Ex-diplomat admits to existence of secret pact over Okinawa reversion

by Keiji Hirano

A former senior diplomat admitted for the first time in court on Tuesday that Japan and the United States concluded a secret agreement on the cost burden for the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty from U.S. control.

''Japan shouldered $4 million in costs that Washington was supposed to pay to restore farmland in Okinawa (that had been used by U.S. forces),'' 91-year-old Bunroku Yoshino, who was the Foreign Ministry's American Bureau chief at the time, told the Tokyo District Court.

He made the statement on behalf of a group of plaintiffs, including a former Mainichi Shimbun reporter convicted over his reports on the diplomatic negotiations, who are demanding that the state disclose three documents that they argue indicate the existence of the bilateral secret pact.

The testimony, which conflicts with Tokyo's long-held view that a secret pact does not exist, came as the Foreign Ministry investigates whether there are such secret agreements, including other alleged pacts on stopovers by nuclear-armed U.S. vessels.

The three documents, which were declassified by the U.S. government in the early 2000s, include one indicating that Japan secretly shouldered $4 million in costs that Washington was supposed to pay to restore farmland in Okinawa that had been used by U.S. forces.

''I had no other choice but to say there was no such agreement in those days,'' Yoshino said. ''But I've gradually come to think I can't keep a secret over the pact since the disclosure in the United States.''

Deterioration in the U.S. economy amid the prolonged Vietnam War and worsening feelings toward Japan among members of the U.S. Congress were behind Japan's cost burdens, he said at the court.

''I now believe it's good to disclose (the diplomatic process) after a certain period of time, for example 25 to 30 years, so people can use the materials for research,'' he added.

He also admitted that the initials on the documents disclosed in the United States were his and he put them on the papers in his room at the Foreign Ministry.

He said, however, that while a ministry official must have made copies of them, he does not know if they have been preserved or abandoned.

In a recess during his testimony, Yoshino shook hands with the former Mainichi reporter, 78-year-old Takichi Nishiyama.

Yoshino said during a press conference later, ''I respect Mr. Nishiyama's faith because he's spent a lot of time and expense for the court battle (to seek the truth behind the Okinawa reversion). We prayed for each other's health.''

He also told reporters, ''I object when people say 'secret pact' because Foreign Ministry officials in those days believed every issue under negotiation was a 'secret pact.'''

Nishiyama said, meanwhile, ''I told him we would have a drink together after things settle down.''

Nishiyama was convicted in the 1970s for urging a Foreign Ministry secretary to hand over classified documents on the negotiation process behind the reversion, raising public concerns about violation of the people's right to know.

Yoshino had consistently denied the existence of the secret pact. The former diplomat told the press conference Tuesday, ''Foreign Ministry officials in those days had a concerted recognition that we should deny it.''

Their face-to-face meeting was the first in more than 30 years, according to Nishiyama.

Nishiyama, for his part, filed a damages suit in 2005 in a bid to prove the existence of the secret pact, claiming his career as a reporter was ruined by the conviction, but the Supreme Court rejected it in September last year without referring to whether the pact existed.

''My own damages suit has been followed by the current suit to seek the disclosure of the documents,'' Nishiyama told a press conference Tuesday after the court adjourned. ''Our moves have led to a reexamination of the nature of the Japan-U.S. alliance.''

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters Tuesday evening, ''Speculation that the secret pacts existed have grown (during the ministry's probe), and I consider the statement (of Yoshino) to be valuable testimony. We will disclose the truth to the public after confirming it.''

While declining to comment on the suit and Yoshino's testimony, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said he wants to make diplomatic documents more open to the public. ''I think it will be very important if the truth is revealed through such a lawsuit,'' he said.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Dec. 1, 2009)