Collaborationist Governments

Photograph of Tojo and Wang Ching-wei

Tojo toasts Wang Ching-wei.

National Archives.Via Hoyt (1993).

Japanese propaganda claimed that the Japanese were the liberators of Asia from Western colonialism. While the appalling conduct of the Japanese Army in China and elsewhere put the lie to this claim, there were significant numbers of Asians who were willing to take seriously the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Daitoa Kyoeiken). As a result, the Japanese were able to establish collaborationist governments in most of the conquered territories.

While some Japanese pan-Asians were sincere in their motives, most Japanese leaders believed the Japanese were racially superior to other Asians, and they viewed the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere as simply a euphemism for the Japanese Empire. As a result, most collaborationist governments had no real power of their own, but served to advance Japanese interests. This became increasingly clear as the war turned against the Japanese and the Japanese, in turn, began making greater demands upon the resources of the conquered areas. By the time the war ended, "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" had become a pejorative throughout Asia, and even the most ardent Asian nationalists, such as those in the Netherlands East Indies, had turned against the Japanese. Thus Japan, like Germany, squandered a valuable political opportunity because it contradicted a defining racist ideology.

Burma. Burma was a relatively recent addition to the British Empire, and indigenous loyalty was never strong. Burmese encroachments on east India led to the First Anglo-Burma War in 1824, which ended with British occupation of Arakan and Tenasserim. In 1852 the British provoked a naval confrontation that led to the Second Anglo-Burma War and British seizure of lower Burma. Finally, in 1885, King Thibaw declared war on the British, who took control of the entire country, though it took another five years and 30,000 troops to suppress the remnants of Thibaw's army. The British granted a measure of self-government in 1823, but nationalists rioted in 1930 and 1938, as much against Indian chettyars (moneylenders) as the British. The indigenous Burma Defense Force consisted in 1939 of 3,197 hill tribesmen and only 472 Burmans.

The first Burmese prime minister, Ba Maw, was a nationalist who was sufficiently anti-British that he was approached by the Japanese Consulate in 1938 and 1939. The Japanese sought to bribe him to close the Burma Road, but Ba Maw did not have the power to close the road legally and was unwilling at that point to stage a revolt. Ba Maw's premiership ended in March 1939 and he was arrested by the British for sedition in August 1940, but he remained in contact with the Japanese. It was at about this time that Aung San, a member of the nationalist Thakins, began to turn to the Japanese.

U Saw, the premier in October 1941, flew to London with the blessings of the Governor, Dorman-Smith, to ask for full self-government postwar in exchange for Burmese loyalty. Given nothing but vague promises, he was actually on his way to Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and while returning through Portugal he contacted the Japanese and promised that the Burmese would rise in rebellion against the British. The British had broken the Japanese diplomatic codes and interned U Saw when he landed in Haifa.

Meanwhile Aung San had smuggled himself out of Burma on a Norwegian freighter and, after some difficulty, contacted the Japanese in Amoy. He was flown to Tokyo to meet with Suzuki Keiji, a Japanese Army colonel who identified so closely with the Burmese that he took the Burmese name of Bo Mogyo. Suzuki claimed authority from Prince Kanin, the military counselor to the Emperor, and thus by implication from the Emperor himself. Aung San and Suzuki organized the group known as the Thirty Comrades. These were all trained in guerrilla tactics by the Japanese. Suzuki also set up the Minami Kikan (Minami Organization) to scout invasion routes into Burma from Thailand.

Aung returned to Burma with the conquering Japanese in February 1942 as commander of Burma Independence Army. His forces engaged in little formal combat (except at Shwedaung, where they shot down 70 surrendering Indian troops in the heat of battle) but provided useful intelligence for the Japanese. However, the independent attitude of his mentor, Suzuki, led to friction between the BIA and the Japanese Army, including the expulsion of the BIA, now renamed Burma Defense Army, from Moulmein by the Kempeitai. Suzuki became enough of a nuisance to the Army command in Burma that he was recalled in mid-1942.

Burma was granted "independence" in August 1943 under the puppet government of Ba Maw, and ethnic Burmese were fairly supportive of the puppet government. Ba Maw soon set up a Fascist state, titling himself Naingandaw Adipadi ("Head of State") and adopting the slogan ta-thway, ta-than, ta-meint ("One Blood, One Voice, One Command".) Burma Defense Army became Burma National Army. The Japanese set up the Dobama Sinye League on the pattern of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association in Japan, and Ba Maw declared at the Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo in November 1943 that "I seem to hear the voice of Asia gathering her children together. It is the voice of our Asiatic blood." He continued to apologize for the Japanese after postwar Burma won her independence and he was released from an Allied prison, attempting to excuse the atrocities along the Burma-Siam Railroad and writing that (Allen 1984):

Looking at it historically, no nation has done so much to liberate Asia from white domination, yet no nation has been so misunderstood by the very people whom it has helped either to liberate or to set an example to in many things... Japan was betrayed by her militarists and their racial fantasies. Had her Asian motives been true, had she only been faithful to the concept of Asia for the Asians that she herself had proclaimed at the beginning of the war, Japan's fate would have been very different. No military defeat could then have robbed her of the trust and gratitude of half of Asia for ever more... Even now, as things actually are, nothing can ever obliterate the role Japan has played in bringing liberation to countless peoples.

However, some of the tribal groups of northern Burma, particularly the Naga and the Kachins, remained loyal to the Allies and carried out an effective guerrilla campaign under the direction of OSS officers. Later, the Burmese nationalist leaders were dismayed by Japan's insistence on transferring the Shan region to Thailand. Ba Maw meekly submitted to the demand, but the Burmese were among the first of the Asian nationalists to conclude that the Japanese were worse than their former colonial masters, and Aung San secretly switched sides in December 1944. On 28 March 1945 Aung San brought Burma National Army over to the Allied side, marching out of Rangoon as if to join the Japanese defense but joining the British instead. By then the Burma National Army, now renamed the Patriotic Burma Forces, numbered some 10,000 troops, enough that it may have played a significant role in the postwar negotiations for an independent Burma.

Even the doggishly loyal Ba Maw came to be suspected by the Japanese, and an addled Japanese professor of geopolitics, Asai Tokiuchi, was manipulated by Terauchi into an unsuccessful assassination attempt against the Burmese premier. (Terauchi also saw to it that Asai was tried by a Japanese military court, rather than a puppet Burmese civilian court, and received only a 15-year sentence.) With the Japanese capitulation, Nakano men hid Ba Maw in a Buddhist monastery in Japan. Ba Maw was later betrayed by one of the local Japanese, but the British chose to release him rather than risk making a martyr of him.

China. China had been divided and weak since the death of Yuan Shikai in 1916, which threw the country into warlordism. The reunification efforts of the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek were only partially successful, and Chiang had plenty of powerful enemies. However, the Japanese had considerably difficulty finding a leader for the North China Provisional Government, the puppet government they set up in Peiping on 14 December 1937. The original puppet ruler, Wang K'o-min, was replaced with Wang I-t'ang in June 1940, The Japanese were dissatisfied with Wang I-t'ang and replaced him with Chu Shen on 9 February 1943. Chu died a few months later, Wang was brought back into "power" for a year before himself falling ill, and he was succeeded by Wang Yin-t'ai. The Japanese also established the Hsin Min Hui, or New People's Association, with the stated goals of "thought control, elimination of racial prejudice, realization of unity between Japan and [China], and coordination of government affairs" (Hsiung and Levine 1992). However, the organization's real function was to exploit China for the benefit of the Japanese.

The Japanese instituted a second puppet government, the Reformed Government, at Nanking on 28 March 1938. Again, they had some difficulty finding a puppet ruler, but persuaded Liang Hung-chih to head the government. Its leaders  immediately moved from Nanking back to the New Asia Hotel at Shanghai, and they became known derisively as the "Hotel Government." The Japanese suborned the Hsing-Ya (Rejuvenating Asia) Society and renamed it the Ta-min (Great People) Association to play the same role here as the New People's Association did in the north. The Reformed Government was absorbed into the puppet national government of Wang Ching-Wei in March 1940.

The Japanese were able to suborn Wang Ching-wei to lead a puppet government in Nanking. Wang was vice-president of the Kuomintang and president of the Executive Yuan from 1932 to 1935 and a leftist rival of Chiang. He was approached during secret negotiations between Chiang and the Japanese in April 1938. After the negotiations broke down and Wang's nephew was assassinated by Chiang's secret service (Wang was the intended target), Wang was inaugurated as head of the Nanking government 30 March 1938. However, as the Japanese did not trust him, he had little more real power than Pu Yi in Manchuria. Allen (1984) claims that some Japanese even suspected that Wang was still working for Chiang. A puppet army was raised that was substantial in numbers (600,000) but even weaker than the legitimate Kuomintang forces in fighting power. Indeed, the puppet forces sometimes colluded with the Kuomintang forces, and proved a significant obstacle to Chinese Communist infiltration, a fact the Communists exploited for propaganda purposes.

The Nanking Government was weakened politically the re-defection of Kao Tsung-wu (Gao Zongwu) and T'ao Hsi-sheng (Tao Xisheng) in January 1940. The two men appeared in Hong Kong and denounced the Japanese for their crushing demands on the Nanking Government. A third collaborator, Chou Fo-pei (Zhou Fobei), became a mole for Chiang within the Nanking Government. The peace feelers extended by Chiang to the Japanese in August 1940 may have had no other purpose than to further undermine the Nanking Government with the Japanese.

The Nanking government was crippled by a shortage of revenues, since the Japanese Army kept most of the salt tax and customs fees. The currency issued by the Kuomintang, the fapi, continued to quietly circulate, a stunning popular vote of no confidence in the puppet regime. The willingness of the British to continue conducting most of their business in fapi was a source a friction prior to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, contributing to incidents at Tientsin and elsewhere.

Wang died on 9 November 1944 in a Japanese hospital and so escaped the humiliation of trial and execution for treason. Ch'eng Kung-po took his place, in both senses.

The fear of a genuine pan-Asian movement taking root, and proving hostile to Western interests in Asia, lay behind much of the American emphasis on keeping China in the war. The Americans also put considerable pressure on the British to make concessions to Indian nationalists, which likely hastened the postwar independence of India and Pakistan.

French Indochina. Although the Japanese initially left the Vichy French government of French Indochina in place, the French administration fell under increasing suspicion as the Free French were established in Metropolitan France. In March 1945, as the Japanese became aware of OSS plans for a rising against the occupiers, the Japanese preemptively disarmed or massacred the French armed forces and installed a new puppet government under Emperor Bao Dai. This government was overthrown, in turn, by the Viet Minh following the Japanese surrender.

India. The Japanese set up Azad Hind, a "provisional government" for India, in 1943. Its leader was Subhas Chandra Bose, a former leader of the Indian National Congress, graduate of Cambridge, and mayor of Calcutta who had rejected the tactics of peaceful resistance and negotiation. Bose had established contacts with the Axis during the 1930s, even secretly marrying an Austrian girl while visiting Hitler and Mussolini. Arrested for sedition on 2 July 1940, he had escaped through Afghanistan and Russia and taken refuge in Germany. Here he contacted the Japanese and demanded 10,000,000 rupees and 10,000 rifles to raise an Indian army for the Japanese. He was transferred to Japan via submarine on 26 April 1943. Bose persuaded Mutaguchi that India was teetering on the brink of revolution and would go over to the Axis side if he led an army of Indian nationalists into India. This probably influenced Mutaguchi's decision to carry out the disastrous U-Go offensive.

The Japanese had made a halfhearted effort to organize an Indian National Army from Indian prisoners of war, for whom collaboration seemed a better hope for survival than continued imprisonment. Efforts dated to as early as 13 December 1941, when a Japanese staff officer, Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, negotiated an agreement with a Sihk prisoner of war, Major Mohan Singh, to organize a collaborationist army. However, Singh dissolved the first INA following a dispute with the civilian leaders of the Indian Independence League in December 1942 and was promptly arrested by the Japanese. Bose enthusiastically recruited troops for the second INA, which numbered 25,000 by mid-1944 and eventually included 40,000 of the 55,000 Indian prisoners of war taken at Singapore.

The INA participated in the U-Go operation, the invasion of India, one of the purposes of which was to establish Bose's puppet government on Indian soil. The Japanese wanted to use the INA as guerrillas and scouts, but Bose insisted that Subhas Brigade be used as a regular military force. However, the INA proved to be unreliable allies for the Japanese. Many of its soldiers tried to desert back to the Allies at the first opportunity. Others were summarily executed by loyal Indian troops inflamed by Japanese atrocities in Burma. An INA unit that represented the only troops in a position to block Messervy's crossing of the Irrawady during the 1944 Burma campaign promptly surrendered, leading Slim to make the acid observation that "This incident was, I think, the chief contribution the Indian National Army made to either side in the Burma War" (Lewin 1976). The bulk of 1 INA Division, some 150 officers and 3000 men, surrendered to 5 Indian Division on 23 April 1945, during the drive on Rangoon, and were immediately put to work restoring the airfields at Toungoo.

Relations between the remnants of INA and the Japanese had by this time become so strained that the Japanese considered disarming INA. Colonel Kagawa Yoshio of Hikari Kikan successfully opposed this move on the grounds that the Indians would see it as a betrayal.

Whatever else may be said of Bose, he was a brave man. He was reluctant to leave Rangoon even after the Japanese evacuated the city. In order to protect the Indian civilian population, he instructed one of his major generals to remain in Rangoon with 500 men to maintain order until the British arrived. Evacuated to Moulmein and then Bangkok, he decided to turn to the Russians for support against the British in India, but was killed in an air accident at Formosa en route to Japan. This incident has has spawned various conspiracy theories.

The postwar efforts by the British to try and punish members of the INA were met by strong protests by Indian nationalists. Gandhi claimed that "India adores these men ... The hypnotism of the INA has cast its spell upon us" (Gilbert 1989). Three who were sentenced to death had their sentences commuted to "rigorous inprisonment," which was still enough to provoke rioting, and some 11,000 were released in a blanket amnesty shortly thereafter.

Malaya. In addition to Azad Hind, Fujiwara organized a Malay fifth column from members of the nationalist Kesatuan Muda Melays (Malay Youth Movement). These wore an "F" armband and were known as F-men. The Japanese occupation forces left the existing civil services largely intact, but replaced British officials with Malays. However, ethnic Chinese were active in organizing guerrilla operations against the Japanese. For example, Lim Bo Seng was an ethnic Chinese from Singapore who helped organize a guerrilla force in Malaya. Prior to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, he had helped organize anti-Japanese boycotts and raise money for the Kuomintang from the ethnic Chinese community.

Manchuria. In September 1931 a cabal of middle-grade officers manufactured an incident on the South Manchuria Railway by setting a bomb near the tracks outside Mukden. The bomb did no damage but was blamed on the Manchurians, providing an excuse for Kwantung Army to seize control of all Manchuria. The civilian government in Tokyo was unable to restrain the army and, rather than lose face, proclaimed the independence of the puppet state of Manchukuo (Manzhouguo) on 18 January 1932.

The puppet Manchukuo government was directed by "advisors" drawn largely from Kwangtung Army. The head of state was Pu Yi, the last Qing emperor of China, who had been forced to abdicate in 1912 and was spirited to Manchuria in 1931 by Dohihara Kenji. Pu Yu was originally titled as regent, but was proclaimed emperor in 1934. The Manchukuo armed forces numbered more than 110,000 men, but their combat power was negligible and the puppet government was propped up by Kwantung Army, which was ever on the guard against the Russians to the north, east, and west.

Netherlands East Indies. Of all the collaborationist governments, that organized by Indonesian nationalists under Sukarno enjoyed the greatest popular support. Dutch rule had been harsh until late 19th century, when it was transformed under the Ethical Policy (Ethische Politiek) from brutal to hamhanded. Sukarno was encouraged by Imamura Hitoshi, the commander of 16 Army, who adopted an unusually lenient policy towards the NEI, much to the dismay of Southern Army and Imperial General Headquarters. Sukarno chaired the Empat Serangkai (Four-leaf Clover), a committee of four that coordinated the various popular movements encouraged by the Japenese. These included the All-Java Cultural Movement in October 1942 with 20,000 members, which was modeled on the Imperial Rule Assistance Association in Japan, and there were plans to expand it to 200,000 members. Attempts to insert Allied agents into the Netherlands East Indies were uniformly disastrous, with practically all the agents being arrested immediately after being landed. Their radios were then used to transmit false information to Allied intelligence. However, by the end of the war, Sukarno had come to regret his collaboration with the Japanese, perceiving that he had been a tool.

In March 1943 the Japanese organized a puppet army, the Pembela Tanah Air ("Defenders of the Fatherland"), known among the Japanese themselves as the Giyūgun ("Indonesian Volunteer Army"). This grew to some 35,000 members. However, growing dissatisfaction with the Japanese came to a head in February 1945, when Suprijadi led a mutiny of the PETA battalion at Blitar in eastern Java. The Kempeitai suppressed the mutiny and arrested all but Suprijadi himself, who vanished and was never seen again. The Japanese compelled Sukarno to attend the court-martial of the leaders but handed out relatively light sentences. Suprijadi was named to the first Sukarno cabinet but never reappeared. It is possible the Japanese secretly executed him without trial to avoid a public outcry.

It has been estimated that about a thousand Japanese troops on Java deserted at the time of the surrender, blending into the local communities and, in some cases, supporting the nationalist guerrillas.

Philippines. The Philippines were granted "independence" in October 1943 under the puppet government of Jose Laurel, but the Filipinos had already been promised independence by the Americans by 1948 and most remained loyal to the Allied side. As one Japanese Imperial General Headquarters report noted (Morison 1958):

... even after their independence, there remains among all classes in the Philippines a strong undercurrent of pro-American sentiment ... something steadfast, which cannot be destroyed.... Guerrilla activities are gradually increasing.

No occupied country had a more active guerrilla movement than the Philippines. However, not all the guerrillas were loyal to the United States; the 30,000 guerrillas of the Communist Huk movement were fighting for international Communism, not the return of the Americans.

The Japanese occupation of the Philippines became increasingly brutal as the American counteroffensive drew closer to the islands. One Nakano School graduate saw a missed opportunity here: "Spain, he noted, had bequeathed Christianity in three hundred years of rule. The United States had given the islands roads, cars, and Hollywood movies in fifty years of colonial administration. The Japanese, however, had only take from the islands in their brief occupation" (Mercadfo 2002). The Japanese organized a puppet political party, the Kalibapi (Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas, "Organization in the Service of the New Philippines") on 8 December 1942. Later the Japanese organized a quisling militia, the makapili (Makabayan Katipunan Ñg Mga Pilipino or Alliance of Philippine Patriots), which eventually numbered 5000 strong. Roundups of suspected American agents intensified, and there were lineups at which "secret eyes," members of the makapili hooded to conceal their identities, denounced suspects who were then imprisoned in the dungeons of Fort Santiago.

Laurel has been defended by former Filipino resistance leaders for doing his best for the nation, including resisting Japanese pressure to draft Filipinos to fight against the Allies. It has been claimed that the makapili were organized as a ploy to displace Laurel in favor of a more pliant collaborationist government (Salonga 2000).

Thailand. The Thai government submitted to the Japanese within a day of the outbreak of war in the Pacific, and the Japanese left the government essentially unchanged. However, key points in the country were occupied, and the Thais became unwilling allies of the Japanese. The Thai ambassador in Washington refused to deliver the Thai declaration of war, declaring that it was illegal and the product of Japanese duress. By 1944 Thai agents had become invaluable sources of intelligence from throughout southeast Asia.


Allen (1984)

Dorn (1974)

Gilbert (1989)

Hastings (2007, 2011)

Hoyt (1993)
Hsiung and Levine (1992)

Lewin (1976)

Mercado (2002)

Mitter (2013)
Morison (1958)

Roberts (2011)

Rottman (2002)

Salonga (2000-3-8; accessed 2008-11-21)
Shimer and Hobbs (1986)

Spector (1985)

The Mighty Forces of Manchukuo (accessed 2008-4-14)

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