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Japanese expansion in the Asia-Pacific after KANTOKUEN was cancelled Second world war asia 1937-1942 map en6.png
Japanese expansion in the Asia-Pacific after KANTOKUEN was cancelled

Nanshin-ron(南進論, "Southern Expansion Doctrine") was a political doctrine in the Empire of Japan which stated that Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands were Japan's sphere of interest and that the potential value to the Japanese Empire for economic and territorial expansion in those areas was greater than elsewhere.

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.

Southeast Asia Subregion of Asia

Southeast Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China and Japan, east of India, west of Papua New Guinea, and north of Australia. Southeast Asia is bordered to the north by East Asia, to the west by South Asia and the Bay of Bengal, to the east by Oceania and the Pacific Ocean, and to the south by Australia and the Indian Ocean. The region is the only part of Asia that lies partly within the Southern Hemisphere, although the majority of it is in the Northern Hemisphere. In contemporary definition, Southeast Asia consists of two geographic regions:

  1. Mainland Southeast Asia, also known historically as Indochina, comprising parts of Northeast India, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and West Malaysia.
  2. Maritime Southeast Asia, also known historically as Nusantara, the East Indies and Malay Archipelago, comprises the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India, Indonesia, East Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, Christmas Island, and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Taiwan is also included in this grouping by many anthropologists.


The opposing political doctrine was Hokushin-ron (北進論, "Northern Expansion Doctrine") largely supported by the Imperial Japanese Army, which stated the same except with regards to Manchuria and Siberia. After the military setbacks at Nomonhan on Mongolian front, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and negative Western attitudes towards Japanese expansionist tendencies, the Southern Expansion Doctrine became predominant. Its focus was to procure colonial resources in South East Asia and neutralize the threat posed by Western military forces in the Pacific. The Army favored a "counterclockwise strike" while the Navy favored a "clockwise strike". [1]


Hokushin-ron was a pre-World War II political doctrine of the Empire of Japan which stated that Manchuria and Siberia were Japan's sphere of interest and that the potential value to Japan for economic and territorial expansion in those areas was greater than elsewhere. Its supporters were sometimes called the Strike North Group. It enjoyed wide support within the Imperial Japanese Army during the interwar period, but was abandoned in 1939 after military defeat on the Mongolian front at the Battles of Khalkhin Gol and the signing of Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact. It was superseded by the diametrically-opposite rival policy, Nanshin-ron, which regarded Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands as Japan's political and economic sphere of influence and aimed to acquire the resources of European colonies while neutralising the threat of Western military forces in the Pacific.

Imperial Japanese Army Official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan, from 1868 to 1945

The Imperial Japanese Army was the official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office and the Ministry of the Army, both of which were nominally subordinate to the Emperor of Japan as supreme commander of the army and the navy. Later an Inspectorate General of Aviation became the third agency with oversight of the army. During wartime or national emergencies, the nominal command functions of the emperor would be centralized in an Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ), an ad-hoc body consisting of the chief and vice chief of the Army General Staff, the Minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Naval General Staff, the Inspector General of Aviation, and the Inspector General of Military Training.

Manchuria geographic region in Northeast Asia

Manchuria is a name first used in the 17th century by Japanese people to refer to a large geographic region in Northeast Asia. Depending on the context, Manchuria can either refer to a region that falls entirely within the People's Republic of China or a larger region divided between China and Russia. "Manchuria" is widely used outside China to denote the geographical and historical region. This region is the traditional homeland of several ancient groups, including the Buyeo, Xianbei, Shiwei, Khitan, and Jurchen peoples, who built several states within the area historically. Several modern ethnic groups such as Mongols, Koreans, and Han Chinese also regard as Manchurian Indigenous peoples.

Meiji-period genesis

In Japanese historiography the term nanshin-ron is used to describe Japanese writings on the importance to Japan of the South Seas region in the Pacific Ocean. [2] Japanese interest in Southeast Asia can be observed in writings of the Edo period (17th–19th centuries). [3]

Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians have studied that topic using particular sources, techniques, and theoretical approaches. Scholars discuss historiography by topic—such as the historiography of the United Kingdom, that of WWII, the British Empire, early Islam, and China—and different approaches and genres, such as political history and social history. Beginning in the nineteenth century, with the development of academic history, there developed a body of historiographic literature. The extent to which historians are influenced by their own groups and loyalties—such as to their nation state—remains a debated question.

The term South Seas or South Sea commonly refers to the South Pacific. Geographically, all areas to the south of Panama's degree of latitude belong to the South Sea.

Edo period period of Japanese history

The Edo period or Tokugawa period (徳川時代) is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japanese society was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country's 300 regional daimyō. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, "no more wars", and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. The shogunate was officially established in Edo on March 24, 1603, by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration on May 3, 1868, after the fall of Edo.

During the final years of the Edo period the leaders of the Meiji Restoration determined that Japan needed to pursue a course of imperialism in emulation of the European nations to attain equality in status with the West as the European powers were laying claim to territories ever closer to Japan.

Imperialism Policy or ideology of extending a nations rule over foreign nations

Imperialism is a policy or ideology of extending a nation's rule over foreign nations, often by military force or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. Imperialism was both normal and common worldwide throughout recorded history, the earliest examples dating from the mid-third millennium BC, diminishing only in the late 20th century. In recent times, it has been considered morally reprehensible and prohibited by international law. Therefore, the term is used in international propaganda to denounce an opponent's foreign policy.

After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the nanshin-ron policy came to be advanced with the southern regions as a focus for trade and emigration. [3] In the early Meiji period Japan derived economic benefits from Japanese emigrants to Southeast Asia, the vast majority of whom were prostitutes ( Karayuki-san ) [4] who worked in brothels in British Malaya, [5] Singapore, [6] the Philippines, [7] the Dutch East Indies [8] and French Indochina. [9] Nanshin-ron was advocated as a national policy by a group of Japanese ideologues during the 1880s and 1890s. [10] Writings of the time often presented areas of Micronesia and Southeast Asia as uninhabited or uncivilised and suitable for Japanese colonisation and cultivation. [11] In its initial stages Nanshin-ron focused primarily on Southeast Asia, and until the late 1920s it concentrated on gradual and peaceful Japanese advances into this region to address what the Japanese saw as the twin problems of underdevelopment and Western colonialism. [12] During the first decade of the 20th century, private Japanese companies became active in trade in Southeast Asia. Communities of emigrant Japanese merchants arose in many areas, selling sundry goods to local customers, and Japanese imports of rubber and hemp increased. [4] Large-scale Japanese investment occurred especially in rubber, copra and hemp plantations in Malaya and in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The Japanese Foreign Ministry established consulates in Manila (1888), Singapore (1889), and Batavia (1909).

Meiji Restoration restoration of imperial rule in Japan

The Meiji Restoration, also known as the Meiji Renovation, Revolution, Reform, or Renewal, was an event that restored practical imperial rule to the Empire of Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji. Although there were ruling emperors before the Meiji Restoration, the events restored practical abilities and consolidated the political system under the emperor of Japan.

Karayuki-san Trafficked women in the 19th and 20th centuries

Karayuki-san was the name given to Japanese girls and women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who were trafficked from poverty-stricken agricultural prefectures in Japan to destinations in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Siberia, Manchuria, and British India to serve as prostitutes.

British Malaya Former set of states on Malay Peninsula

The term "British Malaya" loosely describes a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore that were brought under British hegemony or control between the 18th and the 20th centuries. Unlike the term "British India", which excludes the Indian princely states, British Malaya is often used to refer to the Federated and Unfederated Malay States, which were British protectorates with their own local rulers, as well as the Straits Settlements, which were under the sovereignty and direct rule of the British Crown, after a period of control by the East India Company.

With increasing Japanese industrialization came the realization that Japan was dependent on the supply of many raw materials from overseas locations outside its direct control, and was hence vulnerable to disruption of that supply. The need to promote trade, develop and protect sea routes, and to officially encourage emigration to ease overpopulation arose simultaneously with the strengthening of the Imperial Japanese Navy, which gave Japan the military strength to protect these overseas interests should diplomacy fail.

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

Pacific islands

The Japanese government began pursuing a policy of overseas migration in the late nineteenth century as a result of Japan's limited resources and increasing population. In 1875 Japan declared its control over the Bonin Islands. [10] The formal annexation and incorporation of the Bonin Islands and Taiwan into the Japanese Empire can be viewed as first steps in implementation of the "Southern Expansion Doctrine" in concrete terms.

However, World War I had a profound impact on the "Southern Expansion Doctrine". Japan was able to occupy the vast areas in the Pacific formerly controlled by the German Empire: i.e. the Caroline Islands, Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands and Palau. In 1919, these island groups officially became a League of Nations mandate of Japan and came under the administration of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The focus of the "Southern Expansion Doctrine" expanded to include these island groups (the South Pacific Mandate), the economic and military development of which came to be viewed as essential to Japan's security.

Theoretical development

Meiji-period nationalistic researchers and writers pointed to Japan's relations with the Pacific region from the 17th-century red seal ship trading voyages, and Japanese immigration and settlement in Nihonmachi during the period before the Tokugawa shogunate's national seclusion policies. Some researchers attempted to find archeological or anthropological evidence of a racial link between the Japanese of southern Kyūshū (i.e. the Kumaso) and the peoples of the Pacific islands.

Nanshin-ron appeared in Japanese political discourse around the mid 1880s. [13] In the late 19th century the policy focused on adjacent China [14] with an emphasis on securing control of Korea and expanding Japanese interests in Fujian. Russian involvement in Manchuria at the turn of the century led to the policy being eclipsed by hokushin-ron (the "Northern Expansion Doctrine"). The resulting Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 produced territorial gains for Japan in South Manchuria. [15] Following the war the expansionist aspects of nanshin-ron became more developed, and it was incoroporated into national defence strategy in 1907. [16]

In the 1920s and 1930s, the "Southern Expansion Doctrine" gradually came to be formalized, largely through the efforts of the Imperial Japanese Navy's "South Strike Group", a strategic think tank based in the Taihoku Imperial University in Taiwan. Many professors at the university were either active or ex-Navy officers, with direct experience in the territories in question. The university published numerous reports promoting the advantages of investment and settlement in the territories under Navy control.

The Anti-London Treaty Faction (han-johaku ha) of the Treaty Faction within the Japanese Navy set up a "Study Committee for Policies towards the South Seas" (Tai Nan'yō Hōsaku Kenkyū-kai) to explore military and economic expansion strategies, and cooperated with the Ministry of Colonial Affairs (Takumu-sho) to emphasize the military role of Taiwan and Micronesia as advanced bases for further southern expansion.

Economic development

During 1920 the Foreign Ministry convened the Nan-yo Boeki Kaigi (South Seas Trade Conference), to promote South Seas commerce and published in 1928 Boeki, Kigyo oyobi imin yori mitaru Nan'yo (The South Seas in view of Trade and emigration). The term Nan-yo kokusaku (National Policy towards the South Seas) first appeared.

The Japanese government sponsored several companies, including the Nan'yō Takushoku Kabushiki Kaisha (South Seas Colonization Company), the Nan'yō Kōhatsu Kabushiki Kaisha (South Seas Development Company), the Nan'yō Kyōkai (South Seas Society), and others with a mixture of private and government funds for development of phosphate mining, sugar cane and coconut industries in islands and to sponsor emigrants. (Japanese Societies) were established in Rabaul, New Caledonia, Fiji and New Hebrides in 1932 and in Tonga in 1935.

The success of the Navy in the economic development of Taiwan and the South Pacific Mandate through alliances among military officers, bureaucrats, capitalists, and right-wing and left-wing intellectuals contrasted sharply with Army failures in the Chinese mainland.

Increasing militarization

The Washington Naval Treaty had restricted the size of the Japanese Navy, and had also stipulated that new military bases and fortifications could not be established in overseas territories or colonies. However, by the 1920s, Japan had already begun the secret construction of fortifications in Palau, Tinian and Saipan.

In order to evade monitoring by the Western powers, they were camouflaged as places to dry fishing nets or coconut, rice or sugar-cane farms and Nan'yō Kohatsu Kaisha (South Seas Development Company) in cooperation with the Navy assumed responsibility for construction.

This construction increased after the even more restrictive London Naval Treaty of 1930, and the growing importance of military aviation led Japan to view Micronesia to be of strategic importance as a chain of "unsinkable aircraft carriers", protecting Japan, and as a base of operations for operations in south-west Pacific.

The Navy also began examining the strategic importance of Papua and New Guinea to Australia, aware that Australian annexation of those territories was motivated in large part in the attempted to secure an important defense line.

Adoption as national policy

In 1931 the "Five Ministers Meeting" defined the Japanese objective of extending its influence in the Pacific, but excluded areas such as the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and Java which might provoke other countries. [4] Nanshin-ron became official policy after 1935. [16] It was officially adopted as national policy with the promulgation of the Toa shin Chitsujo (New Order in East Asia) from 1936 at the "Five Ministers Conference" (attended by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Finance Minister, Army Minister and Navy Minister), with the resolution to advance south peacefully.

By World War II, the policy had evolved in scope to include Southeast Asia. [16] The Doctrine also formed part of the doctrinal basis of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere proclaimed by Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro from July 1940. Resource-rich areas of Southeast Asia were earmarked to provide raw materials for Japan's industry, and the Pacific Ocean was to become a "Japanese lake". In September 1940, Japan occupied northern French Indochina, and in November, the Pacific Islands Bureau (Nan'yō Kyoku) was established by the Foreign Ministry. While the events of the Pacific War from December 1941 overshadowed further development of the "Southern Expansion Doctrine", the Greater East Asia Ministry was created in November 1942, and a Greater East Asia Conference was held in Tokyo in 1943. During the war, the bulk of Japan's diplomatic efforts remained directed at Southeast Asia. The "Southern Expansion Doctrine" was brought to an end by the Japanese surrender in World War II.

See also

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