On January 14, it was reported that former Japanese Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki had passed away on January 9, at the age of 91. Kaifu served as prime minister from August 10, 1989 to November 5, 1991, in the middle of the turmoil of the 1990 Gulf Crisis and the 1991 Gulf War. In the history of Japanese politics, Kaifu is regarded as a symbol of Japan’s changing diplomacy in the post-Cold War period in terms of Japan’s contribution to international peace and security.
Kaifu was born on January 2, 1931, a son of the owner of a photographic studio in Ichinomiya of Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. As a teenager, Kaifu desired to contribute to the military, but the Asia-Pacific War ended before he joined the military. He studied at Chuo University, and transferred to Waseda University. As a college student, Kaifu worked as a secretary to Kono Kinsho, a legislator of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and entered into a graduate school at Waseda University. In 1960, Kaifu ran in the general election and was elected at the age of 29 as the youngest Diet member.
As a young Diet member, Kaifu tried to make a contribution to international cooperation by establishing a volunteer organization. In 1965, Kaifu became a founder of the Japanese equivalent to the U.S. Peace Corps, the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). In 1966, Kaifu was appointed as parliamentary vice minister of labor. In 1972, he was appointed as chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration in the House of Representatives. In 1974, he was appointed as chief cabinet secretary. Kaifu then served as minister of education.
On August 10, 1989, Kaifu became prime minister at the age of 58. As opposed to his predecessors, particularly Takeshita Noboru and Uno Sosuke, Kaifu was viewed as a “clean politician” like his mentor, former Prime Minister Miki Takeo. One of the most important factors of Kaifu’s political philosophy was to make politics “clean.” Therefore Kaifu desired to form a new administration with a cleaner image, and excluded all “scandal-tainted” politicians from his cabinet.
In the changing global political situation, Kaifu attempted to make diplomatic contributions to an emerging new international order. Kaifu expressed his vision for the international order after the July 1990 Economic Summit Meeting held in Houston, Texas. Kaifu stated that the end of a major conflict or disarmament is not sufficient for world peace, and patient diplomatic efforts would contribute to creating an “everlasting peace.” Notably, Kaifu contended that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty would remain an indispensable framework for “peace and development of the Asia Pacific region.”
Meanwhile, the occurrence of the Gulf Crisis and the ensuing Gulf War led to a challenging situation for the Kaifu administration. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi Forces invaded Kuwait, and the Gulf Crisis broke out. It was the first major international crisis in the post-Cold War world. The Kaifu government swiftly decided to impose economic sanctions against Iraq on August 5, which was faster than the measures taken by the United Nations Security Council. On the same day, Kaifu made a phone call to then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush to brief him on Japan’s response to the Gulf Crisis, especially its original economic sanctions.
On August 26, 1990, LDP Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro visited the office of prime minister in order to persuade Kaifu to reconsider Japan’s contribution to the “collective security” system of the United Nations, which is different from the exercise of the right to “collective self-defense.” Ozawa argued that Japan should dispatch the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to the Persian Gulf to contribute to the U.N. collective security system.
On September 29, 1990, Kaifu and Bush met at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. While Kaifu explained Japan’s financial contributions to the multinational forces led by the United States, Bush responded, “We fully understand the constitutional constraints of Japan and I understand you have constructed ways for the Japan Self Defense Forces to participate in the forces.” In return, Kaifu stated, “I am supporting a law we call U.N. Peace Cooperation Bill. The Cooperation Corps, which will be dispatched under this law, will include everyone from Japan being dispatched. It is a completely new concept. It will enable Japan not to just send money but also personnel. We will be sweating with you too.”
On October 12 of the same year, the U.N. Peace Cooperation Bill – which would enable the SDF to participate in U.N. authorized military activities – was submitted to the Diet. The bill was not supported by opposition parties, especially Komeito, which had a deciding vote, and was eventually scrapped on November 8, 1990. At the time Japan was not ready to send the SDF to take part in an international military operation due to the normative influence of the Peace Constitution.
On November 14, 1990, Kaifu met U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle and Ambassador Michael Armacost at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. The vice president told Kaifu, “We understand the difficulties you have been facing with the Diet but want you to know we would welcome a presence of Japan in the Persian Gulf. This is a presence that you would define through your political process but we would welcome a Japanese presence.” In response, Kaifu replied,“I have the highest regard for U.S. leadership” in deploying the multinational forces to the Persian Gulf to deter “any further destruction of peace” by Iraq. Still, Kaifu added, “What is needed is a peaceful resolution… We are determined to continue to search for a way to contribute internationally in personnel terms.” In response, the vice president placed more pressure on Kaifu, stating, “We appreciate the financial contribution but the lack of presence in the Gulf by one of our strongest Pacific allies is noticed. There is a need for global partnership, a need to internationalize Japan by finding some type of presence.”
On November 29, 1990, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 678, which authorized “all necessary means” including use of force to deal with the Gulf Crisis. On January 17, 1991, the U.S.-led Multinational Forces began military operations against Iraq, and the Gulf War broke out. In response, the Kaifu government decided to donate an additional $9 billion to the Multinational Forces. In total, the Kaifu government donated $13 billion to the U.S.-led effort but did not send the SDF to the Persian Gulf during the war. When the Gulf War ended, the Kuwaiti government expressed its appreciation to the contributing countries in The New York Times, but Japan was not included on the list. The Kaifu administration, however, made an international contribution by sending the SDF to the Persian Gulf for minesweeping operations after the ceasefire.
Aside from his role in exploring the limits of Japan’s defense commitments, Kaifu attempted to contribute to reconciliation with countries of the Asia-Pacific. On August 10, 1991, Kaifu became the first leader of a major industrialized country to officially visit China since the bloody crackdown on protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Kaifu promised to offer $949.9 million in loans to China, despite the political and economic sanctions imposed by other Western nations on China after the 1989 incident. Thus, Kaifu’s diplomacy broke the international isolation of China and tried to ameliorate the Sino-Japanese relationship. When Kaifu visited Singapore in May 1991, he stated that Japan was determined not to repeat the same mistakes that led to tragedies and sufferings of the people in the Asia-Pacific countries during World War II.
Kaifu served as Japanese prime minister at a difficult time marked by international turmoil. Kaifu diplomacy will be always remembered as a period of redefining Japan’s contribution to international peace and security in the post-Cold War world, as well as diplomatic reconciliation with neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific.