Japan And Southeast Asia History 1952-1976

Japan and Southeast Asia history during the years 1952-1976.

Since the end of the Second World War, Japan's economy has been nothing if not a global one. During the time frame encompassed by this current study, 30% of its trade was taken up by a single nation, the United States; a fact which enjoyed great influence in Japan. No other nation accounted for so great a percentage. In Southeast Asia, no one nation alone accounted for more than 3% of Japan's total world trade. Speaking in relative terms, Southeast Asia ranked in the lower portion of Japan's international priorities. Yet for those nations of Southeast Asia, the situation was quite the reverse. There, every nation's trade was heavily influenced by Japan. Japan ranked in the top three trading positions of every nation in that region, including North Vietnam. Even Mainland china was heavily affected. 23% of its trade was with Japan during these twenty three years. Japan was China's fourth largest trading partner, yet it accounted for just barely 3% of Japan's own total trade.

From 1952-1975 Japan became involved in a number of international organizations aiding the under developed nations of Southeast Asia, though only lightly so. In 1954 Japan joined the Colombo Plan, sending trained Japanese technicians and agricultural experts to various nations in that region, and bringing local personnel to Japan for training. Also, in 1954, a business association, the Asian Association, was formed by Japanese businessmen both in and out of government, subsidizing the Association with government funds. The Asian Association's purpose was to promote the export of Japanese equipment and technology to the under developed regions of Asia. A year later, Japan joined the United nation's Economic commission for Asia and the Far East. Japan sent a delegation to the Afro-Asian conference in April of 1955, thus demonstrating at least some interest in that area. These are just examples of the many organizations Japan joined during this time frame. Still, Japan's actual involvement remained minimal.

In 1955, shortly after the formation of the Liberal Democratic party, the Japanese Foreign Minister voiced his nation's intentions to cooperate in long term economic plans to stabilize the Southeast Asian regions. However, Japan still made no real commitment, but only vague promises to cooperate with various international organizations in the economic stabilization and advancement of southeast Asia.

During the 1950's Japan began negotiating with the nations of Indochina to settle their demands for war reparations. During this time, Japan agreed to give $39 million to South Vietnam over a five year period beginning in 1960. An amount totaling $2.8 million was given to Laos over a six year period starting in 1959; and $4.2 million was given to Cambodia over a five year period beginning in 1960. Later, Japan agreed to pay Thailand $26.8 million over an eight year period starting in 1962.

Reparations were given to the last three nations mentioned above purely as a consolatory gesture on the part of Japan. Japan listed the money given as economic assistance and refused to admit that it was in compensation for former Japanese aggression. In nearly all cases, the money given was in the form of direct government grants and on the condition that it be used to purchase Japanese products and technical services. Thus the "˜reparations' had the added affect of a stimulus to the Japanese economy.

Throughout the 1950s the foreign policy of Japan was unquestionably tied closely to that of the United States. In the 60s, we see Japan beginning to move away from this dependence upon the U.S.. With the signing of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan on January 19, 1960, Japan successfully refused to adopt the role in Southeast Asia that the American government had envisioned for it.



Washington had wanted Japan to participate in a Southeast Asian regional defense plan, to rearm and to commit itself to the defense of Indochina. The negotiations prior to this treaty's signing set off a heated national debate. The Japanese people almost as a whole opposed rearmament, just as they do today. The business community feared that rearmament would cause widespread fear of a revival of Japanese military aggression in the nations of Southeast Asia. The Japanese government believed that were rearmament to take place, instability both at home and abroad would result, domestic production would fall and foreign governments would refuse to allow Japanese investments or increased Japanese trade in their respective nations. Tokyo also feared that were Japan to rearm and commit itself through treaties to the defense of Southeast Asian nations, that it would be pulled into the growing conflict in Vietnam.

Still, despite Japan's refusal to submit to Washington's desired role for it, Japan did not wander far from the side of the United States. For a while, it was a difficult balancing act for the Japanese government. Tokyo succeeded in placating the communist powers of Asia while at the same time, not alienating the American government to any extreme. The United States did not stop asking Japan to commit itself militarily to the defense of South Vietnam until late in 1966. In October of that year, the U.S. joined the seven allied nations involved in the Vietnam War (Besides the United States: Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines) on issuing the Manila Declaration. This Declaration expressed a strong desire by the allied nations for Japan to participate in the following four goals for the Pacific and Asian regions: "freedom from aggression", the "conquest of hunger", "the elimination of illiteracy and disease", and the "construction of a region of security, order and progress". At no point did the Declaration call for Japan's troops to be committed outside of their native country.

Japan never did become involved in Vietnamese conflict. Instead, Tokyo remained successfully politically neutral while trading with both sides. During the 1960s Japan became North Vietnam's third largest trading partner and South Vietnam's second. Even bowing to Washington's insistence that it send at the very least economic assistance to South Vietnam, Japan remained essentially neutral. What little aid Japan did supply could only be described as humanitarian; and very little of that: $1.5 million and $200,000 in 1964 and 1966 respectively in emergency relief funds for South Vietnamese refugees; $1.1 million in medical supplies; and in 1970, $140 million in humanitarian aid to South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia collectively.

During the mid and late 1960s, there emerged throughout the nations of Southeast Asia a concept of regionalism. It was a concept which Japan embraced as slowly and as minimally as it believed practical. In 1966 Japan hosted the Southeast Asian Ministerial Conference for Economic Development, attended by South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. There, Prime Minister Phouma of Laos suggested the formation of an Asian Federation. Out of the Conference came agreements for the establishment of the Economic Development center, the Economic Development Promotion Center, the marine Product and Fishery development Center and the Southeast Asian University.

A few months later South Korea hosted a similar conference, the Asian and Ministerial Conference in Economic and cultural cooperation, attended by the same nations as had been present at the earlier conference, with the additions of Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand . Here proposals were advanced by the President of the Philippines and the prime Ministers of Thailand and Malaysia echoing the earlier call of prime Minister Phouma for the formation of an Asian Federation. The idea was even discussed for the merging of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia into what one author called "˜Maphilindo", a single nation or centralized federation comprised of the three. This concept, of course, never gained any real credibility. But the fact that it was brought up at all in an official governmental setting demonstrates the seriousness with which many of the nations involved considered the concept of a Southeast Asian regionalism.

Japan, however, was not among those nations which took the concept seriously. From 1952 to 1975, Japan participated in several conferences on the topic, and accepted roles in various regional organizations, but never one of leadership.

Characteristic of Japan's low priority for the southeast Asian region was its aid and investment to that area during our discussed time frame. In 1967, for example, only 26.8% of Japan's total foreign aid budget went to Southeast Asia. Cconverted into cash, the percentage totaled $338.7 million. In 1968 only 18%, or $355 million of Japan's total foreign investments went to that neighboring part of the world.And throughout the 60s and early 70s, direct investments in Southeast Asia were characterized by the small and medium sizes which they took on. In 1968, 124 out of 142 investments by Japanese enterprises in the region capitalized at less than $278,000. Japan was roundly criticized by a number of nations, including the united States and most of those of Southeast Asia, as well as by many international organizations and agencies for failing to comply with a 1961 pledge to set aside 1% of its GNP for aid to its Asian neighbors. As late and 1968 Japan was giving only .26% of its GNP in such aid.

Despite the importance of Japanese aid and investment in their perspective nations (remember, while Japanese aid and investment in Southeast Asia was low in amounts and percentages when gauged against overall expenditures, they remained large to the nations receiving them), a feeling of resentment arose and became common throughout the nations of Southeast Asia during the early and mid 1970s. Complaints ranged from the low percentage of Japanese aid when viewed against Tokyo's overall budget, to harsh loan terms, to harsh and unfair business practices, to complaints that Japanese companies exploited the natural resources of the region for their own capitalistic purposes.

Japan made no secret of its economic goals for the the region. Even its foreign aid objectives reflected them. These were stated in an Annual Report on Economic cooperation issued by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in the late 1960s: First was to "secure access to essential resources"; second, was to, "increase exports and strengthen the international base of Japan's economy"; and third, was to "fulfill Japan's obligations as the only advanced nation in Asia".

In conclusion, Japan's relations with its Southeast Asia neighbors during the time period 1952-1975 were characterized by a cautious economic self interest, and a relatively low governmental priority. There were enough, however, to maintain good political and economic relations. As a final example: In 1969 Japan comprised over 36% of all foreign investments in Thailand, despite the interesting fact that it was Thailand during this year which was Japan's harshest critic. Thailand's criticism did not carry over to, or translate into anything even remotely resembling political or economic retaliation.

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