Japan’s Foreign Policy toward Korean Peninsula in the Détente Era: An Attempt at Multilayered Policy
NKIDP Working Paper #6
Japan’s Foreign Policy toward Korean Peninsula in the Détente Era: An Attempt at Multilayered Policy
President Richard M. Nixon’s February 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China was a turning point in the Cold War in East Asia. In the wake of the visit, Japan broke off diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan and launched the process of normalizing diplomatic relations with the PRC. Soon, demand began to intensify within Japan for the same type of policy shift toward the Korean Peninsula. However, while Japan’s China policy involved the problem of whether to accept the notion of “one China,” the main concern of Japan’s policy toward the Korean Peninsula was the peaceful coexistence of North and South Korea.
As Tanaka Kakuei administration began shifting toward normalizing diplomatic relations with the PRC in July 1972, it sought to balance the US-Japan relationship and the China-Japan relationship. Japan’s central aims were the exclusion of Taiwan from the Far Eastern sphere in the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan (1960) and reevaluating he “Taiwan Clause” and the “Korea Clause” of the Sato-Nixon Joint Communiqué (1969) on Okinawa’s reversion. Article 4 of the Joint Communiqué concerning the security of Korea and Taiwan stated that:
The Prime Minister deeply appreciated the peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations in the area and stated that the security of the Republic of Korea was essential to Japan's own security…The Prime Minister said that the maintenance of peace and security in the Taiwan area was also a most important factor for the security of Japan.
Through the negotiations for Okinawa reversion, the Japanese administration had to express clearly its own position about the security link between Japan and the East Asia region, especially South Korea and Taiwan, due to its relevance to article 6 in the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, also called “Far Eastern Clause.” 
However, after the reconciliation between US-China in 1972, this decision regarding the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security hindered the autonomy of Japanese diplomacy, and there were concerns that it would obstruct the improvement of the Sino-Japanese relationship.
The United States sought to check Japan’s actions through the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. On December 9, 1971, in a meeting with US ambassador to Japan Armin Meyer, Wakaizumi Kei stated that the situation had changed drastically since the Sato-Nixon Joint Communiqué (1969). He requested a review of the content related to the defense of Taiwan and South Korea. He then stated that the purpose of this was to ensure that Japan had the same freedom to pursue a closer relationship with China as the United States. Meyer responded by comparing the provisions to a “Pandora’s box.” He pointed out that the review of those clauses could influence the US-Japan relationship by “causing a revision of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.” 
In the midst of these concerns and disturbances, at the 15th US-Japan Policy Planning Conference in June 1972, following President Nixon’s visit to China, Fukuda Hiroshi, director of the First North American Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proposed to the United States that the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security be revised to eliminate the Far Eastern Clause. In response, US consul to Japan Richard L. Sneider objected, stating that the Nixon Doctrine’s intention was designed to permit a continuing US security role in Asian affairs while drawing closer to public opinion within the United States. Japan’s request, Sneider said, amounted to driving the United States out of Asia. Furthermore, the Japanese side was nervous about the possibility of China raising questions about the Far Eastern Clause of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and stated that it would handle Taiwan separately from Korea and other areas in administering the treaty. This demonstrates that Japan’s approach was to try to eliminate the “Far Eastern Clause” and thus ensure its freedom to conduct foreign diplomacy as it saw fit in a changing East Asia.
When the Tanaka administration came to power, further negotiations took place between Japan and the United States over the handling of the “Far Eastern Clause” of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security as well as the “Taiwan Clause” of the Sato-Nixon Joint Communiqué (1969). In August 1972, at the working-level conference held at the US-Japan summit meeting, the United States continued to protest the changes in Japanese policy, insisting that any changes in the “Far Eastern Clause” and the “Taiwan Clause” would damage the US-Japan relationship. In response to this, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasukawa Shō, concerned about China’s reaction and a possible domestic backlash, simply stated at the US-Japan summit meeting that the US-Japan relationship remained important to Japan’s security. Yasukawa also stated that the attempt to review the Sato-Nixon Joint Communiqué (1969) in Japan was “the minimum preventative measure the Japanese government can take to keep the debate within Japan concerning this issue from developing into a debate concerning the dissolution of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.” Then, on November 8, following the normalization of diplomatic relations with China, Foreign Minister Ōhira Masayoshi made the following announcement concerning the government’s view on the Taiwan Clause: “The Taiwan provisions state the opinions of Japanese and American leaders as of 1969. Since then, the situation with Taiwan has changed, and armed conflict is no longer a possibility. Given these circumstances, these opinions have changed.”
The South Korean government watched as the “Taiwan Clause” was hollowed out by the movement toward normalizing Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. They were concerned that the review of the “Korea Clause” could lead to a shift in Japan’s policy toward North Korea. In particular, not only did they express military-related concerns toward the “Korea Clause” during the negotiations over the return of Okinawa, but they were also beginning to pay attention to political aspects. As the “Taiwan Clause” had been hollowed out by the normalization process of Sino-Japanese relations, it was possible that the same would happen to the “Korea Clause” as negotiations between Japan and North Korea proceeded.
Between Japan and the United States, the handling of the “Korea Clause” was closely related to the problem of US troops in South Korea. At the aforementioned January 1972 US-Japan summit meeting, Foreign Minister Fukuda Takeo stated to Secretary of State William P. Rogers that the content of the Sato-Nixon Joint Communiqué was “a matter of course” and requested that the United States refrain from further mentioning the “Taiwan Clause” to avoid an unnecessary dispute in the Diet. Moreover, he again pointed out that it was important to station American troops in South Korea to guarantee the security of Japan and South Korea, and he requested that further reductions be halted until 1975.
The United States heeded Foreign Minister Fukuda’s statements and calculated that Japan would likely oppose the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea not only for South Korea’s sake, but also for its own. On the basis of this view, Deputy Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson revealed to Korean ambassador to the US Kim Dong Jo that Japanese government officials had expressed concern over whether the presence of US troops in South Korea would be maintained. Johnson stated his view that the attempt to change Japan’s policies was limited to the “Taiwan Clause.”
In fact, much of the tension over the review and maintenance of Cold War norms was, ironically, resolved by China. The Chinese government, which had previously been critical of the US-Japan alliance and the “Taiwan Clause,” showed signs of changing its policy toward Japan. On July 27, Premier Zhou Enlai stated at a meeting with Takeiri Yoshikatsu, secretary general of the Komeito party, that he would not object to either the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security or the Sato-Nixon Joint Communiqué (1969). China’s approval of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was based on the theory that if Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations normalized, neither the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security nor the “Taiwan Clause” would affect China, and this removed one of the roadblocks to the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations.
At the US-Japan summit meeting in August, Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei requested that further reductions in US troops stationed in South Korea be halted. President Nixon responded that the improvement of US-North Korean relations was premature and that the security of South Korea was critical for the security of Japan, checking the movement on the Japanese side by stating, “If the use of Japanese bases is limited, we will have no choice but to withdraw US troops from South Korea.” Prime Minster Tanaka then promised that “under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the American bases in Japan can be used without any restrictions.” This was a reconfirmation of the “Korea Clause.”
A year later, on July 22, 1973, Prime Minster Tanaka explained at a press conference for foreign correspondents that the “Taiwan Clause” was invalid because Japan and the United States had improved their relations with China since 1969, but he confirmed that the “Korea Clause” remained in effect.
Following the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations, as domestic demand for a stronger relationship with North Korea increased, the Japanese government began a review of policies toward the Korean Peninsula. Amid these developments, the March 1972 telegram sent by Japanese ambassador to Korea Ushiroku Torao to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs entitled “Views on Handling the North Korea Issue” was a notable event. In this telegram, Ambassador Ushiroku pointed out the differences between Japan’s policies toward the Korean Peninsula and its China and Vietnam policies. For Japan, the main issue in China policy was whether or not to accept “one China.” Furthermore, due to the improvement of China’s international position as it joined the UN Security Council and relations warmed between China and the United States, the normalization of relations with China was seen as justified even if it meant sacrificing Taiwan. However, although increased contact with North Korea played a major role in increasing contact with China, there were essential differences. Ambassador Ushiroku gave the following two reasons for this:
(1) Based on the attitude taken by various countries at the time of the approval of the establishment of South Korea, as seen in the United Nations resolution regarding the establishment of South Korea and the Japan-Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty, only the South is recognized by law. Regardless of how much power North Korea may gain in the future, it will not replace South Korea’s international position, as was the case with Taiwan, and it is inevitable that North and South Korea will be allowed to coexist as two states within one nation, as in Germany.
(2) Based on population, area, and region within the international community, provided that unification does not occur through armed or violent revolution, it does not appear that North Korea will be able to overpower South Korea and take its position.
For these reasons, Ambassador Ushiroku clarified that increased interaction between Japan and North Korea would not include the normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea but would be limited to encouraging the reduction of tension in the region. Based on this premise, he suggested taking extreme care concerning the position of South Korea when interacting with North Korea. He recommended not getting caught up in the national sentiment that “North Korea is next”: policy vis-à-vis Korea could not be extrapolated from the cases of China and Vietnam, because the conditions differed. He also stated that there were no serious tensions regarding the Korean Peninsula, and he requested that action be taken cautiously. He said hasty diplomacy would be a mistake if it estranged Japan from South Korea.
Japan’s policy toward the Korean Peninsula was limited to encouraging the peaceful coexistence of North and South Korea. Its policy toward South Korea meant to encourage a friendly relationship based on economic cooperation. Japan hoped that as South Korean security increased, the country’s democratic foundations would grow stronger. Additionally, concerning interaction with North Korea, Japan pursued an easing of tensions, solidifying a policy of responding in a flexible manner while paying close attention to dialogue between North and South as well as changes in the international situation.
During this period, due to efforts in Japan to expand interaction with North Korea as well as changes in the status quo in East Asia, North Korea stopped demanding that the Japan-Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty be abolished as a precondition to improving Japanese-North Korean relations. Instead, North Korea took a softer position of requesting a policy of equal treatment while allowing the treaty to be maintained. Second Vice Premier Pak Seong-cheol told a group of Japanese newspaper journalists visiting Pyongyang that the one-sided policy favoring South Korea, which served as an obstacle to the unification of Korea, should be abolished and a stance of “equal diplomacy” giving equivalent status to North and South should be adopted. President Kim Il Sung also stated that “equal policies of a non-aggressive nature should be implemented toward the north and south of the Korean Peninsula.” He also stated that Japanese-North Korean diplomatic relations could be established by ignoring Article 3 of the Japan-Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty, which stated that South Korea was the only legal government, and that if Japanese-North Korean diplomatic relations were established, Article 3 of the Japan-Republic of Korea would lose 80 percent of its effect. He likely believed that if Japanese-North Korean diplomatic relations were normalized, Japan would cut off diplomatic relations with South Korea, just as it had cut off relations with Taiwan.
Based on North Korea’s actions, among reform-oriented Japanese groups including the Social Democratic Party of Japan, some expressed the view that North and South Korea should be treated equally in terms of diplomacy. At the House of Councilors Budget Committee meeting on November 10, 1972, Diet member Ashika Kaku (Social Democratic Party of Japan) questioned the necessity of adopting a policy of equal treatment based on events that had occurred between Japan and China. Foreign Minister Ōhira Masayoshi responded to this as follows:
The discussion about North and South started under the condition of diplomatic relations and a close relationship between Japan and South Korea… because this discussion started under balanced conditions… to maintain balance in the event that these conditions do not exist and the policy toward the Korean Peninsula is completely reformulated, and also given that that kind of history does exist and the fact that today the discussion about North and South started under these conditions… I believe it would be extremely dangerous to adopt a policy of equal treatment toward North and South…
Around the time of the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations, the Tanaka administration attempted to ease South Korea’s anxiety by sending former director general of the Economic Planning Agency Kimura Toshio to South Korea as a special envoy. Foreign Minister Ōhira stated at a meeting with the ambassador to the Asia-Pacific region that although he was concerned about how the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations would change the current situation, he was pleased that China understood Japan’s position, and that although Asia policy was a difficult issue, it was important to avoid acting rashly and to pause before changing the status quo.
North Korea joined the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 17, 1973, and on June 23 of the same year, South Korea reversed its policy toward North Korea in the “Special Declaration on Foreign Policy for Peaceful Unification (Declaration of 6/23),” as a result of which the Social Democratic Party of Japan redoubled its efforts. Diet member Akamatsu Isamu (Social Democratic Party of Japan) submitted a “List of Questions Concerning the Unification of Korea” to the government on July 7 and again on July 21. Akamatsu claimed there were signs of the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, that the diplomatic stance favoring the relationship with South Korea should be corrected, and that North Korea should be acknowledged and diplomatic relations established. In response, the Japanese government stated with regard to treating North and South equally that “various factors such as Japan’s external affairs overall and the influence of the dialogue between North and South should be kept in mind when making a decision,” and that “Japan’s first priority is maintaining and developing a friendly relationship with South Korea, and at present, it seems that we will have to limit our relationship with North Korea.” Here, “Japan’s external affairs overall” refers to the fact that Japan alone could not unilaterally change its policy toward North Korea while socialist countries such as the Soviet Union and China maintained their stances toward South Korea.
Interestingly, Foreign Minister Ōhira Masayoshi stated at the US-Japan summit meeting on August 1 that, looking back on the fact that during the Second World War Japan stationed two army divisions on the Korean Peninsula to assure its security, after the war, as direct military means had been eliminated, the same funding that had been dedicated to maintaining the two army divisions before the war had been applied to economic aid. Ōhira’s statement indicated that Japan’s involvement with the Korean Peninsula for the purpose of assuring security had been consistent since before the war, and the means had shifted from military to economic. This statement is noteworthy as an acknowledgement by the Japanese government of the effects of economic cooperation with Korea on the assurance of security. Ōhira also explained the significance of expanded economic interaction with North Korea as follows:
(1) Gradually expanding the relationship with North Korea will make it easier for Japan to maintain and increase economic aid to South Korea.
(2) This will help the international community to have an influence over North Korean society.
Although the Japanese government’s policy toward the Korean Peninsula emphasized the security relationship with South Korea, it was intended to develop the relationship with North Korea while respecting the framework of US policy toward the Korean Peninsula, which regarded the expansion of economic interaction and the establishment of political ties with North Korea as premature. This cautious approach was carried out based on the view that it was overly sentimental to promote equal treatment of liberal camp and communist bloc. In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Asia Bureau councilor Nakae Yōsuke informed South Korea that there was mounting pressure within Japan to change the policy toward North Korea, stating the view of “some in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it would be advantageous to do with flexibility to North Korea in order to create a closer relationship between Japan and South Korea.” Moreover, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Hōgen Shinsaku told Korean ambassador to Japan Lee Ho that “In order for us to assist in building South Korea’s military might, the civil sector cannot stop us from dealing with North Korea.” Then, on October 29, Uchida Yoshio, director of the Commercial Policy Bureau’s Northeast Asian Department, revealed to South Korea that it would permit import-export bank financing with North Korea for the first time. This approach reflected the change in the status quo in East Asia and demonstrated the formation of a new policy toward the Korean Peninsula. This indicates an attempt to multilayered foreign diplomacy by achieving a balance between the demands of assurance of security, which necessitated emphasizing the relationship with South Korea, with the political demands of foreign diplomacy, which involved easing tensions in the region.
Amid these new policies, the normalization of relations with North Korea was left by the wayside following the simultaneous entry of both North and South Korea into the United Nations and the acceptance of both countries by the international community. Given that the normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea posed a severe risk to the relationship with South Korea, Japan could not make the first move, as China, the Soviet Union, and Eastern European countries showed no signs of accepting South Korea. Moreover, whereas South Vietnam had indicated before the fact that it would not oppose the normalization of relations with North Vietnam, the same could not be expected of South Korea. Thus, the Japanese government focused its policies on encouraging the international community to accept a system involving the coexistence of North and South Korea, and on getting North Korea to rule out the possibility of reunifying Korea by military means, rather than on normalizing diplomatic relations with North Korea. In spite of the normalization of diplomatic relations with China, the policy of the Tanaka administration toward the Korean Peninsula did not choose either North or South Korea but sought to achieve peaceful coexistence as in East and West Germany, an acceptance of the international status quo. Concerning the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea, Foreign Minister Kimura Toshio said this needed to wait until “a state of affairs at some point in the future in which both North and South Korea simultaneously join the United Nations, and the international community accepts both North and South Korea, and both North and South agree.”
CHOI Kyungwon is an Associate Professor at the Research Center for Korean Studies, Kyushu University. Dr. Choi received his B.A. and M.A. in North Korean Studies from Dongguk University (South Korea) and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Keio University (Japan). His research focuses on International Relations in East Asia and Japan-Korea relations. His publications include The Formation of the Japan-South Korea Security Relationship during the Cold War (in Japanese, Keio University Press, 2014), and “The Formation of the Japan-ROK Security Relationship : ‘Security Crisis’ of 1968 and Economic Security Cooperation,” World Political Science Review (2014).
Document No. 1
Japanese Ambassador in Korea to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, 'Observations on the Management of North Korea Issues (I),’ 30 March 1972
[Source: Nihon Gaimushō “Kita-Chō mondai” [Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs “North Korea issue”] (administrative number 2012-1786), Diplomatic Archives Of The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Of Japan. Obtained by Kyungwon Choi and translated by Ryo C. Kato.]
Document No. 2
Northeast Asia Department, Handling of the Korea issue in the United Nations (Draft), 10 May 1972
[Source: Nihon Gaimushō “Chōsen mondai” [Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Korea issue”] (administrative number 2012-1787), Diplomatic Archives Of The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Of Japan. Obtained by Kyungwon Choi and translated by Ryo C. Kato.]
Document No. 3
Northeast Asia Department No. 720035, on the Situation in North Korea, 23 May 1972
[Source: Nihon Gaimushō “Chōsen mondai” [Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Korea issue”] (administrative number 2012–1787), Diplomatic Archives Of The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Of Japan. Obtained by Kyungwon Choi and translated by Ryo C. Kato.]
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 According to Japanese ambassador to Thailand Okazaki Hisahiko, who worked at the Japanese Embassy in South Korea at the time, there was a feeling at the embassy that South Korea and Taiwan would no longer be prioritized as they were in the Kishi/Satō era, because “Taiwan had been cut off and South Korea was next.” Okazaki states, “I told the home office that it was disappointing that some people were saying that our position toward South Korea would change. At that point, people stopped saying those things... we lost the battle in Taiwan but won the battle in South Korea, no matter how you look at it. I encouraged everyone, telling them that if we just tried, we were sure to win.” Interview with Okazaki Hisahiko (December 18, 1995). The National Security Archive, US-Japan Project, Oral History Program. Retrieved from http://www2.gwu.edu/∼nsarchiv.
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 This declaration, regarded as a turning point in foreign diplomacy toward Korea during the Cold War, includes content concerning (1) the opening of doors to all countries with differing ideals and systems, (2) support for North and South Korea joining the UN simultaneously, and (3) non-opposition to North Korea joining international organizations. South Korea Territorial Unification Institute (1982). Heiwa tōitsu gaikō seisaku sengen [Declaration on foreign policy for peaceful unification]. Nanboku taiwa hakusho [North/South dialogue white paper], 319–322.
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 South Korea Foreign Affairs Department. JAW-7458 (July 21, 1973), sent by: Ambassador in Japan, received by: Minister of Foreign Affairs. Ilbon ui dae Bukhan Pulant Suchul to Sueun Jageum Sayong Seungin Munje[Issue concerning Japanese exports of manufacturing plants to North Korea and approval of use of import-export bank funds] (classification number 725.6 JA, registration number 6048),91. South Korea Foreign Diplomacy Archive.
 South Korea Foreign Affairs Department. JAW-08196 (August 9, 1973), sent by: Ambassador in Japan, received by: Minister of Foreign Affairs]. Forward document binding, 117., Bukil700-752 Daetongryeong Bogosahang, Ilbon ui dae Bukhan Pulant Suchul[Northern Japan 700–752 President’s Report Information, Japanese exports of manufacturing plants to North Korea]. Forward document binding, 124–126. South Korea Foreign Diplomacy Archives.
 South Korea Foreign Affairs Department. JAW-10445(October 28, 1973), sent by: Ambassador in Japan, received by: Minister of Foreign Affairs]. Forward document binding, 168. South Korea Foreign Diplomacy Archives.
 Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ajia/Taiheiyō Chiiki Taishi Kaidan gijiyōroku (October 1974) [Asia/Pacific Region Ambassadors’ Discussion minutes]. Rekishi shiryō toshite no kachi ga mitomerareru kaiji bunsho 13-04-4 [Public document with acknowledged value as historical document 13–04–4]. Japan Foreign Diplomacy Archives.
 Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ajia/Taiheiyō Chiiki Taishi Kaigi tōgi yōshi (sono 4): torimatome no tōgi (July 1975) [Asia/Pacific Region Ambassadors’ Conference Discussion summary (4): concluding discussion]. Rekishi shiryō toshite no kachi ga mitomerareru kaiji bunsho 13-04-5 [Public document with acknowledged value as historical document 13–04–5]. Japan Foreign Diplomacy Archives.
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