The outpouring of Chinese propaganda about its self-proclaimed victory over Japan 70 years ago has drowned the actual history of Asia during World War 2. China, well supported by western media, likes to believe that the whole of Asia was united in its opposition to Japan’s war against the US, Britain and China. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Elsewhere the Japanese at first were highly regarded, as they claimed, as liberators of Asian peoples from the yoke of western colonialism. Despite Japan’s own colonial activities in China and Korea, this had a strong appeal. Nationalists sought to further their own goals by cooperating with the Japanese, at least in the first instance.
In the Philippines many leading families and politicians collaborated with the Japanese even while most of the government of President Quezon went into exile in the US.
In Indonesia, nationalist leader Sukarno welcomed the Japanese and cooperated with them throughout the war, including helping them recruit Javanese labourers for work overseas – many of whom died. Japanese food requisitions caused food shortages in Java.
In Malaysia and Singapore, resistance to the Japanese was almost entirely an ethnic Chinese affair and seen as part of a wider war against Japan. Malay leaders kept a low profile. The anti-Japanese leader, Chin Peng, was decorated by the British but went on to lead the 1948-1960 Communist insurgency which was nominally nationalist but had little support from the Malay majority.