Racial Equality Proposal

The Racial Equality Proposal (Japanese: 人種的差別撤廃提案, Hepburn: Jinshutekisabetsu teppai teian, lit. "Proposal to abolish racial discrimination") was an amendment to the treaty under consideration at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference offered by Japan. The racial equality proposal was never intended to have any universal implications, although one was attached to it anyway, which drove its contentiousness at the conference.[1] Foreign Minister Uchida stated in June 1919 that the racial equality proposal was not intended to demand universal racial equality of all coloured peoples, but only for members of the League of Nations.[1] Though broadly supported, it did not become part of the Treaty of Versailles, largely because of the opposition of Australia and the United States. Its rejection led to the alienation of Japan from the other great powers and increased nationalism leading up to World War II. The principle of racial equality would be revisited after the Second World War and be incorporated into the United Nations Charter in 1945 as the fundamental principle of international justice. Despite that, several countries, including the two aforementioned powers, would retain officially-sanctioned racial laws and policies for decades afterwards.


Japan attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 as one of the five great powers, and as the only non-Western great power.[2] The presence of Japanese delegates in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles signing the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919 reflected the culmination of a half century of an intensive national effort to transform Japan into a modern state on the international stage.[2]

Japanese domestic politics[edit]

Prime Minister Hara Takashi had come into power in September 1918, he was determined that Japan should adopt a pro-western foreign policy (欧米協調主義, ōbei kyōchō shugi) at the forthcoming peace conference in Versailles.[3] This was largely in consequence to the previous wartime governments under Prime Ministers Ōkuma Shigenobu and Terauchi Masatake following expansionist policies, which had the effect of alienating Japan from the United States and Britain.[3] Hara was determined to support the creation of the League of Nations at the peace conference, in order to steer Japan back to the West.[3] However, there was a not insignificant degree of scepticism expressed towards the League in Japan. Domestically, opinion was divided into those who supported the League and those who opposed it, with the latter being more representative of national opinion (国論, kokuron).[4] Hence, the proposal had the role of appeasing these opponents by making Japan's acceptance of the League conditional on having a racial equality clause inserted into the covenant of the League.[4]


French Senator Léon Bourgeois

After the end of seclusion in the 1850s, Japan signed unequal treaties (the so-called Ansei Treaties) but soon came to demand equal status with the Western powers. Correcting inequality became the most urgent international issue of the Meiji government. In this context, the Japanese delegation to the Paris peace conference proposed the "racial equality clause" in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The first draft was presented to the League of Nations Commission on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21:

The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.

In a speech, the Japanese diplomat Makino Nobuaki stated that during the war men of different races had fought together on the Allied side, leading to say: "A common bond of sympathy and gratitude has been established to an extent never before experienced."[5] The Japanese delegation did not realize the full ramifications of their proposal, since its adoption would have challenged aspects of the established norms of the (Western dominated) international system of the day, which involved the colonial rule over non-white peoples. The intention of the Japanese was to secure equality of their nationals and the equality for members of the League of Nations;[1] however, a universalist meaning and implication of the proposal became attached to it within the delegation, which drove its contentiousness at the conference.[6]

Lord Robert Cecil stated after Makino's speech that the Japanese proposal was a very controversial one and he suggested that perhaps the matter was so controversial that it should not be discussed at all.[5] The Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos also suggested that a clause banning religious discrimination should also be removed as that was also a very controversial matter, which led to objections from a Portuguese diplomat who stated that his country had never signed a treaty before that did not mention God, which caused Cecil to remark perhaps this time they would all just have to a take a chance that they would avoid the wrath of the Almighty by not mentioning Him.[5] Cecil removed all references to clauses that forbade racial and religious discrimination from the text of the peace treaty, but the Japanese made it clear that they would seek to have the racial equality clause restored.[5] By this time, the racial equality clause was beginning to draw widespread public attention. Demonstrations in Japan demanded the end of the "badge of shame" as policies to exclude Japanese immigration in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand received much media attention in Japan.[5] In the United States, the racial equality clause received much negative media coverage, especially on the Pacific coast and in the South, though for different reasons.[5] The Chinese delegation that was otherwise at daggers drawn with the Japanese over the question of who was receive the former German colony of Qingdao together with the rest of the German concessions in Shandong province also said that they would support the racial equality clause.[5] However, one Chinese diplomat said at the time that the Shandong question was far more important to his government than the racial equality clause.[5]

Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes clarified his opposition and announced at a meeting that "ninety-five out of one hundred Australians rejected the very idea of equality."[7] Hughes had entered politics as a trade unionist, and like most of the Australian working class was very strongly opposed to Asian immigration to Australia (excluding Asian immigration was a popular cause with unions in Canada, the U.S, Australia, and New Zealand in the early 20th century). Hughes believed that accepting the Racial Equality clause would mean the end of the White Australia immigration policy that had been adopted in 1901, writing: "No Gov't could live for a day in Australia if it tampered with a White Australia".[8] Hughes stated: "The position is this-either the Japanese proposal means something or it means nothing: if the former, out with it; if the latter, why have it?"[8] The New Zealand Prime Minister William Massey also came out in opposition to the Racial Equality Clause, though not as vociferously as Hughes.[8]

Then, Makino Nobuaki, the career diplomat who headed the Japanese delegation, announced at a press conference: "We are not too proud to fight but we are too proud to accept a place of admitted inferiority in dealing with one or more of the associated nations. We want nothing but simple justice."[9] France declared its support for the racial equality proposal as the French position had always been that French language and culture was a "civilizing" force open to all regardless of skin color.[8] The British Prime Minister David Lloyd George found himself in an awkward situation: Britain had signed an alliance with Japan in 1902, but at the same time, Lloyd George wanted to hold the British Empire delegation together.[8] The South African Prime Minister General Jan Smuts and the Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden tried to work out a compromise, visiting Nobuaki and Chinda Sutemi and Hughes, serving as mediators.[8] Borden and Smuts were able to arrange a meeting between Nobuaki, Chinda and Hughes which ended badly. The Japanese diplomats wrote that Hughes was a vulgar "peasant", loud and obnoxious while Hughes complained that the Japanese had been "beslobbering me with genuflexions and obsequious deference".[8] However, Borden and Smuts were able to persuade Hughes to accept the Racial Equality Clause provided it was declared that the clause did not affect immigration.[8] Nobuaki and Chinda in their turn rejected the compromise.[8]

The proposal was also problematic for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a segregationist who also needed the votes of segregationist Southern Democrats to succeed in getting the votes needed for the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty.[citation needed] Strong opposition from the British Empire delegations gave him a pretext to reject the proposal.[citation needed]

April 11 voting[edit]

On April 11, 1919, the commission held a final session.[10] Makino stated the Japanese plea for human rights and racial equality.[11] British representative Robert Cecil spoke for the British Empire and addressed opposition to the proposal.[12] Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando spoke in favor of the statement on human rights.[13] French Senator Léon Bourgeois urged adoption and stated that it would be impossible to reject this proposal that embodied "an indisputable principle of justice".[14]

The proposal received a majority vote on the day.[10] Eleven of the seventeen delegates present voted in favor of its amendment to the charter, and no negative vote was taken. The votes for the amendment tallied thus:

Total: 11 Yes

The chairman, President Wilson, overturned it, saying that although the proposal had been approved by a clear majority, that in this particular matter, strong opposition had manifested itself (despite the lack of any actual votes against the proposal[15]), and that on this issue a unanimous vote would be required. This strong opposition came from the British delegation.[16] French Delegate Ferdinand Larnaude immediately stated "A majority had voted for the amendment".[17] The Japanese delegation wanted the transcript to show that a clear majority had been voted for the amendment to the Charter.[17]

Though the proposal itself was compatible with British stance of equality for all subjects as a principle for maintaining imperial unity, there were significant deviations in the stated interests of its Dominions, notably Australia. As it risked undermining the White Australia Policy, then Prime Minister of Australia Billy Hughes and Joseph Cook vigorously opposed the proposal behind the scenes, and so advocated against it through the British delegation. Without the support of its Dominions, the British delegation could not take such a stand on principle. According to Robert Cecil, the delegate representing the British Empire at the Conference, in his diary:

... it is curious how all the foreigners perpetually harp on principle and right and other abstractions, whereas the Americans and still more the British are only considering what will give the best chance to the League of working properly.[18]

To placate Japan, Wilson promised to support the Japanese claims on the former German possessions in China, saying that this would be Japan's reward for accepting the rejection of the racial equality proposal.[19] Furthermore, over the advice of his navy, Wilson also agreed to support Japanese claims to the Marianas, Marshall and Caroline islands in the Pacific (which Japan had occupied in 1914), though as mandates that Japan would administer on behalf of the League of Nations, instead of allowing the Japanese to annex the islands outright as they had wanted.[20] In May 1919, the peace conference formally decided that Japan would receive the Carolines, Marshall and the Marianas as Class C League of Nations mandates.[21] During the 1920s, the Japanese violated the terms of the mandates by preventing representatives of the League from visiting the islands, by bringing in settlers on the islands, and by building military bases, most notably at Truk, which became the main Japanese naval base in the Pacific.[21] The Canadian historian Margaret Macmillan noted that some of the islands that Japan had been awarded in 1919 to peacefully develop became the scenes for famous battles in World War II, most notably Truk, Tinian, and Saipan.[21]


In the end, Cecil felt that British support for the League of Nations was a more crucial goal. The Japanese media fully covered the progress of the conference, leading to an alienation of Japanese public opinion towards the United States of America, leading to broader conflicts later on. In the United States, racial riots resulted from the American deliberate inaction.[22] Although the exclusion of the racial equality proposal allowed Wilson to keep Southern Democratic allies on his side, this proved insufficient to get the treaty ratified by the United States Senate, and the United States never joined the League of Nations. The mood of the international system changed dramatically by 1945, so that this contentious point of racial equality would be incorporated into the United Nations Charter in 1945 as the fundamental principle of international justice.

As such, some historians consider that this point could be listed among the many causes of conflict and which led to Japanese actions later on. They argue that the rejection of the racial equality clause proved to be an important factor in turning Japan away from cooperation with the West and toward nationalistic policies.[19] In 1923, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance expired, which gradually resulted in a closer relationship of Japan to Germany and Italy. However, Prussian militarism was already entrenched in the Imperial Japanese Army, many members of the Army had expected Germany to win the war, and Germany had approached Japan for a separate peace in 1916. The rapprochement towards Germany did not occur until the mid-1930s, a time when Germany had greater ties with Nationalist China.

After the Nazis gained power in Germany, Japan decided to not expel Jewish refugees from China, Manchuria, and Japan[23][24] and advocated the political slogan Hakkō ichiu (literally "eight crown cords, one roof" i.e. "all the world under one roof").

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Shimazu 1998, p. 114.
  2. ^ a b Shimazu 1998, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c Shimazu 1998, p. 38.
  4. ^ a b Shimazu 1998, p. 39.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Macmillan 2007, p. 318.
  6. ^ Shimazu 1998, p. 115.
  7. ^ Kajima, Diplomacy of Japan p. 405 as cited in Lauren 1988, p. 90
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Macmillan 2007, p. 319.
  9. ^ Japan, Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, Documents Distributed to the Public, "Interview du Baron Makino, 2 April 1919", located at the Hoover Institution. "Japan May Bolt World League" San Francisco Chronicle, 3 April 1919. as cited in Lauren 1988, p. 90
  10. ^ a b Lauren 1988, p. 90.
  11. ^ Lauren 1988, p. 91.
  12. ^ Lauren 1988, pp. 91–92.
  13. ^ Lauren 1988, p. 92.
  14. ^ Conférence de paix de Paris, 1919–1920, Recueil des actes de la Conférence, "Secret," Partie 4, pp. 175–176. as cited in Lauren 1988, p. 92
  15. ^ a b Shimazu 1998, pp. 30–31.
  16. ^ Temperley 1924, p. 352.
  17. ^ a b Conférence de paix de Paris, 1919–1920, Recueil des actes de la Conférence, "Secret," Partie 4, p. 177. as cited in Lauren 1988, p. 93
  18. ^ Diary, 4 February 1919, Add.51131, f.33, Cecil Papers, as cited in Shimazu 1998, p. 119.
  19. ^ a b Macmillan 2007, p. 321.
  20. ^ Macmillan 2007, pp. 315–316.
  21. ^ a b c Macmillan 2007, p. 316.
  22. ^ Lauren 1988, p. 99.
  23. ^ "Question 戦前の日本における対ユダヤ人政策の基本をなしたと言われる「ユダヤ人対策要綱」に関する史料はありますか。また、同要綱に関する説明文はありますか。". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  24. ^ "猶太人対策要綱". Five ministers council. Japan Center for Asian Historical Record. 1938-12-06. pp. 36, 42. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2010-10-04.


  • Osborne, Sidney (1921). "The Questions of Race Equality and Shantung". The Japanese Peril. shsu.edu. New York: MacMillan. pp. 62–71. Retrieved 6 January 2015. Japan and the Race Question at the Paris Peace Conference – A Western View of 1921
  • Kiyoshi Kari Kawakami (1919). "The Race Problem and the World League". Japan and World Peace. shsu.edu. New York: MacMillan. pp. 45–62. Retrieved 6 January 2015. Japan and the Race Question at the Paris Peace Conference: A Japanese View in 1919
  • Dikötter, Frank (2006). The construction of racial identities in China and Japan:historical and contemporary perspectives. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-5408-X.
  • Goodman, David G. (2000). Jews in the Japanese mind: the history and uses of a cultural stereotype. Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0167-6.
  • MacMillan, Margaret (2003). Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. Random House. ISBN 0-375-76052-0.
  • Nimmo, William F. (2001). Stars and Stripes Across the Pacific: The United States, Japan, and Asia/Pacific Region, 1895–1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-96453-1.
  • Russell, John G. (2009). "Chapter 5: The other other". Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-77263-X.
  • Shimazu, Naoko (1998). Japan, Race and Equality. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-17207-1.
  • Shin, Gi-Wook (1997). Ethnic nationalism in Korea: genealogy, politics, and legacy. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 1-85065-353-4.
  • Lauren, Paul Gordon (1988). Power And Prejudice: The Politics And Diplomacy Of Racial Discrimination. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-0678-7.
  • H.W.V. Temperley (1924), A History of the Peace Conference of Paris vol.6, London: Henry Frowde and Hodder Stoughton