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The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1942.

1935 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 an imperial concept created and promulgated for occupied Asian populations during the first third of the Shōwa period by the government and military of the Empire of Japan. It promoted the cultural and economic unity of the East Asian race. It also declared the intention to create a self-sufficient "bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers". It was announced in a radio address entitled "The International Situation and Japan's Position" by Foreign Minister Hachirō Arita on June 29, 1940.[1]

An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus — a secret document completed in 1943 for high-ranking government use — laid out 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.[2] It explicitly states the superiority of the Japanese over other Asian races and provides evidence that the Sphere was inherently hierarchical, including Japan's true intention of domination over Asia.[3]

Development of concept

Similar to the term "Third Reich", which was a military exploitation of a non-military term proposed by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, the phrase "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" was proposed by Kiyoshi Miki, a Kyoto School analytic philosopher who was actually opposed to militarism.

An earlier, influential concept was the geographically smaller version called New Order in East Asia (東亜新秩序 Tōa Shin Chitsujo), which was announced by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe on 22 December 1938 and was limited to Northeast Asia only.[4]

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.[5] Many Japanese nationalists were drawn to it as an ideal.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] Military goals of this expansion included naval operations in the Indian Ocean and the isolation of Australia.[9] This would enable the principle of hakkō ichiu.[10]

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."[11] Japan's experiment with such financial imperialism encompassed both official and semi-official colonies.[12] 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.[13]

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.


The concept of a unified East Asia took form based on an Imperial Japanese Army concept that originated with General Hachiro Arita, an army ideologist who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1936 to 1940. The new Japanese empire was presented as an Asian equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine,[14] especially with the Roosevelt Corollary. The regions of Asia, it was argued, were as essential to Japan as Latin America was to the U.S.[15]

The Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke formally announced the idea of the Co-Prosperity Sphere on August 1, 1940, in a press interview,[10] but it had existed in other forms for many years. Leaders in Japan had long had an interest in the idea. 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 Asiatics", with the European powers unable to effectively retaliate.[16] Many of the other nations within the boundaries of the sphere, were either oppressed by colonial powers and hence sympathetic to Japan, occupied by Japan in the early phases of the war and reformed under puppet governments, or already under Japan's control at the outset (as in the case of Manchukuo). As a result, the formation of the sphere, while lacking any real authority or joint power, came together without much difficulty.

As part of its war drive, Japanese propaganda included phrases like "Asia for the Asiatics!" and talked about the perceived need to liberate Asian countries from imperialist powers.[17] 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.[18] 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 pragmatism and brutality of the Japanese military, particularly in China, led to people of the occupied areas regarding the new Asian imperialists as no different than Western imperialists.[17] The Japanese government directed that local economies be managed strictly for the production of raw war materials for the Japanese; a cabinet member declared, "There are no restrictions. They are enemy possessions. We can take them, do anything we want."[19]

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 Japan, as the originators and strongest military power within the region would naturally take the superior position of within the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, with the other nations under Japan's umbrella of protection.[2][3]

China and other Asian nations, on their own, were regarded as too weak and lacking in unity to be treated as fully equal partners, and this in any case would not have been in Japans self-interest.[20] The booklet Read This and the War is Won—for the Japanese army—presented colonialism as an oppressive group of colonists living in luxury by burdening Asians. Since racial ties of blood connected other Asians to the Japanese, and Asians had been weakened by colonialism, it was Japan's self-appointed role to "make men of them again" and liberate them from their western oppressors[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 synonymous with the Japanese Empire.[8]

Greater East Asia Conference

Greater East Asia Conference in November 1943, participants left to right: Ba Maw, Zhang Jinghui, Wang Jingwei, Hideki Tojo, Wan Waithayakon, José P. Laurel, Subhas Chandra Bose

The Greater East Asia Conference (大東亜会議 Dai tō-a 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]

Members of Sphere

Members of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere; territory controlled at maximum height.

Real members at dates formally formed the Sphere during maximal area of Japanese expansion:


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]

Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere at its maximum.

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 oratory concept of "Asia for the Asiatics". 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.[32] 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.[33] A network of Japanese-sponsored film production, distribution, and exhibition companies extended across the Japanese Empire and was collectively referred to as the Greater East Asian Film Sphere. These film centers mass-produced shorts, newsreels, and feature films to encourage Japanese language acquisition as well as cooperation with Japanese colonial authorities.[34]

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.[35]

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.[35] 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 Tōjō. 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.[35] 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.[35]

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.[36] When Tōjō 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.[35] 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.[35]

The plan divided Japan's future empire into two different groups.[35] 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.[37] 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.[37] Hawaii was to become self-sufficient in food production, while the Big Five corporations of sugar and pineapple processing were to be broken up.[38] 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.[37]

  • Australian Government-General

All of Australia including Tasmania. Australia and New Zealand were to accommodate up to two million Japanese settlers.[37] 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.[37]

  • 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.[37]

  • 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. Events that transpired between May 22, 1942 when Mexico declared war on the Axis, through Peru's declaration of war on February 12, 1944 and concluding with Chile only declaring war on Japan by April 11, 1945 (as Nazi Germany was nearly defeated at that time) brought all three of those Western Hemisphere nations into conflict with Japan by the war's end. The future of Trinidad, British Guiana and Suriname, and British and French possessions in the Leeward Islands at the hands of Imperial Japan were meant to be left open for negotiations with Nazi Germany had the Axis forces been victorious.

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 70° 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 Japanese 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).[39] A demilitarized buffer zone between Lake Baikal and Novosibirsk was also planned.[39]

An Axis powers conference on 18 January 1942 placed a proposed north-south running demarcation line at 70° 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 comprising the land area of Eurasia that it crossed, 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").[40]

Political parties and movements with Japanese support

  • Azad Hind (Indian nationalist movement)
  • Indian Independence League (Indian nationalist movement)
  • Indonesian Nationalist Party (Indonesian nationalist movement)
  • Kesatuan Melayu Muda (Malayan nationalist movement)
  • Khmer Issarak (Cambodian-Khmer nationalist group)
  • Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association) (Burmese anti-British nationalist association)

See also

  • Hachirō Arita: Army thinker who thought up the Greater East Asian concept
  • Satō Nobuhiro: alleged founder of the Greater East Asia concept
  • East Asia Development Board
  • Ministry of Greater East Asia (Japan)
  • Greater East Asia Conference (November 1943)
  • List of East Asian leaders in the Japanese sphere of influence (1931-1945)


  • Imperialism in Asia
  • Militarism-Socialism in Shōwa Japan
  • Japanese nationalism
  • Japanese war crimes


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  28. Lebra, p. 158.
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