38. Memorandum From John Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • US Initiatives to Strengthen the Relations with Japan

You asked for our thoughts as to specific steps that the US could take to cement our relationship with Japan in the next couple of years.

I will set down a few of my initial thoughts, recognizing that they contain little inspiration and that further work will be necessary. I have drafted the requested letter from the President to Prime Minister Sato [Page 119] (Tab A),2 which embodies some of these approaches. The letter is given some immediacy by a recent telegram from Tokyo (Tab B),3 which reports that Sato was “visibly shaken” by Senator Javits’ enthusiasm for disengagement from Asia. A letter from the President may be important to still any doubts that we are planning to leave Japan holding the bag for Asian security.

One problem which we face is that, when we sign the agreements on Okinawa, we shall have solved the last “easy” problems with Japan. Okinawa was inherited from World War II, and its eventual return was envisaged long ago. However, complex trade and economic issues are very much with us and involve real and powerful US interests. In addition, we are trying to move Japan into assuming a more responsible regional role supplementary to our own involving political, military, and economic commitments.

Another problem arises at this point: the fact that Japan is by no means welcome in all Asian quarters. Not only is there still a legacy of suspicion regarding Japan left over from World War II, there is a much more contemporary resentment of Japan due to the hard bargains which the Japanese drive in conducting their economic relations. As our own relations with Japan grow closer, we will need to do what we can to avoid identifying ourselves too much with Japan so as to preclude anti-Japanese sentiment being directed toward us as well. We will also need to do what we can to nudge the Japanese into practices which will ease Asian suspicions and resentments.

I assume that the best way to develop specific proposals is to examine those areas in which our relationship is cooperative or at least not directly competitive:

—Political cooperation in the United Nations and elsewhere.

—Common security interests.

—Common interest in Asian economic and political stability.

—The developing history of friendship itself.

[Page 120]

The most obvious gesture would be a Presidential visit to Japan exploiting the last-named common interest. The impact could be maximized by relating it to Okinawan reversion formalities in 1972. If present trends continue, the students should not pose an insuperable problem, and this itself would provide a useful contrast to the Eisenhower debacle in 1960.

Participation in a regional economic meeting provides another and more immediate possibility. This relates to the suggestion which the President made in November that Japan take the initiative in organizing a meeting to consider post-Vietnam economic reconstruction in Southeast Asia. Sato was interested, but deferred consideration.

Various targets of opportunity may develop for us to line up with Japan in the UN and other international negotiations, on issues important to Japan. Coordination of China policy is one possible example. Another is the Russian occupation of Japanese territory since World War II. The Japanese may eventually get angry enough about her northern territories to raise the issue in international forums. With Okinawa behind us, we can be very pure on this one, and derive the satisfaction of knowing that the Soviets probably cannot accommodate the Japanese since it would create a parallel regarding Chinese claims. Raising the issue thus helps to exacerbate Sino/Soviet difficulties. (Any action in this category has of course to be weighed against the disadvantages incurred in US/Soviet and US/China relations.)

You instructed that no reference be made in this draft to the current US/Japanese textile negotiations. Since you passed that instruction, however, Mr. Bergsten has sent you a memorandum underlining the urgency of getting some forward movement on the textile issue. He suggests that a letter without even an oblique reference to textiles might suggest to Sato that the President does not really attach much importance to the matter. Bergsten therefore suggests, and I agree, that you consider expanding paragraph two of the draft along the lines of the underlined sentence below:

“Now that 1970 is with us, I believe that the indications all suggest that our two countries can look forward to a good year and to a deepening of our close relations. This will surely be the case if we can quickly implement the agreements which we reached during our recent meeting. I should therefore. . .”

Finally, I should note in passing that a reference to Japanese signature of the NPT may be in order, if the Japanese either have signed it or are on the verge of doing so at the time that the letter goes to the President.


That you consider the attached draft from the President to Prime Minister Sato.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 534, Country Files, Far East, Japan, Vol. II, 10/69 to 6/70. Secret; Nodis. Sent for action. Concurred in by Bergsten. A notation at the end of the memorandum indicates it was not cleared with Keogh “at this stage.” Kissinger commented on February 3, “This letter has possibilities John—also discuss basic problem with me soon. H.” On February 16 Holdridge noted the comment.
  2. Attached but not printed. The draft letter, which Holdridge drafted for Nixon to send to Sato, declares, “For both of us, the coordination and exchange of information on our China policies will be vital for the foreseeable future. I was interested to learn of your intention to proceed with an invitation to the People’s Republic of China to engage in official conversations.” (Kissinger crossed out the next sentence: “I applaud your decision.”) “I consider that it is important for both of us to try to draw Peking into more serious discussions about future relations, without suggesting that our willingness to talk betrays an eagerness to reach accommodation at the cost of yielding points of importance to us.” Holdridge’s letter also discusses the importance of U.S.-Japanese efforts to reassure Taiwan and the countries of Southeast Asia. It also suggests a “regional economic meeting” intended to create “a sense of regional identity and cooperation” in Southeast Asia. There is no indication that this letter was ever sent.
  3. Telegram 48 from Tokyo, January 27, reported that Sato had expressed to Javits hope for a post-Vietnam U.S.-Japan “master plan.” (Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 534, Country Files, Far East, Japan, Vol. II, 10/69 to 6/70)