JPRI Working Paper No. 78, June 2001
A Just Peace? The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty in Historical Perspective
by John Price

On September 4, 1951, delegates from over fifty countries gathered at the San Francisco Opera House to discuss the making of a peace treaty with Japan. Signed by forty-eight countries four days later, on September 8, the San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT), as it is better known, contained seven chapters and a preamble. It marked the end of hostilities between the signatories, provided for the termination of the occupation, and specified the details of the settlement of war-related issues.

Chapter I formally ended the state of war and recognized Japan's sovereignty. Japan relinquished control of or claim to Korea, Formosa, the Pescadores, Sakhalin, the Kuriles, the islands it held in the Pacific, Antarctica, and the Spratly and Paracel islands and, furthermore, gave the U.S. control of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) and other territories (Chapter II). Under Chapter III, the security clause, Japan recognized the U.N. Charter but specified that Japan might enter into "collective security arrangements." Chapter IV, on political and economic issues, specified that Japan would relinquish all special rights and privileges in China, accept the decisions of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE); it also provided for the revival of commercial treaties, including granting the Allied powers MFN (most-favored-nation) status. Chapter V regulated property claims, including reparations and compensation, while Chapter VI referred unresolved disputes to the International Court of Justice. The final articles, Chapter VII, defined the ratification process and included an article (26) that gave any of the signatories most-favored-nation status if Japan were to negotiate a settlement with any other country that provided benefits not in the SFPT. On April 28, 1952, a little over seven months after the signing of the treaty, Japan formally regained its sovereignty.

Most historians today would not contest then prime minister Shigeru Yoshida's conclusion that the peace treaty was fair and generous to Japan. It did not exact heavy reparations nor did it impose any post-treaty supervision over Japan. Indeed, half a century later, the U.S. And Japanese governments continue aggressively to defend the treaty. Its supporters, including the U.S. and Japanese governments, plan a major commemoration in San Francisco on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing.

However, a balanced examination of the treaty process and outcomes reveals the more challenging fact that there was at the time, and continues to be today intense resistance to the SFPT. These dynamics, including the influence of the treaty fifty years after it was signed and the dilemmas associated with its history, are neatly encapsulated in a recent decision of the U.S. judiciary. In 1999, using a section of California state law that extends the statute of limitations for claims against the Nazis and their allies, a group of prisoners of war and forced laborers from World War II in Asia charged that Japanese corporations with subsidiaries in the United States were the legal successors of corporations that had used forced labor during the war and that they were thus liable for redress of the injustices. However, on September 21, 2000, United States District Judge Vaughn R. Walker dismissed the claims of these former U.S. prisoners of war, arguing that the SFPT barred claims such as those asserted by the plaintiffs. The decision states that the SFPT "exchanged full compensation of plaintiffs for a future peace. History has vindicated the wisdom of that bargain. And while full compensation for plaintiff's hardships, in the purely economic sense, has been denied these former prisoners and countless other survivors of the war, the immeasurable bounty of life for themselves and their posterity in a free society and in a more peaceful world services the debt" (United States District Court, Northern District of California, Case No. MDL 1347, "World War II Era Japanese Forced Labor Litigation," p. 17).

The judge's conclusions were based not only on a strictly legal interpretation of the SFPT, but also on a judicial review of select historical materials associated with the crafting of the treaty, as well as on submissions by the Department of State which, as amicus curiae in the case, argued on the side of the Japanese corporations that the SFPT permanently barred claims against them. After sifting through the historical evidence, Judge Vaughn fortified his ruling with a number of points. During the occupation of Japan, "It soon became clear that Japan's financial condition would render any aggressive reparations plan an exercise in futility. Meanwhile, the importance of a stable, democratic Japan as a bulwark to communism in the region increased." Thus, the judge noted, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as well as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, argued that full reparations would harm Japan's economy and create a breeding ground for communism. The judge also cited the State Department's amicus curiae brief, which held that "the Treaty of Peace with Japan has, over the past five decades, served to sustain U.S. security interests in Asia and to support peace and stability in the region." Since at least ten million people have died in wars in Asia in the past fifty years, including at least 55,000 Americans, the judicial/governmental proposition that Asia has been an oasis of peace and stability since the signing of the SFPT can only be ranked as one of the more abysmal moments of denial.

Upon learning of the verdict, a spokesman for Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the judge's decision, stating that both Japan and the U.S. shared the view that all claims regarding the war were settled by the treaty. The Japanese government reaffirmed its support for the SFPT, which, it stated, was the basis for development of Japan-U.S. relations, calling it "the most important bilateral relationship in the world." The judicial decision, reflecting the positions of the U.S. and Japanese governments, underscores how institutions can generate historical amnesia, in this case by arguing that Japan was unable to support substantial reparations for economic reasons and that other goals had to be sacrificed in the name of fighting communism.

Many historians, on both sides of the Pacific, have provided a more balanced and critical assessment. For the most part there is agreement that the treaty was relatively generous to Japan, but most accounts also accept that much more was involved than just the peace treaty. Writing a quarter century ago, Harvard professor Akira Iriye summarized the nature of the treaty and labeled it the "San Francisco System," which included "The rearmament of Japan, continued presence of American forces in Japan, their military alliance, and the retention by the United States of Okinawa and the Bonin Islands. In return the United States would remove all restrictions on Japan's economic affairs, and renounce the right to demand reparations and war indemnities. Here was a program for turning Japan from a conquered and occupied country to a military ally, frankly aimed at responding to the rising power of the Soviet Union and China in the Asia-Pacific region" (The Cold War in Asia: A Historical Introduction [Prentice-Hall, 1974], p. 182). Twenty-three years later, the diplomatic historian Michael Schaller echoed Iriye. "As its defenders later admitted, the peace treaty served as a sweetener for the less equitable security treaty. The security treaty, in turn, screened criticism of the still more controversial administrative agreement that Yoshida [prime minister at the time] planned to ratify by executive agreement" (Altered States: The United States and Japan Since the Occupation [Oxford University Press, 1997], p. 41).

The SFPT was not only a peace treaty; it established an important bilateral military relationship between Japan and the U.S. Furthermore, as part of the peace treaty process, the U.S. coerced Japan into signing a bilateral treaty with Taiwan in 1952, effectively cutting off Japan from continental China. Moreover, at the same time the U.S. "reached defense pacts with the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. These agreements (supplemented by the SEATO treaty and pacts with Taiwan and Korea) formed the core of the American military presence in the Asia-Pacific region for a quarter century" (Schaller, p. 40). In the process of negotiating the peace treaty and the SFPT itself, the U.S. established the military and economic basis for its Asian empire.

Discussions regarding a peace treaty with Japan began as early as 1946. Just as the U.S. government began to consider the possible terms of a treaty, so too did Japanese policymakers. However, U.S. officials quickly rejected the results of these deliberations as the winds of containment gathered force in 1947-48. U.S. analysts such as George Kennan articulated the necessity of containing the Soviet Union and communism. Resuscitating Germany and Japan as the workshops of their respective regions was the initial thrust of U.S. containment policy, but the U.S. military and other conservative forces quickly transformed the theory of economic containment into a strategic military policy that became increasingly attractive to the Truman administration, particularly after 1949, when the Communist Party in China seized power and the Soviet Union successfully tested its own nuclear weapons. Attempts to restart negotiations for a peace treaty stalled in 1949 as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense department demanded continued unconditional access to bases in Japan, a right that might be compromised in treaty discussions.

The Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950, created new dynamics as the State Department aligned itself with Defense in the quest for maximum access and flexibility for military operations from Japan. Truman appointed John Foster Dulles, a Republican with the bipartisan connections necessary for domestic acceptance of a treaty, to negotiate one. Dulles visited Japan four times, traveled to the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand, and also visited London and France in his quest for an acceptable treaty. By August 1951, he had come to an agreement with Britain on a jointly proposed treaty, and the U.S., as the host country, issued invitations to over fifty countries to convene in San Francisco to "conclude" the treaty. As the conference approached, however, Asian resistance to the treaty began to make itself felt.

China and the SFPT

On August 16, 1951, the People's Republic of China (PRC) published a statement by Zhou Enlai, Minister of Foreign Affairs, regarding the proposed treaty and conference. The treaty, he stated, violated the United Nations Declaration of January 1, 1942, the Cairo Declaration, the Yalta Agreements, the Potsdam Declaration and Agreement, and the Basic Post-Surrender Policy of the Far Eastern Commission. According to Zhou, "The United Nations Declaration provides that no separate Peace should be made. The Potsdam Agreement states that the Ôpreparatory work of the Peace Settlements' should be undertaken by those States which were signatories to the terms of surrender imposed upon the Enemy State concerned" (Documents on New Zealand External Relations [DNZER], Vol. III, 1985, p. 1092). The PRC, he said, supported the Soviet proposal that all states that participated with their armed forces against Japan should prepare the treaty. Instead, the U.S. had monopolized the task and was now proposing to exclude China when in "the war of resisting and defeating Japanese imperialism, the Chinese people, after a bitter struggle of the longest duration, sustained the heaviest losses and made the greatest contribution" (DNZER, p. 1095).

On the specifics of the proposed treaty, the PRC (1) took particular exception to the clause on reparations for Allied property because it rendered Japan liable for damages only after December 7, 1941, ignoring that China was at war with Japan much earlier; (2) refuted the territorial clauses that gave the U.S. control over Pacific islands and neglected to assign sovereignty for Taiwan and the Pescadores as well as the Kuriles to China and the Soviet Union respectively; (3) underscored the absence of safeguards to limit Japan's armed forces, to prevent the resurgence of militaristic organizations, and to ensure democratic rights; and (4) rejected U.S. predominance over Japan's economy and the exclusion of normal trade relations with the PRC. China, Zhou declared, reserved its right to demand reparations from Japan and would refuse to recognize the treaty.

Three specific points of Zhou's critique deserve close scrutiny. Did the SFPT violate World War II agreements? Did the U.S. monopolize and effectively abuse the treaty process? And did the SFPT not assign sovereignty over Taiwan and other territories? Regarding the SFPT's relationship to World War II agreements, there is substantial evidence to support the PRC claim that the treaty violated them. For example, the Allied Declaration signed in Washington on January 1, 1942, was quite clear: "Each Government pledges itself to cooperate with the Governments signatory hereto and not to make a separate armistice or peace with the enemies." The United States, the Soviet Union and China, although then ruled by the Guomindang (the Nationalist Party that later went into exile on Taiwan), signed this declaration and, furthermore, the United States continued to use the Allied Declaration as its own rationale for inviting, or not, specific countries to the peace conference. The U.S. exclusion of China clearly violated not only the spirit but also the letter of that agreement. There is also further evidence that the U.S. and Britain considered the World War II treaties no longer valid. Regarding the Potsdam agreement, as early as September 1949, Secretary of State Acheson and Foreign Minister Bevin had agreed that "for practical purposes the Potsdam provisions were no longer valid having outlived their usefulness, and that a peace settlement should be concluded at the earliest possible date" (DNZER, p. 291). The U.S. and Britain thus turned their backs on these agreements without consulting the other parties, giving substance to the PRC claim that the SFPT violated World War II agreements.

As to whether the U.S. monopolized and abused the treaty preparations the evidence is also unequivocal. Most historical accounts point to Soviet objections to a 1947 U.S. proposal to initiate peace treaty negotiations within the eleven-member Far Eastern Commission established to supervise the U.S. occupation of Japan as the major stumbling block to an early peace. This account, however, can be misleading, as any review of the materials will show. The Soviets objected to the U.S. proposal that the treaty be drawn up by FEC members with a two-thirds majority necessary to resolve disputes. The Soviet counter-proposal was that the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) should handle the treaty. The Unites States recognized that "the CFM was constituted on a basis which would have permitted its use for the preparation of a Treaty of Peace with Japan, provided the members of the Council subsequently agreed," but the U.S. did not and instead counter-proposed that the FEC was the most appropriate body (DNZER, p. 206).

On November 17, 1947, the Chinese government (still the Guomindang) endorsed the U.S. proposal that a special session of the FEC be convened on a date to be decided by the four Big Powers, but it also suggested that those same powers be accorded a veto in the deliberations. In other words, the Chinese government had come partway in meeting the concerns of the Soviet Union that it retain a veto and that the Big Powers retain some role in the process (DNZER, p. 219). This attempt at compromise reflected the fact that China had signed a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union (the Sino-Soviet Agreement of August 14, 1945) that expressly prohibited the signing of a peace treaty with Japan that excluded either of the signatories. The Soviet Union, unwisely as it turns out, rejected this proposal but so too did the U.S. and, more particularly, the Commonwealth countries (New Zealand, Australia, Canada), which took umbrage at their relegation to middle power status.

But that is not the end of the story. According to New Zealand deputy secretary of external affairs Foss Shanahan, by the fall of 1949 the U.S. State Department had decided that even the FEC was no longer the appropriate body for drawing up a peace treaty. The U.S., he stated, was unwilling to "promote a peace conference in which the United States would have no veto and the British Commonwealth would have the dominant vote, unless the outlines of a settlement had been agreed in advance" (DNZER, p. 292). Indeed, writing to MacArthur in March 1951, Dulles told the General he had been disturbed to read a Reuters news report stating the peace treaty would be considered by the Far Eastern Commission. "Nothing, of course, is farther from my thoughts" (Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS], 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 902).

As a result, the U.S. appropriated for itself the preparation of the peace treaty and then cajoled and coerced the others into accepting its proposals with, on a number of minor points, only limited amendments. The denouement came at the peace conference itself, where the U.S. proposed rules of procedure that allowed only for statements by governments and no amendments to the U.S.-British draft treaty. As Dean Acheson himself reflected later, "These were severe rules." Despite objections from Canada and Australia, "we were determined to obtain a result and . . . the only rules the Russians would approve would be of a type that might prevent our doing so" (Acheson, Present at the Creation, [Norton, 1969], p. 543).

Another key question, however, is why the United States wanted to exclude China. On the surface of course the answer is self-evident-- the Communist Party was now in power and U.S. and Chinese troops were fighting each other in Korea. But Britain also had troops in Korea and yet was prepared to invite the PRC to the conference. According to the U.S. administration at the time, it was actually the Soviet Union that was behind the North Korean attack on the south; yet the U.S. permitted the Soviet Union actively to participate in the conference. What was really behind the exclusion of the PRC was that the U.S. military and Republican Party lobby in the United States had embraced the Guomindang as their cause and accused the Truman administration of having abandoned the struggle against communism, thus losing China as a U.S. ally.

Appointed to bring bipartisan support to the peace treaty effort, Dulles was acutely aware of, and supported the pro-Guomindang lobby in the U.S., although he at times distanced himself from some of its more shrill partisans. At the conference itself, Dulles would disingenuously assert that China's absence from the conference was a matter of deep regret. "China suffered the longest and the deepest from Japanese aggression," he stated, but civil war in China and the "attitudes of the Allied governments" prevented China's participation (U.S. Department of State, Conference for the Conclusion and Signature of the Treaty of Peace with Japan, Record of Proceedings, 1951, p. 85). Yet it was Dulles himself who strong-armed the British into dropping their insistence that the PRC be invited (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 1110). It was not the "Allies" but the U.S. that refused to recognize the PRC (until Nixon and Kissinger opened relations in 1972) and that insisted on signing a separate peace.

Finally, on the issue of territorial sovereignty, Zhou accurately described the U.S. intention of having Japan relinquish sovereignty over Taiwan but not incorporating any new sovereign into the treaty. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. had sent the Seventh Fleet into the strait between Taiwan and the mainland in order to threaten the PRC. Dulles was in touch with Wellington Koo, the Guomindang's ambassador in Washington, who told him in no uncertain terms that China anticipated reparations from Japan in any peace treaty and, to the astonishment of Dulles, insisted that Formosa should be ceded back to China in the treaty and not be dealt with by the United Nations (FRUS, 1950, Vol. VI, p. 1325). Dulles stated that the U.S. could not agree to this and that the only basis upon which the U.S. had dispatched the Seventh Fleet to Taiwan at the beginning of the Korean War was because it believed the status of Formosa was an international problem to be resolved by the U.N. "Were we to accept the [Nationalist] Chinese point of view our use of the Seventh Fleet would constitute an interference in China's internal problems" (Ibid.). Koo stated that the Chinese government could not change its position but assured Dulles that it would not attempt to embarrass the United States.

Thus both the Guomindang and the PRC insisted that for the purposes of the treaty with Japan, Taiwan should be defined as part and parcel of the rest of China, a position both still maintain to this day. In agreeing not to embarrass the U.S., the Guomindang of course demonstrated its dependency on the U.S. and its willingness to subordinate national interests to its quest to remain in power. The SFPT left in its wake not only a divided China, but also numerous other territorial disputes that the U.S. military is only too pleased to use in justifying its continuing presence in the region.

India Rejects the U.S. Invitation

On August 23, 1951, a week after receiving the PRC objections, Dulles was informed by the Indian government that it would refuse to participate in the peace treaty. The telegram was very explicit regarding the reasons for its rejection of the treaty. (1) It considered that the provisions giving the U.S. control of Okinawa and the adjacent Bonin Islands (also known as the Ogasawaras) were not justifiable. (2) The military provisions of the treaty (and the security treaty to be signed with it) should only be concluded after Japan became fully independent. (3) Formosa (Taiwan) should be returned to China at once. And (4) India objected to the fact that the peace treaty deliberations to be held in San Francisco would not allow for negotiation of the treaty. Dulles, Acheson, and Truman were stunned by the news, since they had anticipated India's participation. The Indian reply provoked Truman to scribble in the margins of the Indian note: "Evidently the ÔGovt' of India has consulted Uncle Joe and Mousie Dung of China!" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, pp. 1288-1291).

Numerous commentators have noted India's objections but few have explored the substance of its critique, particularly as it relates to the U.S. takeover of Okinawa. Okinawa was the site of the last major land battle against Japan's imperial forces. On April 1, 1945, U.S. forces landed on Higashi Beach and in northern Okinawa, beginning one of the most horrendous chapters in land warfare in which thousands of U.S. and Japanese troops perished. Okinawan civilians suffered the cruelest fate, with over 100,000 being killed. In the aftermath, U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz proposed that the Army take administrative control of Okinawa and the adjacent islands, and this proposal was accepted by Eisenhower in March 1946. The State Department was not convinced of this arrangement, but in March 1948, MacArthur managed to persuade George Kennan. As a result the National Security Council passed resolution NSC 13/3 in May 1949 effectively separating Okinawa and the Ogasawaras from Japan. As the Cold War escalated, the United States government and military turned Okinawa into a major military center, with major construction beginning in October 1949 with a $58 million appropriation. In subsequent discussions, the military made it very clear that it wanted absolute control over Okinawa and thus in the SFPT the U.S. left Japan with only an illusory "residual sovereignty" over Okinawa.

The U.S. took advantage of the Potsdam declaration, which stated that after the war Japanese sovereignty would be limited to the four main and "such minor islands as we determine." Okinawa was clearly not a minor island like the Ogasawaras, but an old and established center of commerce and trade in the region. However, the U.S. and other Allied powers quickly decided that Japan's sovereignty over Okinawa, declared in the 1870's, was actually the first instance of Japanese imperialist expansion. The Okinawan people had no say in their fate because the U.S. military saw Okinawa as a strategic location from which bombers could reach far into China, Korea, and the Soviet Union. India, only recently free from the bonds of colonial control, quickly and accurately perceived the nature of the U.S. action as a colonial throwback and, more important, publicly acted on its conviction by refusing to attend the San Francisco conference.

The Exclusion of Korea: North and South

In 1951, the United States was at war in Korea and there was never any question of inviting the North Korean regime to the peace conference. However, the United States did want to invite the South Korean regime led by Syngman Rhee in order to bolster its legitimacy and had so indicated to the South Korean government. However, in a last minute reversal, the United States government decided to disinvite the South Koreans. On July 9, Dulles met with the South Korean ambassador to the United States, Yang Yu Chan, to inform him that the South Korean government would not be permitted to be a signatory to the peace treaty since "only those nations in a state of war with Japan and which were signatories of the United Nations Declaration of 1942 would sign the treaty" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI Part 1, pp. 1182-83). Yang was astounded by this news and protested that a division of Korean troops had fought against Japan in China and that the Korean Provisional Government (KPG) had issued a declaration of war. To this, Robert Fearey (State Department Far Eastern Division), replied that the U.S. government had never recognized the KPG, a fact that had not bothered the State Department before. Why had the U.S. reversed its position?

According to Sung-Hwa Cheong, the U.S. changed its view on South Korean participation because the British government had convinced the State Department that its participation would provide a pretext for the Soviet Union to object to the treaty (Cheong, The Politics of Anti-Japanese Sentiment in Korea: Japanese-South Korean Relations Under American Occupation, 1945-1952 [Greenwood Press, 1991], pp. 92-93). This analysis is only partly convincing for several reasons. The idea that only signatories to the 1942 U.N. Declaration would sign the treaty was transparently false. This became vividly clear when the U.S. government decided to permit the newly created French neocolonial regimes, the Associated States of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to participate in the conference, despite the fact they were never signatories to the Allied Declaration of 1942 and that many countries had refused to recognize these regimes (DNZER, Vol. III, p. 1110). In fact, Bao Dai, the Emperor and formal head-of-state of Vietnam, had a record of collaboration with the Japanese imperial forces when they occupied Indochina in 1940-41. In light of the trouble the U.S. went to in order to include the French colonial regimes, to which the Soviet Union might equally well object, why was the U.S. suddenly unwilling to go to bat for the South Korean regime? Two other factors might be considered. First, Dulles mistrusted Korean nationalism and worried that South Korean delegates might upset his carefully planned conference by attacking Japanese imperialism. Second, Dulles was determined to exclude Korean nationals in Japan in order not to grant them Allied national status, an issue on which the Yoshida government had insisted.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) did not take the U.S. decision to exclude it lying down, and on July 18, 1951, Yang issued a press statement warning that the Japanese government could not be trusted. In a follow-up meeting with Yang on July 19, Dulles chastised Yang for his remarks to the press. Dulles was well aware that Yang's press statement was no aberration and that ROK president Syngman Rhee could be unpredictable regarding his views on Japan. For example, on January 12, 1951, upon hearing that the U.S. was rearming Japan and hoped to send Japanese troops to fight in Korea, Rhee had said to the press, "On this occasion I declare to the world that we will fight the Japanese before we expel the Chinese" (Cheong, p. 82). As Cheong points out, much of this was populist hyperbole and Rhee in fact was already trying to establish a regional defense pact that would include Japan. Nonetheless, that Rhee resorted to such statements was a reflection of the deep antipathy that many Koreans held towards Japanese imperialism, an antipathy that Rhee might well play to during a peace conference, upsetting the U.S. plans. But there was another related reason for Dulles's reversal.

In replying to Dulles during the July 19 meeting, Yang defended the ROK's right to attend the peace conference by explaining that the Japanese government, still smarting over its loss of Korea, was discriminating against the 800,000 Koreans still residing in Japan (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 1204). To this "Dulles suggested that many of these Koreans were undesirables, being in many cases from North Korea and constituting a center for communist agitation in Japan. He believed, therefore, that probably a legitimate Japanese fear of certain of these Koreans was involved in any action taken against them by the Japanese authorities" (Ibid.).

That Dulles should take such a position against the Korean minorities in Japan is not surprising given his previous discussions with Yoshida on this issue. On April 23, 1951, Dulles told Yoshida that he had heard that the Japanese government objected to Korea being a signatory to the treaty. Yoshida responded that "the Government would like to send almost all Koreans in Japan Ôto their homes' because it had long been concerned by their illegal activities" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 1007). Dulles stated that he could see the wisdom of "Korean nationals in Japan, mostly Communists, . . . not obtain[ing] the property benefits of the treaty."

As a result of this collusion, hundreds of thousands of peoples of Korean descent were excluded from the benefits that other Allied civilians received under the SFPT. Furthermore, the discriminatory meeting of minds between U.S. and Japanese leaders had an immediate impact even prior to the signing of the peace treaty. The Japanese government, either under orders from SCAP or with its approval, issued a number of anti-Korean ordinances forcing all people of Korean descent to register as "aliens," closing Korean-run schools, and adopting a plan to deport all Koreans. As early as 1947, U.S. occupation forces and Japanese police were involved in a number of racist round-ups of Korean nationals, and in one instance two Korean youngsters were killed, a fact never reported because of U.S. censorship during the occupation. The lack of protection for Korean nationals allowed the Yoshida government to announce on April 19, 1952, that all former colonial subjects, of whom 90 percent or more were of Korean descent, would lose their Japanese nationality upon the coming into effect of the SFPT on April 28.

Meanwhile, in Korea, patriotic organizations that supported Rhee organized a mass meeting against the proposed draft peace treaty and demanded that South Korea be allowed to participate. Their appeal fell on deaf ears. As Yukiko Koshiro concluded in her study of race and the occupation, "Thus, Japan was allowed to preserve-- and resume under the Cold War sanction of the United States-- its presumption of superiority over other Asians. Also, Japan's racist wartime ideology, which had propelled atrocities against Asian soldiers and civilians alike, escaped scrutiny and condemnation" (Yukiko Koshiro, Transpacific Racisms and the U.S. Occupation of Japan [Columbia University Press, 1999], pp. 112-22, at p. 121).

Reparations and the Philippines

The United States government advocated that Japan should be completely excused from paying any reparations for war damages. According to the February 1951 draft treaties initialed by Dulles's assistant, John Allison (later to become U.S. ambassador to Japan) and Sadao Iguchi, Yoshida's point person in the treaty negotiations, "All parties would waive claims arising out of acts taken during the war prior to September 2, 1945," except that "Allied and Associated Powers" would retain and dispose of Japanese properties within their territories and Japan would restore the property of the Allies and their nationals in Japan (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 852). This proposal was carefully crafted to allow for the disposal of Japanese property in Korea (the term "Associated Power" was inserted to allow Korea to have this right) while in the case of Allied property in Japan, Dulles ensured that Allied nationals would have the right to claim property but that Associated nationals would not, thus excluding the Koreans.

However, the proposal to redeem Allied properties in Japan ran into trouble from an interesting source. Douglas MacArthur strenuously objected to the Allied claim for damage to their properties in Japan. It would, he said, be a morally indefensible position to be exacting monies for this when countries such as the Philippines would receive little in compensation. "It would look as though the United States and England were feathering their own nests at the expense of these other countries" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 865). Ironically, other U.S. military officials also voiced concern regarding compensation for damaged Allied properties since "payment of compensation would not be available for [Japanese] rearmament." Dulles suggested they leave these matters until later.

With the initialed draft treaties tucked safely under his arm, Dulles and his mission headed for the Philippines. There, on February 12, 1951, he met with then president Elpidio Quirino, who indicated an interest in some form of Pacific military pact but who mainly emphasized the Filipino demand for compensation for the estimated eight billion dollars in damage inflicted by the Japanese imperial forces (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, pp. 881-82). Quirino argued that rehabilitation had progressed much more rapidly in Japan than in the Philippines and that Japan should therefore contribute to the rebuilding of the Philippine economy. If this were not possible immediately, then perhaps payments might be spread over a number of years.

Knowing that he had already negotiated over and ensured Allied property claims in Japan, and with MacArthur's admonitions still ringing in his ears, Dulles had the temerity to argue with the Filipino representatives that there was no effective way reparations could be paid. Dulles summed up his trip in a personal letter to MacArthur written shortly after he arrived home. He underscored how the Filipinos were preoccupied with reparations and that while the leaders he met seemed to understand the complexities of the issue, there remained "the problem of overcoming the emotional prejudices of the people and explaining to them why the relief to which they have looked forward for so long cannot be had" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 901).

Representatives from the Philippines, even though closely allied with the United States, pressed their case throughout the treaty consultation process. Eventually a reparations clause was included both because of this pressure and because the U.S. feared that without it, MacArthur's admonition about "feathering Allied nests" would be prophetic. Thus in the final treaty, Article 14 (a) specified:

It is recognized that Japan should pay reparations to the Allied Powers for the damage and suffering caused by it during the war. Nevertheless it is also recognized that the resources of Japan are not presently sufficient, if it is to maintain a viable economy, to make complete reparation for all such damage and suffering and at the same time meet its other obligations. Therefore, 1. Japan will promptly enter into negotiations with Allied Powers so desiring, whose present territories were occupied by Japanese forces and damaged by Japan, with a view to assisting to compensate those countries for the cost of repairing the damage done, by making available the services of the Japanese people in production, salvaging and other work for the Allied Powers in question.

Again, the clause was cleverly crafted because it relegated reparations to a post-treaty process, thereby undermining the capacity of developing countries such as the Philippines to exact compensation for war damage as part of the price for peace. Furthermore, the article limited claims to states (nationals were not specified) and, most important, reparations were of an in-kind type, allowing Japan to export its goods using Southeast Asian natural resources and thus reestablishing the unequal economic relationship characteristic of prewar times. On the other hand, pressure from the Philippines did force the inclusion of the clause in the first place, allowed for the insertion of the word "presently" in regard to Japan's resources not being sufficient, and expanded the type of reparations beyond just production and salvaging (via the insertion of the phrase "other work").

It should also be noted that Carlos Romulo, the Philippines' secretary of foreign affairs and the head of its delegation at San Francisco, demolished the U.S. argument that Japan lacked the ability to pay for economic reasons. He noted that Japan's economy had recuperated to the point that industrial activity was 32 percent above pre-war levels, that its fiscal position showed a surplus, and its balance of trade had moved into the black. That the Japanese government had much more economic leeway than it or U.S. representatives were willing to admit, and even more than Romulo thought, is confirmed in discussions that took place between finance minister Hayato Ikeda and Joseph Dodge just prior to the peace conference. In their discussion, Ikeda admitted to a budget surplus of over 100 billion yen of which he hoped to return 40 billion to Japanese taxpayers in a rebate (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, pp. 1320-23). He was also at this time considering "compensation to Japanese nationals for loss of overseas assets and veterans' allowances." The governor of the Bank of Japan also met with Dodge to try and convince him to accept Japanese gold holdings (estimated at over US$200 million) because he feared "that the Filipinos might try to attach the gold as reparations" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 1337). Before one condemns the Japanese for these unseemly priorities, however, it is important to remember that in discussions over reparations, the U.S. had put payments to its nationals at the front of the queue. To add insult to injury, the U.S. also insisted that its costs during the Occupation (the exclusive nature of which had been at its own insistence), estimated at two billion U.S. dollars, were to come before any other reparations. This was a point that Dulles constantly raised in meetings with other countries.

At the San Francisco conference, despite the intense pressure from the U.S., the Philippine government made a formal reservation in its support of the treaty, declaring it would negotiate a reparations agreement "any provision of the present treaty to the contrary notwithstanding." Indonesia, at this period still having relatively strong ties to the United States government, also advanced an alternative proposal regarding reparations and in the end never ratified the SFPT, concluding a separate peace treaty with Japan in 1958. Burma refused to attend the conference in protest against the lack of reparations.

Resistance in Japan

One of the reasons the Indian government rejected the proposed peace treaty was because the treaty was being tied to a separate military agreement with the United States. Such a military agreement should only be concluded after Japan had regained its independence, the Indian note to the U.S. suggested. Indeed, the soft peace offered Japan was partially motivated by the U.S. desire to resuscitate Japan's economy even at the expense of the economies of those countries victimized by Japanese imperial aggression. In exchange, however, the U.S. also insisted on a new military arrangement with Japan that would allow it to keep its massive military installations already in Japan. The Indian government correctly perceived that the Japanese government, under the U.S. occupation, was in an unequal relationship and that any military treaty negotiated as part of the peace process would reflect this power imbalance.

However, the power imbalance came only into play in defining the terms of the military arrangement because the Yoshida government had, in fact, already decided to form a military alliance with the U.S. To this end, Yoshida sent a delegation headed by finance minister Ikeda to Washington as early as April 1950, to explore the parameters of a peace treaty to put an end to the Occupation. According to Kiichi Miyazawa, who accompanied Ikeda on the trip and who later became prime minister himself, the main purpose of the Ikeda mission was to transmit Yoshida's view that the stationing of U.S. troops in Japan would be an acceptable price for independence.

On the issue of Japanese rearmament, however, Yoshida was much more equivocal and many accounts of the negotiations between Yoshida and Dulles concentrate on examining to what extent Yoshida resisted Dulles's attempts to impose rearmament on Japan. What has been less well treated are the internal dynamics in Japan that obliged Yoshida to oppose rearmament or at least to hide his acquiescence to it at this time. As the occupation's conservatism increased, symbolized by the massive layoffs in the public sector and an anti-communist witch-hunt that made McCarthyism in the United States look tame, progressive people began to fear that Japan was setting forth on a dangerous road. This was reflected in a major shift within the Japan Socialist Party and within the Japanese labor movement, both of which remained potent forces in Japan despite setbacks in the 1947-49 period.

As early as December 1949, the Japan Socialist Party had adopted an international policy that called for a comprehensive peace based on neutrality for Japan. And at the JSP's January 1951 convention, even before the peace treaty was signed, delegates had voted 342 to 81 against a motion introduced by the veteran conservative social-democrat, Nishio Suehiro, calling for a partial peace treaty and support for Japan's integration into a U.S.-led alliance. Delegates then endorsed the party's four peace principles: a comprehensive peace, neutrality, opposition to foreign bases, and no rearmament. These demands, although controversial because of the Korean war, did resonate with the population at large and heralded the onset of a vigorous peace movement within Japan. Nonetheless, despite extensive opposition, Yoshida proceeded to sign the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty a few hours after initialing the separate peace treaty. Yoshida remarked the next day that Japan had done better as a vanquished nation at San Francisco than it had as one of the victors attending the Versailles conference of 1919.

Yoshida's feelings of euphoria would dissipate somewhat over the next few months as the U.S. got down to brass tacks on two strategic issues-- the terms of the Security Treaty (the "administrative agreement") and China. Because the peace treaty had to be ratified by the U.S. Congress before it would come into force, the State Department attempted to delay ratification in order to strengthen the U.S. bargaining position on these issues (FRUS, 1951, Vol VI Part 1, pp. 1352-53). As far as the Administrative Agreement was concerned, the U.S. insisted that (1) it allow for the use of U.S. forces stationed in Japan for forward military operations in the Far East as well as for the defense of Japan; (2) it designate, in case of war, a unified command under the direction of a U.S. supreme commander; (3) it guarantee the U.S. continued access to bases it had held during the occupation and; (4) it give the U.S. extraterritorial control over all its military personnel, including cases where such persons might commit crimes against Japanese civilians while off-duty.

Japanese government representatives tried to dilute the blatant inequality inherent in these demands but to little avail. Faced with the threat of non-ratification of the peace treaty, the Japanese government agreed to the U.S. demands. There is no doubt that the security treaty as defined by the accompanying administrative agreement was an infringement on Japanese sovereignty. But in acquiescing to the terms of the treaty, the Japanese government was also sacrificing Asian nationalist interests, the real goal of U.S. postwar diplomacy. Not only would there be no reparations for the newly independent countries; they would be threatened from the territory of their erstwhile enemy.

Dulles also used the nine-month veto power the U.S. had during the ratification process to pressure the Yoshida government on the issue of China. The Republican Party faction in Congress was determined to bolster the Guomindang in Taiwan and threatened to stop ratification of the peace treaty unless Japan allied itself with Taiwan. In December 1951, Dulles travelled to Tokyo where he met with Yoshida. Despite a gentlemen's agreement with Britain that Japan would be free to determine its relations between the two Chinese regimes, Dulles forced Yoshida to sign a letter drafted by either himself or his advisers guaranteeing that Japan would recognize the Taiwanese regime and isolate the People's Republic (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, pp. 1466-67). When the British government vigorously protested, Dulles lied to the U.S. Secretary of State, suggesting that Yoshida himself had come up with the idea and that Dulles had only encouraged him to put it on paper (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, pp. 1467-70). The bill for Republican support of the peace treaty had come due and Dulles was determined that it should be paid in full.


Resistance to the SFPT by certain countries has been discussed before. What is surprising when one reviews the treaty documents and the related literature is the depth and scope of that resistance. Both mainland and Taiwanese China were not even invited to the peace conference. Neither were the Koreas, north and south. India refused to participate in what it regarded as a rigged affair; so did Burma. Three signatories from Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) were actually representatives of the French colonial regime and must be excluded from any bona fide count of Asian countries endorsing the treaty. That leaves only four-- the Philippines, Indonesia, Ceylon, and Pakistan. Of these four, Indonesia signed the treaty but never ratified it and signed a separate peace treaty with Japan in 1958. The Philippines, although closely allied with the U.S., reserved its signature and did not ratify the treaty until after it had gone into effect. In other words, the only Asian countries that supported the SFPT were Pakistan and Ceylon, both recent colonies of Britain and neither of which had signed the Allied Declaration of 1942.

How, one might ask, was the SFPT able to masquerade as a treaty ending a fifteen-year war in Asia when few, if any, of the victims of Japanese imperialism in Asia really supported it? Part of the answer lies in the accommodation that pro-U.S. leaders, such as Taiwan's Chiang Kai-shek, South Korea's Syngman Rhee, and the Philippines' Elpidio Quirino made in order to shore up their own regimes. But as we have seen, their actual role in the peace treaty process was quite limited. More important in the legitimation process was the role played by the forty-five or so other countries that turned up in San Francisco to shout down Soviet objections to the treaty.

Among these other countries there were two key constituencies that provided the support necessary to pass the treaty and give it an international veneer of legitimacy. The first of these were the so called "middle powers," such as Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, which in their search for greater influence opposed the World War II veto given the Soviet Union and China and lent their support to the United States in the Cold War. Whatever differences they had with the U.S. over the peace treaty (e.g., Britain's view that the PRC should have been invited to the peace conference) dissolved in the face of their strategic unity in the Cold War.

The second group of countries were the Latin American states, many of which were neocolonial dependencies of the U.S. On August 24, 1951, just prior to the SFPT, Dulles convened a meeting of all Latin American countries with diplomatic representation in Washington to brief them before the conference opened in San Francisco. He told those gathered that because of careful preparation much of what might normally be done at a peace conference had already been accomplished. "Now, we are satisfied, it is time to end the negotiations and sign the treaty" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, pp. 1291-95). The Russians, he said, would try to delay the signing and engage in "dilatory" tactics but no changes in the treaty would be permitted and the signing would proceed "with or without those countries which may refuse to sign." Dulles concluded the meeting by speaking of the important contribution that all of the Latin American nations had made to winning the war against Japan. At the conference itself, Latin American representatives queued up to shout down Soviet objections to the treaty.

The Yoshida government was not in a strong position in negotiating the peace treaty with the United States. Nonetheless, Yoshida and the Japanese government as a whole made important choices at this time that can only be understood in historical perspective. In 1885, the noted Japanese philosopher, Yukichi Fukuzawa penned a famous essay, entitled "Datsu-a ron," or "Leaving Asia." In it he concluded: "It is better for us to leave the ranks of Asian nations and cast our lot with civilized nations of the West. As for the way of dealing with China and Korea, no special treatment is necessary just because they happen to be our neighbors. We simply follow the manner of the Westerners in knowing how to treat them. Any person who cherishes a bad friend cannot escape his bad notoriety. We simply erase from our minds our bad friends in Asia."

Indeed, before the war Japan did join the Euro-American powers in their imperial scramble in Asia and attempted to outdo them, earning for Japan the enmity of many Asian peoples. But Yoshida and others regarded as Japan's great mistake not its aggression in Asia but rather its alliance with the Axis powers and the ensuing conflict with the Anglo-American bloc: "As I have stated, and history confirms, ever since the opening of Japan's doors to the Western world more than a century ago, the basic principle of Japanese policy has been the maintenance of close and cordial political and economic ties with Great Britain and the United States. That Japan departed from this basic principle, and became allied with Germany and Italy, was the prime cause for my country being pushed headlong into a reckless war" (Yoshida, Japan's Decisive Century, 1867-1967 [Praeger, 1967], p. 81). Given the Asian countries' resistance to the terms of the peace treaty, Yoshida's accommodation with the U.S. and the European powers in going ahead with SFPT was in effect datsu-a ron (leaving Asia) regenerated. Only this time around, Japan's junior status in the Cold War alliance with the U.S. would be institutionalized.

Of course, in the end there is no way for Japan to leave Asia-- it was simply redefining the terms of its re-entry into the region. It did not, as one might expect, re-enter with remorse and restitution but neither did it re-enter immediately in a military role. Rather it capitalized on U.S. imperial ambitions in Asia. Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe confronted and reflected on this legacy: "The Japanese have not reflected on the meaning of the defeat seriously. In short, we should have negated the entire modernization project and sought a completely new direction, but we didn't. Japan as an Asian nation did not think of coexisting with other nations in Asia but again tried to outrun all the others. For example, Japan harvested a huge profit from the Korean War" (Oe, in Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1997: 292) Having escaped serious reparations, Japan was able to capitalize economically on the militarization of the Pacific.

However one assesses Japan's postwar role, the SFPT was not really its creation but rather the product of the U.S.'s complex machinations as it enhanced its Pacific profile. At the time, John Foster Dulles spoke for many in the United States when he responded to Rene Massigli, the French ambassador in London, who had suggested that the peace treaty be delayed in order to minimize tensions with the Soviet Union. Dulles stated in a telegram summarizing this meeting: "I referred to the preponderant role played by the U.S. in winning Japanese war and conducting occupation and said in fact that in my opinion U.S. wld not now publicly take a cowardly role in Japan which wld almost surely lose all we have struggled for past ten years" (FRUS, 1951, Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 1104).

The result of the U.S. role in the occupation and in controlling the treaty process has been described by John Dower in his recent book, Embracing Defeat: "One of the most pernicious aspects of the occupation was that the Asian peoples who had suffered most from imperial Japan's depredations-- the Chinese, Koreans, Indonesians, and Filipinos had no serious role, no influential presence at all in the defeated land. They became invisible. Asian contributions to defeating the emperor's soldiers and sailors were displaced by an all-consuming focus on the American victory in the Pacific War" (p. 27). The peripheralization of Asia in the SFPT therefore was no coincidence. It reflected the U.S.'s appropriation of the pan-Asian fight against Japanese imperialism as well as its determination to project its imperial values in the region. Japan would be its adjutant, a role for which Yoshida carefully fought. This required that the U.S. government fully nurture Japan's dual identity -- aligning it with the West and alienating it from Asia. Behind this manipulation also lay a deep-seated fear of Asian nationalism that was expressed through the demonization of communism.

In the end the San Francisco agreement was only peripherally a peace treaty-- it was a series of bi- and multi-lateral military pacts that ensured the Pacific would become an American lake, an ambition that dates from the early 20th century. The U.S. would retain over 200,000 troops in Japan alone, not to mention thousands more in Okinawa, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and, as the decade continued, in Vietnam as well. As Chalmers Johnson concluded in his recent work, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire: "In the course of the Cold War, the USSR intervened militarily to hold its empire together in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The United States intervened militarily to hold its empire together in Korea and Vietnam (where it killed a great many more people in losing than the USSR did in its two successful interventions)" (p. 21).

Just as the SFPT provoked resistance among Asian countries, so too did the subsequent militarization of the region prompt ongoing resistance-- the anti-base movements in South Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa; the fight for neutralism in Japan; the non-aligned movement led by India and Indonesia; the armed resistance in Vietnam and other countries. While the region was devastated by these military tragedies, including the Cambodian nightmare, it has re-emerged and begun to take its rightful place in the world. And, as the threat of superpower confrontation has declined, a vigorous movement for democracy has emerged that is finally allowing the long-suppressed voices of the past to make themselves heard.

JOHN PRICE is professor of history at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and author of Japan Works: Power and Paradox in Postwar Industrial Relations (Cornell University Press, 1997). He is currently conducting research on the Cold War in Asia, funded by a major research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Neil Burton, Joseph Tong, Thekla Lit, and Tatsuo Kage provided information and inspiration for this article.

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