Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Japanese: 大東亜共栄圏, Hepburn: Dai Tōa Kyōeiken), or the GEACPS, was an imperialist concept which was developed in the Empire of Japan and propagated to Asian populations which were occupied by it from 1931 to 1945. It extended across the Asia-Pacific and promoted the cultural and economic unity of East Asians, Southeast Asians, South Asians and Oceanians. It also declared the intention to create a self-sufficient bloc of Asian nations which would be led by the Japanese and be free from the rule of Western powers. The idea was announced in a radio address which was titled "The International Situation and Japan's Position" and delivered by Foreign Minister Hachirō Arita on 29 June 1940.
|Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere|
The intent and practical implementation of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere varied widely depending on the group and government department involved. Policy theorists who conceived it, as well as the vast majority of the Japanese population at large, saw it for its pan-Asian ideals of freedom and independence from Western colonial rule. In practice, however, it was frequently used by militarists and nationalists, who saw an effective policy vehicle through which to strengthen Japan's position and advance its dominance within Asia. The latter approach was reflected in a policy document released by Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare, An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus, which laid out the central position of Japan within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and promoted the idea of Japanese superiority over other Asians.
Development of the concept
An earlier, influential concept was the geographically smaller version of the co-prosperity sphere which was called New Order in East Asia (東亜新秩序, Tōa Shin Chitsujo), which was announced by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe on 3 November 1938 and was limited to East Asia only.
The original concept was an idealistic wish to liberate Asia from the rule of European colonial powers, however, some Japanese nationalists believed it could be used to gain resources which would be used to ensure that Japan would continue to be a modern power, and militarists believed that resource-rich Western colonies contained abundant supplies of raw materials which could be used to wage wars. Many Japanese nationalists were drawn to it as an ideal. Many of them remained convinced, throughout the war, that the Sphere was idealistic, offering slogans in a newspaper competition, praising the sphere for constructive efforts and peace.
Konoe planned the Sphere in 1940 in an attempt to create a Great East Asia, comprising Japan, Manchukuo, China, and parts of Southeast Asia, that would, according to imperial propaganda, establish a new international order seeking "co-prosperity" for Asian countries which would share prosperity and peace, free from Western colonialism and domination of the White man. Military goals of this expansion included naval operations in the Indian Ocean and the isolation of Australia. This would enable the principle of hakkō ichiu.
This was just one of a number of slogans and concepts which were used to justify Japanese aggression in East Asia from the 1930s through the end of World War II. The term "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" is largely remembered by Western scholars, as a front for the Japanese control of occupied countries during World War II, in which puppet governments manipulated local populations and economies for the benefit of Imperial Japan.
To combat the protectionist dollar and sterling zones, Japanese economic planners called for a "yen bloc". Japan's experiment with such financial imperialism encompassed both official and semi-official colonies. In the period between 1895 (when Japan annexed Taiwan) and 1937 (the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War), monetary specialists in Tokyo directed and managed programs of coordinated monetary reforms in Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and the peripheral Japanese-controlled islands in the Pacific. These reforms aimed to foster a network of linked political and economic relationships. These efforts foundered in the eventual debacle of the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The concept of a unified East Asia took form based on an Imperial Japanese Army concept which was developed by General Hachirō Arita, an army ideologist who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1936 to 1940. The Japanese Army said that the new Japanese empire was the Asian equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine, especially with the Roosevelt Corollary. The regions of Asia, it was argued, were as essential to Japan as Latin America was to the United States.
The Japanese Foreign Minister Yōsuke Matsuoka formally announced the idea of the Co-Prosperity Sphere on 1 August 1940, in a press interview, but it had existed in other forms for many years. Leaders in Japan had long had an interest in the idea. The outbreak of World War II fighting in Europe had given the Japanese an opportunity to demand the withdrawal of support from China in the name of "Asia for Asiatics", with the European powers unable to effectively retaliate. Many of the other nations within the boundaries of the sphere were under colonial rule and elements of their population were sympathetic to Japan (as in the case of Indonesia), occupied by Japan in the early phases of the war and reformed under puppet governments, or already under Japan's control at the outset (as in the case of Manchukuo). These factors helped make the formation of the sphere, while lacking any real authority or joint power, come together without much difficulty.
As part of its war drive, Japanese propaganda included phrases like "Asia for the Asiatics!" and talked about the need to liberate Asian colonies from the control of Western powers. The Japanese failure to bring the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War to a swift conclusion was blamed in part on the lack of resources; Japanese propaganda claimed this was due to the refusal by Western powers to supply Japan's military. Although invading Japanese forces sometimes received rapturous welcomes throughout Western colonies in Asia that they had recently captured, the subsequent brutality of the Japanese military led many of the inhabitants of those regions to regard Japan as being worse then their former colonial rulers. The Japanese government directed that economies of occupied territories be managed strictly for the production of raw materials for the Japanese war effort; a cabinet member declared, "There are no restrictions. They are enemy possessions. We can take them, do anything we want".
An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus – a secret document completed in 1943 for high-ranking government use – laid out that Japan, as the originators and strongest military power within the region, would naturally take the superior position within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, with the other nations under Japan's umbrella of protection.
China and other Asian nations, on their own, were regarded as too weak and lacking in unity to be treated as fully equal partners, and this in any case would not have been in Japan's self-interest. The booklet Read This and the War is Won—for the Japanese army—presented colonialism as an oppressive group of colonists living in luxury by burdening Asians. Since racial ties of blood connected other Asians to the Japanese, and Asians had been weakened by colonialism, it was Japan's self-appointed role to "make men of them again" and liberate them from their Western oppressors.
From the Japanese point of view, one common principal reason stood behind both forming the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and initiating war with the Allies: Chinese markets. Japan wanted their "paramount relations" in regard to Chinese markets acknowledged by the U.S. government. The U.S., recognizing the abundance of potential wealth in these markets, refused to let the Japanese have an advantage in selling to China. In an attempt to give Japan a formal advantage over the Chinese markets, the Japanese Imperial regime first invaded China and later launched the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
According to Foreign Minister Shigenori Tōgō (in office 1941–1942 and 1945), should Japan be successful in creating this sphere, it would emerge as the leader of Eastern Asia, and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere would be synonymous with the Japanese Empire.
Greater East Asia Conference
The Greater East Asia Conference (大東亞會議, Dai Tōa Kaigi) took place in Tokyo on 5–6 November 1943: Japan hosted the heads of state of various component members of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conference was also referred to as the Tokyo Conference. The common language used by the delegates during the conference was English.
The conference addressed few issues of substance but was intended by the Japanese 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.
The following dignitaries attended:
- Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of the Empire of Japan
- Zhang Jinghui, Prime Minister of the Empire of Manchuria
- Wang Jingwei, President of the Republic of China (Nanjing)
- Ba Maw, Head of State of the State of Burma
- Subhas Chandra Bose, Head of State of the Provisional Government of Free India
- José P. Laurel, President of the Republic of the Philippines
- Prince Wan Waithayakon, envoy from the Kingdom of Thailand
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 conference issued a Joint Declaration promoting economic and political cooperation against the Allied countries.
Members of the Sphere
Member countries and the year in which they joined the sphere:
- Empire of Japan (30 November 1940)
- Empire of Manchuria (30 November 1940)
- Republic of China (Nanjing) (30 November 1940)
- Kingdom of Thailand (21 December 1941)
- State of Burma (1 August 1943)
- Republic of the Philippines (14 October 1943)
- Provisional Government of Free India (21 October 1943)
- Kingdom of Kampuchea (9 March 1945)
- Empire of Vietnam (11 March 1945)
- Kingdom of Luang Phrabang (8 April 1945)
The ideology of the Japanese colonial empire, as it expanded dramatically during the war, contained two contradictory impulses. On the one hand, it preached the unity of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a coalition of Asian races, directed by Japan, against Western imperialism in Asia. This approach celebrated the spiritual values of the East in opposition to the "crass materialism" of the West. In practice, however, the Japanese installed organizationally-minded bureaucrats and engineers to run their new empire, and they believed in ideals of efficiency, modernization, and engineering solutions to social problems. Japanese was the official language of the bureaucracy in all of the areas and was taught at schools as a national language.
Japan set up puppet regimes in Manchuria and China; they vanished at the end of the war. The Imperial Army operated ruthless administrations in most of the conquered areas, but paid more favorable attention to the Dutch East Indies. The main goal was to obtain oil. The Dutch colonial government destroyed the oil wells, however, the Japanese were able to repair and reopen them within a few months of their conquest. However most of the tankers transporting oil to Japan were sunk by U.S. Navy submarines, so Japan's oil shortage became increasingly acute. Japan sponsored an Indonesian nationalist movement under Sukarno. Sukarno finally came to power in the late 1940s after several years of battling the Dutch.
With a view of building up the economic base of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Japanese Army envisioned using the Philippine islands as a source of agricultural products needed by its industry. For example, Japan had a surplus of sugar from Taiwan, and a severe shortage of cotton, so they tried to grow cotton on sugar lands with disastrous results. They lacked the seeds, pesticides, and technical skills to grow cotton. Jobless farm workers flocked to the cities, where there was minimal relief and few jobs. The Japanese Army also tried using cane sugar for fuel, castor beans and copra for oil, Derris for quinine, cotton for uniforms, and abacá for rope. The plans were very difficult to implement in the face of limited skills, collapsed international markets, bad weather, and transportation shortages. The program was a failure that gave very little help to Japanese industry, and diverted resources needed for food production. As Karnow reports, Filipinos "rapidly learned as well that 'co-prosperity' meant servitude to Japan's economic requirements".
Living conditions were bad throughout the Philippines during the war. Transportation between the islands was difficult because of a lack of fuel. Food was in very short supply, with sporadic famines and epidemic diseases that killed hundreds of thousands of people. In October 1943, Japan declared the Philippines an independent republic. The Japanese-sponsored Second Philippine Republic headed by President José P. Laurel proved to be ineffective and unpopular as Japan maintained very tight controls.
The Co-Prosperity Sphere collapsed with Japan's surrender to the Allies in September 1945. Although Japan succeeded in stimulating anti-Westernism in most of Asia, the sphere never materialized into a unified Asia. Dr. Ba Maw, wartime President of Burma under the Japanese, blamed the Japanese military:
The militarists saw everything only in a Japanese perspective and, even worse, they insisted that all others dealing with them should do the same. For them there was only one way to do a thing, the Japanese way; only one goal and interest, the Japanese interest; only one destiny for the East Asian countries, to become so many Manchukuos or Koreas tied forever to Japan. These racial impositions ... made any real understanding between the Japanese militarists and the people of our region virtually impossible.
In other words, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere operated not for the betterment of all the Asian countries, but rather for Japan's own interests, and thus the Japanese failed to gather support in other Asian countries. Nationalist movements did appear in these Asian countries during this period and these nationalists did, to some extent, cooperate with the Japanese. However, Willard Elsbree, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio University, claims that the Japanese government and these nationalist leaders never developed "a real unity of interests between the two parties, [and] there was no overwhelming despair on the part of the Asians at Japan's defeat".
The failure of Japan to understand the goals and interests of the other countries involved in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere led to a weak association of countries bound to Japan only in theory and not in spirit. Dr. Ba Maw argues that Japan could have engineered a very different outcome if the Japanese had only managed to act in accord with the declared aims of "Asia for the Asiatics". He argues that if Japan had proclaimed this maxim at the beginning of the war, and if the Japanese had actually acted on that idea,
Pamphlets were dropped by airplane on the Philippines, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, Singapore, and Indonesia, urging them to join this movement. Mutual cultural societies were founded in all conquered nations to ingratiate with the natives and try to supplant English with Japanese as the commonly used language. Multi-lingual pamphlets depicted many Asians marching or working together in happy unity, with the flags of all the nations and a map depicting the intended sphere. Others proclaimed that they had given independent governments to the countries they occupied, a claim undermined by the lack of power given these puppet governments.
In Thailand, a street was built to demonstrate it, to be filled with modern buildings and shops, but 9⁄10 of it consisted of false fronts. A network of Japanese-sponsored film production, distribution, and exhibition companies extended across the Japanese Empire and was collectively referred to as the Greater East Asian Film Sphere. These film centers mass-produced shorts, newsreels, and feature films to encourage Japanese language acquisition as well as cooperation with Japanese colonial authorities.
Projected territorial extent
Prior to the escalation of World War II to the Pacific and East Asia, the Japanese planners regarded it as self-evident that the conquests secured in Japan's earlier wars with Russia (South Sakhalin and Kwantung), Germany (South Seas Mandate) and China (Manchuria) would be retained, as well as Korea (Chōsen), Taiwan (Formosa), the recently seized additional portions of China and occupied French Indochina.
The Land Disposal Plan
A reasonably accurate indication as to the geographic dimensions of the Co-Prosperity Sphere are elaborated on in a Japanese wartime document prepared in December 1941 by the Research Department of the Imperial Ministry of War. Known as the "Land Disposal Plan in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" (大東亜共栄圏における土地処分案) it was put together with the consent of and according to the directions of the Minister of War (later Prime Minister) Hideki Tōjō. It assumed that the already established puppet governments of Manchukuo, Mengjiang, and the Wang Jingwei regime in Japanese-occupied China would continue to function in these areas. Beyond these contemporary parts of Japan's sphere of influence it also envisaged the conquest of a vast range of territories covering virtually all of East Asia, the Pacific Ocean, and even sizable portions of the Western Hemisphere, including in locations as far removed from Japan as South America and the eastern Caribbean.
Although the projected extension of the Co-Prosperity Sphere was extremely ambitious, the Japanese goal during the "Greater East Asia War" was not to acquire all the territory designated in the plan at once, but to prepare for a future decisive war some 20 years later by conquering the Asian colonies of the defeated European powers, as well as the Philippines from the United States. When Tōjō spoke on the plan to the House of Peers he was vague about the long-term prospects, but insinuated that the Philippines and Burma might be allowed independence, although vital territories such as Hong Kong would remain under Japanese rule.
The Micronesian islands that had been seized from Germany in World War I and which were assigned to Japan as C-Class Mandates, namely the Marianas, Carolines, Marshall Islands, and several others do not figure in this project. They were the subject of earlier negotiations with the Germans and were expected to be officially ceded to Japan in return for economic and monetary compensations.
The plan divided Japan's future empire into two different groups. The first group of territories were expected to become either part of Japan or otherwise be under its direct administration. Second were those territories that would fall under the control of a number of tightly controlled pro-Japanese vassal states based on the model of Manchukuo, as nominally "independent" members of the Greater East Asian alliance.
Parts of the plan depended on successful negotiations with Nazi Germany and a global victory by the Axis powers. After Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941, Japan presented the Germans with a drafted military convention that would specifically delimit the Asian continent by a dividing line along the 70th meridian east longitude. This line, running southwards through the Ob River's Arctic estuary, southwards to just east of Khost in Afghanistan and heading into the Indian Ocean just west of Rajkot in India, would have split Germany's Lebensraum and Italy's spazio vitale territories to the west of it, and Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and its other areas to the east of it. The plan of the Third Reich for fortifying its own Lebensraum territory's eastern limits, beyond which the Co-Prosperity Sphere's northwestern frontier areas would exist in East Asia, involved the creation of a "living wall" of Wehrbauer "soldier-peasant" communities defending it. However, it is unknown if the Axis powers ever formally negotiated a possible, complementary second demarcation line that would have divided the Western Hemisphere.
Political parties and movements with Japanese support
- Azad Hind (Indian nationalist movement)
- Indian Independence League (Indian nationalist movement)
- Indonesian Nationalist Party (Indonesian nationalist movement)
- Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (Philippine nationalist ruling party of the Second Philippine Republic)
- Kesatuan Melayu Muda (Malayan nationalist movement)
- Khmer Issarak (Cambodian-Khmer nationalist group)
- Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association) (Burmese nationalist association)
- Japanese nationalism
- Imperial Rule Assistance Association
- Hachirō Arita: an Army thinker who thought up the Greater East Asian concept
- Satō Nobuhiro: the alleged developer of the Greater East Asia concept
- Ikki Kita: a Japanese nationalist who developed a similar pan-Asian concept
- East Asia Development Board
- Ministry of Greater East Asia
- Greater East Asia Conference (November 1943)
- List of East Asian leaders in the Japanese sphere of influence (1931–1945)
- Jewish settlement in the Japanese Empire
- Axis power negotiations on the division of Asia
- Hakkō ichiu
- Flying geese paradigm
- Racial Equality Proposal
- Greater Germanic Reich
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