Greater East Asia Conference
The Greater East Asia Conference (大東亜会議 Dai Tōa Kaigi?) was an international summit held in Tokyo from 5 to 6 November 1943, in which Japan hosted leading politicians of various component members of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The event was also referred to as the Tokyo Conference.
The Conference addressed few issues of any substance, but was intended from the start as a propaganda show piece, to illustrate the Empire of Japan's commitments to the Pan-Asianism ideal and to emphasize its role as the "liberator" of Asia from Western colonialism.
Prior to the Greater East Asia Conference, Japan had made vague promises of independence to various anti-colonial pro-independence organizations in the territories it had overrun, but aside from a number of obvious puppet states set up in China, these promises had not been fulfilled. Now, with the tide of the Pacific War turning against Japan, bureaucrats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and supporters of the Pan-Asian philosophy within the government and military pushed forward a program to grant rapid "independence" to various parts of Asia in an effort to increase local resistance to and possible return of the western colonial powers and to boost local support for the Japanese war effort. The Japanese military leadership agreed in principle, understanding the propaganda value of such a move, but the level of "independence" the military had in mind for the various territories was even less than that enjoyed by Manchukuo. Several components of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere were not represented. Korea and Taiwan had long been annexed as external territories of the Empire of Japan, and there were no plans to extend any form of political autonomy or even nominal independence. Vietnamese and Cambodian delegates were not invited for fear of offending the Vichy French pro-Nazi regime, which maintained a legal claim to French Indochina and to which Japan was still formally allied. The issue of British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies was complex. Large portions were under military rule by the Imperial Japanese Army or Imperial Japanese Navy, and the organizers of the Greater East Asia Conference were dismayed by the unilateral decision of the Imperial General Headquarters to annex these territories to the Japanese Empire on 31-05-1943, rather than to grant nominal independence. This action considerably undermined efforts to portray Japan as the "liberator" of the Asian peoples. Indonesian independence leaders Achmed Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta were invited to Tokyo shortly after the close of the Conference for informal meetings, but were not allowed to participate in the Conference itself. In the end, seven countries (including Japan) participated.
There were six "independent" participants and one observer that attended the Greater East Asia Conference. These are:
- Hideki Tōjō, Prime Minister of Japan
- Zhang Jinghui, Prime Minister of Manchukuo
- Wang Jingwei, President of the Reorganized National Government of China
- Ba Maw, Head of State, State of Burma
- Subhas Chandra Bose, Head of State of Provisional Government of Free India (Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind)
- José P. Laurel, President of the Second Philippine Republic
- Prince Wan Waithayakon, envoy from the Kingdom of Thailand
Strictly speaking, Subhas Chandra Bose was present only as an "observer", since India was still under British rule. Furthermore, the Kingdom of Thailand sent Prince Wan Waithayakon in place of Premier Plaek Pibulsonggram to emphasize that Thailand was not a country under Japanese domination. The Premier also worried that he might be ousted should he leave Bangkok. Tojo greeted them with a speech praising the "spiritual essence" of Asia, as opposed to the "materialistic civilization" of the West. Their meeting was characterized by praise of solidarity and condemnation of Western colonialism, but without practical plans for either economic development or integration.
The Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia Conference was published as follows:
It is the basic principle for the establishment of world peace that the nations of the world have each its proper place, and enjoy prosperity in common through mutual aid and assistance.
The United States of America and the British Empire have in seeking their own prosperity oppressed other nations and peoples. Especially in East Asia, they indulged in insatiable aggression and exploitation, and sought to satisfy their inordinate ambition of enslaving the entire region, and finally they came to menace seriously the stability of East Asia. Herein lies the cause of the recent war. The countries of Greater East Asia, with a view to contributing to the cause of world peace, undertake to cooperate toward prosecuting the War of Greater East Asia to a successful conclusion, liberating their region from the yoke of British-American domination, and ensuring their self-existence and self-defense, and in constructing a Greater East Asia in accordance with the following principles:
- The countries of Greater East Asia through mutual cooperation will ensure the stability of their region and construct an order of common prosperity and well-being based upon justice.
- The countries of Greater East Asia will ensure the fraternity of nations in their region, by respecting one another's sovereignty and independence and practicing mutual assistance and amity.
- The countries of Greater East Asia by respecting one another's traditions and developing the creative faculties of each race, will enhance the culture and civilization of Greater East Asia.
- The countries of Greater East Asia will endeavor to accelerate their economic development through close cooperation upon a basis of reciprocity and to promote thereby the general prosperity of their region.
- The countries of Greater East Asia will cultivate friendly relations with all the countries of the world, and work for the abolition of racial discrimination, the promotion of cultural intercourse and the opening of resources throughout the world, and contribute thereby to the progress of mankind.
The conference and the formal declaration adhered to on November 6 was little more than a propaganda gesture designed to rally regional support for the next stage of the war, outlining the ideals of which it was fought. However, the Conference marked a turning point in Japanese foreign policy and relations with other Asian nations. The defeat of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and an increasing awareness of the limitations to Japanese military strength led the Japanese civilian leadership to realize that a framework based on cooperation, rather than colonial domination would enable a greater mobilization of manpower and resources against the resurgent Allied forces. It was also the start of efforts to create a framework that would allow for some form of diplomatic compromise should the military solution fail altogether. However these moves came too late to save the Empire, which surrendered to the Allies less than two years after the conference.
- Gordon, Andrew (2003). The Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford University Press. p. 211. ISBN 0-19-511060-9. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
- Smith, Changing Visions of East Asia, pp. 19-24
- Goto, Ken'ichi; Paul H. Kratoska (2003). Tensions of empire. National University of Singapore Press. pp. 57–58. ISBN 9971-69-281-3. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- Judith A., Stowie (1991). Siam Becomes Thailand: A Story of Intrigue. C. Hurst & Co. p. 251. ISBN 1-85065-083-7.
- W. G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan, p 204 ISBN 0-312-04077-6
- Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, p211, ISBN 0-19-511060-9, OCLC 49704795
- WW2DB: Greater East Asia Conference
- Lebra, Joyce C. (1975). Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in World War II: Selected Readings and Documents. Oxford University Press,.
- Smith, Ralph (1975). Changing Visions of East Asia, 1943-93: Transformations and Continuities. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-38140-1.
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