By the turn of the century, Japan emerged as the strongest power in Korea, according to Duus. When Katsura Tarò became prime minister in 1901, one of his goals was to establish a protectorate in Korea. A major obstacle, however, was Russia, whose presence in Manchuria was growing after 1900. Duus sees three options for Japan at this time: the partition of Korea, the neutralization of Korea, and the so-called exchange of Manchuria for Korea. When Japan approached Russia with the third option, the latter added conditions that included the demilitarization of Korea in the exchange. Since Japan "saw Korea as a keystone of national defense" , the negotiations hit a snag, and animosity between Russia and Japan heightened. In May 1903, when Russian troops occupied Yongamp’o, Japan decided on war against Russia in order to settle the Korea problem once and for all. The Russo-Japanese War allowed Japan to gain significant inroads on the peninsula. After landing its troops there, Japan forced the Korean government to sign a protocol in February 1904 whereby Japan obtained the right to occupy strategic areas for the war against Russia in return for the Japanese pledge to "guarantee the independence and territorial integrity" of Korea.
Then, in May 1904, the Japanese government adopted a blueprint that embodied the consensus of both moderates and advocates of a more aggressive policy. On the premise that "the fate of Korea so directly affected the security of the Japanese empire that no other country could be allowed to swallow it up," the blueprint aimed "to acquire full rights for a protectorate over Korea and to acquire key economic rights as well" The adoption of this blueprint was a momentous decision. "For the first time since the decision to open Korea in 1876," writes Duus, "the Japanese leadership had committed unequivocally to assuming direct political control over Korea" He insists that not until May 1904 did the Japanese leadership reach consensus on extending direct political control over Korea, that until that time the Japanese policy had been tentative. Once the decision was made, Japan proceeded to establish a de facto protectorate at all levels of the Korean government, even before signing a treaty to that effect. In April 1905, when victory in the war against Russia became clear, Japan decided to go through the process of signing a formal protectorate treaty, and sent Itò Hirobumi to Korea for that purpose. Here, Duus gives a balanced description and analysis of the signing of the treaty, including the recent assertion made by Professor Lee Tai-jin (Yi T’aejin) that the original document of the treaty discovered in the Seoul National University Library lacked the authentic signature of the Korean emperor and his official seal.
....Duus concludes with a thought-provoking discussion of Japanese imperialism toward Korea. He argues that Japanese imperialism in Korea was "an act of mimesis" , whereby Japan practiced what it had learned from the Western powers while itself remaining a victim of the predatory powers. On the controversial issue of whether the Meiji leaders intended from the beginning to annex Korea, Duus observes much "tentativeness" in the earlier policy, leading him to conclude that not until May 1904 did the Meiji leaders reach a consensus on complete domination. While mimicking Western practices, Japan nevertheless developed its own characteristic style of imperialism. First, Duus asserts that Japanese imperialism was defensive in nature. The perception of Japan’s military "backwardness" led the Meiji leaders to develop "a ‘paranoid’ vision of the international order," and to justify the annexation of Korea "as a means of protecting their country" . Second, because of the relative "backwardness" of the Japanese economy, large capitalists in Japan were in general indifferent to colonial development; instead, "the shock troops of Japanese imperialism in Korea were," according to Duus, "not powerful metropolitan business interests but restless, ambitious, frugal elements from the middle and lower strata of Japanese society" . Finally, Japan’s own experience of overcoming "backwardness" in the immediate past led the Japanese to claim that they could introduce the Korean people to "civilization" better than any one else, and thus they insisted that "Japan was helping the Koreans to improve themselves" , not exploiting them, just as family members help each other....
....Western scholars have also frequently asserted that the Japanese decision to annex Korea arose out of concern for its own security needs. Duus follows a similar line: "The debate over the future of Korea revolved around how best it could serve Japan’s national defense needs" In fact, one of the main arguments Duus presents is that the constant anxiety over Japan’s security led the Meiji leaders to annex Korea in order to preempt other powers from taking control of their neighbor. Implied in this argument is that the Japanese annexation of Korea was a defensive move rather than an act of aggression. If Japan was indeed acting in its own security interest, there was really no need to annex Korea at the time it did in 1910. There was no international power in Korea that posed even a remote threat to Japan after 1905. Having defeated China and Russia militarily in 1895 and 1905, respectively, Japan made a successful diplomatic move to gain a completely free hand in Korea with the full support of both Great Britain and the United States. By 1905, all of the four powers that may have had some interest in the matter had already conceded Korea to Japan. Thus, security could not have been the real reason for Japan’s annexation. Rather, the security concern was an excuse it used to justify its act of aggression.