84. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

This thoughtful cable from Alex Johnson is the kind Ambassadors should write but rarely do.

He conveys Sato’s anxiety that U.S. détente with the U.S.S.R. could throw the Japanese position in Asia out of balance.

It is parallel to Western European anxiety about the détente and the non-proliferation treaty.

Basically, what Japan wants is a Communist China that is not so weak that it is under Soviet dominance and not so strong that it threatens Japan. It wants a Soviet Union not in open conflict with the U.S. but sufficiently preoccupied with the U.S., China, etc., so that it must take Japan seriously and doesn’t feel free to lean on it.

Japan wants our protection, economic ties, and friendship. From that base it wants to build a position of leadership in Asia; trade from a position of strength with both Communist China and the Soviet Union.

But it doesn’t want us buddying up too close to either Communist China or the U.S.S.R.—especially the latter, because of its greater relative strength.

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Telegram From the Embassy in Japan to the Department of State2

Copy of Tokyo 6126 From Alexis Johnson, March 1, 1967

I want to call attention to Sato’s statements re the Soviet Union (in Tokyo’s 6063).3 It will be noted that he expressed fear that the Soviets might take advantage of Chicom weakness to take action against the periphery of China; that he placed part of the blame for the rise of Mao on the Soviets (the rest of the blame rested on Japan); that he warned against trusting the Soviets, including the statements they make to us on the Chicoms, and in general, made clear that he considers the Soviets, rather than Communist China, as the major threat to Japan.4 This is the first time that I have heard an expression of this kind from any Japanese leader, and it is clear to me that he was deliberately and advisedly taking advantage of an opportunity to make these statements.
We should, of course, not be surprised at this, as it corresponds with historical and deep-rooted Japanese attitudes toward Russia, whether imperial or Communist, while in the recent latest developments in China, have the appearance of somewhat reversing these historical Japanese attitudes, what Sato seemed to be indicating was that these short-term trends do not change the underlying pro-China, anti-Russia feelings of Japan. Although Japan is appalled at much of what is now going on in Communist China and is worried at the Chinese development of nuclear weapons, what Sato was saying was that a gain in Soviet territories or strength at the expense of China would be a source of deep concern to Japan.
We have recently had other signs of Japanese uneasiness over how the U.S. attitude toward mainland developments might develop, with some officials seeming to be concerned lest the United States might be hoping for prolonged disorder as the optimum state of affairs. To some extent this concern may reflect the worry that in the future the U.S. might be tempted to take sides in the mainland imbroglio or otherwise try to exploit the chaotic conditions there, and in the process get bogged down in the kind of morass which engulfed Japan in the late 30’s; however, the concern over Soviet expansionism expressed by Sato seems to be a much larger element in Japanese misgivings.
I believe that there are also several implications in Sato’s remarks with respect to U.S.-Japanese relations. First, while on the one hand they welcome a reduction in US-Soviet “tension” and the opportunity to improve their own relations with the Soviets, they are concerned that relations between the two “super powers,” the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., not “improve” to the extent that we and the Soviets face Japan with fait accompli in matters concerning Japanese interests.
The schizophrenia of Japan on the nuclear proliferation treaty is a good example. Military considerations, e.g., the fact that the NPT requires Japan to renounce its options while doing nothing to meet its immediate concerns, which are the Soviet Union and Communist China, are in my opinion only a part of the reason for Japan’s ambivalence on the NPT. Another important factor is the Japanese hypersensitivity to any suggestion that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are moving toward a kind of “super-powers” club from which Japan will be forever excluded. The drive toward parity with the great powers has been one of the most consistent themes of Japan’s modern history. In spite of its present attitudes on military and nuclear affairs, an implied relegation of Japan to second-class status because of her non-possession of nuclear arms would ultimately constitute a powerful incentive to go after an independent nuclear capability. These attitudes are, of course, being nurtured by public statements coming from West Germany, probably communicating even more forcefully in Japanese-German consultations on the NPT. Thus, I tend to agree with Ambassador Takeuchi that while in the end Japan will probably have no choice but to sign the NPT on whatever terms the U.S. and Soviets are able to agree upon, we should not necessarily take Japan for granted in this regard.
Fisheries is another area where Japan discerns tendencies in U.S.-Soviet relations that are disturbing to it: not so much because of their intrinsic importance, but because of their reflection of what it discerns as tendencies in U.S.-Soviet relations. Japan, of course, recognizes that there is a certain basic congruence of U.S.-Soviet fishing interests in the North Pacific as opposed to the interests of Japan; however, I [Page 169] believe that it does genuinely disturb them when they think that we are using agreements already reached between ourselves and the Soviets to demand similar concessions or more from the Japanese.5 I am, of course, well aware of these fishery problems, and there is no reason that we should not bargain hard with the Japanese on them, but in devising our tactics we should be conscious of these Japanese attitudes and recognize that Japanese may well read more in the way of broad political implications into them than we intend.
As opportunity offers, I will probe on Sato’s theme with him and also with Shimoda, who was former Ambassador in Moscow as well as DCM in Washington, and who now holds a key position in the Government of Japan on these matters. However, in the meanwhile, I did want to call the Department’s attention to Sato’s remarks and what I feel were the implications, that must be taken into account in our relations with this country.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Japan, Vol. VI. Secret. The memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. Secret; Exdis. The cable was retyped for the President. The White House copy bears the handwritten notation “A thoughtful alert from Alexis. BKS” added by Bromley K. Smith. (Ibid.) The Department of State copy is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 US/GOLDBERG.
  3. Telegram 6063 from Tokyo, February 27, reports on a conversation among Goldberg, U. Alexis Johnson, and Sato held at the Prime Minister’s official residence on February 27. (Ibid.)
  4. In a March 9 memorandum outlining his Asian trip, Goldberg reported similar information to President Johnson and Rusk, stating that the Japanese “retain a basic respect and sympathy for the Chinese,” are “not so concerned about Communist China’s expansionist tendencies,” but are wary of “the expansionist designs of the Soviets vis-à-vis Asia.” (Ibid., Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Secretary’s Miscellaneous Correspondence)
  5. The Japanese concern was twofold: (1) U.S. claim to a 12-mile territorial right for fishing interests without considering Japan’s historical fishing rights; and (2) U.S. propensity to treat Japan and the USSR equally, even though the latter claimed its own 12-mile sea right and fished off the U.S. coast for a shorter period of time than Japan. (Telegrams 118835 and 119438 to Tokyo, January 14 and 16, respectively, and memorandum of conversation, February 14; all ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–4 JAPAN–US) After a series of negotiations, agreements between the United States and Japan on major fishing issues were reached by an exchange of notes and agreed minutes on May 9. The agreements permitted some fishing by Japan within the 12-mile zone, restricted certain catches to beyond that zone, and addressed issues relevant to Japanese salmon fishing. The texts of the agreements are in 18 UST 1309.