Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Greater East Asia Conference (5–6 November 1943)

"Liberation" of Asian nations from western colonial rule and the creation of a Daitoa kyoeiken, or Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, was the official Japanese rationale for going to war with the United States and Britain. Suffering military reversals during World War II, the Tokyo government sought a political manifesto to secure the support of peoples under Japanese military occupation. The Daitoa kaigi, or Greater East Asia Conference, was held in Tokyo in November 1943 and served as a partial countermeasure to the Allied Cairo and Tehran Conferences that took place around the same time. Japanese Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru first conceived of the idea for the conference. He believed that Japan needed a powerful statement of policy goals to compete with British and American statements regarding the future of Asia. This explains the extent to which the declaration that conferees passed resembled the Allied Atlantic Charter.

The conference gathered leaders from throughout Japanese-occupied territory in Tokyo on 5 and 6 November 1943. Official delegates were Wang Jingwei (Wang Ching-wei) from China; Zhang Qing-hui (Chang Ching-hui), president of Manzhouguo (Manchukuo); José Laurel, leader of the Philippines; Ba Maw, leader of Burma; and Prince Wan Waithayakon, representing Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram of Thailand. Subhas Chandra Bose, head of the Japanese-sponsored Free India Provisional Government, was also present as an observer. National leaders from Indonesia and Malaya were not invited, because Japan secretly planned to annex these territories.

With Japanese Prime Minister General Tojo Hideki chairing the proceedings, the delegates discussed the general war situation and political agenda. At the conference's conclusion, the delegates adopted Daitoa kyodo sengen, the Greater East Asia Declaration, which called for (1) establishment of a regional order based on the principles of coexistence and co-prosperity, (2) respect for mutual autonomy and independence, (3) mutual respect of traditional cultures, (4) promotion of economic interdependence, (5) the abolition of racial discrimination, and (6) the open access by member nations to natural resources.

Although Japan granted Burma and the Philippines nominal independence, Japan's continued occupation of Southeast Asia and its harsh exploitation of both the local populations and natural resources undermined the pan-Asiatic ideal of the declaration. A second conference was planned in 1944, but the deteriorating Japanese military situation rendered it totally impossible.

Tohmatsu Haruo


Further Reading
Goto, Ken'ichi. "Cooperation, Submission, and Resistance of Indigenous Elites of Southeast Asia in the Wartime Empire." In Peter Duus, ed., The Japanese Wartime Empire, 1931–1945. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.; Hanneman, Mary L. Japan Faces the World, 1925–1952. New York: Longman, 2001.; Iriye Akira. Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.; Narangoa, Li, and Robert Cribb, eds. Imperial Japan and National Identities in Asia. New York: Routledge, 2003.
 

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