Stargazing Diplomacy: Matsuoka Yōsuke’s Attempt to Reorder the World, 194041

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:50 AM
Salon 7 (Palmer House Hilton)
Jeremy Yellen, Chinese University of Hong Kong
This paper seeks to reconsider the global diplomacy of Matsuoka Yōsuke, wartime Japan’s irascible and bombastic foreign minister. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere ideal represented the linchpin of his grand strategy to remake Asia under Japan. Yet the centrality of the Sphere to Matsuoka, as well as its utility in foreign policy, is rarely mentioned in English-language studies on Matsuoka’s foreign policy. This paper will highlight how Matsuoka used what is best thought of as “sphere of influence diplomacy” to achieve Japanese hegemony in Asia. On the one hand, he engaged in used negotiations with the Axis powers, the United States, and the Soviet Union to gain great power acceptance of Japan’s regional leadership. On the other hand, he aided attempts to build the Co-Prosperity Sphere via a series of economic talks across Southeast Asia and through the mediation of the Thai-French Indochina war. He believed peaceful but hard-nosed diplomacy would convince Asian countries and the great powers alike to recognize Japan as the head of an Asian family of nations.

Matsuoka may have crafted a global vision to solidify the trend toward pan-regional blocs, but his diplomacy was the diplomacy of a stargazer. As farsighted as it was unrealistic, the foreign minister’s sphere of influence pipe dream highlighted Japan’s future as poised on a knife-edge. In pursuing his sphere of influence diplomacy, Matsuoka strove to build a new world order that would emerge after war’s end. This effort, however, depended on a string of improbable foreign policy successes that brooked no failure. His diplomacy had initial successes, but offered little to win over either policymakers in Washington or London or Southeast Asian colonial elites. Matsuoka’s vision, though global in character, was as impractical as it was naïve.