Tokyo Notes

Ending ‘The Lie’

The DPJ move over a secret nuclear pact with the US is a boost for democracy.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government here is no doubt pleased with itself this week after clearing up half a century of official ‘dishonesty’ over security issues while it also strengthened the nature of Japanese democracy to boot.

A panel of experts set up by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada released its findings Tuesday relating to four alleged secret pacts with Japan’s main ally, the United States, including one allowing port calls by US ships carrying nuclear weapons without prior consultation. The panel concluded that three of the pacts did exist in a broad sense, while the fourth agreement was not of the same nature.

The finding marks a significant step toward increasing the transparency of Japanese government while making bureaucrats and politicians more aware of their obligation to explain their decision-making and not to simply cover up facts that are inconvenient. In short, it strengthens the idea that in a meaningful democracy, the public has a right to know.

Back in the tense climate of the Cold War, in the early 1960s, it is easier to understand why Japanese politicians were willing to turn a blind eye to the possibility of US ships entering Japanese ports with nuclear weapons, even though Japan and the United States had officially agreed that consultation over the entry of nuclear weapons through Japan had to take place beforehand. Japan felt it needed the security offered by the United States and was keen not to ruffle any feathers in Washington over the two countries’ respective interpretations of how bringing nuclear weapons into Japan was defined.

As the only nation in the world to have been subjected to the horror of atomic bombing, Japan was–and is–naturally very sensitive about all matters nuclear. So the government thought it better the public should not know at that time. Or ever it would seem.

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The damning part of the story lies in the decades of self-contented insistence on the sanctity of Japan’s three non-nuclear principles by a succession of Liberal Democratic Party governments, even though those very principles were announced after the secret pact was already in place. Then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato even won the Nobel Peace Prize for stating in 1967 that Japan would not possess, make or allow the entry of nuclear weapons.

So without actually saying as much, the DPJ has again provided a further humiliation for the LDP. The timing is also good for the DPJ, which has been dithering over the relocation of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma air station on the southern island of Okinawa, despite a previous deal on the issue with the United States. The revelations this week portray Japan under the LDP as having been very much the junior party in the bilateral alliance–the government apparently having had to swallow an interpretation of the port call consultations that was convenient for the US, and carry out the grubby deception this reality implied. All the more reason, then, for today’s DPJ-led government to take time in deciding what to do with the Futenma base.

As might be hoped, all the main dailies in Japan welcomed the findings. The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun said in its editorial on Wednesday that in the interests of security, it was now time to drop the third non-nuclear principle rather than reaffirm it, as the DPJ has done. The seemingly progressive Asahi Shimbun was more wholehearted in its praise of the government panel’s findings, but insisted that Japan should forge ahead with efforts to downgrade reliance on nuclear weapons for security rather than to accept a two-and-a-half non-nuclear stance (as essentially proposed by the Yomiuri).

But if the DPJ deserves praise for grabbing this political nettle and dealing with it, some credit is also due to Japan’s other main daily, the Mainichi Shimbun. It was a Mainichi reporter who first shed light on one of the secret pacts involving payments related to the reversion of Okinawa back to Japan in 1972. Takichi Nishiyama apparently came across telegrams referring to the deal in 1971, but instead of this resulting in the government addressing the issue, Nishiyama was prosecuted for his involvement in leaking government documents.

In its editorial on Wednesday, the Mainichi also reminded readers that the paper had interviewed former US Ambassador Edwin Reischauer in 1981 and he had confirmed the non-consultation interpretation for port calls—an interpretation he himself had conveyed to Japanese Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira in 1963. You can guess how the LDP government at that time responded to the comments in the interview. As in keeping with decades of hypocrisy, it chose, in the words of the Mainichi, to continue ‘the lie.’