INTERVIEW: Ex-diplomat Magosaki reveals Japan’s postwar taboo

August 29, 2012


Liberals in Japan still crucify former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (1896-1987) for forcing through the extension of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty against the backdrop of the bloody student protests in 1960.

Conservatives, meanwhile, despise Yukio Hatoyama, who served as prime minister from 2009 to 2010, after seeing his “fraternalism” politics end in miserable failure.

But according to former diplomat Ukeru Magosaki, the two prime ministers, together with other relatively underrated prime ministers, should be credited for pursuing Japan’s unrealized, but most ambitious diplomatic agenda in its postwar history--true independence from the United States.

In his latest bestseller, “Sengoshi no shotai” (secrets behind the postwar history), Magosaki, former ambassador to Iran and Uzbekistan, shows how these leaders tried to seek a diplomatic course more independent from Washington and were quickly forced from office.

“If one sees the postwar history as that of power struggle between pro-U.S. forces and those who sought diplomatic independence, it will make better sense,” Magosaki said during a recent interview in Tokyo.

“Even during the Allied occupation, there have been political leaders and bureaucrats who tried to fend off unreasonable demands from Washington or sought a multifaceted diplomacy,” said the former diplomat, who also served as director-general of the ministry’s intelligence and analysis bureau and professor at the National Defense Academy.

But the book poignantly details how their efforts to fend off Washington’s demands failed in vain and left examples that whoever "tread on the tiger’s tail" have their careers ended and their names tarnished for good.

“By absolutizing the Japan-U.S. alliance, Japan has become an endangered species when the world is shifting from the U.S. unipolar domination to a multipolar world,” Magosaki said.

Written in an easy-to-understand manner for high school students, Magosaki's book has already sold 120,000 copies since its release on Aug. 10. Based on historical documents and memoirs by notable figures from both sides of the Pacific, the book challenges such commonly held notions of most Japanese that the United States has always been a generous ally of democratic Japan.

In the interview, Magosaki said that Japan is more a “chess piece” for Washington, whose role and significance has changed over time. And there are two political taboos Japanese political leaders must avoid touching upon--seeking to consolidate the U.S. military presence in Japan and to build autonomous diplomatic relationships with its Asian neighbors, particularly China.

From Kishi to Hatoyama, many political leaders who angered Washington have been “purged” through political maneuverings and intrigue, collaborated by Washington and their collaborators in the government, political and business circles and the mass media, according to Magosaki.

“When I joined the ministry in 1966, the mainstream sentiment among diplomats was that Japan needs more diplomatic independence from Washington,” said Magosaki. “But since the end of the Cold War, Japan’s diplomacy has become increasingly subordinative to Washington in the face of ever-strengthening diplomatic pressure.”

Even a half century after the Allied occupation, Japan is still acting like a client state of the United States as Washington has “embedded” personnel channels to exert influence on Tokyo since the occupation, he added.

These "key people" enjoy special connections to Washington and exert influence in government, political and business circles, the mainstream media and the academic world.

Being a proponent of pro-independent diplomacy “definitely served as a disadvantage” in his career in the Foreign Ministry, Magosaki recalled. When he reached retirement age at the defense academy in 2009, no college or private companies offered teaching or advisory posts that are customarily given to retired career diplomats.

“But it is why I could write a book like this,” he said, smiling.

Now as China is emerging as a superpower to challenge the U.S.’s economic and military hegemony, Washington’s pressure on Japan will only grow, the former diplomat said.

An Aug. 15 report on the future of the Japan-U.S. alliance, co-authored by two notable “pro-Japanese” figures, suggests Washington is now pursuing a new strategic concept called “offshore balancing,” in which it uses Japan to check the rise of China, he said.

In the report, the authors, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard University, urge Japan to increase its “interoperatibility” with the U.S. military to respond to the rise of China. To do so, they urge Japan to remove historical restrictions on its Self-Defense Forces and weaponry development.

Washington’s intention, at least that of those close to the military-industrial complex such as Armitage, is to use Japan as a pawn to confront China at its own expense, Magosaki said.

“The irony is that Washington, on the other front, sees Beijing as the most important strategic partner, and it will be very dangerous for Japan to pit itself against China in favor of U.S. interests,” he said.

“It is always the case for a small state to hang together against a ruler state in order to protect its own interests. And it is even more so for Japan, because the basic nature of the current Japan-U.S. relationship was formed in the occupation.”

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Ukeru Magosaki (Hiroshi Matsubara)

Ukeru Magosaki (Hiroshi Matsubara)

  • Ukeru Magosaki (Hiroshi Matsubara)

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