At the close of the XIX century the priorities of the foreign policy of the Russian Empire were still linked to the traditional directions - Balkan Peninsula, the problem of the Black Sea straits, the knot of contradictions in the Far East.
Without resourses for the offensive policy, Russia tried not to sharpen contradictions with the European countries. The agreement with Dual Monarchy eased the contradictions between Russia and its main opponents in the Baltic, thus preserving the status quo.
Escalation of danger of the All-European war due to aggravation in relations between France and Germany, and England and Germany, obliged Russia (not ready for the war) to organize the International conference for preservation of peace and discontinuance of armament. The first conference took place in May-July 1899 in Haag; 26 countries participated at that conference. The conference took the decision of peaceful solution of international problems, laws and habits in the war; but the main question, discontinuance of armament, was not solved.
The second conference in Haag took place in 1907 by the initiative of Russia again. 44 countries took part in it. 13 conventions of laws and habits of war at sea and on land were taken; some of them exist even today. In the 90s of XIX century the activity of the Russian foreign policy was concentrated in the Far East, where great powers struggled to divide China. The interests of Russia in the Far East were confronted to the interests of England that was trying to expand its control over the region; Japan also was trying to influence the Eastern Asia.
In 1891 Russia began to build the Trans-Siberian Railway (almost 7 000 km), which was of great economical and strategic value. The program of construction of the railway provided expansion of the Russian foreign market, development of transit trade between West and East through Russia, development of its eastern frontiers. Successful realization of these projects was possible only in case Russia would keep good relations with China, Korea and Japan.
But in 1894 Japan sent its armies in Korea and declared the war to China. Japan received a big contribution as written in the Simonosesk peace convention, the fortress Port Arthur, many Islands; China gave up its protectorate over Korea. All this endangered the Russian Far East. With support of France and Germany Russia successfully revisied the convention: the Japanese government was obliged to give back to China the Lyaodun peninsula.
In 1895 Russia granted a loan to China of 150 million rubles, the Russian-Chinese bank was founded. In May 1896 in Moscow was signed the contract between Russia and China concerning construction of the railway through Manchuria. The construction took the period of 1897-1901. In May 1896 Russia signed a contract with Japan of common protectorate over Korea and took the control of its finance and army. In December 1897 the Russian squadron entered Port
Arthur, and in May 1897 was signed a contract of rent of Lyaodun Peninsula for 25 years. Russia received the non-freezing ports: the commercial Dalyavan (Dalny) and the military Port Arthur, where construction of a naval base began.
During this period the Far East policy of Nicolay II was influenced by the group of courtiers, convinced that Russia should attack China and Japan. The most important role in that group that included great prince Alexander Mikhailovich, the minister of the court I.I.Vorontsov-Dashkov, prince F.F.Yusupov, M.V.Rodzyanko, chamberlain N.M.Balashev, rear admiral A.M Abaza, was played by A.M. Bezobrazov, thus the group was called "Bezobrazov's clique".
Their plan was to found a joint stock company for construction of railroads and communication lines in North Korea, and then for their protection in Korea Russian military bases were supposed to appear, that later should lead to the annexion of the region by the Russian Empire. In spite of protests of S.U.Vitte, Nicolay II accepted that plan.
In 1900 Russia took part in suppression of the rebellion in China together with other great powers and sent its army in Manchuria using the pretext of protection of the railway. In the course of the separate negotiations with China the tsarist diplomacy, before removing its army, required granting concession to build and exploit the new branch of the railway and removal of the Chinese army in Manchuria. Japan was against; it enlisted the support of friendly neutral ity of Germany and of alliance with England in 1902. As a result, the Russian-Chinese treaty, signed on the 26th of May (7th of April) 1902, mentioned the possibility of removal of the Russian army from Manchuria in 18 months, without any concessions and monopolies. In May 1903 "Bezobrazov's clique" achieved declaration of the "new course" on the Far East: there was established a region ruled by admiral Alexeyev and residence in Port-Arthur; S.U. Vitte was retired, the withdrawal of the Russian forces was stopped.
In July 1903 Japan proposed Russia the project of agreement concerning Korea and Manchuria, in which Japan received exclusive rights on Korea, and the interests of Russia were limited by the railway transport. The fact that Russia was not ready to the war forced the tsarist government to be flexible and propose some compromise solutions, but Japan already stated more and more strict conditions. By the end of December 1903 it demanded from Russia to accept all its terms, and on the 24th of January announced rupture of diplomatic relations with Russia.