50. Telegram From the Embassy in Japan to the Department of State1
4232. For Bundy from Ambassador. Ref: Embtel 4133.2
I had long private talk with PriMin Sato on 14th with view to getting his personal evaluation of how Japanese public reaction to expanded Vietnam war has affected various aspects of U.S.-Japanese [Page 98] relationship. I wished to get this reading before I returned to Washington July 1 and felt I should take it before Sato became too deeply involved in current election campaign leading up to upper house election on July 4.
Sato said he was disturbed over strength of reaction of left and intellectual community to Vietnam and felt that both U.S. and GOJ must do better in public relations, but only specific suggestion he had was that we should invite more newsmen and writers to see conditions in South Vietnam themselves. (He mentioned plans of former PriMin Kishi and others along these lines.) He assured me that GOJ remained firm in its commitment to support U.S. on Vietnam and reminded me that he had told President Johnson in January that U.S. would have to have patience and determination since war in Vietnam was sure to be long one.
Sato’s attitude however seemed to me basically cautious and negative. He said that he had received enthusiatic response from crowds when he had stressed in electioneering talks over weekend fact that Vietnam war was far away and that there was no danger that Japan would get involved. I gathered that his campaign strategy in meeting leftist attack is to disassociate Japan as much as possible from the war.
He also made it clear that until he knew what election results were he could not judge just what effect Vietnam had had on political situation in Japan. Regarding Japan’s own defense posture, he mentioned increasing budgetary problems which would continue to limit defense expenditures but said that he felt Matsuno, new Director of Defense Agency, was able young [garble] who would turn in good performance. (At 48 Matsuno is youngest member of new cabinet.) When I inquired about Japan’s role in economic development of SE Asia, Sato replied that serious economic readjustments were necessary in Japan because if Ikeda’s misguided policies in past and Japan was not in position for greatly increased economic role abroad.
Only really positive note was Sato’s off-hand suggestion that sometime after elections it might be well for him to “hop over to Washington” for informal talks. If elections come out well for Sato and his confidence as result is somewhat restored, such a visit might indeed be useful in helping get GOJ back on road toward more positive role in Far East. We shall have to wait however until election results are in and their meaning has been fully digested before we can tell if we should try to push ahead to deepen U.S.-Japan relationship or should batten down hatches until Vietnam storm lets up a bit.