Pan-Asianism was an integral part of the Japanese foreign policy during 1931-1945. It has become official view of Japan on the alternative world order. Initially, Pan-Asianism represented an attempt of the Asian countries, mainly Japan, India, and China, to create an alternative ideology to the Western imperialism. It had to change the attitude of the Western countries towards the Asian nations and liberate them from the colonial rule. However, under the influence of radical Japanese politics, the ideology took a different direction. Instead of promoting cooperation between the Asian countries, Pan-Asianism focused on establishment of Japanese power in the region and conquering the Asia.

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Definition of Pan-Asianism

According to the Japanese definition, Pan-Asianism is an assertion that Asian nations should unite under Japanese leadership to resist Western Great Powers invasion of Asia. The definition of Pan-Asianism has transformed from the liberal ideology of the 1880s to becoming Japanese imperialism. The aim of the ideology was to save the Asia from the Western imperialism. Pan-Asianism foresaw the creation of the Asian alliance, which would include the countries of the East Asian region. According to the Japanese ideologists, the Japan, China, and India were the biggest countries included in the doctrine. Japan reasoned the inclusion of these countries in the alliance by the fact that they shared common values, history, and culture. Japan had a leading role in the alliance. The special role of Japan was determined by the fact that the nation never experienced colonization, unlike other Asian states, and, thus, was capable of confronting the West.

Japan considered Pan-Asianism to represent an opportunity to established order in East Asia that would be separated from the European matters. The alliance of the Asian countries would represent a new international power. The realities of the international relations at the beginning of the 1930s proved that the capitalist internationalism could not provide peace and order. In Europe, the regional blocks, including Fascist Germany and Socialist Russia, occurred. Thus, Japan began a shift from liberal internationalism to Asian regionalism. Additionally, all the decisions in the domestic and foreign spheres were made in accordance with the Japanese national interests. For example, the officials believed that the invasion of Manchuria was necessary, as it secured Japanese positions in neighboring Korea and Taiwan. However, the invasion had expansionists and radical motives, which coincided with the Pan-Asianism. In particular, Japan had to protect its tights in Manchuria and prevent the spread of the Chinese nationalism, as well as defend the Japanese policies from the West. With the beginning of World War II, Japan declared that the Asian nations had an opportunity to get independence. During the anticolonial process, Japan had a leading role in acceleration the national liberation of the countries. At the same time, Japan did not declare the direct confrontation with the United States till Perl Harbor attacks. The main target of the Japanese imperialism was British, Dutch, and French rule in Southeastern Asia.

Despite the fact the Pan-Asianism foresaw the cooperation between the Asian nations on equal terms, Japan quickly introduced its leadership. The Japanese intentions were doubted when the country occupied Southeast Asia before the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Japan economically exploited the countries of the region to increase its power. Japan denied the colonial nature of its relations with the Asian countries due to the fact that they shared common history and culture. However, the Japanese imperialism did not differ from the Western rule. Not only Japanese exploited the occupied territories, but they also made attempts to assimilate the population of the controlled territories.

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The Development of Pan-Asianism in Japan

The idea of the united Asia first appeared in the middle of the 19th century. After the Opium War of 1839-1842, the Western countries expanded its presence in East Asia. The countries of the region perceived Europe as a threat to their independence and required to develop a response to the expansionist policies of the Western world. As a result, the Asian nations began to develop doctrines based on the common features of the region that would liberate them from the West.

The introduction of the expansionist Pan-Asianism ideology in Japan took place at the beginning of the 1930s. However, the origins of Asianist tendencies in the Japanese politics date back to the period of World War I. At the beginning of the 20th century, the expansionist ideas did not influence the domestic and foreign policy as the liberal pro-Western group dominated in Japan. Despite the fact that the supporters of Pan-Asianism did not have access to power, they continued to agitate for the necessity to adopt expansionist policy. These ideas were aspecially popular among the bureaucratic and military elite. Some of the political organizations, such as Kokuryukai and Genuosha, also followed the principles of Pan-Asianism. Moreover, even Japanese liberals considered that Japan had a special role in Asia. Manchurian Incident and Japanese withdrawal from the League of Nations led to the official introduction of the Pan-Asianism ideology in the foreign policy of the country. Pan-Asianism was also fueled by the US ban on the Japanese immigration in 1924.

The leading role of Japan in the alliance of the Asian countries was determined by the fact that it could resist the West. The Japanese victory in the war with Russia in 1904-1905 ensured Asian nations that it was capable of liberating them from the Western imperialism. However, instead of providing independence of the countries of the region and unifying them, Japan began expanding its colonial empire and introduced expansionist policies within the concept of Pan-Asianism.

According to some of the ideologist of Pan-Asianism, the leading role of Japan in the unification of Asia was determined by the fact that Western countries were no longer able to control the fate of the region. Japan was the only power that could enable the cooperation between Asian countries, as well as establish peace and security in the region. Moreover, Japan wanted to weaken the position of China in Eastern Asia and prevent it from playing a leading role in the alliance of the Asian countries. The superiority of Japan over China was determined by the fact that the political situation in China was not favorable. The country was constantly experiencing changes of dynasties and political turmoil. In this regard, Japan was more stable and could undertake the mission of the liberation of Asia. Besides this, Japan has achieved technological advancements compared to the rest of the countries of the region. Japan was a part of Asia and shared a common culture, history, ethnicity, and geographic peculiarities. At the same time, due to its technological advancements, Japan could bring modernization to the region.

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Some of the ideologists of Pan-Asianism believed that Japan had to become a leader of Asian alliance as it could harmonize the best features of the Asian nations. Taking into account common tradition of the region, Japan could become an alternative to the aggressive Western world. Finally, the leading role of Japan was often justified by the ideology that the country was chosen by gods to liberate Asia, which was popular at the beginning of the 20th century.

Responses to Pan-Asianism

The response of the international community to Japanese Pan-Asianism varied. Even the countries of the regions had different views on the expansionist ambitions of Japan. Despite the fact that Japanese Pan-Asianism paid increased attention to other nationalist movements, including the Indian independence movement, dome of the countries of the region did not support Japanese initiatives.For instance, Indian leaders, such as Gandhi and Nehru did not support Japan. Besides this, Indian nationalists admitted that Pan-Asianism did not improve Indo-Japanese relations. The attempts to return India to Asia were not supported. India considered Britain to be a threat to peace and security, thus, motivated Japan to maintain friendly relations with the United States. Despite the fact that Japan provided support for Indian army at the beginning of the 1940s, India considered Pan-Asianim to be a means of the achieving its independence.

In general, China also opposed Japanese Pan-Asianism and criticized Japanese expansionist policies. At the same time, Chinese government recognized the necessity of the establishment of the union of Asian nations to counter the Western countries. Japan also worsened its relations with Italy due to Japanese support of Ethiopia.

However, some of the states supported the Japanese ideology. In particular, Indonesian nationalists agreed to cooperate with the progressive Japanese society. They also considered Japanese withdrawal from the League of Nation to be a positive movement that could establish a new era in the Asian history. Japanese support of the Ethiopian nationalism resulted in the increased attention of other African countries. It was determined by the fact that the countries wanted to get Japanese assistance in their fight against the colonial rule. While the Koreans did not support the ideas of Japan and its ambitions to establish the leadership in Asia, during the Pacific War Korea supported Japan. The support was determined by the common interests of the countries of the region and necessity to eliminate the Western threat.

Pan-Asianism and The Second World War

Pan-Asianism also represented a driving force that motivated the Japanese forces to get engaged in the Pacific War. Some Pan-Asian ideologists defined the war as a war of races, the Yellow against the White. However, Japan declared the ideas of the liberation of the Asian nations from the Western rule only after the beginning of the war. Thus, its initial aim was to provide Japanese leadership in the region. Pan-Asianism rhetoric was used to justify the engagement in the conflict.

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According to the ideologists of Pan-Asianism, the victory of Asian nations over the Western powers could be achieved only with the Japans victory over the United States fo America. It was Japans moral duty to end the Western colonialism in the region. However, while claiming the process of building united Asia, Japan was looking for the means to replace the Western powers and establish its regional hegemony. The invasion of Southeastern Asia was determined by the necessity to provide access to the natural resources in order to continue the war with China, which began with the takeover of Manchuria. With the threat of the United States to boycott economic relations with Japan, the country had to expand the armed activities. The expansion of the war to the rest of the region took place under the ideology of Pan-Asianism. In particular, Japan claimed the liberation of Asia. However, the ideology represented a justification of the Japanese invasion. The country pursued self-interests and desire to support the war necessities with the resources fo the region.


Thus, Pan-Asianism has become a doctrine that allowed Japan to begin the expansionist war in 1931. It also justified the attempts of the country to establish its influence over Asia, and on its behalf oppose the Western imperialism. Rather than developing Pan-Asianism based on the respect and tolerance of Asian nations, the Japanese ideology focused on the war against the West. Discrimination against the yellow race in the United States and Britain legitimize Japanese Pan-Asianism in the view of many Asian nations. As a result, Japan justified its colonial expansions and invasions of the Asian countries. Japan succeeded in fighting against the Western empires. It managed to spread anti-Western positions in Asia. At the same time, Pan-Asianism did not liberate the nations of the region. On the contrary, the Western imperial rule was changed by Japanese one. However, Pan-Asianism had positive aspects as well. Particularly, it facilitated the process of the decolonization and freed the Asian nations from the Western influence.

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