On 17 March 1947, General Douglas MacArthur publicly proposed an early peace treaty with Japan. However, differing attitudes among the European powers, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China over how best to approach such a treaty ultimately led to the postponement of any international conference on the subject.
Meanwhile, growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States enhanced Japan's political and strategic importance, leading the Americans to embark on a mission to reconstruct Japan both economically and politically. In light of growing tensions with the Soviet Union, together with the October 1949 communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, U.S. policymakers, particularly those in the Pentagon, argued for the need to maintain U.S. military bases in Japan. Consequently, the United States became increasingly inclined to end its occupation of Japan.
The Americans made substantial moves toward securing a peace settlement after John Foster Dulles was appointed consultant to the State Department in April 1950. Dulles, with nonpartisan domestic support, initiated negotiations with other Allied countries beginning in September 1950. Meanwhile, the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 added urgency to these peace negotiations.
The terms for the peace treaty drafted by the United States in late 1950 were seen as lenient and were consequently opposed by the Soviet Union, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. While no compromise could be reached with the Soviet Union, U.S. policymakers persuaded the other states to accept the treaty's nonpunitive principles. The final draft of the treaty was jointly prepared by the United States and Great Britain.
The peace conference opened on 4 September 1951 in San Francisco and was attended by fifty-two nations. The treaty itself was signed by representatives of forty-nine nations, including Japan, on 8 September. Although their representatives were in attendance, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia refused to sign the treaty.
The treaty stipulated Japan's abandonment of all territories acquired since 1895, including Korea, Taiwan, the Kurile Islands, and southern Sakhalin and its adjacent islands. American provisional control of the Ryukyu and Bonin islands was permitted, with an agreement to obtain ultimate authorization of the U.S. administration under a United Nations (UN) trusteeship. The document also established Japan's liability for payment of war reparations and drew attention to Japan's fragile economic situation. Later that same day, the United States and Japan also signed a security treaty.
Yoshitsu, Michael M. Japan and the San Francisco Peace Settlement. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.