National / Politics

U.S. pressed Sato to soften 1965 Okinawa speech, praise troops' role

Kyodo

Government papers declassified Thursday revealed a key speech by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in 1965 in then-occupied Okinawa was revised under U.S. pressure to stress the importance of Washington’s military presence in the region.

Sato was the first prime minister to visit since the war. During the trip, he signaled Tokyo’s willingness to extend the bilateral security treaty beyond its minimum 10-year term, and which would otherwise have expired in 1970.

“The Ryukyu Islands are playing a very important role for peace and security of the Far East,” Sato said, reading text inserted just before his visit in August that year.

The text was revised at Sato’s discretion after the U.S. side pressed for changes. It also says “Japan allied with the United States by the Mutual Cooperation and Security Treaty . . . has cooperative relations with her as a partner.”

At issue were two speeches Sato was to deliver upon arrival at Naha airport and at a local movie theater, which the two sides first discussed on Aug. 17, 1965. While yielding to U.S. pressure over the latter speech, Sato resisted changes to the former.

Pointing to a lack of reference to the strategic and military significance of Okinawa, a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo told a Foreign Ministry official that Washington wanted Sato to stress the importance of Okinawa for the defense of Japan as well as the whole of the Far East.

Although the Japanese side initially replied it was difficult to change texts already approved by the prime minister, the diplomat said the following day, citing direction from Washington, that the texts were “disparaging” to the U.S. administration of Okinawa.

The diplomat was also quoted as saying such speeches might affect the course of U.S.-Japan cooperation in Okinawa.

The Japanese official said Sato’s planned speeches did not mean to criticize the U.S., and that Tokyo wanted Washington to see them as a whole, including an address at a banquet in which the prime minister was to refer to the U.S. administration of Okinawa.

The diplomat, however, insisted that the United States saw a problem in the two texts — for which extensive media coverage was expected.

In a second meeting on Aug. 18, Japan submitted the text for the movie theater revised at Sato’s discretion to read, “The Ryukyu Islands are playing a very important role for peace and security of the Far East.”

Sato, however, refused to revise his Naha airport speech, the records show.

Moreover, he added to that speech words of his choosing: “Until Okinawa is returned, Japan will not have completely emerged from her postwar period.” That section was not in the original draft and it gained prominence.

Analysts believe the United States wanted Sato to uphold the legitimacy of the U.S. bases in Okinawa at a time when American troops were getting negative press because of their engagement in Vietnam.

But the records show “differing intentions by both sides surfaced, as Mr. Sato felt the need to raise his own political performance toward the reversion (of Okinawa to Japan),” said Masaaki Gabe, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus.

The records also show Sato said in talks on Aug. 19 with the U.S. high commissioner of the Ryukyu Islands, Lt. Gen. Albert Watson, that Tokyo wanted Okinawa to revert to Japanese sovereignty under the bilateral security treaty.

The U.S. had been worried that the treaty might not be extended, so the comments suggest Sato aimed to achieve both sovereignty and the continuity of the treaty and the U.S. presence.

Okinawa reverted to Japanese sovereignty in May 1972, when the United States returned Naha airport and other facilities, reducing the total size of U.S. bases in Okinawa by 19 percent from pre-reversion levels to 287 sq. kilometers.

Separate diplomatic records declassified Thursday showed Japan sought to reduce U.S. bases in Okinawa by 30 percent from pre-reversion levels during talks ahead of the handover.

But the United States insisted maintaining the functions of the bases and demanded that Japan shoulder the costs of relocation.

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