Admitting worst-kept secrets all about timing?


The Democratic Party of Japan-led government effectively dragged the skeletons in the closet of postwar Tokyo-Washington diplomacy out into the light Tuesday, in the process exposing the hollowness of its predecessor administrations’ long denials.

Some critics, however, question the timing of the DPJ-initiated panel’s report, alleging it is just a further dig at its predecessor in power, the Liberal Democratic Party.

For years, the opposition camp, including the DPJ, had called on LDP-led governments to admit its past leaders had made secret pacts with the U.S. involving atomic arms and the costs covering Okinawa’s reversion, but the LDP and the bureaucracy maintained no such shady deals existed.

After the DPJ last summer ousted the LDP, which had been in power for most of the postwar era, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada ordered an official probe to confirm the pacts existed. He told reporters Tuesday he was very satisfied with the outcome.

“Revealing the truth is the fundamental rule of democracy,” Okada said. “I think that if prime ministers and foreign ministers . . . continued to make false statements, people would have lost even more trust in politics and diplomacy.”

Although critics agreed secret agreements should be disclosed after a certain interval, they also said such accords were necessary during the Cold War, when the international community, including Japan, felt the nuclear threat.

“Did we not need these secret pacts? Did Tokyo fundamentally steer the Japan-U.S. security treaty the wrong way?” asked Jitsuo Tsuchiyama, vice president of Aoyama Gakuin University.

“I don’t think so. . . . Nobody likes nuclear weapons or military bases, but (they are a necessary evil). Somebody somewhere needs to accept bases, and the same goes for nuclear power plants.”

For years, despite declassified documents in the U.S. and testimony by former Tokyo officials, the government maintained a firm denial that secret pacts existed.

Soon after Okada was appointed foreign minister last fall, he ordered an internal investigation. This was followed by the launch of a six-member panel of academics who looked into four alleged secret bilateral pacts, including those linked to the 1960 revision of the security treaty and the 1972 reversion of Okinawa.

On Tuesday, the special panel released a 108-page report in which it acknowledged three out of the four accords were done in secret. And for the first time, the government finally admitted their existence, going where LDP administrations never went.

“These agreements were technically necessary and I don’t think it is that big of an issue to call them pacts that were hidden” from public view, Tsuchiyama said matter-of-factly.

But nonetheless, the government has been lying to the public for decades. Ever since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the people of Japan have strongly opposed nuclear weapons.

This sentiment was embodied in the 1967 introduction by then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato’s three principles of Japan not possessing, making or allowing the entry of nuclear weapons. This earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tuesday’s report, however, indicates the third listed principle was a sham.

Among the pacts recognized in the report was one on stopovers and passage of nuclear-armed U.S. warships, to which Japan basically turned a blind eye. The government panel acknowledged there was a “tacit agreement” by the two nations to allow such port calls without prior consultation.

And Okada, who firmly stated Japan would abide by the nonnuclear principles, admitted he could not deny the possibility that nuclear weapons had entered Japan in the past.

“We don’t want to imagine it, but we cannot state (with certainty that nuclear arms weren’t brought in),” he said.

Takashi Kawakami, a professor of security issues at Takushoku University, noted the incongruity of the secret pact and the nonnuclear principles, but said the accord was unavoidable from the standpoint of deterrence.

“The secret pact did contradict the three nonnuclear principles, but I think it was a politically wise move,” Kawakami said. “I think it was the best that the government could do at that time — to ensure Japan’s (security) through the ambiguity” of a tacit agreement.

Kawakami voiced concern over the report’s timing, coming amid nagging tension with the Washington over the ruling bloc’s position on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

As the DPJ and its two allies try to find an acceptable site for the base, and not feel bound by a 2006 accord, anger in the prefecture is mounting. The party promised last summer not to relocate the base in Okinawa, as called for in the accord, but living up to its word is appearing less likely, and local discord is growing.

“After hearing about the existence of the secret pacts, the situation in Okinawa could lead to (a stronger) antibase movement or to inspecting U.S. ships,” Kawakami said. “If that happens, the past pacts could damage present Japan-U.S. relations.”

But confirming, as long suspected, that the pacts existed may be a step forward in diplomacy, he said.

“Secret pacts were necessary for Japan to survive the Cold War, and I think that they are necessary nowadays, too,” Kawakami said. “But it is important to disclose them after a certain period of time, like 30 years. . . . By making diplomacy more transparent, the people will become more interested in participating in politics and diplomacy.”

Okada himself stressed Tuesday that the aim of the probe was to regain public trust in diplomacy that had eroded amid the long-held suspicions about the secret pacts.

But Aoyama Gakuin University’s Tsuchiyama said it was unclear what the DPJ was trying to accomplish through the so-called fact-finding mission, adding that the probe gave the impression the party was still in the opposition, trying to discredit the LDP.

“The DPJ still harbors the mentality of an opposition party, (trying to expose) the LDP’s lies,” he said. “That feeling may be important, but it is the ruling party now and needs to have the awareness that it is going to run the country and steer foreign policy.”