Valery Kistanov – Japan and the United States: “The Asahi Shimbun” reveals shadow of the bilateral relations with the help of WikiLeaks

After the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) raised to power in August 2009 Japan’s relations with its main military and political ally – the United States were seriously complicated by a number of foreign innovations embodied the Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. About the hidden circumstances of bilateral diplomacy of Tokyo and Washington were published the influential Japanese newspaper ”Asahi Shimbun” in May 2011. The article is based on real telegrams published in Internet-site WikiLeaks.


The government of democrats: is a good mine at the bad game

The newspaper claims that, despite the promises made by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), representatives of the Japanese government were never committed to the withdrawal of the military air base the U.S. Marine Corps in Futenma outside of Okinawa. In late 2009 – early 2010, administration officials, declared, that Japan will look for alternatives to agreement of 2006 according to which Futenma supposed to be relocated to the area of ​​Henoko Nago on the same island. But still they say that if if the United States rejected alternative proposal, Japan will act in accordance with the agreement, 2006. Being the head of the DPJ during several months (before the elections to the lower house of parliament in late August 2009, which led to the historic change of government) Hatoyama always repeated that Futenma will be replaced outside Okinawa prefecture. And after he became the prime-minister in 2009 Hatoyama stressed that he would take into account public opinion in the decision to move the Futenma from Ginowan city.

In November 2009, the Government of Japan and the US have created a working group, composed of the ministers to discuss a problems of the relocation of Futenma base. It was assumed that a solution will be found before the end of 2009.

But the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ), which together with the DPJ was part of the ruling coalition, said it will leave the coalition if the base will remain in Okinawa Prefecture. However, no real alternative to the agreement 2006, had not been found. And as DPJ required partnership with SDPJ in adoption of the budjet, it was decided to postpone the issue of relocation for the next year and continue to search for alternatives. Diplomatic telegrams of this period show, that, despite of formal efforts to find a new place for Futenma, the United States believed that Hatoyama’s administration will be forced return to the agreement of 2006 if they continue to reject all the alternatives. On December 9, 2009 Seiji Maehara, who was then a Minister of Lands and Minister of State for Okinawa met with U.S. Ambassador John Rus at his residence. The next day the U.S. embassy in Tokyo sent a telegram to Washington, marked “Secret.” It said that five cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, met in 8 December and agreed that they could not promote the plan for the relocation of equipment  of Futenma (REF) because of the opposition of the coalition partner SDPJ According to the document, Maehara said to Rus that Japan will consider several alternatives for both United States and the people of Okinawa. But Maehara answered: “If the United States would not accept any alternative to existing plan of REF, the DPJ was ready to promote the current plan and, if necessary, to withdraw from the Coalition with SDPJ after the golden week (April 29 – May 5, 2010). “Asahi,” believes that the statements Maehara, and other major Japanese functionaries, should signal the U.S. that Japanese government was forced to postpone a decision on Futenma because of the coalition with SDPJ.


«The Chinese card» —is an American trump.

According to diplomatic dispatch United States used bases in Okinawa to prepare for a potential confrontation with China. Comments of American officials show that the main reason for the conclusion of  Japan-American Agreement 2006, providing relocation of Futenma within the prefecture of Okinawa, was the need to prepare for emergencies caused by the growing Chinese military presence in the region. In September 2009, the DPJ has formed a Cabinet, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, in coalition with the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party on the basis of the political agreement which included reorganization of armed forces of the USA in Japan. Just a month later, on October 5, United States General Consul in Okinawa, Raymond Greene sent a telegram to Washington, marked “confidential”. It reported about the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs (then it was Katsuya Okada): “He is confident that the Government of the United States instead will agree with the merger of the military air base Marine Corps Futenma with BBC Kadena base, while continuing to transfer eight thousand Marines on the island of Guam”. The proposal mentioned in the telegram, would be an alternative to the Agreement of 2006, assumed moving of Futenma base in the city of Nago. The alternative offered to transfer the functions of Futenma to Kadena and as an added measure, move some of the training sessions to other islands of the Okinawa prefecture, such as Iedzima, where there are alternate aerodrome, or chain of Islands, Miyakojima where Shimoji airport is located. But Green’s telegram indicates that the United States was concerned about such plans.

On October 15, 2009 the U.S. embassy in Tokyo sent a secret telegram to the State Department, National Security Council, the Ministry of Defense and other U.S. agencies. The telegram contained the report of the joint delegation of the State Department and the Defense Ministry, headed by Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. On October, 11th and 12 the delegation discussed the reorganization of the United States armed forces in Japan with Japanese dignitaries and Foreign Ministry of Defense. The telegram proves, thatthat Campbell played the “China threat card”, justifying refusal to move the Futenma base outside of Okinawa. It quoted the following words of the American worker: “Dramatic increase in military capabilities of China made necessary the access at least to three runways in case of emergency… In 1990, it was possible to realize plans for a case of an emergency concerning South Korea and China, using only two lines on Okinawa — Naha and and Kadena. The most significant change between 1995 (when special plan has been formulated by Specifical Action Committee in Okinawa concerning the relocation of Futenma) was a Chinese military buildup.

According to “ Asahi” for a long time it was felt that the armed forces in Okinawa are designed to not only for the case of emergency but also mean China’s military power, including a possible battle over Taiwan, U.S. officials do not usually named China in discussions with other governments. For this reason, Campbell also noted that: “It (the Chinese military build-up of assets) is now a driver for military assessments of the region … and cannot be discussed publicly, for obvious reasons.”


Exaggerated figures

Japan and the United States in May 2006, established a “road map” for reorganization of American military personnel in Japan. In accordance with the plan in December 2008 the preliminary agreement was concluded on the transfer of several thousand U.S. Marines to Guam as a part of the relocation of Futenma. This agreement also defined the financial burden of each country in in the movement of these Marines. The central point of negotiations on the “road map” was Japan’s share in these costs.
The central point of negotiations on the “road map” was Japan’s share in these costs. Diplomatic telegrams sent by the U.S. Embassy to State Department in Tokyo about the negotiations made it clear that Japan’s share was deliberately decreased by the inclusion in the total costs of value unnecessary engineering design of the military road which coast 1 billion US dollars (81 billion yen). United States initially insisted on Japanese contributions to the total costs at the rate of 75%, but, in the end, but, finally, agreed upon 59 %. However, if from a total sum exclude the cost of road construction the financial burden of Japan increases up to 66 %.

The telegram also said that the number of the militaries who supposed to be transferred to Guam, was exaggerated to 8 thousand people, and the number of families members — up to 9 thousand. This was done for reasons of “political value optimization” of the agreement. In addition the telegram stated that in 2006 “under the gun” there were 13 thousand Marines in Okinawa. However, the Government of Okinawa prefecture disputed this figure, considering that there was 12 thousand, and criticized the figures in the “road map” as exaggerated. Although this issue has been raised in the parliament of Japan, the government then refused to confirm the number of staff scheduled to relocate.

The newspaper “Asahi” draws attention to the fact that the government formed by the DPJ gives secret promise that differ from the official statements about the relocation of the Futenma. Telegrams also suggests that the numbers in the 8 th Marines and nine thousand Their families who were moving from Okinawa to Guam were upper limits included as a budgetary measures.

One of telegrams said: « Both sides knew, that these figures significantly differed from actual number of marines and their dependents stated in Okinawa.”

Shortly after Barack Obama became U.S. president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February 2008 visited Japan and signed an agreement on the withdrawal of marines to Guam with Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Hirofumi Nakasone.
At that time, Japan’s bureaucrats and the U.S. government wanted to create a legislative framework that would be obligated to immediately implement the relocation plan of Futenma base, if the DPJ gained control over the government after the expected election of that year to the lower house of parliament. At that time withdrawal of the Marines to Guam and equipment construction at the site of relocation of Futenma in Okinawa as a precondition to have become parts of a package of measures to restructure U.S. forces in Japan.

December 21, 2009 Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Mitoji Yabunaka had lunch with Ambassador Rus. Their conversation was reflected in telegram marked “Secret.” In the conversation Yabunaka mentioned meeting of Yukio Hatoyama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen. Telegram quoted Yabunaka “Prime Minister Hatoyama confirmed Secretary of State in Copenhagen, that if the alternatives of the REF will not lead to real proposals (Japan) will return to the agreement of 2006, 2005”.

Right after the meeting Hatoyama told reporters: “It would be very dangerous to impose (an agreement in 2006). We started to make efforts to consider new alternatives. “However, the letter states that Yabunaka regarded these media reports as “inaccurate.” From the beginning of 2010 various alternative were nominated that even more delayed the adoption of the agreement of 2006 by the Government. But finally none of the proposed alternatives was adopted. In May 2010, Hatoyama’s Cabinet approved the agreement of 2006, according to which Futenma should be relocated to the coastal zone of Henoko city of Nago, where the U.S. Marine Corps “Camp Schwa” is based. This led to the exit of SDPJ from the coalition and was one of the factors of Hatoyama’s sudden resignation from the post of prime minister.


The ministers from the LDP, too, were playing a double game

Although the U.S. has been strongly opposed the revision of the agreement in 2006 to relocate air base Futenma, Japan officials secretly promised the governor of Okinawa, that the runway at the new location will be changed. According to the diplomatic cables, these promises were given during the reign of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito Party. The main component of the agreement was the construction of two runways, United in the form of the letter “V” along the sea shore near the base of the Marines ‘ Camp Schwab. However, officials from the Okinawa Prefecture government suspected that the Japanese and U.S. governments have agreed on a plan to build runways over their heads. They wanted built these bands in the sea away from the shore on the environmental and noise reasons. Hirokazu Nakaima, won the gubernatorial election in 2006 in spite being a conservative, believed that the agreement should be reviewed.

Diplomatic telegram sent in 2007, indicated that the Cabinet of Ministers of Japan sympathized Nakayama in review the agreement, while officials from the United States have experienced a growing sense of anxiety. The former Minister of Defense of Japan Yoriko Koike in November 2007 visited Okinawa and met there with U.S. General Consul Kevin Maher. Telegram from the U.S. Embassy marked “confidential” refers to a secret promise of the governor Koike to Nakaima. It stated: «Koike recognized that being a Minister she gave non-formal “promise” to Governor that after the assessment of environmental impact (AEI) is completed, Tokyo will agree to make a strip at 50 mv toward the ocean side”. As can be seen from the telegrams, Maher asked her: “What would happen if there is no scientific reason will be found arising from the AEI, to justify any revision of the relocation of the band?”  The same telegram provides Koike’s response:” In 2009 there will be another administration, so it does not matter what we have [the Governor — app. V.K.] promised “.


The East Asian “apple of discord”

U.S. officials already showed concern about Japan’s foreign policy, when the popularity of the DPJ increased sharply before the elections for the lower House of Parliament in August, 2009. Concern turned into a serious tensions, when the period of “honeymoon” after coming to power of the DPJ have pased, mostly because of the Hatoyama’s to create an East Asian community without U.S. participation. This is evidenced by a telegram, dated late 2009 – early 2010. The intentions of the DPJ in the government called a frank concern of Americans as being in opposition, the party constantly criticized the ruling LDP, then as a pro-American. The intentions of the DPJ have caused frank concern of Americans because, being in opposition, the party has criticized the ruling LDP as pro-American.

Becouse of the rating falling of the LDP coalition government the new Komeito party and the frequent change of Prime Ministers from the LDP, U.S.officials speeded up the contacts with influential leaders of DPJ in anticipation that the party would take control of the Government. A number of diplomatic telegrams from Tokyo, which was referred to the DPJ, has increased sharply from 200 in 2006 to 440 in 2007 and about 670 in 2009. The telegram dated by August 7, directed to Washington shortly before the elections for the lower House, contained a detailed analysis of sights of some key figures about the United States.

In particular, it stated: “among the experts of the DPJ on foreign policy and security, there are a number of those who usually have a favorable attitude toward the US and the union [with them – the app. V.K.]. ” As soon as it became clear that change of government is inevitable, representatives of the DPJ in talks with U.S. leaders have also begun to talk about what the government of Democrats will be. At the same time they began to restrain any manifestation of anti-American sentiment. As reported in the telegrams sent, in December 2008, by Seiji Maehar if the DPJ comes to power, it will review two important points in the Japanese security policy: the Mission of the self-defence forces on refuelling [ships coalition countries taking military action in Afghanistan is approx. V.K.] in the Indian Ocean and the relocation of base (United States).

After the convincing victory of the Democrats in the election for the lower House of the Parliament, DPJ representative has visited the American embassy in Tokyo and has declared there: Hatoyama realizes the importance of the United States to Japan” and added:” China has already sent a letter to Hatoyama with an invitation to visit China before the trip to the US, But he refused”. But in fact Hatoyama had talks with President Hu Jintao prior then the meeting with the President of the United States. Since then, a short “honeymoon” between the governments of the DPJ and the United States has changed rapidly and turned into the growing gap in their views.

U.S. officials were concerned not only about the problem of Futenma base, but also because the United States were not offered to enter an East Asian community, which Hatoyama was going to create. A telegram dated October 7, from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo reported that, though the offer about the creation of the East Asian community is the subject of criticism in the media for “unrealistic” and “obsolete,” Hatoyama still pushes this idea to the regional partners. A telegram can be regarded as a reflection of  U.S. concern about the Hatoyama’s statements that Japan has become too dependent on the United States, as well as public statements of Minister of Foreign Affairs Okada that the United States were not included in the proposal for East Asian community.

Disappointment in Washington grew especially because of the Obama’s planned visit to Japan in November. During his visit to Tokyo in mid-september Campbell hypothetically asked a high-ranking Japanese official;l “Imagine the response of Japan if the U.S. government has publicly stated that it wishes to pay more attention to China than Japan.” As can be seen from a telegram, a U.S. diplomat also said, “Such statements would cause a crisis in relations between the U.S. and Japan, and the output would be very difficult.” No progress on the issue of Futenma was not achieved even during Obama’s visit to Japan and the Japanese government gradually abandoned the goal of achieving a solution to this problem, till the end of 2009.

After a visit to the U.S. in early 2010, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Mitoji Yabunaka had a meeting with Ambassador Rus on January,8. Telegram quoted Yabunaka that he felt the disappointment and frustration in Washington, especially during their meetings at the Pentagon and the White House. In addition, Campbell met with Yabunaka on February 2, 2010, and the telegram quoted his words that “The United States does not consider Japan’s relations with the United States and China as a zero sum game.” This commentary, writes, “Asahi,” may be regarded as evidence that, although Washington has continued to remain strong dissatisfaction, U.S. officials are also aware that, as the fluctuating relations between Japan and the U.S. became a political issue in Japan, a simple putting pressure on Tokyo was not productive, and required a change of course.


Bureaucrats against Democrats.

The Japanese government bureaucrats in their conversations with U.S. officials about the problems of Sino-American relations did not try to hide the concern and criticism against an inexperienced government led by the DPJ. Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense of Japan, who used to act on the basis of precedents in foreign policy,it was not clear what DPJ could do about  the planned relocation of Futenma base and other problems in the Japan-US relations.

On September, 18, right after Yukio Hatoyama has formed his first cabinet under the leadership of the DPJ, the head of the Department of Asian and Akitaka of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saiki Tihookeanii met with the Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. Here is the description of the meeting described by one of the diplomatic telegrams:” Saiki admitted that he did not know what the Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ment by the appeals for equal relations with the United Statest … becouse bilateral relations were already equal”. Saiki also said that the government of the DPJ, “felt the need to impress their strength and confidence by demonstrating that it has put control of the powerful Japanese bureaucracy.” He called such efforts “stupid” and said that the DPJ will “learn.”

Japanese bureaucrats were especially worried about what will happen to the Futenma issue. December 12 the delegation of State Department and U.S. Department of Defense, led by Campbell met Akihisoy Nagashima, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of Defense and other officials of Japan met to discuss this issue. Diplomatic telegram contains an entry that said the head of the political Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Defense Nobusige Takamidzava during an informal working lunch, which Nagashima missed: “The Government of United States should also refrain from too rapid flexibility in formulating a plan for the redeployment of relocation, acceptable for the Government of the DPJ.”

Lower-level bureaucrats have also been quite candid in expressing its concern about the Government of the DPJ. On 10 December one of the American embassy stuff, which is responsible for political affairs met with three representatives of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, including a diplomat, who worked at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. A telegram dated by December, 16 reported that officials from the Foreign Ministry expressed “their grievances against how the Hatoyama’s government decides and politicize the problem relocation of equipment of Futenma (REF). “As quoted from their words the United States “should not be overly compliant with the DPJ Government on POF issue, otherwise they risk being misunderstood and look willing to make concessions on coherent “road map”’.

* * *

At the end of 2011 the situation around the Futenma base in Japan worsened in connection with report directed to the Japan Government about the economic consequences of transferring the base in Henoko district of the city of Nago. In order to avoid protests and resistance of the locals report has been delivered to the Ministry of Defense of Japan secretly, early in the morning.

Apparently, the prospects of solving the problem of Futenma, at the beginning of 2012, remains highly uncertain. This is evident from the fact that the Congress of United States has not included in the country’s budget for 2012, $150 millions provided for as an expense on the relocation of the eight thousand U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The visit of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Washington, planned for the first half of 2012 depends also on the progress in the specified problem.


Valery Kistanov is a head of the Center for Japanese Study at  Institute of Far Eastern Studies Russian Academy of Sciences.


Translated by Osipova Marina, APIR Center

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