73. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Okinawa and Bonin Islands


  • Foreign Minister Shiina
  • Ambassador Ryuji Takeuchi
  • Takeshi Yasukawa, Director, North American Affairs Bureau, Foreign Ministry
  • Nobuyuki Nakashima, Deputy Director, North American Affairs Bureau, Foreign Ministry
  • Makoto Watanabe, North American Section, Foreign Ministry
  • Secretary of State Dean Rusk
  • Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer
  • William P. Bundy, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Robert W. Barnett, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Economic Affairs
  • Richard L. Sneider, Country Director for Japan
  • J. O. Zurhellen, Counselor of Embassy, American Embassy, Tokyo
[Page 147]
Foreign Minister Shiina told Secretary Rusk that the GOJ thinks the security problem in the Far East is more important than the so-called “reversion” of Okinawa, but the problem is neither easy nor simple. Twenty years have passed since the end of the war and this question has aroused vocal public opinion. This public reaction may become more severe unless it is treated tactfully. It would help to ameliorate this problem if the U.S. would consider broadening its attitude on the question of the expansion of local autonomy. He did not mean that anything should be done of such a scale that would greatly surprise the Okinawans, but it would be good to take a lenient view. If public opinion was kept under pressure, this would only increase the opposition. Mr. Shiina thought that the agitation regarding reversion could be countered by action in the area of local autonomy.
Foreign Minister Shiina then mentioned the Bonin Islands. He noted that there had been 7,000 residents when the population was moved from the Bonin Islands to Japan during the war. By now, however, very few of them still wish to go back. The majority have found jobs on the mainland of Japan. Because they have not been permitted to return to the islands, however, even those who do not themselves wish to go back have joined in the pressure on this matter. The Foreign Minister wondered whether it would not be possible to experiment with the idea of letting two or three hundred return to the islands as a way of dodging this problem. If the residents realize that they can go back they would gain psychological assurance and would calm down. This was not an urgent problem but he hoped the U.S. would give consideration to it.
Secretary Rusk said that he would look into the question of the Bonins but he did not know what our answer could be. He saw problems of trying to create a reasonable standard of living for civilians in these islands. There might also be military problems. He said he would look into this question and let Ambassador Reischauer know.2
Regarding Okinawa, Secretary Rusk thought frank comments were in our mutual interest. He understood this was a public opinion problem in Japan and thought this would continue until reversion was accomplished, U.S. bases were gone and the Security Treaty had ended. He questioned whether intermediate steps would satisfy or increase public opinion. Public opinion might be insatiable. President Kennedy had asked Prime Minister Ikeda whether the Japanese request regarding the flying of flags and the joint effort to improve the standard of living were steps which could stand on their own merit or whether [Page 148]they were part of a nibbling process to which there would be no end. Ikeda had said that this was not a nibbling process but that action on these matters would make an important difference, and so President Kennedy had agreed.
Mr. Rusk thought that the Okinawa base would be vital as long as Peking had not turned clearly to peaceful coexistence. He would be glad, however, to consult regarding problems of public opinion. However, the U.S. was concerned with the war in Southeast Asia. It had been necessary to use the Okinawa base for that war and this had created adverse public opinion. Would this not be worse if Japan had a great direct responsibility for Okinawa? The U.S. cannot accept greater limitations on our base rights. From the point of view of the GOJ he wondered whether it was not in a stronger position by not having to consent. Nevertheless, the Secretary did not want this problem to harm U.S.-Japan relations and he hoped for frank discussions. If there could be peace in Southeast Asia, this would help the Ryukyus problem.
The Secretary noted that he had talked with Ambassador Reischauer to some extent on this subject and would speak with him further before evening. Beyond that, he urged Foreign Minister Shiina and Prime Minister Sato to stay in close touch with him and President Johnson regarding what the real problem was, what the right relations would be, and what the end result was that was desired. Then at least the top leaders of the government could be in agreement even though public opinion problems might develop.
Mr. Shiina said that he had not been to Okinawa and he had not studied in detail how local autonomy might be expanded without weakening the military base. He wanted the Secretary to understand, however, that what he had said was only from the point of view of trying to find a way to satisfy public opinion without weakening the military base.
Secretary Rusk said that in the broad sense the U.S. favored autonomy. He would discuss this further with Ambassador Reischauer. He was not sure, however, that it was possible to satisfy public opinion. Public opinion pressure would grow. Its emphasis might shift, but it would continue to be a problem.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 19 KYU IS. Secret. Drafted by Zurhellen and approved in S on July 25. The memorandum is part 3 of 4. The meeting was held in the Conference Hall in Kyoto.
  2. In telegram 21450, August 4, the Department informed the Embassy that the possibility of allowing some former residents to return to the Bonin Islands had been explored but determined to be infeasible. (Ibid., POL 19 BONIN IS)