Will the Democratic Party of Japan shine a light on the government’s darkest security secrets if elected to power, and if so, how will this affect relations with the United States?
The DPJ, the largest opposition party and predicted winner of the Aug. 30 election, has pledged to disclose some of the secret pacts between Tokyo and Washington that were kept hidden from the public during decades of rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.
But while some argue that putting such information into the public sphere is in line with the nature of democracy, others point out that declassifying Japan’s worst-kept secret may come at a cost.
“Secret pacts are a part of diplomacy, but they need to be made public after a certain period,” said Takashi Kawakami, a professor of security issues at Takushoku University.
“But it is also true that if the government acknowledges secret agreements, for example on Okinawa’s return to Japan, it could influence anti-American sentiments or plans on relocation of U.S. bases,” he added.
The LDP has hidden a good number of skeletons in the government closet, most notably the secret pact with Washington on U.S. ships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons stopping over in Japan. Details of this arrangement, under which Japan agrees to turn a blind eye to such stopovers, have been confirmed by declassified U.S. diplomatic documents.
In June, former Vice Foreign Minister Ryohei Murata told the media that bureaucrats would customarily inform foreign ministers about the agreement. But Tokyo has yet to acknowledge its existence, maintaining no such accord was made.
Other secrets during the long years of LDP rule are believed to include a 1971 agreement under which Tokyo shouldered $4 million in costs for Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. The claim has been backed by U.S. government documents and former Japanese diplomats, but Tokyo has still not acknowledged making the payment.
The DPJ, heading toward the Lower House election with a healthy lead over the LDP in opinion polls, has said it will search in every nook and cranny of the Foreign Ministry for documents that prove LDP-led governments concealed information from the public. DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada has vowed that such documents, if found, will be made public.
Some claim denying the existence of secret pacts benefited Japan’s security by serving as a deterrent, especially during the Cold War. Thus by not acknowledging there were any U.S. nuclear weapons in the country, Tokyo kept the Soviet Union and China constantly guessing and unsure of its defense capabilities, and could claim at home that Japan’s three nonnuclear principles, of not producing, possessing or permitting entry of atomic arms into the country.
But there have been recent internal moves within the LDP to make such information public, with Taro Kono, chairman of the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging the government to come clean on the matter.
“Documents and testimony have been made over the issue in the U.S,” the LDP lawmaker wrote on his Web site, adding there will be no issues even if the government takes back its previous denials.
Asked to comment on Kono’s demand, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone told reporters in July that no secret pacts ever existed — the position his predecessors and past prime ministers maintained.
Robert Eldridge, director of the U.S.-Japan Alliance Affairs Division at Osaka University, said the Lower House election could decide whether such documents are brought to light.
The expert on U.S.-Japan relations said disclosure of past secret agreements will be necessary for an honest exchange of opinions between the two nations, which would open up talks on how the U.S. nuclear umbrella can continue to provide regional security. Denial of an evident fact, on the other hand, may put off frank discussions and influence bilateral trust on both the government and public level.
The debate on disclosure should also include setting a standard on which documents can be disclosed and after how long, Eldridge added.
One possibility could be for Japan to disclose information concurrently with the other country, for example by revealing the same amount of information simultaneously with the U.S. That would prevent Japan from being the odd man out in denying the accord on stopovers by vessels and aircraft carrying nuclear arms, even though U.S. documents have confirmed this, Eldridge said.
“The government will continue to appear opaque to the public’s eye as long as the information remains secret,” he added.
But many doubt that concealed documents will surface if the DPJ takes power, since it would be solid proof that past administrations, as well as Foreign Ministry bureaucrats, blatantly lied to the public.
If the DPJ demands the release of the documents, the ministry is likely to avoid coming clean by showing past surveys that concluded there are no secret pacts.
Some observers say the ministry is expected to stand by the outcome of a 1981 investigation that took place after former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer told the media of the secret pact’s existence. The investigation turned up no evidence of such documents, the ministry said.
In addition, media reports indicate that the Foreign Ministry destroyed any proof that would verify the secret pact sometime before the enactment of the information disclosure law in April 2001.
Any breakthrough may depend on who becomes foreign minister, Osaka University’s Eldridge said.
In 1996, then health minister Naoto Kan, the current DPJ deputy president, opened a Pandora’s box when he revealed that thousands of people, mainly hemophiliacs, had contracted HIV from tainted blood products that the ministry, much earlier forewarned by the U.S. about the dangers of unheated blood products, could have and should have banned, instead of allowing drug firms to continue providing. His move effectively opened litigation floodgates and led to criminal charges.
Researchers and the public can also play a role in disclosure of information by raising their voice for transparency in foreign affairs, Eldridge said.
But if elected to power, the question arises as to whether the DPJ could manage foreign affairs without signing any secret pacts of its own.
“The DPJ’s Hatoyama has taken positions on some intricate issues, such as calling for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be relocated outside Okinawa (in defiance of a bilateral pact),” Takushoku University’s Kawakami said, doubting whether the see-through policy could be applied to such detailed and complex diplomatic negotiations.
The foreign affairs expert also remained uncertain about whether the relatively novice DPJ could handle the complex give-and-take nature of diplomacy to begin with.
Ironically, Kawakami also said the DPJ will have a tough time carrying the burden of a secret pact if it ever signs one.
With the DPJ being a mixed assortment of liberals and conservatives, its diplomatic policies are believed to be more diverse than the LDP.
“The party is an ensemble of lawmakers from a variety of backgrounds. It will break into pieces if a certain group tries something as risky as signing a secret pact,” he said.