119. Editorial Note

On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced a unilateral deescalation of hostilities toward North Vietnam and declared his intention not to seek reelection. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968, pages 469–476) In the following days Ambassador Johnson reported that in Japan the speech “has been widely misinterpreted here as admission of defeat and reversal of U.S. policy on Vietnam, foreshadowing U.S. withdrawal from Asia,” “as pulling rug out from Sato,” and as a precursor to a reversal of United States policy toward the People’s Republic of China. Ambassador Johnson also stated that in the wake of the speech many Japanese friends of the United States began to advocate that Japan immediately “loosen its ties with U.S. including security relationship and adopt a more independent foreign policy.” (Telegram 7106 from Tokyo, April 3; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL JAPAN–US) In response Ambassador Johnson adopted what he termed a “very hard line” against those views, stressing that the President’s speech represented an “effective and vigorous pursuit of our consistent policy” of seeking a negotiated settlement and an honorable peace in Vietnam. (Telegram 7206 from Tokyo, April 5; ibid.)

Developments in Japan had an impact on Prime Minister Sato, who came “under heavy attack not only by opposition but within his own party for having tied himself too closely to us and then allegedly being left out on a limb by ‘reversal’ of our policy in Vietnam.” (Telegram [Page 271] 7158 from Tokyo, April 4; ibid., POL 27 VIET S) At the Prime Minister’s request, Ambassador Johnson went to Kamakura Villa on Sunday, April 7, for a private meeting. A major topic of the 5-hour discussion was Vietnam and the Prime Minister’s intention of sending a special envoy to Washington to discuss the situation in Vietnam with President Johnson and other high-level officials. The Ambassador provided Prime Minister Sato with an in-depth report on the current military and political situation in Vietnam, with brief mention of the history of United States involvement in the country. (Letter from U. Alexis Johnson to Sneider, April 16, with an attached memorandum of conversation, April 7; ibid., POL JAPAN–US)

At that meeting Sato also expressed his concern that the President’s speech signaled a forthcoming change in U.S. policy toward the People’s Republic of China and his fear that the United States might alter its position precipitously and unilaterally. The Ambassador attempted to allay Prime Minister Sato’s fears and concerns on that topic as well as on the United States role in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. During the conversation, the Prime Minister also expressed satisfaction with the Bonins agreement, voiced his concern about Chinese nuclear development, and mentioned the possibility of an Imperial visit to the United States and a Presidential visit to Japan. (Ibid.)