Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
Poster of Manchukuo promoting harmony between Japanese, Chinese, and Manchu. The caption, written from right to left, says: "With the help of Japan, China, and Manchukuo, the world can be in peace." The flags shown are, left to right: the flag of Manchukuo; the flag of Japan; the "Five Races Under One Union" flag.

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏 Dai-tō-a Kyōeiken) was a concept created and promulgated during the Shōwa era by the government and military of the Empire of Japan. It represented the desire to create a self-sufficient "bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers".[1]


Development of concept

The original concept was an idealistic wish to free Asia from colonizing powers, but soon, nationalists saw it as a way to gain resources to keep Japan a modern power, and militarists saw the same resources as raw materials for war.[2] Many Japanese were drawn to it as idealistic.[3] Many of them remained convinced, throughout the war, that the Sphere was idealistic, offering slogans in a newspaper competition, praising the sphere for constructive efforts and peace.[4]

The Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe planned the Sphere in 1940 in an attempt to create a Great East Asia, comprising Japan, Manchukuo, China, and parts of Southeast Asia, that would, according to imperial propaganda, establish a new international order seeking "co prosperity" for Asian countries which would share prosperity and peace, free from Western colonialism and domination.[5] Military goals of this expansion included naval operations in the Indian Ocean and the isolation of Australia.[6] This would enable the principle of hakkō ichiu.[7]

This was one of a number of slogans and concepts used in the justification of Japanese aggression in East Asia in the 1930s through the end of World War II. The term "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" is remembered largely as a front for the Japanese control of occupied countries during World War II, in which puppet governments manipulated local populations and economies for the benefit of Imperial Japan.

To combat the protectionist dollar and sterling zones, Japanese economic planners called for a "yen bloc."[8] Japan's experiment with such financial imperialism encompassed both official and semi-official colonies.[9] In the period between 1895 (when Japan annexed Taiwan) and 1937 (the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War), monetary specialists in Tokyo directed and managed programs of coordinated monetary reforms in Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and the peripheral Japanese-controlled islands in the Pacific. These reforms aimed to foster a network of linked political and economic relationships. These efforts foundered in the eventual debacle of the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.[10]

The negative connotations that still attach to the term "Greater East Asia" (大東亜) remain one of a number of difficulties facing the annual East Asia Summits[citation needed], begun in 2005 to discuss the possibility of the establishment of a stronger, more united East Asian Community.


World War II puppet governments ran many countries occupied by Japan — manipulating local populations and economies for the benefit of Imperial Japan and backing the conception of a united Asia in the absence of (or opposed to) European influence. Propaganda claimed that they had liberated these countries for governments of their own (an effect somewhat undermined by these governments' total lack of effective power).[11]

It was an Imperial Japanese Army concept that originated with General Hachiro Arita, an army ideologist who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1936-1940. "Greater East Asia" (大東亜 Dai-tō-a?) was a Japanese term—banned during the post-war Occupation—referring to Far East Asia. The new Japanese empire was presented as an Asian equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine.[12] The regions of Asia, it was argued, were as essential to Japan as Latin America was to the U.S.[13]

The Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke formally announced the idea of the Co-Prosperity Sphere on August 1, 1940, in a press interview,[7] but it had already existed in various forms for many years. Leaders in Japan had long had an interest in the idea, in reality to extend Japanese power and acquire an empire based on European models, though ostensibly to free Asia from imperialism. The outbreak of World War II fighting in Europe had given the Japanese an opportunity to demand the withdrawal of support from China in the name of "Asia for Asians", with the European powers unable to effectively retaliate.[14]

As part of its war drive, Japanese propaganda included phrases like "Asia for the Asians!" and talked about the perceived need to liberate Asian countries from imperialist powers.[15] The failure to win the Second Sino-Japanese War was blamed on British and American exploitation of Southeast Asian colonies, even though the Chinese received far more assistance from the Soviet Union.[16] In some cases local people welcomed Japanese troops when they invaded, driving out British, French, and other governments and military forces. In general, however, the subsequent brutality and racism of the Japanese led to people of the occupied areas regarding the new Asian imperialists as equal to or (more often) much worse than Western imperialists.[15] The Japanese government directed that local economies be managed strictly for the production of raw war materials for the Japanese, and a cabinet member declared, "There are no restrictions. They are enemy possessions. We can take them, do anything we want."[17]

An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus — a secret document completed in 1943 for high-ranking government use — laid out that the superior position of Japan in the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, showing the subordination of other nations was not forced by the war, but part of explicit policy.[18] It explicitly states the superiority of the Japanese over other Asian races and suggests that the Sphere was merely propaganda intended to mask Japan's true intention of domination over Asia.[19]

China and other Asian nations were regarded as too weak and lacking in unity to be treated as equal partners.[20] The booklet Read This and the War is Won—for the Japanese army—presented colonialism as a tiny group of colonists living in luxury by burdening Asians; because ties of blood connect them to Japanese, and Asians had been weakened by colonialism, it was Japan's place to "make men of them again."[21]

From the Japanese point of view, one common principal reason stood behind both forming the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and initiating war with the Allies: Chinese markets. Japan wanted their "paramount relations" in regard to Chinese markets acknowledged by the U.S. government. The U.S., recognizing the abundance of potential wealth in these markets, refused to let the Japanese have an advantage in selling to China. In an attempt to give Japan a formal advantage over the Chinese markets, the Japanese Imperial regime first invaded China and later launched the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

According to Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo (in office 1941-1942 and 1945), should Japan be successful in creating this sphere, it would emerge as the leader of Eastern Asia, and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere would be another name for the Japanese Empire.[5]

Greater East Asia Conference

The Greater East Asia Conference (大東亜会議 Dai Toa Kaigi?) took place in Tokyo on 5-6 November 1943: Japan hosted the heads of state of various component members of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conference was also referred to as the Tokyo Conference. The common language used by the delegates during the conference was English.[22]

The Conference addressed few issues of any substance, but was intended by the Japanese to illustrate the Empire of Japan's commitments to the Pan-Asianism ideal and to emphasize its role as the "liberator" of Asia from western colonialism.

The following dignitaries attended:

Tojo greeted them with a speech praising the "spiritual essence" of Asia, as opposed to the "materialistic civilization" of the West.[23] Their meeting was characterized by praise of solidarity and condemnation of Western colonism, but without practical plans for either economic development or integration.[24]

The Conference issued a Joint Declaration promoting economic and political cooperation against the Allied countries.[25]


The Co-Prosperity Sphere collapsed with Japan's surrender to the Allies in August 1945. Although Japan succeeded in stimulating anti-Westernism in Asia, the sphere never materialized into a unified Asia. Dr. Ba Maw, wartime President of Burma under the Japanese, blamed the Japanese military:

"The militarists saw everything only in a Japanese perspective and, even worse, they insisted that all others dealing with them should do the same. For them there was only one way to do a thing, the Japanese way; only one goal and interest, the Japanese interest; only one destiny for the East Asian countries, to become so many Manchukuos or Koreas tied forever to Japan. These racial impositions... made any real understanding between the Japanese militarists and the people of our region virtually impossible."[26]

In other words, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere operated not for the betterment of all the East Asia countries, but rather for Japan's own interests, and thus the Japanese failed to gather support in other East Asian countries. Nationalist movements did appear in these East Asian countries during this period and these nationalists did, to some extent, cooperate with the Japanese. However, Willard Elsbree, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio University, claims that the Japanese government and these nationalist leaders never developed "a real unity of interests between the two parties, [and] there was no overwhelming despair on the part of the Asians at Japan's defeat".[27]

The failure of Japan to understand the goals and interests of the other countries involved in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere led to a weak association of countries bound to Japan only in theory and not in spirit. Dr. Ba Maw argues that Japan could have engineered a very different outcome if the Japanese had only managed to act in accord with the hortatory concept of "Asia for the Asians". He argues that if Japan had proclaimed this maxim at the beginning of the war, and if the Japanese had actually acted on that idea,

"No military defeat could then have robbed her of the trust and gratitude of half of Asia or even more, and that would have mattered a great deal in finding for her a new, great, and abiding place in a postwar world in which Asia was coming into her own."[28]

Propaganda efforts

Pamphlets were dropped by airplane on the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, urging them to join this movement.[29] Mutual cultural societies were founded in all conquered nations to ingratiate with the natives and try to supplant English with Japanese as the commonly used language.[30] Multi-lingual pamphlets depicted many Asians marching or working together in happy unity, with the flags of all the nations and a map depicting the intended sphere.[31] Others proclaimed that they had given independent governments to the countries they occupied, a claim undermined by the lack of power given these puppet governments.[11] In Thailand, a street was built to demonstrate it, to be filled with modern buildings and shops, but 910 of it consisted of false fronts.[32]

Projected territorial extent

A Japanese 10 sen stamp from 1942 depicting the approximate extension of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Prior to the escalation of World War II to the Pacific and East Asia, the Japanese planners regarded it as self-evident that the conquests secured in Japan's earlier wars with Russia (South Sakhalin and the Kwantung Leased Territory), Germany (the South Pacific Mandate) and China (Manchuria) would be retained, as well as Korea (Chōsen), Taiwan (Formosa), the recently seized additional portions of China and occupied French Indochina.[33]

The Land Disposal Plan

A reasonably accurate indication as to the geographic dimensions of the Co-Prosperity Sphere are elaborated on in a Japanese wartime document prepared in December 1941 by the Research Department of the Imperial Ministry of War.[33] Known as the "Land Disposal Plan in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" (大東亜共栄圏における土地処分案) it was put together with the consent of and according to the directions of the Minister of War (later Prime [Minister) Hideki Tojo. It assumed that the already established puppet governments of Manchukuo, Mengjiang, and the Wang Jingwei regime in Japanese-occupied China would continue to function in these areas.[33] Beyond these contemporary parts of Japan's sphere of influence it also envisaged the conquest of a vast range of territories covering virtually all of East Asia, the Pacific Ocean, and even sizable portions of the Western Hemisphere, including in locations as far removed from Japan as South America and the eastern Caribbean.[33]

Although the projected extension of the Co-Prosperity Sphere was extremely ambitious, the Japanese goal during the "Greater East Asia War" was not to acquire all the territory designated in the plan at once, but to prepare for a future decisive war some 20 years later by conquering the Asian colonies of the defeated European powers, as well as the Philippines from the United States.[34] When Tojo Hideki spoke on the plan to the House of Peers he was vague about the long-term prospects, but insinuated that the Philippines and Burma might be allowed independence, although vital territories such as Hong Kong would remain under Japanese rule.[23]

The islands north of the equator that had been seized from Germany in World War I and which were assigned to Japan as C-Class Mandates, namely the Marianas, Carolines, Marshall Islands, and several others do not figure into this project.[33] They were the subject of earlier negotiations with the Germans and were expected to be officially ceded to Japan in return for economic and monetary compensations.[33]

The plan divided Japan's future empire into two different groups.[33] The first group of territories were expected to become either part of Japan or otherwise be under its direct administration. Second were those territories that would fall under the control of a number of tightly-controlled pro-Japanese vassal states based on the model of Manchukuo, as nominally "independent" members of the Greater East Asian alliance.


  • Government-General of Formosa

Hong Kong, the Philippines, Macau (to be purchased from Portugal), the Paracel Islands, and Hainan Island (to be purchased from the Chinese puppet regime). Contrary to its name it was not intended to include the island of Formosa (Taiwan)

  • South Seas Government Office

Guam, Nauru, Ocean Island, the Gilbert Islands and Wake Island.

  • Melanesian Region Government-General or South Pacific Government-General

British New Guinea, Australian New Guinea, the Admiralties, New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomon Islands, the Santa Cruz Archipelago, the Ellice Islands, the Fiji Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, and the Chesterfield Islands.

  • Eastern Pacific Government-General

Hawaii, Howland Island, Baker Island, the Phoenix Islands, the Rain Islands, the Marquesas and Tuamotu Islands, the Society Islands, the Cook and Austral Islands, all of the Samoan Islands, and Tonga. The possibility of re-establishing the defunct Kingdom of Hawaii was also considered, based on the model of Manchukuo.[35] Those favoring annexation of Hawaii (on the model of Karafuto) intended to use the local Japanese community, which had constituted 43% (c. 160,000) of Hawaii's population in the 1920s, as a leverage.[35] Hawaii was to become self-sufficient in food production, while the Big Five corporations of sugar and pineapple processing where to be broken up.[36] No decision was ever reached regarding whether Hawaii would be annexed to Japan, become a puppet kingdom, or be used as a bargaining chip for leverage against the U.S.[35]

  • Australian Government-General

All of Australia including Tasmania. Australia and New Zealand were to accommodate up to two million Japanese settlers.[35] However, there are indications that the Japanese were also looking for a separate peace with Australia, and a satellite rather than colony status similar to that of Burma and the Philippines.[35]

  • New Zealand Government-General

New Zealand North and South Islands, Macquarie Island, as well as the rest of the Southwest Pacific.

  • Ceylon Government-General

All of India below a line running approximately from Portuguese Goa to the coastline of the Bay of Bengal.

  • Alaska Government-General

The Alaska Territory, the Yukon Territory, the western portion of the Northwest Territories, Alberta, British Columbia, and Washington. There were also plans to make the American West Coast a semi-autonomous satellite state. This latter plan was not seriously considered; it depended upon a global victory of Axis forces.[35]

  • Government-General of Central America

Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, British Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Maracaibo (western) portion of Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Haiti, Dominica, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. In addition, if either Mexico, Peru or Chile were to enter the war against Japan, substantial parts of these states would also be ceded to Japan. The future of Trinidad, British and Dutch Guiana, and British and French possessions in the Leeward Islands were left open for negotiations with Germany after the war.

Asian puppet states

Chinese Manchuria.

Outer Mongolia territories west of Manchuria.

  • Republic of China

Other parts of China occupied by Japan.

  • East Indies Kingdom

Dutch East Indies, British Borneo, Labuan, Sarawak, Brunei, the Cocos and Christmas Islands, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Portuguese Timor (to be purchased from Portugal).

  • Kingdom of Burma

Burma proper, Assam (a province of the British Raj) and large part of Bengal.

  • Kingdom of Thailand

Pre-war Thailand, which was also expanded with portions of British Malaya, Burma, and French Indochina during the war, although this wasn't included in the original plan.

  • Kingdom of Malaya

Remainder of the Malay states.

  • Kingdom of Cambodia

Cambodia and French Cochinchina.

  • Kingdom of Annam

Annam, Laos, and Tongking.

Soviet territories

The 70º east longitude general demarcation line proposed in January 1942, which split Eurasia and might have defined the Co-Prosperity Sphere's westernmost limits.

The "Land Disposal Plan" noticeably lacked any mention of Soviet Siberian and Far Eastern lands to be taken, reflecting Japan's then-stance of non-aggression towards Russia while it was instead moving forward in the Pacific and South-East Asia. Nevertheless, the Imperial Army had designed military plans to be put into action in the case of a Soviet military collapse in the war against Germany. The army projected the annexation of Northern Sakhalin and the Kamchatka Peninsula and an establishment of a Japanese sphere of influence up to Lake Baikal (see Far Eastern Republic).[37] A demilitarized buffer zone between Lake Baikal and Novosibirsk was also planned.[37]

An Axis powers conference on 18 January 1942 placed a proposed north-south running demarcation line at 70º east longitude, going southwards through the Ob River's Arctic estuary, southwards to just east of Khost in Afghanistan and heading into the Indian Ocean just west of Rajkot in India, to split the Lebensraum land holdings of Nazi Germany and the similar spazio vitale areas of Fascist Italy to the west of it, and the Empire of Japan (and the Co-Prosperity Sphere) to the east of it, after a complete defeat of the Soviet Union by the Third Reich.

Other projects

The Japanese also considered creating an enlarged Malay state in South-East Asia out of the Malay peninsula and Sumatra, to be called Mahamalaya ("Greater Malaya").[38]

Political parties and movements with Japanese support

See also


  1. ^ Gordon, William. "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." March 2000.
  2. ^ John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 p 447 Random House New York 1970
  3. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 494 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  4. ^ John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 p 449 Random House New York 1970
  5. ^ a b Iriye, Akira. (1999). Pearl Harbor and the coming of the Pacific War: a Brief History with Documents and Essays, p. 6.
  6. ^ Ugaki, Matome. (1991). Fading Victory: The Diary of Ugaki Matome, 1941-1945, p. __.
  7. ^ a b James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 470 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  8. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 460 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  9. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 461-2 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  10. ^ Vande Walle, Willy et al. The 'money doctors' from Japan: finance, imperialism, and the building of the Yen Bloc, 1894-1937 (abstract). FRIS/Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2007-2010.
  12. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p252-3 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  13. ^ William L. O'Neill, A Democracy At War: America's Fight At Home and Abroad in World War II, p 53 ISBN 0-02-923678-9
  14. ^ William L. O'Neill, A Democracy At War: America's Fight At Home and Abroad in World War II, p 62 ISBN 0-02-923678-9
  15. ^ a b Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p248 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  16. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 471 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  17. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 495 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  18. ^ John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War p263-4 ISBN 0-394-50030-X
  19. ^ Dower, John W. (1986). War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, pp. 262-290.
  20. ^ Beasley, William G., The Rise of Modern Japan, p 79-80 ISBN 0-312-04077-6
  21. ^ John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War p24-5 ISBN 0-394-50030-X
  22. ^ Alan J. Levine (1995), The Pacific War:Japan versus the allies, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0275951022
  23. ^ a b W. G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan, p 204 ISBN 0-312-04077-6
  24. ^ Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, p211, ISBN 0-19-51106-9
  25. ^ World War II Database (WW2DB): "Greater East Asia Conference."
  26. ^ Lebra, Joyce C. (1975). Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in World War II: Selected Readings and Documents, p. 157.
  27. ^ Lebra, p. 160.
  28. ^ Lebra, p. 158.
  29. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p253 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  30. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p254 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  31. ^ "Japanese Propaganda Booklet from World War II"
  32. ^ Edwin P. Hoyt, Japan's War, p 326 ISBN 0-07-030612-5
  33. ^ a b c d e f g Weinberg, L. Gerhard. (2005). Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leaders p.62-65.
  34. ^ Storry, Richard (1973). The double patriots: a study of Japanese nationalism. Greenwood Press. pp. 317–319. ISBN 0837166438. 
  35. ^ a b c d e f Levine (1995), p. 92
  36. ^ Stephan, J. J. (2002), Hawaii Under the Rising Sun: Japan's Plans for Conquest After Pearl Harbor, p. 159, ISBN 0824825500
  37. ^ a b Krebs, Gerhard (1997). "31. Japan and the German-Soviet War". In Wegner, Bernd. From peace to war: Germany, Soviet Russia, and the world, 1939-1941. Berghahn Books. p. 551. ISBN 1571818820. 
  38. ^ Fitzgerald, Charles Patrick (1965). The third China: the Chinese communities in South-East Asia. Publications Centre, University of British Columbia, p. 51. [1]

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