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Monday, August 19, 2013

Historical Look At WW2 Reparations Payments By Japan

Pulling news from the past seems to be what I do best, so let's examine a Nippon Times news article from Wednesday, October 19, 1955, a scant 10 years following Japan's surrender to the Allies after World War II.

The article here looks at reparations... a way for one country, say Japan, to apologize for its role during the war, or rather its mistreatment of citizens of a country, or the country as a whole... in this case Burma.

Now... Burma, for the uninitiated, is officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar... you know... that country you can't pronounce without serious mental thought - Myanmar.

Nowadays, Burma/Myanmar is the second-largest country in Asia (40th largest in the world), having an area of 676,578 km2 (261,227 square miles). Bordered by China, India, Laos and Thailand, it also has a population of over 60-million, making it the 24th-most populated country on the planet. And yet, if you are like me, you probably don't know a hell of a lot about the place, except that there used to be a famous shaving cream named after it - Burma Shave - that used some great connected billboard advertising for it back in the 1950s and earlier.

In the 19th century, after several Anglo-Burma wars, Great Britain had conquered Burma and made it its bitch...until 1948 when it gained its independence and plunged headlong into one of the longest civil wars ever, even though there was nothing very civil about it.

Despite all of this, Burma (as the BBC still insists on calling it on current newscasts), is a very desirable country, rich in gemstones and jewels, oil and natural gas, and possesses a GDP (in 2011) of about $82.7-billion.The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the market value of goods and services of a country, over a period of time.

During World War II, Burma was a major playground for everyone, and much of the country was laid to waste.

Initially, Burma fought on the same side as the Japanese, but many factions within chose to side with their colonial masters, Great Britain... with all of Burma pretty much coming over to the Allies side by the time the war ended.

It is estimated, that the Japanese had 150,00 soldiers die there. I have no idea how many Burmese died.

Then... there is the Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, the Thailand–Burma Railway, a 415-kilometers (258-mile) railway between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), built by Japan in 1943. It is estimated that 330,000 people worked on the line, including 250,000 Asian laborers and 61,000 Allied POWs (prisoners of war), with about 90,000 of the laborers and about 16,000 Allied prisoners dying during its construction.

Think Bridge Over The River Kwai, and see if that jogs any memories or thoughts that have you whistling down memory lane.

So... with that backgrounder, let's look at the news article in the Nippon Times:

Japan and Burma Sign Documents For Reparations

2 Nations Implement 10-Year Payment Agreement

Japan and Burma agreed yesterday to exchange notes agreeing on terms of implementing a reparations and economic agreement, Foreign Office sources announced yesterday.
Notes concerning the agreement were signed in Rangoon by Japanese ambassador Saburo Ohta and Burmese Foreign Minister Sao Hkum Hkio, the announcement said.
Under arrangement terms, Japan will pay Burma $20 million annually (¥7,200,000,000) in goods and services over a period of 10 years.
Burma will be allowed to sign contracts with Japanese firms on a commercial basis, set up a Burmese reparations mission, and join with Japan on a joint committee to settle grievances arising from the agreement.
The reparations and economic cooperation agreement was concluded between the two countries in Rangoon last November.
Specific reparations goods and services to be paid by Japan will be decided later when annual reparations enforcement plan is compiled. Burma is now studying a Japanese plan for the payment for this fiscal year.
Signed yesterday were:
  1. Exchange document concerning procedures for the supply of goods and service.
  2. Exchange document in regard to the joint committee.
  3. Exchange document concerning reparations missions.
  4. Agreed minutes on exchange documents concerning procedures for the supply of goods and service.
The first exchange document stipulates that the Burmese Reparations Mission will conclude contracts with private Japanese firms for reparations goods and services, expressed in yen currency under authentication by the Japanese Government based upon the reparations enforcement plan for each year.
The second exchange document confirms that the two Governments will establish in Tokyo a joint committee composed of one chief delegate and several deputies each. This organ will serve to advise either side on the procedures to be taken on contracts and payment, as well as the compilation of the reparations enforcement plan.
In the third official document, the Japanese Government agrees to the establishment of a Burmese reparations mission empowered with diplomatic privileges in Tokyo in order to conclude reparations contracts with Japanese firms and see that the contracts are carried out faithfully.
In the agreed minutes, it is stipulated that (1) the Japanese Government will be able to recommend private firms for contracts with the Burmese Government; (2) disputes arising from contracts will be settled by the commercial mediation committee, and (3) computation of the amount of reparations to be paid will be fixed on the rate of yen against the dollar in the foreign exchange market as of the day the contracts are approved.

Uh... so... Japan agreed in 1955 to pay Burma reparations payments of $20-million a year for 10 years? 200-million? That's about $7.56-billion in 2013 economic dollars.

Since there was a civil war going on, it's safe to say that not much of that money was actually used to rebuild the country, and was instead probably used... well... you can use your own imagination.

Next - more interesting stuff from the world that was... or maybe something from myself and Noboko.

Andrew Joseph

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