Chapter 40 – Japan and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty


1. A walk in Gorky Park
2. Communist Regime Internal Information
3.The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty
4. Japan’s vulnerability to Gaiatsu
5. Gaiatsu to the Rescue
6. Sugar Gaiatsu
Meat Gaiatsu
8. How Not to Negotiate with Japan
9. Shoeki versus Kokueki
10.Fish Gaiatsu

I long had a special interest in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty talks with Moscow. That was shortly after the Cuban missile crisis. Western conventional wisdom said that Khrushchev’s Moscow would oppose the treaty.

1. A Walk in Gorky Park

Walking in Gorky Park one day I overheard a speaker sent by a Moscow current affairs institute, Znaniye, telling a crowd that the USSR favored the treaty. 

I was able to pass on the news to Canberra, and score a minor diplomatic scoop since at the time the Soviet position had not formally been announced. 

It was yet another move by Khrushchev to develop detente with the West – moves which if acted on by the West would have changed the entire course of the Cold War. 

(Which of course our hawks wanted very much to continue.)

Group photo. AMAGI KAIGI 1997

2. Communist Regime Internal Information

Incidentally, the Znaniye talks were regular features of Moscow life, and a good example of the efforts by the regime to keep people reasonably informed of its policies.

The same was true in China, where bulletins giving reasonably impartial news about the West and China’s policies were in regular circulation.

Meanwhile our hawks were telling the world about the news blackouts imposed on the victims of communist regimes. 

3. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

By 1975 the Whitlam administration had developed a strong interest in having Japan ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

Tokyo had signed. But the Japanese hard-liners, led by Nakasone Yasuhiro, strongly opposed ratification. 

They wanted Japan to be able to retain a nuclear option. 

Fortunately, the then prime minister, the dovish Takeo Miki, favored ratification. 

Unfortunately, in Japan’s consensus society prime ministers do not always have the power to push through the policies they want. 

A typical Japanese policy deadlock was the result.

To break the deadlock, I had proposed from my PCU cell that Canberra should make a statement calling on Japan to ratify. 

4.Japan’s vulnerability to gaitatsu

I knew from previous experience in Tokyo how the Japanese can welcome foreign intervention to break these kinds of policy deadlocks. 

The Japanese call it gaiatsu, or pressure from the outside. 

It is a neat way of allowing the consensus to be swung in the direction of one side or another in a deadlocked policy debate. 

Arguing the rights and wrongs of the policy itself, or seeking a binding policy vote in the Cabinet, is not enough. 

Somehow one has to create the atmosphere, the kuuki, that will endorse the needed change.

One easy way used to be to tell your domestic opponents how the foreigners were angry about their blind opposition to your policies. Your opponents were damaging Japan’s international image, you would say. 

If necessary, you would go out and find foreigners to say just that. 

(There was a famous case during the Japan-US trade war of the seventies where a MITI official was quietly telling the US State Department what to say in order to force a certain reluctant Japanese ministry into retreat.)

(This sensitivity to foreign opinion at times can border on the ridiculous. An example I like is the wartime appeal by the Japanese military command to Japanese soldiers in the battle of Guadalcanal. 

(It called on them to fight bravely. Otherwise, it said, the world would be laughing at them.) 

Gaiatsu is yet another good example of Japan’s shame rather than guilt society in action, this time at the national level. 

Instead of arguing the merits of a policy, you argue how the rest of the world will see that policy. 

5. Gaiatsu to the Rescue 

I put my NPT gaiatsu proposal to Menadue. But he felt we should first seek the opinion of our Tokyo Embassy, still being run by Shann. 

Shann came back immediately advising strongly against any statement. He repeated the conventional Western wisdom about how it would be seen as unjustified intervention in Japan’s domestic policies. 

Ironically, a day or two later Shann was to send us another message. 

This time he admitted, rather sheepishly, how at some function the night before he had been approached by someone important in the Miki faction asking Australia to make a statement in favour of ratification. 

Canberra obliged. 

The Miki people came back, asking for a further statement. 

Soon after, Tokyo ratified the NPT treaty. 

It was a classic example of gaiatsu in action, though I doubt whether Canberra ever realized how it was achieved, or why. 

6. Sugar Gaiatsu 

At the time, Japan’s susceptibility to gaiatsu was not very well known in the outside world. 

Like Shann, most of the officials and academics involved with Japan saw the Japanese as a strongly nationalistic people. 

It was assumed automatically that they would resent foreigners trying to influence their domestic policy decisions. 

If I knew differently, that was mainly due to having as a journalist covered closely CSR’s 1974 sugar dispute with Japan. 

The company had faced a messy price dispute with Japan, with Tokyo declaring arbitrarily that it would take no more of the sugar it had contracted to buy from CSR back in 1973 when the panicky Japanese had contracted for longterm supplies at the absurdly high sugar prices current in the wake of the 1973 oil shocks.

They were trying wriggle out of the contract after prices had collapsed badly. 

But CSR insisted it had an obligation to honour its contract with Japan. It would continue to send cargoes in the Soviet-owned vessels it had already chartered for making deliveries. 

If the ships were refused entry to Japan, they (the ships) would lower anchor in Yokohama harbour and wait till Japan’s ban on CSR sugar was lifted. 

As expected, Japan refused entry and the ships lowered anchor. 

Soon there was line of Soviet sugar ships waiting patiently outside Yokohama harbour. 

Then as the dispute moved into its second month, CSR began to circulate stories to the scandal-hungry Japanese commercial media about how the Russian crews were growing homesick. 

Worse, the boats were filled with sugar which might explode in the summer heat of Yokohama harbour. 

The image of exploding sugar ships riveted the media. CSR was having little trouble getting attention to its version of the dispute. 

The final shove was CSR warning how it would take Japan to something called the World Sugar Court, an entity that was little more than a nameplate on a door somewhere in London. 

Here the shame factor was working overtime. Japan would be disgraced before the world trade community. 

Faced by these and other psychological pressures, Tokyo and Japan’s sugar industry backed down. 

It was one of the first, if not the first, successful example of gaiatsu in action. 

7. Meat Gaiatsu 

Back in Canberra I became involved in another gaiatsu affair – Australia’s meat dispute with Japan. 

Some background is needed. 

One of the first moves under Tanaka’s 1973 shigen gaiko (resources diplomacy) had been a request to Canberra to increase exports of beef to Japan. 

Prices in Japan were sky-rocketing. Cheap imports would help curb inflation, Tokyo said. 

As well, panicky Japan saw beef – along with oil, coal, aluminium and almost all resource products – as yet another rare resource product subject to perpetual future shortages. 

(The fact that cows could reproduce themselves seems to have been ignored.) 

It was argued that guarantees of longterm supplies had to be secured, even if only to help stabilise Japan’s domestic prices. 

Canberra had responded, even though Australia too was being hit by inflation and large beef price increases. It responded fairly willingly because it saw a rare chance to penetrate longterm the previously closed Japanese market. 

But two years later as imports flooded into Japan and meat prices collapsed, Japan’s domestic beef producers began to make a media fuss. 

Part of the fuss saw the media playing up tragically the story about a veal calf producer in Hokkaido who had been driven to suicide because of the price collapse. 

Tokyo moved swiftly to impose an immediate ban on all meat imports. 

But by now many Australian farmers had already switched production to the fatty, grain-fed beef needed to meet Japanese tastes and demands. 

Australians did not eat this kind of meat. Producers were threatened with bankruptcy if they could not export. 

Queensland especially was annoyed. It was the main producer of this meat. It threatened a ban on coal exports to Japan in retaliation. 

Canberra, which had the last word on coal export policy, was dithering. 

It accepted that Japan had behaved atrociously. But it did not want to antagonise an important customer. 

8. How Not to Negotiate with Japan 

So how would Canberra set about persuading recalcitrant Japan to abandon its evil ways? 

It would start writing letters. 

The first went to the Japanese foreign minister, begging him for the sake of better relations with Australia, to withdraw the ban on meat imports. 

That letter was ignored, predictably. 

The Foreign Ministry has nothing to do with meat.

Next move was to send a letter to the Prime Minister. That too was ignored. 

Few Japanese officials take letters seriously. If there is a problem, they expect direct personal contacts. 

In any case, even the Prime Minister had little direct say in meat import policy. 

That was the domain of the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry – just another aspect of Japan’s ‘silo administration’ system. 

From my cell in PMC, I was able to predict that the letters would have no effect. 

I was also able to predict that a ban on coal exports to Japan would also be fairly useless. 

That was because coal imports were handled by the MITI – the large government agency in charge of overall economic policies but not directly in charge of meat import policy. 

Japan in those days was seen as a nationalistic whole, with the prime minister and the foreign ministry firmly in control of the national interest. 

In fact, the various ministries operated independently, concerned only with their own independent interest. Hence the term silo. They had little concern for the vague, nebulous concept of the national interest. 

9. Shoeki versus Kokueki

The Japanese saying said it well – shoeki rather than kokueki (the interest of the relevant ministry rather than the kokueki, the interest of the nation). 

Ministries were far more concerned with preserving and expanding their own power. 

They could happily ignore the demands of others, even when the demands came from the Cabinet or the prime minister. 

It was very different from the top-down Australian system.

10. Fish Gaiatsu 

Realising that a ban on coal exports was a non-starter, I suggested a ban on Japanese fishing boats, mainly tuna fishing boats, entering our ports. That would be less traumatic than banning coal exports. 

More importantly, fish policy in Japan was also handled by the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry (it was later to add Fisheries to its name). 

What’s more, the electorate of the ministry’s political master, Suzuki Zenko, included the very same fishing port – Miyako – that was sending the tuna ships to Australian waters. 

My superiors agreed. A plan to impose a ban on the tuna ships in retaliation for Japan’s refusing meat imports was announced. Japan’s meat import ban was quickly lifted. 

Problem solved, even if only in a round-about way. 

After it was all over, we were quietly thanked by the Japanese Foreign Ministry free-traders for our skilful action against the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry protectionists. 

Any further proof of Japan’s ‘silo bureaucracy’ needed? 

Years later, the US and the Europeans in their trade wars with Japan were also to begin to see how easily Tokyo could be pressured by trade threats that embarrassed one or other of Tokyo’s protectionist factions. 

We began to hear a lot about this great new discovery – gaiatsu. 

In fact we Australians had discovered it quite a few years earlier.