the dispatch, but 3,000 members of the expeditionary force (government army consisting of feudal retainers of Satsuma Domain) led by Saigo, who had been on standby in Nagasaki, disobeyed it and made a decision to depart for Taiwan. Then, on May 2, when the main unit led by Tateki TANI and Noriyoshi AKAMATSU left Nagasaki by order of Saigo in two small warships which were got from the Edo Bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), the government officially approved it and on May 6, when they went ashore in southern Taiwan, they skirmished with the Taiwanese aborigines. On May 22, they launched a full-scale attack by order of Saigo and in June they gained control of the area where the incident took place, continuing to advance on their territory. The field army, however, suffered widespread damage such as malaria infection because of the poor sanitary condition and the urgent solution was required.

Negotiation toward a solution

The Meiji Government with no knowledge of international customs at that time not only hadn't notified Qing before dispatching troops but neither informed the great powers with interests in Qing nor laid the groundwork. That was an international problem that could trigger disputes in certain circumstances. At first, Li Hung Chang, who was an influential person in Qing and Parkes, British Ambassador to Japan, protested vehemently. Afterwards, peace talks were held through the mediation of British envoy Thomas Wade and Toshimichi OKUBO went to Beijing as a minister extraordinary and plenipotentiary to negotiate with the Qing Government, as a result of which Japan committed to the withdrawal of the expeditionary force in exchange for Qing interpreting the dispatch of Japanese troops as an act of righteousness as well as paying 500 thousand liang (tael, which was a monetary unit formerly used in China) in compensation to Japan.

The attribution issue of Ryukyu between Japan and Qing, which had remained unsolved, worked out in the favor of Japan in the peace process and in the following year, 1875, the Meiji Government ordered Ryukyu to sever relations with Qing based on sakuho (Chinese vassal system) and choko (tributary system) as well as to adopt Meiji as an era name. However, the diplomatic solution was not realized because Ryukyu pleaded for the continuation of the relationship with Qing, and also because Qing protested against the ban on choko in Ryukyu.

Japan made a proposal that the main island of Okinawa be a part of Japanese territory and that both the Yaeyama Islands and Miyako Island be a part of Chinese territory (Bunto revision plan, which literally means a plan to divide islands for a treaty revision) in the negotiation held in Beijing in 1880 with Qing, which had been opposing to what is known as the Ryukyu Annexation by the Meiji Government in 1879. But Qing basically didn't hope to get possession of those two islands but to revive the Ryukyu Kingdom, returning two islands to Ryukyu so that it could maintain a relationship based on sakuho, while Ryukyu objected to separating territorial rights over the islands, because of which Qing didn't sign the treaty.

Therefore, it was after Japan won the Sino-Japanese War that the attribution issue was solved.