Since the 1900 Japan’s economy and population had been growing rapidly. Japan had a very powerful army and navy which often dictated government policy. It has a strong industry, exporting goods to the USA and China, and had built up a healthy empire which included the Korean peninsular.
The depression that occurred hit Japan particularly badly. Both China and the USA (Buying Japanese goods) put up Tariffs (trade barriers) against Japanese goods. Once the American Wall Street Crash happened, it put the Japanese economy in crisis. Without this vital trade, Japan had no way to feed its people. Army leaders concluded the only way to feed its people was to build a Japanese empire by force, this would involve expanding and taking over the southern part of China.
In 1931, an incident in Manchuria gave the Japanese the opportunity they had been waiting for; the Japanese army controlled the South Manchurian Railway. In September 1931, Japan claimed that Chinese soldiers had sabotaged the railway, and in retaliation, they took over Manchuria and threw all the Chinese forces out. In February 1932, they set up a ‘puppet’ government that took orders from the Japanese army. In the later part of 1932 Japanese bombers, bombed Shanghai, the government told the army to withdraw but the order was ignored, showing that the Government was in control of Japanese foreign policies.
What did the League do in response?
This was a test for the League, Japan was a leading member of the League, this situation needed careful handling.
China appealed to the league, Japan claimed it was not invading as an aggressor but simply settling a local difficulty. The Japanese stated that it invade in self-defence to keep the peace as China was in a state of ruin. For the Chinese there was a long delay, the League officials sailed around the world to assess the situation for themselves. In September 1932 ( a full year after invasion) the league presented their report. It concluded that Japan was in the wrong and had acted unlawfully. Therefore, Manchuria should be returned to the Chinese.
In February 1933, Japan announced it planned to invade more of China, however still argued it was in self-defence. On 24th February the League officials approved by 42 votes to one (Japan) in the assembly. Japan resigned from the League on 27th March 1933, and a week later invaded Jehol.
The league discussed economic sanctions however, without America (Japans main trading partner) the sanctions would hardly have any effect. The league also discussed banning arms sales to Japan but not all the members could agree on that. This showed exactly how weak the League was.
Why was the failure to stop Japan so damaging to the League?
This particular failure was so damaging to the league as it showed exactly how powerless the league was, when pitted against a strong nation such as Japan. It was said that the League had no teeth, however now this had proved that the league was extremely weak. Japan had committed unashamed aggression and got away with it. This gave the impression in Europe that the League was not a threat, and Hitler and Mussolini observed with interest at the actions of the League. Both would follow Japans example within the space of three years.