Cablegate: Ambassador and Vfm Yabunaka Discuss Bilateral

DE RUEHKO #0960/01 0990952
O 080952Z APR 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TOKYO 000960



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/08/2018

Classified By: Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer per 1.4 (b/d)


1. (C) Recent incidents involving U.S. servicemen have
highlighted the need for the United States and Japan to make
efforts to strengthen grassroots public support for and
understanding of our alliance's strategic importance, the
Ambassador told VFM Yabunaka on April 8. While VFM Yabunaka
agreed that such public diplomacy would be useful, he noted
that public support is already very strong (above 70%);
domestic politicking aside, even the opposition would not
attempt to alter the alliance; and, for his part, VFM
Yabunaka constantly stresses to the press and others that
American servicemen are far from home and are in Japan to
defend it. VFM Yabunaka also briefed the Ambassador on the
recent Japan-Russia Strategic Dialogue, in which it was clear
Russia has made a decision to pay more attention to Asia;
noted that planning continues for Hu Jintao's early May
visit, adding that an East China Sea deal may still be
possible; offered his positive assessment of the PRC-proposed
U.S.-Japan-PRC meeting framework; and, expressed his regret
that the Host Nation Support legislation was delayed for
political reasons, noting that it will be passed by May 3 at
the latest. End Summary.

VFM Yabunaka Travel to Washington

2. (C) Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka opened his April
8 meeting with the Ambassador by noting his plans to travel
the next day to Washington to meet with the Deputy Secretary.
He expressed his hope that, as this will be his first visit
to Washington as VFM, the Ambassador could provide some
advice on the current mood in Washington towards Japan. The
VFM also plans a number of other meetings, including with the
foreign policy advisors to the presidential candidates. The
VFM's hope for these is to brief these individuals on Japan's
viewpoints and policy orientations in the Asia region.

Japan-Russia Strategic Dialogue

3. (C) VFM Yabunaka noted that on April 7 he met with Russian
First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Denisov for the fourth
Japan-Russia Strategic Dialogue. The two had a frank
exchange of views, and Yabunaka noted that, although Denisov
had been presumed to be in line to replace FM Lavrov, it
appears that Lavrov will remain in his position, and thus so
may Denisov. Responding to the Ambassador's question about
Vladimir Putin's rumored attendance at the G8 summit,
Yabunaka said that Medvedev would attend, and that Foreign
Minister Koumura would travel to Moscow April 14 and would
deliver the G8 invitation to Medvedev. Yabunaka acknowledged
that the source of the Putin G8 rumor was former Prime
Minister Yoshiro Mori, who met with Putin in December.
However, Putin has made clear that Russia's foreign policy is
in Medvedev's hands.

4. (C) It seems clear that Russia is restoking its economic
and strategic interest in East Asia, Yabunaka continued. One
sign of this is the Russian Government's increased financial
support for residents of the disputed Northern Territories.
Another is the increased pace of high-level Russian visits to
Japan; ""it seems they want to do something with us,"" Yabunaka
said. Japan has put forward its eight-point Eastern
Siberia/Far East Initiative, which seeks to advance bilateral
cooperation in the fields of energy, transportation,
distribution, environmental protection and tourism. The
Russians are particularly interested in technology exchanges
and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Each area is seeing
follow-through, and a fiber optic cable was recently
connected between Japan and Europe (through Russia) that will
speed up data transfer times.

5. (C) The two sides also discussed regional issues such as
China, and VFM Yabunaka explained to his Russian counterpart
that all of Japan's relations in Asia, including with China,
are grounded in the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship. Japan
wishes to improve its relations with China, Russia and India
and the rise of China has necessitated that Japan ""talk about
this with the other players in the region."" Denisov
expressed an interest in regional architecture, such as the
Shanghai Cooperative Organization, APEC (which Russia will
host in Vladivostok in 2012) and even the East Asia Summit,
which Russia may seek to join someday.

Complicated Japanese Political Situation

6. (C) VFM Yabunaka noted that PM Fukuda may try to visit
Russia at the end of April, taking advantage of a Japanese
holiday on April 29 to travel April 26-29. Complicating this
planning is a by-election in Yamaguchi prefecture on April 27
that will be a bellwether of where public sentiment lies on
renewing Japan's gasoline tax, which the ruling
coalition-controlled Lower House could choose to re-vote on
as early as April 29. The political scene in Japan has been
in disarray, the most recent example being the contretemps
surrounding the selection of the next Bank of Japan Governor.
The Ambassador noted that the failure of the ruling
coalition and opposition party to agree on a suitable
candidate sent a terrible message at a sensitive time for the
global economy and financial system.

Host Nation Support

7. (C) VFM Yabunaka expressed his regret that this kind of
domestic political wrangling had delayed the passage of the
legislation for Host Nation Support. At the latest, this
legislation will go into force on May 3, perhaps earlier if
the opposition decides to vote it down in the Upper House,
opening the way for the Lower House's previous passage to
take precedence. In response to VFM Yabunaka's question, the
Ambassador noted that, while he did not think that the delay
would have any practical implications on USFJ operations, it
is nonetheless disappointing that the U.S.-Japan alliance has
been allowed to become a political football. VFM Yabunaka
agreed, noting that the mass media is largely to blame for
stirring up controversies where they do not exist, such as
Japanese Government payments for bars and golf course
attendants on U.S. facilities. Many within the opposition
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) are also unhappy that things
have come to this, and VFM Yabunaka expressed his hope that
Washington understands the Japanese Government's desire that
this delay not cause any practical problems.

8. (C) The Japanese public is firmly behind the bilateral
alliance, and the political games currently taking place are
no more than opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa's attempt to use
any means at his disposal to gain the upper hand, VFM
Yabunaka continued. There is ""no way"" that Ozawa is opposed
to the security alliance, Yabunaka stressed.


9. (C) VFM Yabunaka expressed his appreciation for the
Ambassador's and USFJ's quick reaction to the recent
incidents on Okinawa and in Yokosuka. In particular, the
meeting with Yokosuka Mayor Kabaya went a long way. The
Ambassador agreed, noting that Kabaya has always tried to be
helpful, and it was important to give him support after the
recent taxi driver murder. Unfortunately, some in the press
have taken the line that somehow the SOFA did not work, the
Ambassador noted. That is not true. In every aspect of this
case, from when NCIS received word from the sailor about his
whereabouts to during his questioning, the Japanese
authorities were involved. There was nothing stopping them
from asking for anything at any step in the process. It is
regrettable that there is a public perception that we were in
the way or the SOFA did not work. Yabunaka agreed that the
leaks and misreporting were annoying, and for its part MOFA
tried to correct the record. The opposition has asked for a
revision of the SOFA, and MOFA's position is that, if there
is a problem, show us. But there are no problems; the system
works, Yabunaka emphasized.

Building Public Support for Alliance

10. (C) On the issue of deserters, Yabunaka noted the utility
of greater information sharing, and the Ambassador agreed
there will always be areas in which we can make improvements.
As the Kanagawa Governor recently suggested, perhaps there
is a need to examine setting up a public committee or forum
to ensure that the responsibility of managing our important
relationship is not limited to our two governments, but
instead extends into local communities, the Ambassador said.
We need to find a way to get buy-in from all concerned on the
importance of the alliance. Yabunaka agreed on the need to
build public understanding about the importance of the
alliance for Japan's security and regional stability, but was
unsure about the format of a public forum or committee.
Responding to the Ambassador's expression of concern that
incidents lead to a public outcry about the American
occupation army, VFM Yabunaka was optimistic that there is
solid support, with more than 70% of the Japanese people
welcoming the alliance and U.S. forces.

11. (C) The Ambassador agreed that we have made progress in
building understanding among the Japanese public about the
strategic importance of the alliance, particularly with the
rise of China and the ongoing North Korean threat.
Nevertheless, we should try harder to connect with the
Japanese public. There is an unfortunate perception that
American soldiers and sailors are animals that should be kept
in cages, which is an attitude one would not find in the UK
or Australia. While we understand there is nothing the
Japanese Government can do, we need to strengthen public
understanding of why we are here. Yabunaka replied that for
the past several weeks he has met every morning with
reporters at his home to explain the importance of the
alliance; ""these young people are far from home to defend
us,"" Yabunaka said he stresses. While there may be some bad
apples among the troops, for the most part they are good
members of the community. Yabunaka reiterated that the
Japanese do not use these problems to think about the need to
reexamine the broader bilateral relationship.

12. (C) Responding to North American Affairs Bureau DG
Nishimiya's comment on the possible benefit of educating the
sailors on the George Washington before its arrival in
Yokosuka, the Ambassador said that this kind of point of view
is part of the problem. It is no more okay for U.S.
servicemen and women to commit crimes in America or Europe
than it is in Japan; just because they are in Japan does not
increase the chance they will commit rape or murder unless
they are instructed not to. While we cannot promise that
crimes will not happen, we nonetheless need to get away from
the idea that U.S. servicemen are bad. VFM Yabunaka
suggested that as the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan
security alliance approaches (2010), there will be many good
opportunities to get the word out on the importance of the
alliance and Japan's gratitude for it.

Advice for Washington Trip

13. (C) VFM Yabunaka sought the Ambassador's advice for his
upcoming discussions in Washington. The Ambassador observed
that there is genuine interest in Washington about what is
happening in Japan. People are not sure what the political
situation is and how long the current government will last.
With the domestic political situation negatively impacting
Japan's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, the BOJ
Governor selection and Host Nation Support, there are signs
that something is wrong, and VFM Yabunaka should try to
explain what is right. That is, the alliance is not in
danger, but we are going through a time in which people are
trying to work through the political situation. People will
also be interested in hearing about China and Tibet and about
Japan's goals for the G8 summit. Also, it would be useful to
hear from VFM Yabunaka about DPRI, as there is increasing
concern that it will go the way of SACO if it does not regain
its momentum. The Deputy Secretary may also wish to hear
about BISTF and intelligence reform. Under former Prime
Minister Koizumi, it seemed that everyone was on the same
page in Japan, but now things appear to be different, which
is by no means a criticism of PM Fukuda, who made a good
impression on the President. People in Washington will want
to know what is happening, and what are the short- and
long-term problems, the Ambassador said.

14. (C) Returning to the issue of managing local relations in
areas with U.S. facilities, the Ambassador noted that under
Okinawa Governor Nakaima's leadership, ""things are better.""
Previous Governor Inamine was difficult and never wanted to
talk or move beyond confrontation. It always seemed like the
two sides were playing roles, and it is better on Okinawa and
elsewhere when both sides can talk candidly and publicly
acknowledge that it is in both side's interest to improve

China, Multilateral Meetings

15. (C) Responding to VFM Yabunaka's question about the mood
in Washington towards China, the Ambassador noted that
Senator Clinton had that morning called on President Bush to
boycott the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. While there is
no Japan bashing these days, it seems that within our
political process, China bashing is generated because of
people's concerns about the economy and lost jobs. The Bush
Administration has sought to engage with China, and we have
made clear to them that our relationship with Japan is not up
for discussion. China accepts this, and the U.S.-China
relationship is better than ever, the Ambassador said.

16. (C) VFM Yabunaka noted that the Dalai Lama plans to
transit Tokyo on April 14 on his way to the United States,
where he has events scheduled in Seattle and Michigan. It is
unclear whether he will go to Washington, and the opposition
DPJ has criticized the government for not traveling to Narita
to meet with the Dalai Lama. MOFA is continuing its plans
for the May visit of Hu Jintao (likely to start on May 6),
and Hu himself appears determined to have good relations with
Japan. The two sides will produce a joint paper that will be
""short and strong"" and will not refer to the past, but
instead will focus on the future. However, the Tibet and
poisoned gyoza issues are ""unfortunate,"" Yabunaka said.

17. (C) Responding to the Ambassador's question about
progress on joint natural resources development in the East
China Sea, Yabunaka said he is considering travel to Beijing
on April 14 to try to advance the issue. It may still be
possible to resolve before Hu's visit, Yabunaka said. The
Ambassador noted that the United States welcomes increased
Japan-PRC engagement, and that working together, the United
States and Japan can help to moderate China's behavior.
Yabunaka said that planning is underway for a possible
Japan-ROK-China summit later in the year, and that China has
proposed a U.S.-Japan-China meeting framework. VFM Yabunaka
noted that he personally feels positively about this, but
agreed with the Ambassador that the ROK has been the sticking
point. While understandable that South Korea would not want
to be left out of multilateral meetings discussing Korean
Peninsula issues, there are enough global and other issues to
discuss among the United States, Japan and China -- such as
the environment -- to make such a meeting worthwhile, VFM
Yabunaka suggested.

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