Japan Announces the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere

The empire of Japan sought to lead a bloc of Asian nations that would establish its political, economic, and cultural independence from the Western group of nations—including the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands—that had colonies in East Asia.

Summary of Event

The Japanese government faced a crisis of monumental proportions in 1940. The major Western powers—the United States and Great Britain—demanded that Japan abandon its claims on and occupation of China. The Americans and the British also insisted that Japan withdraw from French Indochina, a colony that the Japanese had seized from the Vichy government in France. Failure to comply, the Western governments announced, would result in the adoption of severe economic sanctions against the Japanese. At this point, control of the Japanese government lay in the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. A surrender of the holdings that it had already taken in China and a withdrawal from French Indochina would be in complete contravention of the military’s long-range plans for expansion. [kw]Japan Announces the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere (Aug., 1940)
[kw]Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, Japan Announces the (Aug., 1940)
[kw]East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, Japan Announces the Greater (Aug., 1940)
[kw]Asia Coprosperity Sphere, Japan Announces the Greater East (Aug., 1940)
[kw]Coprosperity Sphere, Japan Announces the Greater East Asia (Aug., 1940)
Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere
Diplomacy;East Asian nations
[g]East Asia;Aug., 1940: Japan Announces the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere[10260]
[g]Japan;Aug., 1940: Japan Announces the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere[10260]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug., 1940: Japan Announces the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere[10260]
[c]Colonialism and occupation;Aug., 1940: Japan Announces the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere[10260]
Arita, Hachirō
Satō, Nobuhiro
Tojo, Hideki
Bose, Subhas Chandra

Accordingly, in August of 1940, the Japanese government proclaimed the creation of the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, which would incorporate Japan, Manchuria, Korea, and China into an independent economic and political entity composed solely of Asian peoples. The sphere would ultimately include French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippine Islands, and Burma, and extremists even considered both India and Australia as possible additions.

The concept of a cooperative agreement among Asian peoples had long been a dream of the Japanese leadership. As early as the latter part of the eighteenth century and in the first half of the nineteenth century, Japanese scholar Nobuhiro Satō introduced the concept of a greater East Asia. He argued that Japan should aggressively expand its territory by seizing the Ryikyu Island group, Luzon (in the Philippines), and ultimately Java (in the Dutch East Indies) as part of what he called the “southward advance” strategy. If Japan were to achieve a leadership position in Asia, it would have to dominate a number of its neighbors.

Hachirō Arita, a professional diplomat who had served as foreign minister in a number of Japanese cabinets in the twentieth century, rationalized that the Coprosperity Sphere was not an attempt by Japan to monopolize economic and political power in Southeast Asia. Instead, he argued, it was designed to promote mutual opportunities for its members through support of independence movements, trade agreements, loans of capital, and exchanges of ideas.

The Japanese government announced the implementation of the new concept with great fanfare. The idea, however, was largely a piece of propaganda: No carefully delineated master plan for its implementation had been devised by the civilian leadership. The government left the mechanics of its application to the military governor in each conquered territory, which resulted in a wide variety of different economic and political approaches among jurisdictions, depending on the needs of the troops stationed in each area and the availability of goods. In November of 1942, Premier Hideki Tojo called representatives from all of the conquered countries to Tokyo for a conference on the goals of the Coprosperity Sphere. In his opening speech, he attacked the United States and Britain for their exploitation of Asian peoples and promised that Japan would lead the East Asian nations in a program of mutually beneficial economic development, racial harmony, and independence.

Japan, however, had already established a reputation for brutality in its relationship with its neighbors. In 1937, it received worldwide condemnation for the widely publicized destruction of the Chinese city of Nanjing. Rape of Nanjing According to records developed during the postwar Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, soldiers of the Tenth Japanese Imperial Army and the Sixteenth Division were responsible for the murders of more than two hundred thousand Chinese soldiers and civilians. The army was also accused of some twenty thousand rapes of Chinese women. Equally devastating records were uncovered in the final days of the Japanese army’s occupation in Manila, where thousands of Filipinos were slaughtered by the Japanese as they retreated from Manila’s walled city in early 1945.

Included in the list of politicians invited by Tojo was Subhas Chandra Bose, the head of the provisional government in India, which wanted to overthrow British rule in the subcontinent. The Japanese established and trained the Indian National Army as well as the Burma Area Army with the intention of using the help of these two groups in a planned invasion of British India. Such an invasion never progressed past its initial planning stages, however, because the Japanese troops stationed on the Indian border lacked the supplies and equipment necessary to undertake such a campaign.


Although Japan’s promotion of the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere seemed to be a shrewd propaganda move to secure the cooperation of Asians in countries colonized by Europe, in practice the movement was a failure. Despite pronouncements made by Japan’s central government on the benefits that the new organization would provide to the colonial peoples of Southeast Asia, the Japanese military proved to be substantially more oppressive in its relationships with the colonial peoples than the Europeans and Americans had been.

The Japanese conquerors stripped the colonies of all the wealth they could find and cruelly abused the peoples under their control. Many of the local economies were devastated by these actions, which often left members of the native populations without enough food and equipment to support themselves. Moreover, the occupiers slaughtered members of the local population who objected to Japanese rule.

As World War II progressed in countries such as the Philippines and Burma, locals joined guerrilla groups and undermined the Japanese military administrations wherever they could, even though the latter were ruthless in their efforts to end such opposition. As the Allied forces gradually defeated the Japanese, local peoples took revenge on both retreating Japanese soldiers and the native citizens who had aided them. For example, Japanese colonies such as those established on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines were wiped out by members of the Filipino resistance. Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere
Diplomacy;East Asian nations

Further Reading

  • Harries, Meirion, and Susie Harries. Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army. New York: Random House, 1991. A detailed report on the activities of the Japanese army in the conquered countries under their control.
  • Ienaga, Saburo. The Pacific War, 1931-1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. Chronicle of the events of the war in the Pacific by an outstanding Japanese historian. Explains the failure of the Japanese civil authorities to curb action by the military that led to the war’s disastrous outcome.
  • Lebra, Joyce C. Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975. A collection of individual reports by Japanese military and political leaders. Also includes contributions by writers from other countries.
  • Tanaka, Yuki. Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998. A detailed study by a Japanese researcher into the motivation for the crimes committed by the Japanese military.

Japanese Annexation of Korea

Stimson Doctrine

Japan Withdraws from the League of Nations

Japan Renounces Disarmament Treaties

China Declares War on Japan

Rape of Nanjing

Japan Occupies Indochinese Ports