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Spheres of influence in China prior to the Open Door Policy.

The Open Door Policy is a concept in foreign affairs. As a theory, the Open Door Policy originates with British commercial practice, as was reflected in treaties concluded with Qing Dynasty China after the First Opium War (1839-1842). Although the Open Door is generally associated with China, it was recognized at the Berlin Conference of 1885, which declared that no power could levy preferential duties in the Congo basin.


Open Door Policy of China

As a specific policy with regard to China, it was first advanced by the United States in the Open Door Notes of September-November 1899. In 1898, the United States had become an East Asian power through the acquisition of the Philippine Islands, and when the partition of China by the European powers and Japan seemed imminent, the United States felt its commercial interests in China threatened. U.S. Secretary of State John Hay sent notes to the major powers (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, and Russia), asking them to declare formally that they would uphold Chinese territorial and administrative integrity and would not interfere with the free use of the treaty ports within their spheres of influence in Russia. The open door policy stated that all European nations, and the United States, could trade with China.

In reply, each nation evaded Hay's request, taking the position that it could not commit itself until the other nations had complied. During this period there was a strong economic tension. However, by July 1900, Hay announced that each of the powers had granted consent in principle. Although treaties made after 1900 refer to the Open Door Policy, competition among the various powers for special concessions within China for railroad rights, mining rights, loans, foreign trade ports, and so forth, continued unabated.

Technically, the term "Open Door Policy" can be only referred to as before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Regarding China's international trade policy introduced after Deng Xiaoping took office, it is termed as China's policy of opening up to the outside world.

Failure of the Open Door Principle

In 1902, the United States government protested that Russian encroachment in Manchuria after the Boxer Rebellion was a violation of the Open Door Policy. When Japan replaced Russia in southern Manchuria after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) the Japanese and U.S. governments pledged to maintain a policy of equality in Manchuria. In finance, American efforts to preserve the Open Door Policy led (1909) to the formation of an international banking consortium through which all Chinese railroad loans would agree (1917) to another exchange of notes between the United States and Japan in which there were renewed assurances that the Open Door Policy would be respected, but that the United States would recognize Japan's special interests in China (the Lansing-Ishii Agreement). The Open Door Policy had been further weakened by a series of secret treaties (1917) between Japan and the Allies, which promised Japan the German possessions in China on successful conclusion of the war.

The increasing disregard of the Open Door Policy was a main reason for the convocation of the Washington Conference (1921-1922) in Washington, D.C. As a result of the conference, the Nine-Power Treaty, again affirming the integrity and independence of China via the Open Door principle, was signed by the United States. However, the Nine Power Treaty lacked any enforcement regulations.

With the Japanese seizure (1931) of Manchuria and the creation of Manchukuo, however, the Open Door principle formally ceased to exist.

Open Door Policy in modern China

After World War II, China's position as a sovereign state was recognized, and all special concessions and unequal treaties were abolished, except for the unequal treaties signed with Russia. However, with the rise to power of the Communist Party of China, the Open Door Policy was rejected until 1978 when Deng Xiaoping, under his new capitalist-inclined system that promoted market forces, committed China to adopting policies which promote foreign trade and economic investment[1]. Since the late-1970s, the term "Open Door Policy" has also been used by the People's Republic of China as one justification for its demands that nations not provide diplomatic recognition to the Republic of China on Taiwan.


The Open Door Policy has been an important policy that has led to an increase of trade, economic co-operation, and interdependence between countries. The theory of the Open Door Policy is a cornerstone of the idea that trade is a natural right, and although [] can counter such policies with isolationist attitudes, that would be unnatural, for trade and communication with others is natural, as cited in John Locke's famous treatises.

See also


  • Hu, Shizhang (1977). Stanley K. Hornbeck and the Open Door Policy, 1919-1937. Wayne State Univ Press. ISBN 0313293945.  
  • McKee, Delber (1977). Chinese Exclusion Versus the Open Door Policy, 1900-1906: Clashes over China Policy in the Roosevelt Era. Wayne State Univ Press. ISBN 0814315658.  




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