The Hegemonic State and the Structural Power (2) The Debates on Informal Empire its limits and potentialities II british military presence in Asia

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Shigeru Akita Work in Progress. Not to be cited without author’s permission.

The British Empire as the ‘Imperial Structural Power’ and Asian International Order
Shigeru Akita (Graduate School of Letters, Osaka University)

I The Structural Power and the Informal Empire

(1) The Hegemonic State and the Structural Power

(2) The Debates on Informal Empire---its limits and potentialities

II British military presence in Asia

  1. Pax Britannica’ and the structure of national security

  2. The Boxer Rebellion and the Indian Army

  3. The National Security and the Structural Power in Inter-War years

  4. The Dispatch of Indian Armies to Shanghai in 1927: the Shanghai Defense Force

III Economic interests of the British Empire and Industrialization in Asia

  1. The Structural Power in the world economy

  2. Industrialization in Asia and the British Empire



In recent years, there appeared several new and provocative arguments in the fields of history of international relations and international economic history. Among these, two studies are worthy of note; that is, the Gentlemanly Capitalism by P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins in the field of British Imperial History1, and the argument of intra-Asian trade by Kaoru Sugihara in the field of Asian economic history2. This paper is to connect these new trends of research and to locate the British Imperial History as the ‘bridge’ for constructing the ‘global history’, which seemed to be a newly emerging historical concept for revealing the historical origins of globalization. By integrating these new researches, this paper is to reconsider the historical roles of the British Empire in the process of formation and maintenance of Asian international order in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries3.

I pay special attention to the following three viewpoints.

Firstly, I introduce the argument of the ‘structural power’ by Susan Strange of international political economy4 into the British Imperial History, and critically re-interpret its concept to evaluate the roles of the British Empire in the progress of economic globalization. Susan Strange defined the structural power as the power, which could set the ‘rules of the game’ and enforced them to others in the international order of political economy. From historical perspectives, she identified two structural powers, that is, the United Kingdom in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the United States in the twentieth century5. In the fields of the history of international relations and the World-System analysis, these two states were recognized as the ‘hegemonic states’ in the Modern World-System6. The hegemonic state could exert its influence globally in the whole economic structure of agriculture, manufacturing, and financial and service sectors, as well as in the military and diplomacy. In this paper, I try to distinguish the roles of the ‘hegemonic state’ and the ‘structural power’ in that, in the declining phase of the hegemonic state, especially in the phase of its relative decline of military power, it exerted a different power from the formative and the climax periods of the hegemony. I use the term of the ‘structural power’ for grasping the peculiar character of the hegemonic power in decline from global perspective. In the case of Great Britain, the term of ‘structural power’ might be appropriate to use for the periods of the Inter-War years, especially for the 1930s.

According to an original definition, the ‘structural power’ meant the exercise of influences on a global scale, and its power projection was under no restrictions, irrespective of territories. However, the United Kingdom was the hegemonic state with the colonial territories of formal empire, such as British India and the Straits Settlements as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (the Dominions). In this sense, the UK had been a different type of hegemonic state from the US, which was critical of the colonialism of European powers in the twentieth century. Therefore, if we try to identify the UK in the Inter-War years as the ‘structural power’, it is important for us to understand both its global influence of non-territorial origins and its colonial influence of territorial rules (formal empire). In this sense, we could recognize Inter-War Britain as the ‘Imperial Structural Power’, which possessed both colonial territories of formal empire and the global economic influence of non-territorial nature. In those days, British influence extended not only to her formal colonies but also even to other European powers and Japan, an independent non-European colonial power. In this paper, I try to reconsider a unique feature of British international influence as the ‘Imperial Structural Power’.

Secondly, I reveal the transformation of British presence in Asia, by making a comparison between the heyday of the ‘Pax Britannica’ at the turn of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries and its declining phase in the 1930s. The transformation of British presence was reflected on both the structure of national security and economic structure. With the connection of national security or the British military presence in Asia, I analyze the overseas dispatch of Indian armies, which had been actively deployed as ‘an advance detachment for imperial expansion’ or ‘the barracks in the Oriental Seas7’ since the early nineteenth century. As for the structure of economy, I highly evaluate the arguments of Gentlemanly Capitalism by Cain and Hopkins, and pay a special attention to the roles of British financial and service sectors, centered on the City of London. Their arguments provoked intensive discussions and controversies on their validity of historical interpretations8, and this paper focuses on one of the subjects in dispute, that is, the argument of ‘informal or invisible empire’. Accelerated by the financial and service interests of the City of London, the UK extended her financial influence into Latin America, the Ottoman Empire and China through overseas investment and credit. At the 2nd GEHN Workshop in Irvine on “Imperialism and Colonialism”, I have examined the case of Anglo-Chinese relationship in the latter half of the 1920s and the 1930s, and intended to reveal the limits of previous arguments and new perspectives of informal empire in China9. In this way, I assume that the core elements of British presence in Asia consisted of her military power and economic influences. Based on this assumption, I reveal the relationship between the structure of national security and that of economy, and its changing nature or transformation.

Thirdly, my paper explains the important role of Great Britain as the hegemonic power and the ‘Imperial Structural Power’ for the formation and maintenance of the industrialization-based international order of Asia. In other words, British economic interests accelerated the pace and development of industrialization in East Asia in the twentieth century. However, in the fields of Japanese and Chinese economic histories, the external relations with Western powers were regarded as the negative factors for their local economic development. Many native scholars implicitly assumed the importance of analytical frameworks of nation-state and national economy, and relatively neglected the aspects of external economic relations for their industrialization. In this paper, I recognize the relationship between the British economic interests and the industrialization or the economic development in East Asia, not as rivalry but as complementary or cordial relation, despite a partial competition. This kind of complementarity of economic interests might be understood on the assumptions of ‘Gentlemanly Capitalism’: the weight of British economic interests shifted from the manufacturing of cotton goods to the financial and service sectors of the City of London. The progress of industrialization in East Asia tended to affect even the economic and financial policies of British India through the development of intra-Asian trade in the 1930s. Therefore, this paper reveals the positive roles of Great Britain to the process of Asian industrialization, by focusing on various sources of information, such as the British consular and commercial reports.

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