117. Editorial Note

The discussion between Assistant Secretary Bundy and Ambassador Shimoda on February 17, 1968 (see footnote 4, Document 116), prompted a meeting between Ambassador Johnson and Deputy Foreign Minister Ushiba to discuss matters affecting the United States-Japan relationship. (Telegram 5799 from Tokyo, February 21; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL JAPAN–US)

Within a few days of those meetings both Prime Minister Sato and Foreign Minister Miki adopted a firmer posture toward Okinawa, unequivocally stating that the Japanese Government had no intention of asking the United States to remove B–52s from bases there. The United States, in turn, assured the Japanese that the B–52s were stationed temporarily on Kadena and would be redeployed at the conclusion of the current crises. Prime Minister Sato also stressed that the bases on Okinawa functioned as a deterrent to aggression and served the security needs of Japan. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister addressed specific public fears in comments about the B–52s by describing their presence as temporary, by noting that they carried conventional rather than nuclear weapons, and by expressing confidence that the sorties originating from Okinawa would not result in a retaliatory attack on the Islands by a foreign power. (Telegrams 5953 and 5954 from Tokyo, February 27; ibid., POL 15–1 JAPAN)

Although Japanese leaders adopted a firmer, and from the Embassy’s point of view a more positive, approach toward diffusing criticism of U.S. bases in Okinawa, their response to the situation in Vietnam differed significantly. Ambassador Johnson reported that both Prime Minister Sato and Foreign Minister Miki, as well as many other Liberal Democratic Party members, out of concern for their domestic political standing, adopted “a more and more bearish attitude on our prospects in Vietnam.” Ambassador Johnson stated that Prime Minister Sato believed “he has very much hitched his wagon to our star, especially on Vietnam; our current difficulties there embarrass him, and failure on our part in Vietnam would destroy him politically,” and pondered how to distance himself from the U.S. effort in Vietnam. Aside from the purely political impact a United States failure in Vietnam could have, the Embassy sensed that Prime Minister Sato and Foreign Minister Miki feared that a defeat could eventually have a negative impact on the entire security relationship between Japan and the United States. The Administration conceded that little could be done about the totality of the situation except to keep the Japanese fully informed of developments in Vietnam and attempt to maintain their confidence in a United States success there. (Telegram 5848 from Tokyo, February 23; ibid., POL JAPAN–US)

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The last major issue, that of Japan’s response to events in Korea, remained unsettled at this time. The Ambassador was instructed to consult with Prime Minister Sato and other high-level officials on Korea and to stress the United States objective of deepening Japan’s involvement in reducing tensions in both Korean states either directly or through multilateral bodies, such as the Asian and Pacific Council or the United Nations. In order to meet that goal, the Department of State was prepared to share highly sensitive intelligence about North Korea with Japan, including Central Intelligence Agency reports and transcripts of the negotiations undertaken to effect the release of the Pueblo crew. Toward that end, a Central Intelligence Agency expert on Korea was dispatched to brief Japanese Foreign Office officials. The briefing took place on February 29. (Telegram 119498, February 22, and telegram 120027, February 24, both to Tokyo, as well as telegram 9057 from Tokyo, March 1; all ibid.; telegram 5818 from Tokyo, February 23; ibid., POL 33–6 KOR N–US) According to Department of State intelligence, Japan’s interests focused nearly exclusively on the Republic of Korea. Japanese relations with the People’s Republic of Korea were “minimal and chilly,” characterized by frequent seizures of Japanese fishing boats by the North Koreans under the guise of territorial-waters violations and periodic condemnations for Japan’s treatment of its Korean minority. (Intelligence Note No. 183, March 7; ibid., POL JAPAN–KOR N)

With regard to the convergence of circumstances and their effect on relations between Japan and the United States, Ambassador Johnson expressed his views in a letter of February 23 on short-term United States interests relative to issues like the B–52s, Korea, and Vietnam and on whether pursuing them unnecessarily risked Prime Minister Sato’s efforts to rationalize Japanese defense policy. Ambassador Johnson believed that “the stakes for us in Vietnam and Korea are so high and so urgent that we should no longer hold back our punches with the GOJ in the hope that by continuing to be overly solicitous of GOJ domestic sensitivities we will be able to nurture the Japanese to the point that they will be able to better stand with us in some future crisis. Frankly, I feel that the crisis is here and that we should have no hesitancy in seeking to ‘cash some of the checks’ against the long line of deposits that we have made to the Japanese.” What Ambassador Johnson saw as the resulting “friendly confrontation” would serve to strengthen the relationship; but he also noted that in the end Japan had “no one else to whom to turn.” (Letter from U. Alexis Johnson to Richard L. Sneider, February 23; ibid., POL 1 JAPAN–US)