What motivated United States interest in China and Japan in the 1840s and 1850s?  

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During the 19th Century, the United States had expanded as a nation from the original territory of the British colonies on the Atlantic Coast all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This demonstrated the idea of manifest destiny, the belief that the United States had a destiny to expand across...

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During the 19th Century, the United States had expanded as a nation from the original territory of the British colonies on the Atlantic Coast all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This demonstrated the idea of manifest destiny, the belief that the United States had a destiny to expand across the continent. As the United States achieved expansion across the North American continent, it began to turn its eyes to other parts of the world for possible colonial expansion or trade purposes.

The United States also hoped to elevate itself to a status rivaling that of powerful European nations like Britain, France, and Russia. In the case of East Asia, and its many valued goods, Britain, France, Russia, and other European powers had already engaged in trade, and ultimately economic exploitation of the region. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry would arrive with a flotilla of US Navy ships and force Japan into trading with the United States. In 1854, he would further engage Japan and create a treaty which provided the United States navy with some access to Japanese ports for the purposes of refueling and resupplying. He would also arrange for U.S. diplomats to enter Japan and secure more trading rights for the United States. While the technologically superior United States likely could have defeated the Japanese in conflict, the threat of such conflict was enough to achieve the goal of opening Japan to trade. Through this trade, the United States hoped to economically exploit Japan for its resources, while simultaneously showing European powers the strength the U.S. had gained.

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In a word, it was trade that motivated the United States's interest in China and Japan during this time period.

By this time, the US had gained a major foothold on the Pacific Coast since it had California and what is now Oregon and Washington.  This made trade with Asia much more feasible.  Therefore, the US started to push for greater contact with those two countries.  This led to the "opening" of Japan in 1854 by Commodore Matthew Perry.  When Perry went to Japan, he demanded no territory, just the right to trade.  This shows that the main motive for this interest was the desire to trade and, thereby, make money.

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