Russia’s Expansion into East Asia: Who is this man in Khabarovsk? Why 1858?

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Russia’s Expansion into East Asia: Who is this man in Khabarovsk? Why 1858?

The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804 to 1806) in North America — which had taken place immediately after the Louisiana Purchase (1803) — is a well known, and a frequently told, story about America’s westward expansion. But, what about the Russians? What about the Russians – you say? Well, how and when did the Russian Empire (1721 to 1917) move all the way from Europe eastward to reach the Pacific Ocean? How was it able to sell Alaska (formerly known as Russian-America, 1733 to 1867) to the United States in 1867. Was Fort Ross (located in California – now Sonoma County) really a Russian establishment between 1812 and 1842?

Although we won’t be able to answer all these questions today, the story of Russia’s expansion into East Asia is a fascinating story. Towards the end of this postings (i.e., bottom of this page), a series of video clips are presented to help readers/viewer further understand and interpret events which are related to Russia in East Asia as presented by Dr. Peter Smith of the Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand. 140531ruseast5000ruble02 Well, and getting back to one of questions, the person who is profiled on Russia’s 5,000 Ruble (currently Russia’s largest) banknote — and the person who’s statue is standing in the city of Khabarovsk — is none other than Nikolai Muravyov (1809 to 1881).

The reason for why he is so well-known to all Russians is because he had been appointed Governor of Irkutsk and Yeniseysk (a.k.a. Eastern Siberia) in 1847 by Tsar Nicolas I  (1796 to 1855); and because he was the person who had led the “Treaty of Aigun (1858)” — signed with the Manchu-Qing Dynasty of China — which set the historic groundwork for Russia’s territorial entry into (and permanent presence in) the Amur basin in East Asia.

Prior to this treaty, there was the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), which had restricted the Russian Empire in the Amur basin. His contribution were enormous since the treaty helped the Russian Empire secure future ports, along the Pacific (ocean) coast — namely Vladivostok — subsequent to the Treaty of Beijing (1860); and later the ice-free port of Port Arthur.

If we consider, the position of the Russian-American Company (RAC, 1799 to 1867) which had a presence in North America, this signing of the Treaty of Aigun meant that the Russian Empire would soon play a significant role in the shaping East Asia’s future. To provide a timeline of other world events during this period; the completion of the Suez canal (Egypt), by the British, was in 1869; and the last spike to connect the first transcontinental railroad across the United States had also taken place during 1869.

♦ Value-Added Insight 

While Russia continued to secure its foothold in East Asia during the late 19th century, it established a closer relationship with the Joseon Dynasty (Korea) by helping King Gojong push out the unwanted advancement of Japan in Korea.

After the Japanese murder of his wife Queen Min (October 8, 1895) who had been firmly against and growing suspicious over Japan’s infringement against Korea’s sovereignty, King Gojong and their son (Sunjong) took refuge at the Russian Legation (below photo) for one-year between February 11, 1896 to February 20, 1897. 140531ruseast5000legation03However, the final moments of Korea’s 500 year-old Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1897) — aka Chosen, Chosun — was quickly coming to an end.

After the Coronation of Nicolas II (May 26, 1896), the Tsar of Russia, what is called the Lobanov-Yamagata Agreement was signed in St. Petersburg June 9, 1896.

This was where the notion of dividing Korea up along the 38th parallel was first discussed between Russia and Japan – a concept that was later raised again by Stalin, many years later, at the Yalta conference in 1945; and a concept of division that became operative after Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces (1948).

In return for protecting the the sovereignty of the Joseon Dynasty, Russia had gained special interests to develop Korean mines and forests (timber concession along the Yalu river). The Russians, also during this period, helped squeezed out mining concession for the United States at the famous Unsan Gold Mines in 1895 from King Gojong.

In response to the power-play of Russia and Japan in Korea, and with the decline of Qing-China, King Gojong returned back to what is now Deoksugung (a.k.a. Deoksoo Palace) in 1897.

Shortly thereafter, King Gojong prepared and gave birth to the “Korean Empire” (1897 to 1910) to proclaim to the world that Korea would independently seek a course of autonomous modernization and function as an equal “Empire” state rather than remain simply as “Kingdom”. This gave him (King Gojong), the title of “Emperor of Korea” rather than being the “King” of Joseon. The title and rank of Emperor was deemed different from that of a King.

With the “Eight-Nation Alliance” — namely, United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, United States, France, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary — converging into China to collectively suppress the Boxer Movement (1899 to 1901, a.k.a. Boxer Rebellion), and the Xinhai Revolution (1911) the Korean Empire’s (1897 to 1910) relationship with the Chinese Qing Dynasty came to an complete end.

In the meantime, in the year of 1898, the United States was focused on the “Treaty of Paris (1898)” which was a great bonanza for the United States. With a payment that involved $20 million dollars, this Treaty ended the Spanish-America War; and also signaled the end of the Spanish Empire.

As a result of this treaty, the United States acquired (1) the Philippines which it ruled until 1946;  (2) Guam and (3) Puerto Rico – both of which still remain as unincorporated territories of the United States – after obtaining indefinite colonial authority. America’s influence in Cuba also started in 1898 after the Spaniards. 1898 was also the year that the United States House and Senate passed with Newlands Resolution which, in effect, annexed Hawaii to become a US territory.

In Russia, the Great Famine (1891 to 1892), which had left about half-a-million people dead, reawakened Russian Marxism as anger over the Tsar’s government; and with Japan winning the Russo-Japanese War (February 1904 to September 1905); and the Russian Revolution of 1905 which took place during the war gave Japan clear dominance over the Empire of Korea.

With the Anglo-Japanese Treaty in 1902; and the Taft-Katsura Memorandum (a.k.a. Agreement) in 1905; the Japanese had gained international support to push the Russians out of the Korean peninsula until August of 1945 — within 3 months after the end of World War 2 in Europe, as it had discussed at the Yalta Conference (Crimea, February 1945).

Today, the Russian boarder with its East Asian neighbors were redrawn during the San Francisco Peace Treaty (Signed on September 8, 1951) — a.k.a. the “San Francisco System” — between Japan and 48 participating countries.

However, because of the Soviet Union’s strong protest over the draft which was primarily prepared by the British and United States who did not have legitimate claims to the territories (lands) that were being discussed and partitioned, they (the Soviet Union) did not sign this Treaty.

Ironically, and with so many countries participating, nobody from Korea, and also nobody from China, was invited to this Peace Treaty (meeting) in San Francisco.

Moreover, another country which was “not” invited to this “peace treaty” was East Timor, which recently became the first “new” sovereign state of the 21st century — after fighting its way (for more than 50 years) to gain independence — a break away from the San Francisco System — on May 20, 2002.

♦ Food for Thought 

For more than 100 years, the shadows of past imperialistic super powers still linger over the divided Korean peninsula. One one side, it is the American-Japanese alliance supporting (or pushing) South Korea, and on the other side, it is the Chinese-Russian alliance supporting (or pushing) North Korea.

However, the major difference today is the fact that South Korea has persevered to become one of the world’s top 15 economies with a thriving democracy, and North Korea has developed into a country that potentially has, or will soon have, nuclear weapons to defend its regime against. Moreover, China has re-emerged as a superpower after its Opium Wars, and the march onto Beijing by the Eight-Nation Alliance.

For many Koreans, the reasons behind why the morale outcry for human justice and righteousness against Japan — and its fight for independence by the Korean people — were completely smothered by the United States government, in support of the malicious and evil Japanese empire during the late 1800s and early 1900s still remains a great mystery.

The same Japanese empire that gave so much grief to (and inflicted so much excruciating pain upon) the people of Korea, and millions of other people in East Asia, would eventually go on to proudly bomb Pearl Harbor.

Today, the countries in East Asia – including Russia – are closely watching the “good-will” intentions of the United States and its “Pivot in Asia” which should lead to a longer period of peace, stability and prosperity for the people of East Asia.

♦ Language Footnote 

  • Nikolai Muravyov // Nikolai Nikolayevich Muravyov-Amursky // Никола́й Никола́евич Муравьёв-Аму́рский

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