Mr. Bunroku Yoshino, 87, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s American Bureau from January 1971 to May 1972, was in charge of negotiations with the United States on the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control. In recent media interviews, Mr. Yoshino admitted that Japan secretly shouldered $4 million (about 1.2 billion yen in the exchange rate at the time) in costs for the reversion.

In the U.S., official documents pointing to the existence of the secret deal had come to light in 2000 and 2002. The Japanese government, however, refuses to admit the existence of the secret pact even after Mr. Yoshino admitted it. Given his background, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity and trustworthiness of his statement.

The government’s obstinate attitude is hard to understand. Now that almost 35 years have passed since the signing of the reversion agreement and 34 years since the return of Okinawa (May 1972), there should be no obstacle to the government admitting to the existence of the pact.

Okinawa had been under the control of the U.S. since the end of World War II. In November 1969, then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and U.S. President Richard Nixon issued a joint statement in which the U.S. agreed to return Okinawa to Japan in 1972. The 1971 reversion agreement said Japan would pay a total of $320 million to the U.S. mainly to cover the costs of removing U.S. nuclear weapons from Okinawa and to purchase U.S. assets in the island prefecture. The agreement also said the U.S. would shoulder $4 million in costs to convert the land used by the U.S. military back into farmland.

In December 1971, a lawmaker of the then Japan Socialist Party alleged in a Lower House Budget Committee session that Japan had agreed to make a secret payment to cover the land-conversion cost, but he could not produce evidence to support his allegation. In March 1972, JSP lawmakers raised the secret pact issue again in the Diet. This time they produced copies of three diplomatic documents. The government admitted that the copies were of genuine diplomatic documents but denied the existence of the $4 million secret pact.

Earlier, in June 1971, Mr. Takichi Nishiyama, a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun, had written an article stating that a secret pact existed under which Japan would shoulder part of the reversion costs that the U.S. was to have borne. However, he did not refer to documents in support of his report.

After the JSP lawmakers raised their questions in March 1972, it was found that copies of the diplomatic documents had been passed to one of the lawmakers by Mr. Nishiyama. It was also found that a female Foreign Ministry worker had leaked the documents to the Mainichi Shimbun reporter. Both Mr. Nishiyama and the woman ministry worker were arrested on suspicion of violating the National Civil Service Law.

The Mainichi Shimbun defended Mr. Nishiyama’s reporting activities, citing the public’s right to know. But public opinion turned against the newspaper when prosecutors told the court that Mr. Nishiyama obtained the information by taking advantage of his intimate relationship with the woman. As the public’s interest in the secret pact issue faded, both the reporter and the ministry worker were found guilty in trials.

When U.S. documents in 2000 and 2002 pointed to the existence of the secret pact, the Japanese government denied it, even though the documents carried the initials “B.Y.,” signifying Mr. Yoshino. In his recent interviews, Mr. Yoshino said the $320 million that Japan paid included the $4 million in question.

Diplomatic documents are supposed to be made public after a lapse of 30 years. But the Foreign Ministry has not yet made public either the documents related to the reversion of Okinawa or those from the 1950s related to negotiations to reopen diplomatic ties between Japan and the Soviet Union.

It is inconceivable that disclosing the negotiation process for the Okinawa reversion at this time would impair relations between Japan and the U.S. or harm the security of both nations. The government should explain under what circumstances and why Japan secretly agreed to pay the $4 million payment and examine whether that decision was beneficial. If the government continues to deny a fact that has become public knowledge, it will tend to weaken public trust in the government’s diplomacy and foreign policy.

The government needs to consider a recent ruling by the Tokyo District Court that the Foreign Ministry make public most of the itemized diplomatic expenses whose disclosure was demanded by a nonprofit organization.

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