Chapter 29 – Japan – China Intrigues 


1. The Devious Sato Eisaku
2. Liao Cheng-chih, and the Origins of the Cultural Revolution
3. The Samejima Articles
4. East-West Detente Destroyed

Slowly, painfully, I was learning how to track down news sources and get stories. 

In the early seventies, China was very much in the news. How and when would the world finally come to recognise the existence of the world’s most populous nation? 

But recognised or unrecognised, Beijing in those days held semi-veto power over the LDP choice of political leaders. To be branded as anti-China was the kiss of political death —something hard to believe in later years.

Japan still had some conscience about its past behavior in China. Most realised the absurdity of Japan bowing to US pressure to refuse any formal relationship with its large neighbour. 

1. The Devious Sato Eisaku

In his push for the LDP presidency even the right-wing Sato Eisaku (prime minister of Japan 1964 —72) had felt the need to make strong hints of pretending to want better relations with Beijing. 

The then Chinese Trade Minister, Nan Han-chen (Nan Hanzhen), was to be the deceived bearer of those hints after a 1964 Tokyo visit. 

On this basis Nan and his colleagues back in China had dropped opposition to Sato becoming LDP head, believing relations would, as Sato had said, soon be ‘put on the right track.’ 

But when made prime minister Sato had quickly reversed course and embraced Taiwan — as should have been foreseen given his very conservative background and a half-brother relationship with the deeply anti-China, former prime minister of Japan, Kishi Nobusuke. 

But in so doing Sato did enormous damage not just to Japan-China relations, but also to those in China who had seen his 1964 overtures as genuine. 

I am convinced it was probably one of the main factors leading to China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution.

With Prime Minister Sato Eisaku in an interview before his 1970 visit to Australia

2. Liao Ch’eng-chih, and the Origins of the Cultural Revolution 

With some difficulty I had tracked down what could well have been the consequences of Sato’s devious game. A key lead had been the former Nikkei correspondent in China, Samejima Keiji. 

Like most other Japanese journalists in China at the time, Samejima had been close to a senior and pro-Japan, Chinese politician, Liao Ch’eng-chih (Liao Zhengzhi in today’s romanisation). 

Liao had been educated in Japan and spoke good Japanese. That made him a magnet for the Japanese journalists in China. 

But with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, Samejima in 1968 was suddenly arrested and thrown into jail for some years.

(Some insiders have since suggested that he was imprisoned not so much for his Liao connection but because he had a double mission in China, the nature of which is known to some dubious people in Washington.) 

Eventually he was released, but only after Nikkei had exerted all the pressure and influence it could. 

Caring for employees in trouble, even ones caught up in dubious activity, is a strong Japanese quality. 

3. The Samejima Articles

Some time after Samejima’s return to Japan, Nikkei began to run a series of very interesting front page anonymous articles detailing how Liao and others in the Chinese leadership’s pro-Japan faction had accepted Sato’s assurances of wanting better relations with China. 

But when Sato moved to a pro-Taiwan, anti-China policy, they had had the legs cut away from under them. 

According to the articles, radicals in the Chinese leadership had then used this debacle to discredit not just the moderate pro-Japan faction in the leadership, but all other progressive elements in China. 

This in turn had greatly helped the launch of the Cultural Revolution insanity.


For me the details in the Nikkei articles were nuggets of pure information gold. The world, and not just Japan, had to know about them. 

First step was to confirm who wrote the articles. To me it was obvious that it could not have been anyone other than Samejima. No one else in Nikkei could have written with such detail and authority. 

(The articles were anonymous, I realised later, was because a condition for Samejima’s release from China was that he be kept under wraps.) 

As fellow Chinese speakers we already knew each other quite well. An ambiguous reply from him at a chance corridor meeting in the Nikkei building where I had my office was all I needed to confirm that he had indeed been the author. 

At the time I had a deal with Derek Davies of the Hongkong Far Eastern Economic Review to send him the in-depth stories I could not get published in The Australian. The Liao affair was just such a story (few in Australia would have realised the importance of that story). 

In the FEER article I had suggested strongly that the recently-released Samejima was the source. 

In those days the FEER carried much weight in Japan. (It was later taken over by the Wall Street Journal and went cantankerously to a well-deserved, anti-China grave.)  

My article was inevitably brought to the attention of the Nikkei brass. Summoned to Enjoji’s office for a formal reprimand, my relationship with the paper never really recovered. 

In the West, the integrity of a newspaper would normally depend heavily on explaining how and why articles of such importance had appeared. If for some reason they were anonymous, it would be normal that others would try to guess at the authorship. 

But for a Japanese newspaper, as for almost any other Japanese organisation, avoiding embarrassment is far more important. 

I had caused Nikkei possible embarrassment, I was a very undesirable person, and they made sure I knew it. 

4. East-West Detente Destroyed 

The Liao incident was also an insight into the ease with which moderates can have their policies cruelly derailed by hawks. Moderation has few friends. Confrontation has infinite backers. 

One of the worst examples was the way Khrushchev’s 1955-64 efforts to gain détente with the US and end the Cold War were undercut by US hawks determined to keep military and diplomatic pressure on the USSR.* 

Soviet hawks then used the failure of those efforts to depose Khrushchev and return the Soviet Union to Cold War confrontation. The hawks and hardliners on both sides fed off each other. 

They got the Cold War they wanted. But they also got a lot they have to answer for.

If, as seems possible, the roots of China’s Cultural Revolution can be found in the devious behaviour of one Sato Eisaku, then he too has a lot to answer for.

At the very least, the Nobel Prize committee should demand the return of the Peace Prize they foolishly awarded him in 1974.


The Prize was given to him because of his alleged contribution in keeping Japan out of the Vietnam War. 

To anyone who knew Japan, it was the pacifism of the Japanese public and the intelligence of LDP progressives such as Ohira Masayoshi that kept Japan out of that war. 

Sato and his fellow-LDP hawks did all they could, covertly, to encourage the US in that war.

In fact, a little known detail about Mr Sato is that he lobbied strongly amongst the Latin Americans to vote in the UN to block Beijing’s entry.

You get peace prizes for that sort of thing? 

*(Anyone interested the US-USSR relationship should read the now-released State Department records of how Eisenhower, upon whom Khrushchev had placed all his détente hopes, was manoeuvred by the Washington hawks into refusing to provide the US apology the U 2 incident of July 1960.

(The apology was crucially needed by Khrushchev to get the domestic support he needed to go ahead with detente talks scheduled that year in Paris.

(The denial of an apology causing the failure of the Paris talks was a classic example of how the hawks can use their distorted version of the national interest to manipulate events and opinions in their favour and, in the process, provide fodder for the hawks on the other side.

(The world would be a different place today if those talks had gone ahead.)