LONDON, JULY 1884
In a smoking lounge located in the fashionable part of London, two men dressed in the most expensive fashions of the day sat discussing the future of Europe. Which in itself wasn't too different from what people in bars and lounges were doing across the world, but the difference was that these two men actually had the power to influence things. Thus what they discussed, and decided on, would have profound effects on millions of lives. But since what they were talking about is something everyone who read a newspaper felt knowledgeable enough to talk about, no one around them listened much.
"Interesting things happening in Japan" one of them started. "They're industrializing at an astounding pace. Even their army is improving speedily."
"Yes, but you do know that they're army is being trained by the French."
A sigh, and then "Indeed, they seem to be quite close. Already the French have backed a reversal of the so-called "unequal treaties" with Japan. It's looking very likely that an alliance between the two will be announced. That will make our position in East Asia very complicated."
"Well, the Japanese can't threaten us yet, even with French backing. Still, it's best to look ahead. So are there any powers in the region that we can buddy up with to counter this soon-to-be Franco-Japanese Alliance?"
After a deep drag of his cigar, the man answers. "Hmmm, the Chinese, the Dutch, the Americans..."
"The Chinese are out. Too unstable, too weak, too many foreign interests in the country. We don't need to attract more hostility. The Dutch are already caught in a bad place; what with bordering France and being "surrounded" by the Royal Navy; they'll probably just want to be left alone. And the Americans are too busy looking at their navels to be interested in East Asia. Their isolationism will be the death of them, let me tell you."
The men order a drink and move on to other topics, business deals and the economy, trips to the Raj and other mundane conversation pieces, before inspiration suddenly strikes one.
"I've got it. What about the Russians?"
Perplexed, the other man can only offer a look of confusion. "Why would the Russians be interested in putting forts in Africa?"
"No no no, I mean to counter French influence in Asia. What about the Russians?"
The man is silent for a few moments, considering. "Yes... they also have some interests in Asia, well, Manchuria anyway. Sooner or later they'll butt heads with Japan over it... it could work. But that business in Central Asia has to be ended before we can seriously approach them about it."
"So let's end it. No one really believes that the Russians really want to invade the Raj; let's just end this silly game and move on."
"Okay then, I don't see why we can't float the idea their way. The only problem is that we don't have much to give them, but we can brainstorm some more with the others, see if we can think of something Russia wants that we can offer. Perhaps- oh wait, I almost forgot to tell you, did you hear that the French have put down trading forts in Dahomey?"
"Dahomey... Dahomey... isn't that in West Africa? Bordering the Asante on the right yes?"
"That's the one. Apparently they've decided to throw in their support to the Dahomey, probably in order to compete with us for influence in the region. It seems that the French want to compete with us anywhere and everywhere we send cargo ships."
Chuckling, the other man took another drag of his cigar and said, "We certainly don't want to drive them out ourselves, but we don't need a French-friendly tribe in the area. What about our trading partners the Asante? Could they handle the Dahomey?"
"Normally, yes, the Asante armies could probably steamroll the Dahomey straight to Abomey. Realistically, the roads in Asante are terrible and would probably do more damage to their war effort than the Dahomey armies would, not to mention that most of their roads, even the new ones, point south to the coast. They also just finished a war against the Fante and are still digesting their conquests. At the moment they'd be of no help."
"Hmmm, what if we sped things along? Built them some roads pointing east-"
"Spend taxpayer money on an infrastructure project in Africa? I think someone has put some opium in your cigar my friend-"
"No no, hear me out. We certainly wouldn't build these roads for free, we could easily extract something from them worth more than the roads are, trade concessions or something like that."
"Perhaps, but wouldn't it be easier to just conquer the Asante and put British troops in the area? That would certainly dissuade the French."
"Would it? No, more likely to start a dangerous precedent. We conquer Asante, they conquer Dahomey, and all of a sudden we have British and French soldiers sharing a border. Not to mention to costs of war and occupation. No, more economically sound to keep some "allies" in the area."
"I see what you mean" said the man, nodding. "But we need to refine this plan before we take it to the government and Asante. Let's keep in in mind for when the Asante have a firmer grasp of the Fante coast. For now though, we need to focus on the Orient. Big things are going to happen there soon, it looks like China and France are going to have a row..."