Japanese Soldiers at the Great Wall of China, 1933. Beginning in the 1930s, Japan began to occupy territories on the Asian continent, first Manchuria and then other parts of China. In this photograph, Japanese soldiers plant the flag of Japan on the first gate of the Great Wall in Shanhaiguan near Qinhuangdao in eastern China.
The term occupation generally refers to the temporary stationing of troops by a victorious military force in the territory and possessions of a defeated state. The purpose is to pressure the occupied state into meeting the occupier’s postwar demands. Once the stated goals are met the occupying military will repatriate (return to its country of origin) and the occupied territory will regain its sovereignty. In this sense, occupation resembles trusteeship, a post–World War I strategy that temporarily entrusted the territory of the defeated Axis powers to the victorious Allies, with the goal of nurturing the people to sovereignty. Occupation differs from colonization, which does not set specific goals and thus is not governed by temporal restraints.
The history of the U.S. presence in the Philippine Islands demonstrates the thin line distinguishing occupation from colonization. The first encounter with these islands by U.S. forces was as a battleground during the Spanish-American War (1898). After the United States took control of the islands from Spain, it engaged in battle with local independence-minded Filipinos. The debate in the United States at this time centered on the extent to which the United States would develop its presence on the islands. America’s decision to establish a government to administer the islands determined the status of the United States as an indefinite colonizer rather than a short-term occupier.
American colonial activity in the Philippines coincided with similar imperial activities throughout East Asia by the United States and other world powers. Although these powers colonized certain territories outright, they also established occupations in others. This is particularly apparent in China. Over the latter part of the nineteenth century, no country was strong enough to colonize China outright. Consequently, the world’s colonial powers signed agreements with China’s weak government that permitted their occupation of designated territories. For example, the protocol signed between the Chinese and Great Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia, and Japan following the antiforeigner Boxer uprising (1898–1901) permitted the occupying countries to station twenty thousand troops in Beijing. The troops were meant to protect the occupiers’ people and interests, and to pressure the weak Chinese government to carry out other conditions in the agreement. The Chinese government also signed agreements with the occupying powers that granted them lease rights in parts of the Shandong Peninsula and Lüshun (Port Arthur) for set periods of time (usually ninety-nine years).
The introduction of the trusteeship as a form of occupation, popularized after World War I as an answer to anti-imperialist sentiment, gained for the Japanese the former German territories in the South Pacific and on mainland China. These postwar Japanese occupations were intended to last just long enough for Japan to guide the people living in the trusteeship territories to sovereignty. On the basis of this premise (and the opendoor policy) the world powers forced Japan at the Washington Conference (1920–1921) to relinquish its possession of China’s Shandong Peninsula, which it had acquired from the Germans. Japan controlled its South Pacific acquisitions until the last year of War World II, when it was forced to relinquish most of these islands to the United States.
Beginning in the 1930s, Japan began to occupy territories on the Asian continent, first Manchuria in northeastern China and then other parts of China. In the early 1940s the Japanese took control of Malaya (Mayasia), the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Singapore, and the Philippines, all of which were former Western colonies in Southeast Asia. These expansion efforts closely resembled occupations, for Japan’s stated plan was to liberate these territories from their Western colonial rulers and prepare them for their eventual independence once a government friendly to Japan had been established. Japan’s defeat in World War II left nationalists in these territories in a precarious situation: Japan’s overthrow of previous colonial administrations provided indigenous nationalist movements with room to expand, but Japan’s continued presence prevented nationalist leaders from developing the people’s national identity and allegiance.
The term occupation is most often associated with the postwar imposition of Allied troops in Axis territories and their former colonies. The Allied powers originally envisioned a joint-trusteeship, with the various Allied countries cooperating in the occupation of a single region. This configuration worked better in Europe, where the Allies divided such cities as Berlin and Vienna into occupying zones. Joint-trusteeship worked less well in Asia, where the Korean Peninsula was partitioned by the United States and Soviet Union, resulting in the formation of two very different halves of the same peninsula.
East Asia experienced two forms of postwar occupation that differed in length and purpose. One type of occupation saw the Allied powers attempting to reestablish control over their former colonial possessions. The United States returned to the Philippines even before Japan’s surrender and granted the islands their independence in 1946, after a year of occupation. The Dutch and British eventually failed in their attempts to regain their colonial possessions, bringing independence to former British and Dutch possessions. French attempts to retain control of Vietnam forced it to retreat to the south and establish an indigenous government backed by French, and later United States, occupations.
The United States and the Soviet Union established occupation administrations in northeast Asia to demilitarize the Japanese. The two occupiers also hoped to spread their respective political ideologies. The Americans took over Japan, including the island of Okinawa, and southern Korea beginning 1945; the Soviets occupied northern Korea and several northern islands that Japan had gained through treaty with Russia in the late eighteenth century. Japan and northern Korea were administered indirectly— that is, by issuing directives through indigenous governments. This approach differed from the one used in southern Korea and Okinawa, where the occupying powers installed military governments to administer the territories directly.
The formal postwar occupation of Okinawa ended by 1972, when the United States returned the island to Japan. The occupations of southern and northern Korea both ended in 1948, and the occupation of Japan ended in 1952. However, the continued presence of U.S. troops in America’s former occupied territories, as well as the continued possession by Russia of four of the Kuril Islands claimed by Japan, as well as the continued division of the Korean peninsula into north and south, represents critical legacies of these occupations.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Armstrong, Charles. The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003. Iriye, Akira. Across the Pacific: An Inner History of American-East Asian Relations. Chicago: Imprint Publications, 1992. Oh, Bonnie B.C., ed. Korea Under The American Military Government, 1945–1948. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. Takuma Eiji. Inside Ghq: The Allied Occupation of Japan and Its Legacy. Translated by Robert Ricketts and Sebastian Swann. New York: Continuum, 2002.