The Taft–Katsura Agreement (Japanese: 桂・タフト協定, Hepburn: Katsura-Tafuto Kyōtei, also known as the Taft Katsura Memorandum) was a 1905 discussion between senior leaders of Japan and the United States regarding the positions of the two nations in greater East Asian affairs, especially regarding the status of Korea and Philippines in the aftermath of Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War. The memorandum was not classified as a secret but no scholar noticed it in the archives until 1924.
The discussions were between United States Secretary of War William Howard Taft and Prime Minister of Japan (Count) Katsura Tarō on 27 July 1905. The Japanese leader stated Japan's reasons for its making a protectorate of Korea. He repeated that Japan had no interest in the Philippines. The US had acquired the Philippines following its victory over Spain in the Spanish–American War of 1898. In 1924, Tyler Dennett was the first scholar to see the document; he described it as containing "the text of perhaps the most remarkable 'executive agreement' in the history of the foreign relations of the United States". The consensus of historians is that Dennett greatly exaggerated the importance of a routine discussion that changed nothing and set no new policies. Historians pointed out there was no formal agreement on anything new. The word "agreement" in the documents merely means the two sides agreed that the English and Japanese versions of the meeting notes both accurately covered the substance of the conversations. President Theodore Roosevelt later agreed that War Secretary Taft had correctly stated the American position.
When Dennett first discovered the notes he assumed they indicated a highly significant "secret pact" between the US and Japan in creating a basis agreement whereby the two formerly isolationist nations became world powers. The conversations regarded the extent of the spheres of influence of Japan and the United States, and maintaining peace between them, in the event of victory of Japan over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War.
Some Korean historians have assumed that, in the discussions, the United States recognized Japan's sphere of influence in Korea; in exchange, Japan recognized the United States' sphere of influence in the Philippines. However, American historians examining official records report no agreement was ever made—the two men discussed current events but came to no new policy or agreement. They both restated the well-known official policies of their own governments. Indeed, Taft was very careful to indicate these were his private opinions, and he was not an official representative of the U.S. government (Taft was Secretary of War, not Secretary of State).
The Taft–Katsura Memorandum consists of the English and Japanese versions of the meeting notes of the conversation between Prime Minister Katsura and Secretary of War Taft, held in Tokyo on the morning of 27 July 1905. The memorandum detailing these discussions was dated 29 July 1905.
Three significant issues were discussed during the meeting:
- First were Katsura's views on peace in East Asia, which according to him formed the fundamental principle of Japan's foreign policy and was best accomplished by a good understanding among Japan, the United States, and Great Britain.
- The second issue concerned the Philippines. On this, Taft observed that it was in Japan's best interests to have the Philippines governed by a strong and friendly nation like the United States; Katsura claimed that Japan had no aggressive designs on the Philippines.
- Finally, regarding Korea, Katsura observed that Japanese colonization of Korea was a matter of absolute importance, as he considered Korea to have been a direct cause of the just-concluded Russo-Japanese War. Katsura stated that a comprehensive solution of the Korea problem would be the war's logical outcome. Katsura further stated that, if left alone, Korea would continue to improvidently enter into agreements and treaties with other powers, which he said created the original problem. Therefore, Katsura stated that Japan must take steps to prevent Korea from again creating conditions which would force Japan into fighting another foreign war.
For his part, Taft concurred that the establishment of a Japanese protectorate over Korea would directly contribute to stability in East Asia. Taft also expressed his belief that President Roosevelt would concur in his views in this regard.
There were three substantive areas of understanding in the conversation. First, Taft said to Katsura that some pro-Russians in America were publicly claiming that the recent war between Japan and Russia was a certain prelude to aggression by Japan against the Philippine Islands. Taft stated that Japan's only interest in the Philippines would be to have these islands governed by a strong and friendly nation like the United States. Count Katsura strongly confirmed that this was Japan's only interest in the Philippines, and it already being the case, Japan had no aggressive interest toward the Philippines. Second, Count Katsura stated that Japan's policy in East and Southeast Asia was to maintain general peace, and that the means of achieving this was a good understanding between Japan, the United States, and Great Britain. Third, Count Katsura stated that because Korean autonomy resulted in Korea improvidently entering into agreements and treaties with other powers, this was the cause of international complications leading to the war between Japan and Russia. Japan therefore felt constrained to preclude any possibility of Korean autonomy. Secretary Taft stated that the establishment of a suzerainty of Japan over Korea (i.e., the less powerful Korea would pay tribute to or be somewhat controlled by the more powerful Japan), with Japanese military troops ensuring a requirement that Korea enter into no foreign treaties without the consent of Japan, was a logical result of the war, and would contribute to permanent peace in the East. Taft stated that his opinions were his own, but he believed that President Roosevelt would concur.
Although there was never a signed agreement or secret treaty, only a memorandum of a conversation, and the conversations were kept secret for 20 years, President Theodore Roosevelt commented to his war Secretary Taft "Your conversation with Count Katsura (sic) absolutely correct in every respect. Wish (sic) that you would state to Katsura that I confirm every word you said." Yet, there is controversy among historians as to the historic significance of the conversation and as to whether the language of the conversation constituted an actual agreement in Realpolitik (i.e., an actual agreement was implied by the use of the language of diplomacy, although not made explicit as a formal agreement). The notes of the conversation were discovered in 1924 by historian Tyler Dennett. Dennett considered the notes to be of first rate significance, and asked permission for publication from Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Dennett referred to the notes as "President Roosevelt's Secret Pact With Japan".
The Japanese were at war with Russia and had just destroyed two thirds of the Russia naval fleet in their war over Korea in 1905. Victory by Japan was clearly imminent. Roosevelt was trying to bring Russia and Japan to peace negotiations. The United States had obtained control of the Philippines from its war with Spain in 1898. War Secretary Taft stopped by in Japan on his way to the Philippines.
Korean historians (e.g., Ki-baik Lee, author of A New History of Korea, (Harvard U. Press, 1984) believe that the Taft–Katsura Agreement violated the Korean–American Treaty of Amity and Commerce signed at Incheon on May 22, 1882 because the Joseon Government considered that treaty constituted a de facto mutual defense treaty while the Americans did not. The problem was the Article 1 stating that "There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between the President of the United States and the King of Chosen and the citizens and subjects of their respective Governments. If other powers deal unjustly or oppressively with either Government, the other will exert their good offices on being informed of the case to bring about an amicable arrangement, thus showing their friendly feelings". The Agreement has been cited in Korea by some as an example that the United States cannot be trusted with regards to Korean security and sovereignty issues.
- Esthus, Raymond A. (1959). "The Taft-Katsura Agreement—Reality or Myth?". Journal of Modern History. 31 (1): 46–51. doi:10.1086/238298. JSTOR 1871772.
- "President Roosevelt's Secret Pact with Japan," Tyler Dennett, The Current History Magazine, October, 1924, 
- Steven J. Bucklin, "THE TAFT-KATSURA AGREEMENT,"online
- Jongsuk Chay (1968). "The Taft-Katsura Memorandum Reconsidered". Pacific Historical Review. 37 (3): 321–326. JSTOR 3636866.
- Yun Ho-u 윤호우, "'Katcheura-Taepeuteu Miryak'eun hyeonjae jinhaenghyeong" '가쯔라-태프트 밀약'은 현재진행형 (Katsura-Taft Agreement Is Present Progressive), Gyeonghyang dat keom 경향닷컴 (Kyunghyang.com), September 6, 2005 (in Korean).
- Esthus, Raymond A. (Mar 1959). "The Taft-Katsura Agreement: Reality or Myth?"". Journal of Modern History. 31 (1): 46–51. JSTOR 1871772.
- Kim, Seung-Young. American diplomacy and strategy toward Korea and Northeast Asia, 1882-1950 and after: perception of polarity and US commitment to a periphery (Springer, 2009).
- Larsen, Kirk W., and Joseph Seeley. "Simple conversation or secret treaty? The Taft-Katsura Memorandum in korean historical memory." Journal of Korean Studies (2014): 59-92. online
- Minger, Ralph Eldin. "Taft's Missions to Japan: A Study in Personal Diplomacy." Pacific Historical Review (1961) 30#3: 279-294. online