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San Francisco Treaty: How India Sought Burma and Indonesia's Cooperation in the Hope of Establishing Peace

PM Nehru of India expressed concerns to Burma and Indonesia that certain clauses in the treaty could worsen tensions instead of bringing peace to the Far East.



Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (center) with Indonesian President Sukarno (left) in 1950. (©Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)

During the initial discussions on the draft of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, India found itself on the same page as the Burmese Government, more or less. 

Beginning with the question of reparations, India clarified its stand that it would not insist on any reparation from Japan. However, Burma did claim reparations to compensate for the losses it suffered during the wartime occupation by Japan. Thakin Nu (also known by the name U Nu), was Burma's first prime minister. He wrote a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on July 20, 1951.

Third of five parts

First part: San Francisco: Why India Made Its Own Peace with Japan
Second part: What Made India Uncomfortable in the San Francisco Treaty?

Japan's national power
Prime Minster Shigeru Yoshida signing the San Francisco Peace Treaty on September 8, 1951 (via Wikimedia Commons).

Correspondence with Burma (Thakin Nu)

In his reply to Prime Minister Nu, Nehru acknowledged that Burma's foreign minister was about to visit Delhi in a day or two. The visit would provide India the opportunity to discuss the Japanese peace treaty in addition to other matters. 

India had considered the question of reparations from its own point of view. But Nehru, in his letter to Nu (archives dated July 24, 1951) conveyed that on the Japanese peace treaty, India entirely agreed that Burma's claim for compensation/reparations was strong.

War Reparations

By July 1951, India had decided that it should not press for or demand reparations from Japan. This was primarily because the damages to India were relatively minor, and India was not particularly affected. Also, the history of reparations, for instance in Europe, had demonstrated that it was hardly possible to realize them, even if grand promises were made. 

For instance, following World War I, enormous reparations were fixed on Germany. However, barely any payments were made. Moreover, ultimately Adolf Hitler repudiated them, and this became a source of continuing exasperation.

India's position had gradually begun to crystallize in arguing that any stress on reparations would have no meaning in purely economic terms. Besides, India had paid a compensation sum of ₹4-5 million INR (the equivalent of approximately $4-5 million USD) in war damages to the people of its Northeast region out of its own resources. These damages were caused partly by the Japanese, and partly by the Anglo-American forces.

Peace in the Far East

The Indian Prime Minister wrote to his Burmese counterpart that in addition to Formosa (Taiwan), Japan would become a still bigger and more vital issue in the future. The prospect of achieving real peace in the Far East was bleak. Nehru further shared with Nu his input that the then-Japanese Government was anxious whether India, Burma, and Indonesia would sign the treaty at San Francisco, given that the three countries' positions contained uneven similarities.


Following his letter dated July 24, PM Nehru once again wrote to PM Nu on July 27, 1951. The letter was written upon the conclusion of the visit of Burmese Foreign Minister Sao Hkun Hkio to New Delhi. The talks between Hkio and Nehru largely revolved around the proposed Japanese peace treaty. 

India shared its approach to the draft treaty as one focused on whether it would lead to a peaceful settlement in the Far East or not. It was acknowledged that the future peace in the Far East depended greatly on the relationship between China and Japan. A peace treaty was thus desirable, even though some countries had been left out. This would allow those nations enough room to have separate bilateral treaties with Japan.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at Ueno Zoo in Taito-ku, Tokyo in 1957. (©Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)

Independent Bilateral Treaties

Therefore, PM Nehru conveyed to PM Nu India's intention of not going to San Francisco and signing the treaty. He also shared that New Delhi had pointed out the minimum changes necessary in the draft to the United States. Having said that, Nehru was equally certain that Washington would not accept these changes, as they had already rejected them in the past. Upon receiving a negative response this time around, India decided to officially inform the US of its decision not to sign the treaty.

Furthermore, in his meeting with Nehru, Burmese Foreign Minister Sao Hkun Hkio mentioned an idea floated by Thakin Nu. He had proposed a conference of the Foreign Ministers of Burma, India, and Indonesia in New Delhi. Nehru welcomed the idea. 

PM Nehru further suggested that the ideal timing for such a meeting or conference would be after the signing of the treaty in San Francisco. This would enable them to consider the position of and perhaps make a joint suggestion to Japan to sign simple individual treaties of peace with Burma, India, and Indonesia, without any other commitments.

Burmese Prime Minister Thakin Nu (left) and Mahatma Gandhi in Birla House, New Delhi in December 1947.

Correspondence with Indonesia (Sukarno)   

Although Nehru wanted to act collectively on the matter, he was quick to share his doubts about Indonesia following suit. On August 18, 1951, PM Nehru sent a cable to the then-President of Indonesia Sukarno (aka A Soekarno). In it, he shared details of the various steps taken by New Delhi regarding the proposed Japanese peace treaty. India felt that certain clauses in this treaty were such that they would increase tensions and not bring peace in the Far East.

Its suggestions for change were not accepted, despite India making its views known to the US government. As a result, India decided not to sign the peace treaty.

Nehru informed Sukarno that this decision was soon to be placed for formal approval before the Indian Government's Cabinet. He also added that New Delhi intended to send a note to this effect to the US Government by around August 25, 1951.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Indonesia in 1950. (©Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)

India Seeks Cooperation With Burma and Indonesia

Further, India informed Indonesia that Burma too had decided not to attend the San Francisco Conference. New Delhi was hopeful of coordinating its activities, as far as possible, with Burma on this matter. Nehru hoped that Sukarno's government would adopt a similar attitude on the issue. This would allow for full cooperation between the three Governments. 

India intended to declare an end to the state of war between India and Japan soon after the latter attained independent status under the San Francisco treaty.

The attitude of Indonesia towards the Japanese peace settlement provides an interesting study. It shows that the majority of Indonesians were sympathetic towards Japan and keen on entering into a bilateral peace settlement with that country. 

However, the Indonesian Government was compelled by various driving factors to participate in the San Francisco Peace Conference and sign the treaty. Indonesia's first foreign minister, A Soebardjo Djojoadisoerjo, summed it up effectively: "… if we had not signed the treaty, we would have become isolated, lost prestige, and suffered damage in our international relations."


Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter) @MonikaChansoria.


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