Have you ever heard that there was a summit in the wartime Tokyo of November 1943? The summit was entitled "The Great East Asia Conference." Leaders and top-level representatives of Asian countries in the Japanese sphere of influence gathered in Tokyo. The legitimacy of participating countries and the "Joint Statement of the Great East Asia" were denied by the Allied Powers after the war. However, it must be questioned whether it was necessary to completely bury even existences of these countries and the spirit of the Joint Declaration to be crossed out of the history. This essay introduces the Tokyo Summit where the idea of the Great Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亞共榮圏) was declared that was refused by the post-war education in Japan by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.
Here is the members of the "Great East Asia Conference" in the wartime Tokyo.
Head of State
President of the Executive Yuan
Head of Government
National Army Commander
Some of you may wonder why there are Philippines, Burma and India that countries became independent after the World War II because it is generally said in history textbooks. Nevertheless, Philippines, Burma and India actually existed as of 1943. The reason is simply legitimacy of these countries were denied after the war by the former colonial rulers of these countries, namely, the Allied Powers.
Republic of the Philippines
(Former colonial ruler: United States)
The United States promised to support the Philippine independence to make the Philippine people on the American side against Spain. Emilio Aguinaldo established a revolutionary government (First Philippine Republic) in 1897. The Spanish-American War began in 1898 and reached the Philippines. Agunaldo declared the independence of the Philippines but he was captured by American troops in 1901 and the Republic collapsed. The status was turned into that of a commonwhealth in 1935 with Manuel Luis Quezon as the president to prevent further independence movement and the Japanese influence to reach Philippines. Although it was called a commonwealth (autonomous region), it was practically under the U.S. military administration. Philippines became independent in 1943 when the Second Republic was established supported by Japan with José Paciano Laurel as the president. Current Republic of the Philippines is the Third Republic established in 1946.
Republic of Burma (curt. Myanmar)
(Former colonial ruler: United Kingdom)
Burma was a colony of Britain until 1942. Japan established a governmental special agency, the Minami Kikan [South Agency] under the direct control of headquarters to support Burma's independence movement and thereby to block the supply route from the Allied Powers to the Kuomintang China. Colonel SUZUKI Keiji (鈴木敬司) was appointed to the head of the Agency. In 1942, the Minami Kikan appointed Ba Maw, the leader of the Burmese since the British time, to the Head of the Central Administration (Prime Minister). In 1943, the Japanese declared the Republic of Burma to be an independent nation with Ba Maw as the Head of State. After the war, Burma was turned back to being a British colony again. The Burmese Independence Army led by General Aung San regained the complete Burmese independence as the Union of Burma in 1948. Incidentally, the parade of the current Burmese Army starts with Warship March (軍艦行進曲) composed by SETOGUCHI Tôkichi (瀬戸口藤吉) that used to be a military song of the Japanese Navy.
Provisional Government of Free India
(Former colonial ruler: United Kingdom)
The Provisional Government of Free India was the government in exile of India which practical territory was the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. The leader of the government, Subhas Chandra Bose (Head of Government and National Army Commander) was a member of the Indian National Congress with Mahatma Gandhi (father of the Indian independence) and Jawaharial Nehru (the first Prime Minister of India). Bose served for the Congress as the chairman twice in 1937 and 1939. When Nehru and other Indian leaders were arrested by the British authorities, Bose himself led the government in exile and participated in the Great Asia Conference as the representative of the Provisional Government of Free India.
To see the historical fact regarding to the Great Asia Conference, the following points must be clearly understood.
Following is the full text of the Statement.
Joint Statement of the Great East Asia November 6, 1943, Tokyo
The Great East Asia Conference
The fundamental principle to establish world peace is that all countries obtain what they deserve, depend on one another and help each other to attain mutual prosperity.
Britain and the United States, however, oppress other countries and other nations for their own prosperity, exploit and enslave the Great East Asia in particular, and thereby destroy the security in the region. Here are the reasons for the Great East Asian War.
Countries in the Great East Asia should cooperate to win the war, free themselves from the shackles by the Britain and the United States to obtain their self-administrations and self-protections, construct the Great East Asia based on the principles mentioned above, and thereby establish world peace.
Every country in the Great East Asia should cooperate to establish the stability in the region, and build the system of mutual coexistence, based on moral principles.
Every country in the Great East Asia respect other independencies and sovereignties, achieve mutual aid/friendliness and establish peace in the Great East Asia.
Every country in the Great East Asia respect other traditional cultures, and encourage to develop creativities of every nation to uplift the culture of the whole Great East Asia.
Every country in the Great East Asia should cooperate closely in the principles of reciprocity and mutual benefit to strive for economic development and the prosperity of the Great East Asia.
Every country in the Great East Asia extend its companionship to the rest of the world, abolish racial discriminations, share cultures with others, open one's resources, and thereby contribute to the progress of the world.
What do you think after reading this statement? The ideals of the statement are all quite lofty such as "mutual coexistence," "mutual aid/friendliness," "respect traditional cultures," "economic development" and "abolish racial discriminations." When you learn more about the history of Asian colonizations by the Western powers, you will see 1) how local people were put in the lowest class, 2) "Mutual coexistence" was out of the question under these circumstances, 3) "Economic development" of Asia was not the business for suzerains that only needed to exploit resources and labors, and of course, 4) the idea of "colonization" is exactly "racial discrimination." This statement is full of the spirit of the anti-Western colonialism.
This statement was denied after the war by the Allied Powers because these participating countries were all in the Japanese sphere of influence and Japan was suffered the stigma of "the aggressor nation" by the Allied Powers. However, the ideals and ideas of the statement are quite universal and timeless issues. It does not seem rational to deny even the ideals of the declaration. The historical significance of the Great East Asia Conference and its statement must be reevaluated without any political prejudice.
Reference for English translation
- KOYASU Nobukuni (子安宣邦). "Shôwa Nihon to 'Tôa' no gainen" [Showa Japan and the Concept of "Toa"] (昭和日本と「東亞」の概念) in Kan 環 (Tokyo: Fujiwara Shoten 藤原書店, 2001). English translation in Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies.
Terms and related information (Wikipedia Links)
- List of East Asian leaders in the Japanese sphere of influence
- Great Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亞共榮圏)
- Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP).
- Ba Maw, 1893-1977.
- Chang Ching-hui [Zhang Jing-hui] (張景恵), 1871-1959.
- Wang Ching-wei [Wang Jing-wei] (汪兆銘), 1883-1944.
- Tôjô Hideki (東條英機), 1884-1948.
- José Paciano Laurel, 1891-1959.
- Subhash Chandra Bose, 1897-1945.
- Emilio Aguinaldo, 1869-1964.
- First Philippine Republic, 1899-1901.
- Spanish-American War, 1898.
- Commonwealth of the Philippines, 1935-46.
- Manuel Luis Quezon, 1878-1944.
- Burma Campaign
- Burma Independence Army
- Aung San, 1915-47.
- Provisional Government of Free India, 1943-45.
- Indian National Congress
- Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948.
- Jawaharial Nehru, 1889-1964.