chapter  11
14 Pages

‘Complementarity’, decolonization, and the Cold War: British responses to Japan’s economic revival in Southeast Asia during the 1950s and 1960s


Introduction: Britain, Japan and ‘anti-communism on the cheap’ During July 1951 a joint economic mission composed of Japanese technocrats and US officials in the SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) administration of Japan visited various countries in Southeast Asia. This delegation was headed by Kenneth Morrow, a senior administrator in SCAP’s Economic and Scientific Section. As the UK Liaison Mission (UKLIM) in occupied Tokyo soon discovered, the Morrow mission was part of a grand American design to ‘stem the advance of communism’ in Pacific Asia, but without incurring too many additional US costs. Washington had recently informed SCAP officials that raw materials for Japan’s industries to assist the general ‘rearmament’ of the ‘free world’ could no longer be met from the dollar area. This withdrawal of US largesse was in anticipation of the complete cessation of US aid to Japan at the planned termination of the Occupation in 1952. Hence, the Morrow mission’s particular brief was to stimulate increased Japanese purchases of Southeast Asia’s commodities.1 Indeed, John Foster Dulles regarded commercial linkages between Japan and Southeast Asia as central in his negotiations for the peace treaty between 1950 and 1952, and subsequently in his role as US secretary of state after 1953. Moreover, in articulating the ‘domino theory’ in April 1954, President Eisenhower emphasized that Japan ‘must have’ Southeast Asia as ‘a trading area or Japan . . . will have only one place in the world to go – that is, toward the Communist areas in order to live’.2 Given its ongoing heavy commitments in terms of foreign aid, the Eisenhower administration was not particularly enthralled by the proposal of Japan’s prime minister, Kishi Nobusuke, for a Southeast Asian Development Fund during 1957 – a scheme described by the British ambassador in Tokyo as a ‘marriage of convenience between American capital and Japanese technical skill and industrial power’. Nevertheless, US officials continued to argue that ‘unless this idea, or something fairly like it, is realized the pressure on the present Japanese Government to come to terms with the communist Asiatic mainland will prove irresistible’.3