Evolution of Japan’s policy towards the Nansha Islands of China in the 1930s

FENG Junnan1,2 HUA Tao1,3

(1.School of History, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China 210023)
(2.Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies at Nanjing University, Nanjing, China 210093)
(3.Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies at Nanjing University, Nanjing, China 210093)

【Abstract】hSince the 1960s, with the value of natural resources in the South China Sea being gradually discovered and valued by people, disputes centered on the sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea have intensified. Countries around the South China Sea, and even some big countries outside the region, are involved in such disputes in different ways. It is worth noting that Japan, a maritime country that attaches great importance to the South China Sea, especially the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, started its activities in the South China Sea as early as the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Japan’s policy towards the Nansha Islands of China in the 1930s was an important part of Japan’s expansion activities in the South China Sea until it occupied the islands in the South China Sea. Based on the historical materials collected by the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and supplemented by Japanese newspapers and other materials, this paper investigates Japan’s policy towards China’s Nansha Islands in the 1930s. In the 1930s, Japan’s policy towards the Nansha Islands of China showed overall phased changes. On the occasion of the Incident of the Nine Islets in 1933, Japan adhered to the line of “coordinated diplomacy” in its foreign policy, reached a compromise with France, and realized the “coexistence” of interests. In 1936, when the “southward” policy became Japan’s national policy, the expansion to the Nansha Islands of China became part of Japan’s plan of expanding into the “Outer South Seas.” Since then, the Japanese Ministry of War gradually dominated Japan’s foreign policy-making, and with the new changes in the international situation, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has changed from strongly opposing the actions of the Japanese Ministry of Navy in China’s Nansha Islands to actively offering advice and seeking to occupy the Nansha Islands. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Navy eventually unanimously expelled French forces. At the end of March 1939, Japan illegally “annexed” the Nansha Islands of China. Compared with previous studies, this paper deeply excavates, analyzes and compares Japanese materials such as the historical materials collected by the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and investigates the role and changes in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Navy in the policy-making process toward China’s Nansha Islands as detailed as possible. Among them, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed from worrying about, opposing and acquiescing to opinions expressed by the Japanese Ministry of Navy, to actively supporting and advising the latter in the decision-making process, which contributed to Japan’s occupation of the Nansha Islands of China. This change was deeply influenced by not only the international political situation at the time but also various political forces in Japan. It was the result of checks and balances, as well as coordination between the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Ministry of Navy, and the “Government-General of Taiwan” in China. This paper comprehensively presents Japan’s internal perception and policy towards the Nansha Islands of China at the time. This enlightens us not to forget to strengthen the construction of infrastructures in maritime territories.

【Keywords】 1930s; Nansha Islands of China; Japan’s policy evolution;

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ISSN:1002-6800

CN: 11-2795/K

Vol 30, No. 01, Pages 202-212+217

March 2020

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