70 years and several sea changes later, ANZUS Treaty serves a different world

Sep 16, 2021
japan flag temple
(Image: Unsplash)

When the ANZUS Treaty was signed 70 years ago, Japan was considered a dangerous aggressor, and China was a friend.

Scott Morrison, speaking in the House of Representatives on the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, said the treaty dealt with the world “honestly as it is, in the hope of it becoming more as we would like it to be”.

Nice thought. But ANZUS “honestly as it is” was a world where Japan was seen as a dangerous aggressor, and China was a friend.

ANZUS was a byproduct of the 1951 San Francisco talks for a peace treaty with Japan.

Australia was represented by its foreign minister, Sir Percy Spender. His generation had seen close up the fanaticism and duplicity of Japan’s 1937-45 wars against China and the Allies.

Any peace treaty with Japan should impose the strictest conditions to make sure the atrocities would never happen again, he argued, and with very strong Australian backing.

But at that time the US was already coming to see Japan as a potential Cold War partner. Convicted and indicted war criminals were being released from jail. Ultra-nationalists were demanding Japan should seek recovery of all territory lost through war.

The chief US negotiator, John Foster Dulles, wanted a “soft” peace treaty – one which did not greatly punish Japan for wartime misdeeds and would keep it on side. That ran directly against Australia’s hopes for a rock-solid, no-loophole treaty which would put an end to Japan’s seemingly inherent aggressiveness once and for all.

Sir Percy was especially concerned over the clauses governing disputed territories. Ownership was often left vague – Japan would renounce its wartime claims but would not say to whom. Korea’s Takeshima was promised to Japan, then South Korea and then back to Japan. And so on.

Spender feared that leaving territorial issues unresolved would, as with pre-war Nazi Germany, provide the excuses for future disputes and aggressions.

This left Dulles with a problem. The Australians had been key allies in the war against Japan. They could not be ignored in a peace treaty.

His solution was offer the US “soft” version of the peace treaty to Japan, and then offer the Australians (and New Zealanders) another treaty, ANZUS, that would guarantee them rock-solid US assurance against any attack from a rearmed Japan.

But ANZUS was soon to suffer some sea changes. For no sooner had the 1951 San Francisco treaty been signed when the moves began for the 1954 SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Organisation) treaty to counter alleged Chinese, not Japanese, aggression in South-East Asia.

Sir Percy’s much later successor, Paul Hasluck, after a 1966 tour of South-East Asia, could warn us about “the determination of Communist China to establish hegemony throughout South-East Asia working in the first place through the agency of her North Vietnamese puppets.”

ANZUS was built firmly into the structure of Australia’s alliances against China, not Japan.

Meanwhile what was going on back in Japan? Exactly as Sir Percy Spender had feared.

Within three years Japan was in territorial dispute with ALL of its neighbours, friend or foe alike – with South Korea over Takeshima (Dokto, or East Island in Korean), with Moscow over the Southern Kuriles, and with China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu-tai in Chinese).

In each case Tokyo was insisting its claims to the territories were so correct as not even to be subject to negotiation. The territories were “inalienable” Japanese property.

Yet with regard to the Southern Kuriles, for example, the San Francisco peace treaty as signed by Tokyo and the Allies says unambiguously that “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands”. And for a brief period Tokyo seemed to accept this – that the word Kurile Islands meant the Kurile Islands, including the Southern Kuriles.

But around 1952-54 Tokyo began to say no – that the word Kuriles did not include the Southern Kuriles. The latter belonged to a separate and previously unheard of entity called the “Northern Territories”.

Worse, there could be no peace treaty with Moscow unless the “Northern Territories” were returned.

Tokyo also sought international backing for its claim. In communiques and statements the Western powers, including Australia, have lined up religiously ever since to support Japan’s claim to the Northern Territories, even though in 1951 they had all agreed that Japan should renounce “the Kurile Islands”.

Moderates in Japan trying to find some compromise – for example, give Russia one of the two main Southern Kuriles islands in dispute, plus Alpha – were denounced as traitors and suffered rightist attack. In the early 2000s two of them, including a good friend, were thrown into jail on dubious charges.

The former Russian ambassador who tried to help them left in disgust.

Russian diplomats and officials in Japan continue to suffer Soviet era movement and other restrictions long lifted against employees of all other countries.

Angry demonstrations against the Russian embassy in Tokyo are organised annually on February 7 – Northern Territories day.

At a Vladivostok conference last week President Vladimir Putin said it was “nonsense” that Russia and Japan have not yet concluded a peace treaty.

He was right. And so was Sir Percy.

But so long as the hawks remain in control the “nonsense” will continue, indefinitely it seems.

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