Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Japan's Intentions for It Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere as Indicated in Its Policy Plans for Thailand

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Japan's Intentions for It Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere as Indicated in Its Policy Plans for Thailand

Article excerpt

A major pronouncement of the Japanese during their war against the western colonial powers was that they were endeavouring to create a new order in East Asia. The culmination of this new order was to be the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. As expounded by its creators, once the war had been won, the sphere was to become self-sufficient, be freed from the suppression of the White race, and form a realm where all the countries and peoples within would co-exist in co-prosperity under the aegis of Japan. Since the war the ideals of the Co-Prosperity Sphere have been viewed, especially by non-Japanese, as largely propaganda which had been designed to entice the local peoples of the western colonial areas and smooth Japan's advance into these colonies. For numerous Japanese however, especially those with rightist views, the ideals of the Co-Prosperity Sphere have carried much truth. For these people Japan fought the war in large part to free Asians from White colonial rule, and had Japan won the war it could have implemented the other ideals of co-existence and co-prosperity. Instead these fell victim to the exigencies of the war, and Japan ended up unable to demonstrate its real intentions for East Asia under its new order.

What the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere would have been like had Japan won the war is one of those "ifs" of history that can produce a good deal of discussion. However, it is not a subject that has to be relegated solely to the realm of speculation. There are a number of pertinent documents available which permit an educated glimpse at how things might have been. During the early stages of the war, while their military offensives were running at high tide, the Japanese began formulating policy and outlining plans at the highest levels of government for their future Co-Prosperity Sphere. Included in this planning was Thailand, Japan's sole Asian ally, which was virtually the only nation in East Asia other than Japan that had managed to avoid colonization. Thailand's unusual political history and its unique wartime relationship with Japan make the latter's plans for the future of that country a good reference point for examining Japan's intentions for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Japan's rapid expansion into Southeast Asia during the early months of 1942 completely altered its relationship with Thailand. At the beginning of the war, Japanese objectives vis-a-vis Thailand were to make that country a suitable rear area for pursuing their campaigns in Southeast Asia. For the most part the Japanese received the cooperation of the Thais and were soon able to achieve their initial objectives. The next step was to formulate new policy which would redefine Thai-Japanese relations in terms of Japan's intended new order for East Asia. This new policy was worked out by September 1942 and adopted on the 29th of that month at a liaison conference between the government and imperial headquarters.

These Government-Imperial Headquarters liaison conferences(1) brought together the heads of the government and the military to coordinate national planning for the execution of the war. Decisions adopted at these liaison conferences were formalized when the emperor applied his imperial seal to the document thereby making them Japanese national policy. The national policy adopted towards Thailand at the conference of 29 September was set forth in a document entitled "Matters Concerning Policy Towards Thailand".(2) The policy opened with the following preamble:

With the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the process of establishment, the objective of policy towards Thailand is to create a close, inseparable military, political and economic union with that country for the self-sufficiency and self-defense of the Empire. To bring this about we will preserve the honour of Thailand as an independent nation in keeping with the spirit of the Thai-Japanese Offensive/Defensive Treaty of Alliance(3) and the agreement for joint military operations. …

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