Racial Equality Proposal, 1919
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (December 2013)|
The Racial Equality Proposal was a proposal put forward at the Paris Peace Conference by the Empire of Japan. The intention of the Japanese was to secure equality of their nationals and the equality for members of the league of nations. The proposal was not intended to be a universal principle and would not have led to racial equality as interpreted by modern connotations.
After the end of seclusion, Japan suffered unequal treaties and demanded equal status with the Powers. In this context, the Japanese delegation to the Paris peace conference proposed the "racial equality clause" in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The first draft was presented to the League of Nations Commission on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21:
The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.
The Japanese delegation did not realize the full ramifications of their proposal, since its adoption would have challenged the established norms of the (Western dominated) international system of the day, which involved the colonial subjugation of non-white peoples. The Japanese delegation believed it was asking only that the League of Nations should accept the equality of Japanese nationals; however, a universalist meaning and implication of the proposal became attached to it within the delegation, which drove its contentiousness at the conference.
Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes clarified his opposition and announced at a meeting that
ninety-five out of one hundred Australians rejected the very idea of equality.
Then, Makino Nobuaki announced at a press conference.
We are not too proud to fight but we are too proud to accept a place of admitted inferiority in dealing with one or more of the associated nations. We want nothing but simple justice.
The proposal was also problematic for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who knew he was dependent on pro-segregation Southern Democrats if he was to have any hope of getting the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the final treaty in the United States Senate. The presence of such strong opposition from the British Empire delegations was undoubtedly a relief to Wilson as it gave him a pretext to scupper the proposal.
On April 11, 1919, the commission held a final session. Makino stated the Japanese plea for human rights and racial equality. British representative Robert Cecil spoke for the British Empire and addressed opposition to the proposal. Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando spoke in favor of the statement on Human rights. French Senator Léon Bourgeois urged adoption and stated that it would be impossible to reject this proposal that embodied "an indisputable principle of justice".
The proposal received a majority vote on the day. 11 of the 17 delegates present voted in favor of its amendment to the charter, and no negative vote was taken. The votes for the amendment tallied thus:
- Japan (2) Yes
- France (2) Yes
- Italy (2) Yes
- Brazil (1) Yes
- Republic of China (1) Yes
- Greece (1) Yes
- Serbia (1) Yes
- Czechoslovakia (1) Yes
Total: 11 Yes
- British Empire (2) - Not Registered
- United States (2) - Not Registered
- Portugal (1) - Not Registered
- Romania (1) - Not Registered
- Belgium (2) - Absent
The chairman, President Wilson, overturned it, saying that although the proposal had been approved by a clear majority, that in this particular matter, strong opposition had manifested itself, and that on this issue a unanimous vote would be required. This strong opposition came from the British delegation. French Delegate Ferdinand Larnaude immediately stated "A majority had voted for the amendment". The Japanese delegation wanted the transcript to show that a clear majority had been voted for the amendment to the Charter.
Though the proposal itself was compatible with British stance of equality for all subjects as a principle for maintaining imperial unity, there were significant deviations in the stated interests of its Dominions, notably Australia. As it risked undermining the White Australia Policy, then Prime Minister of Australia Billy Hughes and Joseph Cook vigorously opposed the proposal behind the scenes, and so advocated against it through the British delegation. Without the support of its Dominions, the British delegation could not take such a stand on principle. According to Cecil, the delegate representing the British Empire at the Conference, in his diary
...it is curious how all the foreigners perpetually harp on principle and right and other abstractions, whereas the Americans and still more the British are only considering what will give the best chance to the League of working properly.
In the end, Cecil felt that British support for the League of Nations was a more crucial goal. The Japanese media fully covered the progress of the conference, leading to an alienation of Japanese public opinion towards the United States of America, leading to broader conflicts later on. In the United States, racial riots occurred by the American deliberate inaction. Although the exclusion of the racial equality proposal allowed Wilson to keep Southern Democratic allies on his side, this proved insufficient to get the treaty ratified by the United States Senate, the United States never joined the League of Nations. The mood of the international system changed dramatically by 1945, so that this contentious point of racial equality would be incorporated into the United Nations Charter in 1945 as the fundamental principle of international justice. The Civil Rights Act was enforced in 1964, while Apartheid was abolished in 1994.
As such, some historians consider that this point could be listed among the many causes of conflict and which led to Japan(ese) actions later on. They argue that the rejection of the racial equality clause proved to be an important factor in turning Japan away from cooperation with the West and toward nationalistic policies. In 1923, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance expired, which gradually resulted in a closer relationship of Japan to Germany and Italy. However Prussian militarism was already entrenched in the Imperial Japanese Army, many members of the Army had expected Germany to win the war and Germany had approached Japan for a separate peace in 1916. The rapprochement towards Germany did not occur until the mid-1930s, a time when Germany had greater ties with Nationalist China.
After the Nazis gained power, Japan decided to not expel Jewish refugees from China, Manchuria and Japan  and advocated the political slogan Hakkō ichiu. However this was not in accordance with racial equality but of political and economic opportunism with perceived benefits from Jewish economic expertise[dubious ], by the 1940s anti-semitism had become an integral part of ultra-nationalist thought actively disseminated by Japan's newspapers with the approval of the Japanese government.[dubious ]
Japanese motives were not overly altruistic.[neutrality is disputed] The Japanese wished only that they themselves were to be treated equally as a nation and be considered a great power. They were more interested in ensuring that Japan, as a sovereign nation and member of the league, be granted the same privileges as Western nations, including the right to overseas colonies.
The proposal also masked Japan's own sense of racial superiority and racial discrimination towards other Asians that existed in the Japanese Empire.[neutrality is disputed] Its policies towards Koreans especially after the 1910 annexation left much to be desired. The Koreans were subjected to forced assimilation, and discrimination against Koreans was justified on the grounds that they were not yet ready for equal treatment as a result of their low degree of civilization.[unbalanced opinion]
Japan's colonial rule was also justified on the basis that the Koreans and Taiwanese were an inferior race needing the guidance of a superior race to bring about civilization and enlightenment of their country. In 1919, in the year of the Paris Peace Conference the Japanese military brutally suppressed the March 1st Movement which was a Korean nationalist uprising responding to discrimination and oppression by the Japanese. The Japanese never extended equal rights, legal or political, to their colonial subjects. Fair and equal treatment applied only to civilized nations and league member states and not their colonies or subject peoples.
During the Pacific War, Japanese propaganda included phrases like "Asia for the Asians!" and emphasized the perceived need to liberate Asian countries from imperialist powers. In many cases people welcomed Japanese troops as liberators, driving out British, French and other colonial powers from their former Asian colonies to form a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. However, the Japanese exploited these colonial sentiments for their own economic and political benefit. They manipulated concepts such as Hakkō ichiu (of supposed racial harmony) and support for the proposal in order to portray Japan as a leader and liberator against western imperialism. However, the subsequent brutality and racism of the Japanese led to people of the occupied areas regarding them as equal to or (more often) much worse than Western imperialists. In 1943 the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Population Problems Research Center created a report titled An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus.
Extreme right-wing Japanese nationalists use examples such as the racial equality proposal and the tolerance of Jews in China as part of revisionist attempts to downplay or coverup events such as the Rape of Nanking and other war crimes in which chauvinistic attitudes of Japanese superiority played a part.[dubious ]
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