37. Telegram From the Embassy in Japan to the Department of State1

2067. Sato Visit.

In hour session alone with me following more formal talk today (Embtel 2058),2 Sato stressed that while defense not on agenda for Washington talks, it is really main subject, since China, Vietnam, Korea, etc.,3 are from his point of view just aspects of defense problem Japan faces. Various papers presented Embassy and Dept yesterday, he said, represented surface views which would do little damage if leaked to public, but did not necessarily represent his real thinking. I gathered some of following points he made to me in private were items he planned to discuss in session which we understand he hopes to have alone with President. (Absence of other Japanese I believe is important point to him in such session.)
Sato launched into problem of nuclear defense, stating his views coincided with those expressed to him by British PM Wilson that if [Page 56] other fellow had nuclears it was only common sense to have them oneself. Japanese public he realized was not ready for this but would have to be educated to this point, and he felt younger generation showed hopeful signs of going this way. Nuclears he had discovered were much less costly than was generally assumed and Japanese scientific and industrial level was fully up to producing them. He then hastily added that, of course, Japan had none of “imperialistic” ambitions of past so U.S. should not be worried by what he said. In next few years he felt Japan must basically rethink whole defense problem. In this connection he repeated several times that constitution must be revised, though time not yet ripe for this.
Comment: This is first time I have had chance to get direct flavor of Sato thinking and I find he indeed lives up to reputation of being less judiciously cautious than Ikeda. His forthrightness and enthusiasm are refreshing, but I see grave dangers too. He needs more guidance and education by us than did Ikeda to keep him out of dangerous courses (such as his implied independent Japanese nuclear stand), and his views which are bound to leak out to some extent could set off some serious repercussions in Japan. For these reasons I believe recommendations of paragraph 5 of Embtel 20134 are all the more valid.
Regarding other defense questions, Sato admitted progress still slow toward military buildup, though he was happy about two laws regarding self-defense forces recently passed (A–864)5 and continuing program for production F 104’s. He spoke as if Japanese could soon push up defense spending to 2 percent of GNP, but admitted that elevating defense agency to defense ministry, which seemingly a trivial problem, could not be achieved for little while. When I pointed out Japanese lack of military secrets law severely inhibited closeness of U.S.-Japan defense relationship, he showed himself well aware of problem, but claimed one difficulty was that constitution made secret trial impossible and without that military secrets law could not be adequately [Page 57] enforced. He welcomed my suggestion that I inquire into how U.S. handles this problem and discuss further with him.
Regarding China problem Sato reemphasized necessity of not “letting Taiwan go” to Chicoms and need for coordinated strategy with U.S. on this. As long as Chiang Kai-shek alive, he felt GRC would not give up its claim to be only China and therefore present balanced Japanese policy toward two Chinas would have to be maintained, but after Chiang leaves scene a more permanent settlement in terms of an “independent Taiwan” would be necessary. He sounded much more hopeful about keeping Peiping out of UN than does Foreign Office, obviously regarding this as vital line of defense for GOJ on China problem. He seemed to feel that some means could be found if UN dam gives way to resist public pressure for recognition of Peiping or at very least prevent break between GRC and Japan.
Comment: Sato seemed to show more determination on China problem than clarify as to how it could be handled. Nothing he said calls for revision of analysis in Embtel 26446 except that Sato seems stronger on determination and weaker on strategy in case of Peiping entry into UN than I had supposed (but this probably not true of Foreign Office).
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 JAPAN. Secret; Limdis.
  2. In telegram 2058, December 29, Reischauer provided a brief overview of the topics discussed with Sato. (Ibid.)
  3. Embassy telegrams covering these and other topics on the agenda for Sato’s visit are ibid.
  4. Paragraph 5 of telegram 2013 from Tokyo, December 23, reads: “If Sato while in Washington asks for fundamental reappraisal of defense relationship we should be prepared to welcome proposal. Whether or not such request is made (and I doubt Japanese quite ready for it yet), we should be addressing ourselves as a matter of priority to a fundamental study of what we would like to see as Japanese defense role and US-Japan military relationship over next ten to twenty years in order to be ready for talks when Japanese propose them, which I believe likely to happen soon and almost certainly within next three years.” (Ibid.)
  5. According to airgram A–864 from Tokyo, Joint Weeka No. 52, December 24, the bills increased the number of Self-Defense Forces by nearly 3,000 and the number of reservists by 5,000, established a new Air Group within each Air Wing, including the 8th Air Wing at Tsuiki Air Base, and permitted Self-Defense members to transport personnel and equipment to Antarctic observation posts. (Ibid., POL 2–1 JAPAN)
  6. The reference is probably in error and should be to telegram 2044 from Tokyo, December 28, in which the Embassy provided a lengthy analysis of the China question in preparation for the Sato visit. It discussed Japan’s attempts to deal with the question of “Two Chinas,” particularly if and when the People’s Republic of China was admitted into the UN. For the time being Japan’s policy did not differ from that of the United States in that Japan opposed entry of the PRC into the UN and supported a non-Communist Taiwan. According to the analysis, Japan was grappling with pressures coming from within Japanese society to move closer to the PRC and with formulation of an approach under changed circumstances. The Embassy urged assistance for Japan in preparing for potential changes that would result if the entry of the PRC into the UN became a reality. (Ibid., POL 7 JAPAN)