National / Politics

Chinese leader warmed to Japanese defense strength in 1980s, declassified records show

Kyodo

Chinese government heavyweight Hu Yaobang told Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1983 that he would not oppose an “appropriate enhancement” of Japan’s defense capabilities, newly declassified records showed Thursday, underscoring the leading Chinese official’s conciliatory stance toward the then-Japanese leader.

At the time of Hu’s visit to Japan and meeting with Nakasone in November 1983, Japan had stepped up economic support to China, centering on yen loans, after the countries signed a peace and friendship treaty in 1978.

Hu’s stance also apparently reflected an overwhelming power gap between Japan and China at the time. Hu, who was general secretary of China’s Communist Party for much of the 1980s under the rule of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, was known for being reform-minded and friendly toward Japan.

According to a top-secret Japanese diplomatic file dated Nov. 24, 1983, Nakasone explained in the meeting held the same day that Japan would build up the necessary defense capacity to handle Soviet threats, within the bounds of the war-renouncing Constitution.

But at the same time Nakasone told Hu that Japan “will absolutely not possess the power to invade other countries,” according to the file.

Hu responded that he believed Nakasone’s “understanding that (Japan’s) defense capacity is weak.”

“I believe that no matter how much Japan expands its defense capacity, it will not go to war with China,” the Chinese official was quoted as saying.

In March the following year, Nakasone met in China with then-Premier Zhao Ziyang, who would later replace Hu as general secretary in 1987.

According to the declassified records, Zhao said he was “not at all of the thinking that the Nakasone Cabinet is adopting militaristic policies.”

Nakasone and Hu also exchanged opinions about North Korea in 1983, with Hu telling Nakasone about an exchange he had had with Kim Il Sung, the country’s leader at the time.

Hu said Kim had told him an invasion of South Korea was “impossible, and we don’t have that kind of power.”

The two discussed North Korea again during Nakasone’s March 1984 trip to China.

Hu told Nakasone then that China had “a duty to let Japan and North Korea communicate,” and suggested interactions between Japan and North Korea through nongovernmental channels, offering to pass on any message from Nakasone during a planned visit to North Korea in May of that year.

Following the declassification Thursday, Nakasone said in a statement that he visited China before taking office in November 1982 and “held frank discussions (with Chinese officials) about Japan’s stance on security.”

“This set the foundation for (me) to build friendly relations (with China) after taking office,” Nakasone said.

Nakasone also said building a relationship of trust with China, as well as between the United States and China, was Japan’s “most important diplomatic task” at the time, given the security threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Hu was ousted from power in 1987, and his death in 1989 sparked the Chinese democracy movement of the same year.

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