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San Francisco: Why India Made Its Own Peace with Japan

In this series, Dr Chansoria examines archival documents to explain why India signed a separate treaty with Japan instead of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.



US Secretary of State Dean Acheson signing the Treaty of Peace with Japan on September 8, 1951. (US Department of State)

In September 1951, against the background of the escalating Cold War in Asia, Japan signed a peace treaty with 48 countries. It thereby returned to the international community as a member of the Western bloc. In retrospect, however, the long-term consequences of the San Francisco peace conference have had a greater impact on American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific over the next half-century. 

Multiple settlements associated with the Japanese peace treaty were constructed. These were to prove the lynchpin of America's political, military, and economic involvement in the region from the early 1950s to the present and on, surely, for at least another generation.

Then-Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida spoke at the conference in San Francisco. Yoshida said that the peace treaty contained no punitive or retaliatory clauses and did not impose upon Japan any permanent restrictions or disabilities. However, he also said that the Japanese, who accepted the treaty, found certain points that caused pain and anxiety.

Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru signs the bilateral security treaty with the United States on September 8, 1951. Secretary of State Dean Acheson (right) and special ambassador John Foster Dulles stand directly behind him. The Japanese official on the left is Ikeda Hayato, who served as Japan's Prime Minister from 1960 to 1964. (Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus)

Limitations on Japan's Sovereignty

India declared its independence from British colonial rule and governance in August 1947. And Japan was among the first nations to recognize India's sovereignty. India, on its part, declined to attend the 1951 San Francisco Peace Conference between the United States and Japan. This was primarily because New Delhi was against the limitations being placed on Japan's sovereignty by the proposed draft provisions of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT). India's argument was that the US was failing to give due recognition to the wishes of the Japanese people.

Instead, India chose to enter a separate bilateral peace treaty with Japan in 1952. As part of this treaty, the former waived off all its reparation claims against Tokyo. Besides, India was among the first Asian nations to establish diplomatic ties with Tokyo in 1952.

Seeking Peace in the Far East

This JAPAN Forward history series focuses on reviewing primary archival documents of the year 1951. It will cite primarily from the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series (vol. 16, Part II) 1951. During this year, India developed and firmed up its position on the 1951 Japanese Peace Treaty.

Selected Works of Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series (vol Selected Works of Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series (vol 16, Part II) 1951.16, Part II) 1951.

The Government of India chose to view the whole question of the Japanese peace treaty more on basic grounds. By 1951, it maintained that the terms of the treaty should concede Japan a position of honor, equality, and contentment among the community of free nations. It also asserted that the terms should be so framed as to enable all countries specially interested in the maintenance of stable peace in the Far East to subscribe to the treaty, sooner or later.

Then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote a letter (archives dated July 23, 1951) to India's then Ambassador in Burma, MA Rauf. In it, Nehru said that for India to sign the proposed Japanese peace treaty practically meant giving up the position that India had thus far occupied in foreign policy. He wrote, "It means lining up with the USA in world politics … It means accepting American troops and bases in Japan."

Linkage and Multilateralism

India found it difficult to sign the particular treaty. It preferred to sign a separate and independent bilateral treaty with Japan in simple terms. Namely, terms that called for ending the state of war without any qualifications and other commitments. The terms of the treaty that were circulated on July 3, 1951, to all countries as a memorandum envisaged the signing by "any or all nations at war with Japan who are willing to make peace on the basis proposed."

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. ( National Archives and Records Administration)

Including the frontier problems of Japan and the regional Cold War structure, the "San Francisco System" essentially remained in the Asia-Pacific. The US maintained its forward deployment through its bilateral security arrangement. This is known as the "San Francisco Alliance System." 

Examination of the postwar territorial disposition of Japan seemed to suggest "linkage" and "multilateralism" as keys to the understanding of many regional conflicts in the Asia-Pacific. In a 2001 essay published in Pacific Affairs, Kimie Hara argued that the time shift to the "post-Cold War" era did not negate the significance of the Cold War origins of these problems. The 50th anniversary of the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty was marked in 2001.  Reasonably, it was to remember the common origin in the postwar peace settlements with Japan. It was also an opportunity to consider the possibility of achieving solutions by re-linking them back in a multilateral context.

Continues in part 2: What Made India Uncomfortable in the San Francisco Treaty?


Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. She is also 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 Twitter @MonikaChansoria.


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