13/2/1919 Japan’s racial equality proposal causes a sensation

Japan’s role in the war was minimal. The country seized the German naval base of Tsingtao and several Pacific islands in 1914, thereafter playing no significant part in the conflict and declining to send troops to take part in the fighting in Europe. Nevertheless, the country is recognised at the Paris Conference as one of the leading Allied nations. This is something of a coup, given that until the mid-19th century Japan was largely closed off from the world and its new technologies.

Japan is the only major power represented in Paris that is neither European nor led by people of European ancestry. Conscious of this, Baron Makino of the Japanese delegation today reads out a proposed amendment to the founding covenant of the League of Nations. The draft covenant already contains a recognition of the principle of religious freedom; Makino proposes to include in this an affirmation of racial equality.

Makino’s proposal causes a sensation. While opinion in Japan is firmly behind such a move, Wilson is conscious that any proposal for equality between Asians and whites would cause uproar in much of the United States (Wilson himself has also never given any great impression of favouring equality between white and black Americans). Meanwhile Billy Hughes, prime minister of Australia, denounces the proposal as a threat to the ‘White Australia’ policy, with New Zealand’s premier William Massey echoing similar concerns.

For now the issue is parked. The British are anxious to avoid choosing between their dominions and their Japanese allies, so they propose that the proposal be closely studied in the hope that time will find some of way of settling it.

image source:

Baron Makino Nobuaki (Wikipedia: Racial Equality Proposal)

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