Congress behind U.S. Increasing Pressure over 1989 Security Talks with Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, left, and U.S. President George H. W. Bush at the White House on Sept. 1, 1989

The 1989 diplomatic records released Dec. 23 vividly depict how Washington increased pressure on Tokyo in negotiations over Japan’s share of the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Japan and the joint development of the Air Self-Defense Force’s next-generation support fighter (FSX).

The documents also show that Washington itself had been pressed by the U.S. Congress to take a hard-line stance against Tokyo to fix its trade deficit, among other issues.

A preliminary meeting was held on Aug. 30, 1989, for the first summit on Sept. 1 between then Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and then President George H. W. Bush. At the preliminary meeting, the U.S. side indicated that Bush would propose at the summit that the issue of sharing defense costs be further discussed between the two nations’ foreign ministers.

In response, the Japanese side, which sought “quiet” dialogue at the administrative level, “got the impression that the United States would pressure Japan on a ministerial level.” Japan opposed the proposal out of concern that “the current administration would face a difficult situation.”

The U.S. side rejected Japan’s response, saying that the United States had its own situation, and that not raising the issue during the summit was not an option.

In the United States, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed bills on July 27 and Aug. 2, respectively, to require the Japanese government to bear the full cost of stationing U.S. troops in Japan. Then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said at the foreign ministers meeting on Sept. 1 that Congress was pointing a “cutting edge” at the U.S. government.

In the end, the U.S. government showed consideration for the Kaifu administration, which had just been formed on an unstable foundation after the Liberal Democratic Party lost its majority in the House of Councillors election in July. At the summit meeting, Bush told Kaifu that he understood that burden sharing was a delicate point, but that the U.S. government was having very difficult relations with Congress.

At a foreign ministerial meeting held in Tokyo in February of the same year, Baker proposed that Japan commit to procuring the equivalent of 40% of the production cost in the United States related to the joint development of the FSX — later known as the F2 — as a way to help overcome the criticism of the opposition.

There were growing calls at the time from opponents in Congress claiming that joint FSX development would not help correct the trade imbalance.

Then Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno said that Japan could not simply say that it understood, as the negotiation stage on this issue already passed. Baker backed off and called it quits. Even so, the opposition from Congress did not abate, and on April 28, about two months after the meeting, Japan was forced to agree to provide the United States with about 40% of its production costs, as proposed by Baker.

The process and background of the negotiations at that time, which are revealed in the documents, may have something in common with the current discussions on defense cost-sharing and development of the successor aircraft to the F-2.