108. Memorandum From Michael Armacost of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Henry Kamm’s Article on Vietnamese Refugees

You asked for reactions to Kamm’s article about Japanese treatment of Vietnamese refugees.2 Their conduct is disturbing, though scarcely surprising. It is consistent with their tribal and insular character, and their historic resistance to outsiders. I believe our Embassy in Tokyo ought to deliver a demarche on this matter,3 though I would have few illusions about achieving any swift breakthrough with the GOJ on this subject.

Following the collapse of Saigon, we did seek to enlist Japan’s support for the resettlement of refugees through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The Japanese offered some modest financial support to their programs, but refused to accept refugees. If we make a demarche to them, we could seek one or several of the following objectives:

(1) A larger financial commitment to the international refugee program. This is a worthy aim, but the Kamm article may not be the best peg for approaching them. I understand that the Thai Government will shortly unveil a new program for settling Vietnamese refugees in Thailand. This will be an expensive program, and the Thai Government quite understandably hopes that other nations will share the financial burden. Japan is a logical candidate. Thus, if our aim is to increase their financial contribution, we might better concentrate our effort on enlisting support for the Thai program.

(2) Encourage the Japanese to allow refugees to settle in Japan. Given Japan’s history and the rigid character of their current immigration laws, I believe that they will reject representations along this line [Page 384] out of hand. Nor is it self-evident to me that this solution would be particularly humane, since the cultural tolerance of Japanese for other nationals living in their midst and seeking to assimilate themselves is extremely low. A demarche for this purpose would be wasted motion.

(3) Relax existing constraints on temporary asylum in Japan. I understand that the Japanese now permit refugees to reside temporarily in Japan provided they are onward-bound within 30 days. If after 30 days they have not moved on, the GOJ requires the country whose flag ship brought them to Japan to assume responsibility for them.4 We could press the Japanese to permit a longer period of temporary asylum. And we could encourage the Japanese Government to play some role in assisting refugees during their temporary sojourn in Japan.

Given the nature of Japanese society, I believe that their primary role in this field will be financial. I definitely believe we ought to hit them hard to support the Thai program. I would see no minuses and some pluses in approaching them with regard to the third option above.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 85, Vietnam, 1/77–12/78. Confidential. Sent for information. Written in the upper right-hand corner are three separate notations: Brzezinski wrote to Armacost, “MA, Memo to State plse;” Inderfurth responded, “Done. RI (attached);” and an unknown hand wrote, “Memo sent to State 6/11 AM.” See Document 109.
  2. Inderfurth underlined this sentence. At the end of the sentence, Inderfurth drew a line between the sentence and inserted “(attached).” The article referred to is Henry Kamm, “Vietnam Escapees Wait in Limbo As the World Turns a Deaf Ear,” New York Times, June 8, 1977, p. 73. The article is not attached.
  3. Inderfurth underlined this portion of the sentence.
  4. Following this sentence, Inderfurth drew a line to the bottom of the page and wrote, “maybe this is why the two freighters (see attached in red) wouldn’t take them aboard. RI.”
  5. Beneath this paragraph, Inderfurth wrote, “Jessica [Tuchman] also was asked to comment. Her memo follows the article.” Tuchman’s memorandum, not found attached, is in Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Armacost Chron File, Box 3, 6/1–10/77.