National / History

Japan knew it would cover Okinawa land restoration costs before '71 reversion: declassified documents

Kyodo

The government was aware it might have to shoulder the cost of restoring U.S. military land on Okinawa to its original state a year before the accord for the island’s reversion to Japan was sealed in 1971, Japanese diplomatic records declassified on Thursday show.

The records show Japan had anticipated it would have to cover the restoration costs even before it entered full-fledged negotiations over Okinawa’s reversion from U.S. control in May 1972.

In the end, Tokyo agreed to pay for the costs in a secret pact with Washington, although officially it was stipulated in a 1971 bilateral agreement that Washington would be the one to pay.

They also suggest Tokyo and Washington tried to keep certain details of their negotiations under wraps to avoid a public outcry in Japan.

Debate over the cost of restoring the land on Okinawa entered full swing around November 1970.

An internal Foreign Ministry document in July 1970 shows Tokyo did not intend to hold Washington responsible for paying landowners what was needed to restore the land, and instead referred to the possibility of Japan shouldering the costs.

Eventually, the Okinawa Reversion Agreement was signed in June 1971, stipulating that the United States would make ex gratia payments for the costs of restoring Okinawan land to its original state.

Before signing the accord, Japan secretly agreed to shoulder the $4 million cost of restoring the land. This move shows that Tokyo was well aware of Washington’s position at the time and did not want to disrupt negotiations with the U.S. over the issue. The U.S. was dealing with the swelling costs of the Vietnam War and had told Japan around November 1969 it had no intention of shouldering reversion costs.

Mainichi Shimbun reporter Takichi Nishiyama hinted at the existence of the secret pact in a newspaper article in 1971 and was later convicted of leaking state secrets.

The documents contain records of the negotiations between Japan and the United States. They show evidence of back and forth in the hunt for compromise.

In one instance, Sadanori Yamanaka, who headed what was known as the Management and Coordination Agency, said part of a Japan-U.S. agreement in November 1970 regarding the transfer of control to Okinawa was “inappropriate.”

The United States consented to have this section deleted.

Yamanaka made an issue of this part — which clearly showed that the United States was deeply involved in Japan’s Okinawa policy before the island’s reversion — apparently out of concern that it might spark public protests.

But the deleted part was recorded in a memorandum of consent designated as confidential. The memorandum was not officially signed by the Japanese and U.S. sides and included only the initials of Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Armin Meyer.