When the United States became bogged down in the Vietnam War in 1967, then U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson pressed Prime Minister Eisaku Sato to contribute $500 million to the Asian Development Bank, according to Japanese diplomatic documents declassified Thursday.
The contribution was to help stabilize Southeast Asian countries economically, and to block communists from eventually gaining strength there.
Johnson filed the demand during a Washington summit with Sato in November that year. In response, Sato offered $300 million, citing Japan’s tight financial conditions, according to the Foreign Ministry documents.
Four years later, Japan contributed the $300 million to the Manila-based bank.
Johnson told Sato in the meeting that Thailand might be the next to fall to communist rule unless the ADB was beefed up to provide economic assistance to South Vietnam.
At that time, the U.S. was fighting a prolonged and bitter battle with communists in Vietnam.
Declassified minutes of the summit showed that Johnson acknowledged Japan’s constitutional constraints against sending troops abroad.
While praising South Korea for providing troops and helping the United States in Vietnam, Johnson urged Japan to make a greater contribution to the ADB commensurate with its economic capabilities.
The president told Sato the U.S. had spent $25 billion to $30 billion annually on the Vietnam War, and the number of American casualties had reached the 100,000 mark.
Johnson deplored the fact that only Americans, who live more than 16,000 km from Vietnam, were assuming the entire responsibility for South Vietnam, and therefore expected financial contributions from Japan, which was at that time emerging as a major economic power.
Sato, prime minister from November 1964 through July 1972, is known for having restored Japan’s diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1965.