The relationship between the United States and its two major post-World War II allies in Northeast Asia, Japan and the Republic of Korea, has been complicated by the confrontational tendencies and historical antipathy between Tokyo and Seoul. Although close neighbors across a narrow strait and recipients of a common cultural heritage, Japan and Korea had rarely been friendly and often passionately at odds. The legacy of Japanese invasions of Korea, and especially the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea for most of the first half of the 20th century, led to feelings of superiority on the part of Japanese, and of barely-suppressed anger and resentment on the part of Koreans. Yet the geopolitical situation in Asia following the U.S. defeat of Japan and liberation of Korea from Japanese rule in 1945, and especially after the Korean War of 1950-53 cemented both South Korea and Japan into the U.S. regional security structure, made relations with both nations of major importance to the United States.
In the early 1960s Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and their adminstrations pushed hard and successfully for the normalization of relations between Japan and the ROK, culminating in the Treaty on Basic Relations between them signed in June 1965. Among other things, Japan agreed to provide $800 million in economic assistance, which spurred the Korean economy and reduced the economic burden on the United States. In 1969 President Nixon, as part of his Nixon Doctrine of placing greater responsibility on Asian nations for their own security, persuaded Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato to state in a joint U.S.-Japan communique that the security of the ROK was "essential to Japan's own security." The "Korea clause," as this became known, was the foundation stone of Japan's contribution to regional security. It was also an essential element of the U.S. agreement to return Okinawa to Japan, because it was seen to guarantee freedom of action by U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan in case of a military threat to South Korea.
Our study will concentrate on U.S. interaction with Japan in three important developments involving Korea since the beginning of the 1970s. We will seek to shed light on the formulation of U.S. policy toward Japan and Korea in these cases, its degree of sensitivity toward the views of the Asian parties, how U.S. views were accepted or resisted by Japan and Korea, and the outcome of the exchanges between the three countries.
Because of archival policies in Tokyo and Seoul and the great sensitivity of the subject, little documentation has been available to historians. Professor Chong-Sik Lee of the University of Pennsylvania, whose study of the Japan-Korea relationship is the among the most important available in English, wrote of his frustration about the paucity of source material from Tokyo or Seoul. He noted in the preface to his work that "most archives of both countries are inaccessible to ordinary mortals, and I had to contend with a limited range of materials."(1) He did consult U.S. State Department materials, but at the time of his work documentation from that source was available only up to the mid-1950s. Thus our study, with its basis in new documentation and interviewing, should add substantially to the available record.
In keeping with its "no war" constitution, Japan did not participate directly in the prosecution of the U.S. war in Vietnam, but it was a major logistical and supply base and the source of important war material. The Vietnam war was highly controversial within Japan, being strongly opposed by large segments of the Japanese public and leftist political parties.
The U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam under the cover of the "Vietnamization" program and the Paris accords with North Vietnam and the resulting communist takeover in Vietnam and Cambodia in the spring of 1975 raised serious doubts in Tokyo about the reliability of American commitments to Japan's security.
Much closer to home, the danger of renewal of war on the Korean peninsula seemed to increase sharply when North Korean President Kim Il Song, on a visit to Beijing in April 1975, announced that his nation "will not just watch it with folded arms" if revolution breaks out in South Korea and would resolutely answer war with war. In a famous statement, Kim declared, "In this war we will lose only the military demarcation line [separating North and South Korea] and will gain the country's reunification." Kim's Chinese hosts showed no sign of approving a new Korean war, but his words continued to echo through Northeast Asia.
In the aftermath, the United States sought to calm the fears of its allies. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger repeatedly reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Departing from longstanding U.S. policy of refusing to confirm or deny the location of its nuclear weapons, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger publicly acknowledged that American nuclear weapons were based in South Korea and warned, "If circumstances were to require the use of tactical nuclear weapons...I think that would be carefully considered." In words aimed at North Korean leaders, Schlesinger added, "I do not think it would be wise to test (American) reactions."(2)
Japanese Prime Minister Miki Takeo, responding to the increasing air of impending crisis, authorized the Japan Defense Agency in June to undertake contingency planning for cooperation with U.S. forces in case of emergency on the Korean peninsula. Such planning had not been authorized before because it would have stirred serious political opposition.(3)
In early August Miki, on a visit to Washington, reaffirmed the essence of the "Korea clause," stating in a joint communique with President Ford that the peace and security of the ROK were essential to the peace and security of East Asia, including Japan. Late that month he told Secretary of Defense Schlesinger that the domestic political opposition had questioned his intention to reaffirm the "Korea clause" but that he had responded that "one can see...clearly from the map" the Korean peninsula's great importance to Japan. Not only is the geographic evidence convincing, said Miki, but also "we feel it in our bones."(4) Since the fall of Vietnam, he said, Japanese people "have been thinking more seriously about security problems."
Within the framework of the existing legal authority, Miki sought to rearrange and improve Japan s defense capabilities. A helpful work oon this activity available in Tokyo is Nakamura, Kiichiro, Miki-seiken 747-nichi [Miki Administration 747 Days] (Gyosei mondai kenkyusho Shuppankyoku, 1981).
The discussions of Schlesinger with Miki and Foreign Minister Miyazawa Kiichi, obtained under FOIA by the National Security Archive, illuminate the workings of the U.S.-Japan alliance in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon. Much more information is needed. Some can be obtained from the Gerald Ford Presidential Library and from interviews with Ford administration veterans in Washington. Other information can be obtained from interviews, and possibly unofficial documentary sources, in Tokyo.
The Ford administration's efforts to reassure Japan regarding Korean security were soon negated by the President Carter's unilateral and highly personal decision to withdraw U.S. ground troops from the divided peninsula. Starting in January 1975, even before the debacle in Indochina, the former Georgia government had publicly advocated a U.S. pullout from Korea, but little attention was given his views. For many months he was not considered a plausible presidential candidate, and when he did emerge from the pack it was assumed that his views would be modified in office if he won. In fact, he made it known immediately after becoming president that he was serious about the withdrawal from Korea, ordering his administration to proceed forthwith.
As far as can be determined, Japan played little role in Carter's determination to withdraw U.S. ground troops from Korea, although in a Washington Post interview during his presidential campaign on March 16, 1976 Carter was mindful of the Japanese factor. In response to a question about the Korean proposal that did not mention Japan, Carter said he "would not be rash" about the withdrawal from Korea and added, "I'd make sure the Japanese knew what we were doing. I'd make sure they understood our commitment to them is total."(5)
Only a little more than a week after taking office, while officials of the State and Defense Departments were still absorbing the news that Carter was serious about withdrawing U.S. forces from Korea, the new president dispatched Vice President Walter Mondale to Japan to brief political leaders. Disregarding the advice of U.S. government professionals, Mondale did not go to Seoul to deliver the withdrawal news in person, an omission which Korean took as a further affront.
In the months that followed, the Carter administration sought to reassure Japan that the U.S. withdrawal from the ROK would not threaten Japanese security. At the same time, the government of Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo (who had succeeded Miki in December 1976) sought to persuade Carter to stretch out or abandon his withdrawal program.
Seeking to strengthen its position in the Asian region in reaction to possible U.S. withdrawal, Fukuda announced the Manila Doctrine in August 1977. This activity is described to some degree in the available Japanese records, Kiyomiya, Ryu, Fukuda-seiken 714-nichi [Fukuda Administration 714 Days] (Gyosei mondai kenkyusho shuppankyoku, 1984).
The latest piece of work about Japan s security policies of the Miki and Fukuda periods is: Tanaka, Akihiko, Anzenhosho [Security] (Yomiuri Shimbun, 1997).
Available documentation on the U.S.-Japan-Korea interaction in this period is sparse. Carter did not mention his highly controversial Korea withdrawal program in the memoir of his presidency.(6) His national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, barely mentions the withdrawal effort in his memoir.(7) Then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance devotes only a few pages to the issue in his memoir, with only brief mention of the Japanese attitude.(8) Some of the most extensive coverage of material that was on the public record in the immediate aftermath is in Chae-Jin Lee and Hideo Sato's book, U.S. Policy Toward Japan and Korea (Praeger, 1982), but they had no access to government documents. Another work that dwells on the issue at some length, but in bizarre fashion, is The Carter Years (Paragon House, 1991) by Professor Richard C. Thornton of George Washington University, which contends that Carter's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Korea was a bluff to prod Japan into increasing its defense spending, diminishing its economic power, and assuming a more prominent security role in Asia.
Oberdorfer's recent book, The Two Koreas (Addison-Wesley, published in October 1997), deals with the Carter withdrawal program extensively, but only touches lightly on the Japan aspect. However, he did obtain a number of documents under FOIA on the U.S.-Japan-Korea interaction on this issue. More will be sought in this project, as well as additional interviews with former U.S. officials.
To the extent possible, South Korean sources will also be tapped to shed light on the interaction with Tokyo and Washington.
The intensified anti-Soviet policy of the early Reagan administration increased Washington's desire to obtain greater Japanese economic support for South Korean defenses, thereby cementing the two U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia and easing the burden on the United States. Due to the complex political situation between Seoul and Tokyo, the governments in each capital faced serious constraints: to the South Koreans, Japanese economic assistance for its military program was desirable in view of a serious economic slump and also might help restrain Japan from expanding its slender ties with North Korea, but any actual Japanese military activities in or around the Korean peninsula were unacceptable in view of past history. The Japanese were willing in principle to furnish economic assistance to South Korea, as they had from time to time since the normalization of relations in 1965, but for domestic political reasons preferred not to acknowledge that this was connected to ROK military capabilities.
The tension between Seoul and Tokyo was heightened by the assassination of South Korean President Park Chung Hee in October 1979 and his replacement by Chun Doo Hwan through a slow-motion military takeover in 1980. Park had served in the Japanese Army during the colonial period, spoke fluent Japanese, and had many Japanese contacts. It was Park who had normalized relations with Tokyo and, despite several serious conflicts with Japan, got on well with the Japanese leadership. Chun, on the other hand, was a member of the first class of the Korean Military Academy to be educated along American lines rather than Japanese lines, and had taken advanced military training in the United States. He did not speak Japanese and had purged many Japanese-trained Koreans after taking power.
In his initial meeting with Reagan in February 1981, shortly after the U.S. president moved into the White House, Chun proposed that the United States help persuade Japan to provide major economic assistance to the ROK, essentially on strategic grounds. When Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki Zenko came to Washington in May, Reagan pressed him to assist South Korea as part of what their joint communique called "an appropriate division of roles between Japan and the United States to insure peace and stability in the region and the defense of Japan." That fall Chun's government officially requested a $6 billion government loan from Japan. Eventually $4 billion was supplied after difficult negotiations over the loan between Japan and the ROK, with close surveillance and frequent intervention by the United States.
The most important documentary source on the loan negotiations in English is a chapter in the 1985 book by Chong-Sik Lee.(9) However, his work was done more than a decade ago relying largely on press reports and, as Lee said in his preface, with little input from official documentation from the United States, Japan or the ROK. Much more can be learned today, especially about the U.S. role. Oberdorfer has obtained U.S. memoranda bearing on the issue through FOIA in connection with his forthcoming book on Korea, and requests for additional U.S. documentation will be made. Interviews will be conducted with former officials who were involved in Washington by Oberdorfer, Tokyo by Izumi and, if possible, by one or the other in Seoul.
In addition to Lee' work, background information on the loan negotiations can be found in Donald C. Hellmann, "U.S.-Korean Relations: The Japan Factor," in United States-Korea Relations, Institute of East Asian Studies, Berkeley, 1986; Nathaniel B. Thayer, "Japanese Foreign Policy in the Nakasone Years," in Gerald L. Curtis, editor, Japan's Foreign Policy After the Cold War, M.E. Sharpe, 1993; and Brian Bridges, Japan and Korea in the 1990s, Edward Elgar, Aldershot England, 1993.
Little research is available in Japan regarding Japanese and South Korean policies in the loan negotiations. Izumi, Hajime, "Nikkan keikyo ni miru ninshiki no rakusa" [Recognition gap in Japan-South Korea economic cooperation], Toa (October 1982) provides a review of the difference of view between Japan and South Korea centering around the security of Northeast Asia, and stands as the only piece of work in this respect.
By the late 1980s the Cold War was breaking up in Europe, with notable effects in Asia. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev had signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at the White House in December 1987, and walked together in Red Square in June 1988. In the ROK, Roh Tae Woo had been elected in direct presidential balloting in December 1987 and was moving to establish ties with communist nations, especially using their likely participation in the 1988 Summer Olympic games in Seoul to make contact. In July, prior to the Olympics, Roh announced his Nordpolitik policy of engaging North Korea as well as Pyongyang's communist allies. Roh said the ROK would no longer oppose non-military trade with North Korea on the part of its allies, and that Seoul would cooperate with the North in its efforts to improve its relations with the United States and Japan. Taking up Roh's proposal, the outgoing Reagan administration in late October announced "a modest initiative," as it was known, to ease U.S. restrictions on political contacts and economic exchanges with North Korea.
Because of its alliance relationship with the United States and its close ties to South Korea, Japan had had only unofficial relations with North Korea, and not much of that. The unique and abnormal state of relationship between the two countries was illustrated by the legend printed on Japanese passports, "This passport is valid for all countries and areas except North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea.)" Contacts were carried on largely by the Japan Socialist Party, which had close relations with the North going back to the 1970s, and the pro-Pyongyang group [Chosoren] of the Korean minority in Japan. After Roh's Nordpolitik declaration and the U.S. "modest initiative," which coincided with a greater desire in the North to forge ties with Japan, the ice between Tokyo and Pyongyang began to crack.
Late in 1988, Pyongyang began reconsidering its Japan policy and making cautious overtures to Tokyo. The first clear sign of Japanese receptiveness was a January 1989 Foreign Ministry statement that "Japan does not maintain a hostile policy toward North Korea" and that it would be appropriate "to move positively toward improved relations" if Pyongyang so desired. The statement also expressed hope for the release of two Japanese fishermen who had been held on espionage charges by North Korea since 1983 for permitting a stowaway to leave aboard their ship.
On June 4, 1990, in the most dramatic sign yet of geopolitical change around the Korean peninsula, ROK President Roh met Soviet President Gorbachev in San Francisco, California, a move which seemed destined (and did) lead swiftly to establishment of diplomatic relations between former enemies. Shortly thereafter Japanese Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki expressed a desire to "contact North Korea without any precondition attached." North Korea, in response, invited a joint delegation of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Japan Socialist Party to visit Pyongyang for talks.
A high powered delegation of 44 Japanese Diet members accompanied by Foreign Ministry officials, aides and journalists flew into Pyongyang on September 24. The leader of the delegation was 75-year-old Kanemaru Shin, the behind-the-scenes kingmaker of the ruling party who was widely considered to be more powerful than the prime ministers he helped take office. In four days of talks, including two sessions in which Kanemaru met alone with Kim Il Sung and his interpreter, the Japanese politicians agreed to a remarkable declaration that seemed to go a dramatic distance toward normalizing relations and providing largescale Japanese assistance to North Korea.
Both Washington and Seoul were shocked by the development, especially because it coincided with rising concern about the North Korean nuclear weapons program and growing pressure on Pyongyang to submit to international inspections. The United States and South Korea weighed in heavily with the Japanese government to halt the sudden rapprochement with the North. As a result of the uproar, Kanemaru flew to Seoul to express regrets to Roh for the impact of his actions in Pyongyang, and apologized to U.S. ambassador Michael Armacost in Tokyu for going over the head of the United States. The negotiations with North Korea for normalization of relations were turned over to the Foreign Ministry, which put them on a slow track, from which they have never emerged.
A substantial amount of material, ranging from news accounts and journalistic investigative reports to scholarly articles, has been published on Japan's relations and maneuvers with North Korea in 1989-90. Among the works available are: Izumi, Hajime, "Tokyo' s Policy toward North Korea and Korean Reunification," in Gerrit W. Gong, et al., eds., Korean Peninsula Developments and U.S.-Japan-South Korea Relations (Washington, D.C.: CSIS, 1993); Ahn Byung-joon, "Japanese Policy Toward Korea," in Gerald L. Curtis, editor, Japan's Foreign Policy After the Cold War, M.E. Sharpe, 1993; Brian Bridges, "Normalising Japan - North Korea Relations" in his book, Japan and Korea in the 1990s, Edward Elgar, 1993; Okonogi Masao, "Japan's Policy Toward North Korea: Normalizing Relations and Promoting Collapse?" an undated manuscript for a scholarly conference; and two papers delivered at the 1996 Conference on The Two Koreas in World Affairs, sponsored by the International Council on Korean Studies, Hong Nack Kim's "Japan's Policy Toward the Two Koreas" and B.C. Koh's "North Korea's Approaches to the United States and Japan."
Details of the Kanemaru mission to North Korea were ferreted out by the Japanese magazine, Bungei Shunju, which published them in an article in August 1994 by Shioda Ushio, "What Was Discussed by the 'Kanemaru North Korea Mission?'"
Also useful are several articles by Izumi as follows:
Izumi, Hajime, "Dounaru Kanemaru hocho no atoshimatu" [Perspectives on the after effect and consequences of Kanemaru s visit to North Korea], Sentaku (November 1990).
Izumi, Hajime, "Kanemaru Kin-nissei kaidan ni kosokuryoku nashi" [No binding power to see of Kanemaru-Kim II Sung talks], This is Yomiuri (December 1990).
Although Kanemaru is dead, interviews will be sought with the liberal Democratic Party members and Socialist Party members who visited North Korea in the mission with Kanemaru, and with Ambassador Noboru Nakahira and other Foreign Ministry officials who engaged in normalization negotiations between Japan and Korea.
The United States role in this has been little known. Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Michael H. Armacost discussed it briefly in his memoir Friends or Rivals?, Columbia University Press, 1996. Much more information about the U.S. role will be sought through FOIA and interviews with participants in Washington, Tokyo and, if possible, Seoul.
(1) Chong-Sik Lee, Japan and Korea: The Political Dimension, Hoover Institution Press, 1985, p.xii.
(2) "Schlesinger Warns N. Korea U.S. May Use Nuclear Arms,'St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 21, 1975.
(3) Chong-Sik Lee, Japan and Korea, pp. 93-94.
(4) Department of Defense, Memorandum of Conversation, "SecDef Meeting with Japanese Prime Minister," Sept. 17, 1975 [Meeting was August 29, 1975]. Secret, Exdis (declassified, 1983).
(5) Washington Post, March 21, 1976.
(6) Jimmy Carter, Keeping Faith, Bantam Books, 1982.
(7) Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983.
(8) Cyrus Vance, Hard Choices, Simon and Schuster, 1983, pp. 127-180.
(9) Chong-Sik Lee, Japan and Korea, chapter 5: "The Limits of Japanese-South Korean Security Ties: The Loan Negotiations."