Japan's Foreign Policy Toward Vietnam 1978-1992/Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Limited Relations 1978-1984[edit]

When Saigon fell in the spring of 1975, the West carried little influence in the region, let alone had close relations with the North Vietnamese government. Japan, following the US lead, had backed the South Vietnamese regime all through the war. By the time North Vietnamese Army (NVA) tanks rolled into the presidential palace, Tokyo had stopped aid to South Vietnam, not knowing what or who would be in charge in Saigon after repeated coups. However, the new regime of a united Vietnam was quick to assemble an agenda courting relations with regional powers through diplomacy and quick to lay out economic plans. These plans relied heavily on foreign aid and investment, so Hanoi was very open and solicitous toward the countries of ASEAN and toward Japan to replace its wartime allies of the Soviet Union and China.

Relations proceeded smoothly with the new united Vietnamese government. Japan established full diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1976. Tokyo forwarded economic assistance to Hanoi, and trade grew yearly between the two countries. However, Japan's relationship with Vietnam came under stress when Hanoi began to flex its military muscle against its Indochinese neighbors. By 1978, Vietnamese troops were skirmishing openly along Vietnam's western border against Cambodian forces. Tokyo's apprehension over how to handle relations with Vietnam dictated caution. This chapter shows a Japan slightly different from the Japan during the US-Vietnam War: because the US had reduced its presence in Southeast Asia, and because of American diplomatic overtures toward China, along with a new assertiveness from ASEAN, Japan could no longer act under the umbrella of US military might in its policy toward Vietnam, but rather had to seek a course between all of these regional hegemons.

As regional alignments solidified, with the Soviet Union appearing to back Vietnam's aggressive moves and China supporting Cambodia, border skirmishes increased throughout Indochina. Japan needed to find a policy that would both salvage any mileage out of the "omnidirectional" policy of the 1960s and early 1970s and at the same time maximize trade potential with developing markets. This chapter will argue that Japan's foreign policymakers sought the middle ground between opposing forces. By describing the bilateral diplomatic efforts between Japan and Vietnam, along with Tokyo's policies toward regional players such as China, ASEAN, the US and the Soviet Union, this chapter describes a Japan that left the door slightly ajar for Vietnam even in the darkest days of the economic assistance embargo. The decision to cut aid for Hanoi came not out of pressure from Washington, but as a move to claim the middle ground between ASEAN and Vietnam, China and the Soviet Union, and the United States and Indochina. Several questions will be addressed in this chapter: how did Japan handle its relationship with Vietnam in terms of the Cambodian invasion? Why didn't the United States pressure Japan into a tougher stance against Hanoi? What relationships did Japan keep with Vietnam and why?

Bilateral relations[edit]

In December of 1978, Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh visited Japan to hold a series of talks with Japan's Prime Minister Ohira and officials in Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was the first visit of a high-ranking Vietnamese leader since the unification of Vietnam in 1976. Trinh's intention, in retrospect, seems to have been to secure Japan's promise to continue economic assistance despite the unstable situation that had developed on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. Though it is unclear whether Trinh had knowledge of the military plan to launch a full-scale invasion into Cambodia, certainly the leaders who dispatched Trinh to Tokyo only two weeks before the offensive into Cambodia were calculating regional alignments. Japanese Foreign Minister Sunao Sonoda expressed caution to Trinh, saying that Japan would find difficulty in extending economic cooperation to Vietnam unless suspicions of Vietnamese expansionism then emerging among noncommunist Southeast Asian countries, could be relieved.

Sonoda conditioned Japan's economic assistance on ASEAN's security, showing Trinh that Japan's policy would have a degree of solidarity with ASEAN. Sonoda further revealed a wariness about the treaty on friendship and cooperation between Vietnam and the Soviet Union, signed in October 1978. His wariness signaled Japan's dismay at Vietnam's apparent shifting away from its prior policy of "equidistance" from both Beijing and Moscow. He linked this concern with ASEAN as well, stating that the treaty was causing "uneasiness, particularly in Malaysia, Thailand and other noncommunist neighbors of Vietnam." However, Sonoda was quick to reiterate Japan's support and contributions toward Vietnam's postwar recovery, and stressed Tokyo's willingness to keep good relations with Vietnam. The message to Hanoi was clear: Japan sided with ASEAN and opposed increased Soviet influence in Southeast Asia, but was willing to listen to Vietnam even if the situation worsened.

Despite Sonoda's hesitance, Trinh's visit to Japan was a success for Hanoi. On December 19, 1978, Japan and Vietnam issued a joint statement pledging efforts to promote bilateral cooperation through mutual understanding. This statement included an agreement on economic cooperation under which Japan would extend loans of up to ¥4 billion (at the time approximately $64 million) and donate 150,000 tons of rice. These loans were to begin in fiscal 1979, which began in March 1979.

Diplomatically, each side gained leverage through this joint statement. The statement affirmed that the countries should cooperate with each other for peace and stability in Asia on the principles of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, nonaggression, noninterference in each other's internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Basically, relations were at a comfortable distance with a level of detente. (Vietnam, as we shall see, used these same terms of "noninterference" and "sovereignty" to ignore outside pleas and pressure when its occupation of Kampuchea continued year after year.) For its part, Japan increased its leverage with Vietnam when Foreign Ministry officials "leaked" that Vietnam had wanted much more money in economic assistance. However, Japan reserved commitment to aid, saying that it would further discuss the matter with Vietnam and would take into consideration what foreign policy Hanoi would make in the future as well as other factors in the Southeast Asian situation. Thus, Tokyo promised a basic amount of aid while placing conditions on any expansion in economic assistance. The form of Japan's limited relations had begun to gel. Internationally, Japan claimed the cat-bird's seat, positioning itself between ASEAN and Vietnam in terms of providing economic assistance and, while not directly showing dissatisfaction with Hanoi, conveying ASEAN's security concerns.

Vietnam's incursion into Cambodia The honeymoon between Vietnam and the noncommunist countries of the region disintegrated at the end of 1978. Despite ASEAN's repeated calls for peace in Indochina, a dry-season offensive by Vietnamese troops pushed into Cambodia on Christmas Day, and by January 7 had captured the capital of Phnom Penh. While ASEAN countries swiftly condemned the action, Japan withheld judgement on how to deal with the Cambodian question, initially expressing no intention of recognizing the rebel Cambodian People's Revolutionary Council. Foreign Minister Sonoda strengthened the Japanese line against Vietnam one degree by threatening the flow of aid:

Developments in the Cambodian situation and Vietnamese policies will be taken into consideration
in implementing Japanese aid to Vietnam.


Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Michio Watanabe stepped up the pressure by stating that the government would reexamine the 150,000 tons of rice aid to Vietnam in view of the Cambodian conflict. For Japan-Vietnam relations, the worst-case scenario had come true, and Tokyo began to enforce the conditions it had placed on economic assistance.

Two days after the announcement of the fall of Phnom Penh, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former head of state in Cambodia throughout the Vietnam War, took the initiative in announcing Japan's decision to freeze economic assistance to Vietnam. It is unclear whether Japan intended taht Sihanouk reveal such a major shift in Japan's policy or whether he was breaching protocol intentionally or accidentally. Either way, the Foreign Ministry backed the announcement when Prince Sihanouk arrived in Narita by arranging an airport press conference with the Prince, the deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs bureau Wasuke Miyake, and Chinese Ambassador to Japan Fu Hao.

Vietnam was quick to respond. Two days after Sihanouk's pronouncement, Hanoi petitioned the Japanese Ambassador Takaaki Hasegawa to carry out the economic aid promised to Nguyen Van Trinh the month before. However, Hasegawa echoed Sonoda's reasoning earlier and pointed out that the members of ASEAN were concerned over Vietnam's role in the Cambodian conflict and that "restraint on planned Japanese aid to Vietnam would be inevitable under the circumstances." The logic of the response is clear: by placing the reason for stopping aid on ASEAN's shoulders, Tokyo both avoided damaging the Japan- Vietnam relationship directly as well as highlighted the Japan-ASEAN unity in foreign policy. Such dual-purpose responses are the one of the benefits of the "middle ground" approach to regional diplomacy.

The following weeks saw some confusion over Japan's decision. Foreign Ministry officials had to declare firmly that Japan had not changed its policy of suspending aid to Vietnam in protest against Vietnamese support for the rebel forces that took over Cambodia. This declaration came in response to a Singapore-based news report that Japan was "double- talking." It is not clear whether there was an actual doubt or if Singapore officials had leaked the rumor in order to pressure Japan into stating its position clearly. It is possible that Japan originally had not conveyed its policy clearly or that Singapore disliked Tokyo's attempt to placate both sides. But Japan's middle ground approach continued: its clarification of its pro- ASEAN stance as it also contained a morsel for Vietnam. The Japanese officials added that they "could not believe that the suspension of aid to Vietnam would cause a break in relations between the two countries." Here, Japan was reassuring Vietnam that diplomatic relations would continue, and that Japan wished to continue recognizing Hanoi and would keep the avenue open for Vietnam to plead its case.

The official level of bilateral relations remained as outlined in the joint declaration between Japan and Vietnam that had resulted from Trinh's visit prior to the invasion. As Tokyo's policy of suspending aid began to solidify, Sonoda sought a reasoning for it based on the international principles stated in the agreement. In a House of Representatives Budget Committee hearing, Sonoda explained rather abstractly that if the armed forces of one country crossed the border of another country the crossing was an act of aggression. This statement leads directly back to the joint declaration and left-handedly accuses Vietnam of violating the agreement.

However, regional concerns began to confuse the issue for Tokyo policymakers. (Indochinese politics are never simple. What is good for the Hanoi goose is good for the Peking duck.) Reports of Chinese troop movements into Northern Vietnam were beginning to surface, and Sonoda soon realized the danger of upsetting Sino-Japanese relations by equating border crossings with "acts of aggression." When an opposition Dietman raised this issue, Sonoda downplayed the Chinese-Vietnam border clash, saying that there was only a slight possibility that a large-scale clash would erupt on the Chinese-Vietnamese border. He said he considered the Chinese actions on the border small-scale and defensive in nature, and not large-scale fighting. Later that same day, Sonoda moderated his use of the phrase "an act of aggression" in reference to Vietnamese actions-- the word "aggression" was too strong. Once again, Japan soft-pedaled its language toward Indochina, both for the sake of Japan- Vietnam relations and to avoid a conundrum of inconsistency toward China in light of Chinese troop movements into northern Vietnam.

In April 1979, Vietnam played its hardship card and declined Japan's offer of a 150,000-ton rice loan. Speculation within the Foreign Ministry placed the reasons on the price of the loan (Vietnam was hinting that it was too expensive). Diplomatically, the tactic paid off for Hanoi-- Japan had to give assistance to show it truly intended to maintain relations with Vietnam. Japan needed to send some amount of aid in order to both back its promises made to Trinh and to maintain Japanese integrity on promises to the third world. The next day, Foreign Ministry officials announced that Japan would continue economic assistance to Vietnam as scheduled, despite an increased Soviet military presence in Vietnam. Tokyo shifted the reasons for their disapproval of Hanoi away from the Cambodian question to concerns of a possible Soviet military buildup. Tokyo seemed to be baiting the Vietnamese with the continuance of economic aid dependent on how Vietnam limited the Soviet presence. With this bait came the threat that discontinued assistance would adversely affect relations (beyond the denial of economic assistance), but the threat was softened with the conditional promise that "Tokyo would continue to offer aid grants and loans to Hanoi in 1980 and thereafter, unless the Soviet military presence there becomes more evident."

Japan baited Vietnam again in 1979 with a possible resumption of aid if the refugee problem could be solved. Tokyo soon extended the conditions for resuming economic assistance to cover Vietnamese cooperation in solving the refugee problem, warning "that it would become difficult for Japan to continue economic assistance if the mass exodus of refugees failed to subside." At the time, Japan had been suffering mild international scorn for its reluctance on the refugee issue. Refugees had been leaching out of Indochina for some time and had their exodus accelerated in the late 1970s. In December 1978, just before Vietnam's army rolled into Phnom Penh, the United Nations sponsored a two-day conference in Geneva on the refugee problem. European powers and the United States agreed to absorb more refugees, but Japan was noticeably low-key. Tokyo had been implementing a policy of discouraging immigration at the source. The extension of this policy led naturally to Tokyo's use of suspension of economic assistance as a stick against Vietnam: solve the refugee flow at the source.

Tokyo's conditional policy toward Vietnam[edit]

By October 1979, Tokyo had settled on the conditions it wanted before the resumption of the ・4 billion in grants and loans to Vietnam could resume: as long as Vietnamese military involvement in Cambodia continued, Japan would suspend economic assistance. The aid had not been cancelled, nor had it been revoked-- it had already been allocated in the budget but had not been sent. Therefore, policymakers in Tokyo were forced to handle the aid question in terms not of "should" but of "when" and "how" the aid was to be transmitted to Vietnam. In other words, the carrot for Vietnam was so close that Hanoi could smell it. Foreign Ministry officials at every opportunity reminded Hanoi that a timed bureaucratic "review" of foreign aid did not alter the policy of giving aid to Vietnam promised to Trinh back in December. Rather, it was a question of how and under what conditions the policy would be executed.

Policy toward Vietnam solidified as another fiscal year expired. Though the aid had been earmarked for Vietnam, the yearly review of conditions to execute the transfer forced Tokyo to reiterate its stance: the government would not give financial assistance appropriated to Vietnam in the fiscal 1979 budget until Vietnam pulled out its troops from Cambodia. Japan would not give the ・4 billion aid to Vietnam within the 1979 fiscal year, ending on 31 March 1980, because of Vietnam's sweeping operations against the China-backed Pol Pot regime troops in Cambodia. Though it took over a year, the Foreign Ministry finally concretely stated the terms for resuming assistance to Vietnam. However, because of the bureaucratic "limbo," the assistance was merely carried over into the next year's budget. Vietnam could enjoy resumed assistance as soon as progress on the Cambodian question occurred. In fact, the Foreign Ministry continued to remind Vietnam that assistance could be forthcoming via this yearly budget review. The next year, Japan called on Vietnam for progress on the refugee issue in a statement about assistance being carried over into the fiscal 1980 budget. Japan, having maneuvered between ASEAN and Vietnam, needed to stand by its conditions on restoring assistance in order to defray criticism from ASEAN and simultaneously remind Hanoi that Tokyo remained the best chance (relative to China, ASEAN, and the US) for a window to the West and economic aid.

By 1982, most regional powers, including Vietnam, realized that Vietnam would eventually withdraw troops from Cambodia. Japan took the lead in a soft line toward Hanoi (compared to ASEAN) and actually offered to lower the hurdles if some progress could be demonstrated. Akitane Kiuchi, head of the ministry's Asian Affairs Bureau, told an Upper House committee, "We are not necessarily going to insist on complete withdrawal [of Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea]." Here again, Japan attempted to maximize its position between Vietnam and the West.

Hanoi continued to play hardball. ASEAN's, European countries', the United Nations', the US's and Japan's calls for withdrawal went unheeded. Vietnam continued their offensives against Khmer insurgents in the Western jungles of Cambodia and even made strikes a few miles deep into neighboring Malaysia, much to the alarm of ASEAN. Financially, Vietnam hiked the stakes with Japan. During the goodwill years from 1976 to 1978, Tokyo and Hanoi had worked out a tacit agreement that the North Vietnamese government, now the united Vietnam government, would assume and endorse the debts of the former South Vietnamese regime. These debts amounted to $50 million. This agreement was directly linked to Japan's pledge of nonreimbursable government aid of ・6 million. By 1983, however, Vietnam had refused to reimburse these debts. This refusal was probably due more to an economic crisis within Vietnam than a diplomatic snub. Vietnam's economic situation was rapidly deteriorating, in no small part because of the Cambodian crisis.

Indeed, Vietnam attempted to downplay the diplomatic impact of the loan default by sending Premier Pham Van Dong to Japan three months after the announcement of the refusal to pay. Premier Dong deftly baited the Japanese by playing the "economic potential" card for Vietnam:

Japan, as a developed industrialized country, may have a
constructive role with regard to peace, security, and development
in Asia, first of all Southeast Asia. 

This was an almost exact quote from the Fukuda speech in 1977, in which Japan pledged economic and developmental leadership in Southeast Asia. Dong was hinting that Vietnam could play a major role in the development of Indochina, with the Vietnamese population of over 70 million and the country's resources in coal, lumber, seafood, and potential crude oil. Vietnam understood one of Japan's primary foreign policy goals: secure resource imports and open markets for exports. Dong played straight to these goals with his statements about the possible relationship between Japan and Vietnam.

Economically, Japan-Vietnam trade inched higher, but until the treasure-houses of Japan's economic assistance program openned, the relationship starved. Unfortunately for Hanoi's need of foreign aid and for Japan's trade houses, Vietnam continued to occupy and back the Heng Samrin puppets in Phnom Penh, and Tokyo refused to budge on its conditions.

It is evident that Japan-Vietnam relations took a serious blow when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and Tokyo suspended its economic assistance programs. It is also evident that Japan kept the door slightly ajar for continued relations and possible resumption of aid if certain conditions were met. Unfortunately for both, Tokyo could not spell out this policy clearly and Vietnam would not withdraw from Cambodia. Conditions for resumption varied from the withdrawal of troops to reduced Soviet presence to progress on the refugee issue. In order to understand Tokyo's vacillation and its attempts to keep relations with Vietnam functioning, we must examine the international factors in the region during this period.

International Factors[edit]

United States and the hard line[edit]

In sharp contrast to the dominant role it had played in Indochina since 1954, the United States experimented with an isolationist mentality toward Southeast Asia during the late 1970s and early 1980s. President Carter took office soon after the fall of Saigon, and a weary America was reticent to involve itself any further in Indochina. The Carter administration left the initiative in handling Indochinese difficulties to Beijing. China had also been handed the responsibility of resisting the spread of Soviet influence in East Asia.

Relations between Hanoi and Washington hinged on the resolution of two issues: information on POW/MIA cases and financial reimbursement for the property owned by US citizens and corporations in South Vietnam that was seized by North Vietnam forces in 1975. Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia put the Carter administration between a rock and a hard place: the Khmer Rouge's abominable record of human rights abuses versus the invasion of one sovereign state by another. In the end, the State Department issued a statement saying it opposed unilateral Vietnamese intervention. US policy on resolution of the Cambodian question was never spelled out in concrete terms. After all, Hanoi was already on very cold terms with Washington, and therefore Washington had little leverage in coaxing a solution to the Cambodian question.

Meanwhile, the United States was pushing Japan toward taking greater international responsibility. The United States encouraged and fully supported Japan's decision to boost foreign assistance to developing countries, as exemplified by the Fukuda Doctrine issued in 1977. A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman speculated on US reasons for this push: (1) Japan's aid to developing countries was the smallest among the advanced industrial nations as of 1979; (2) the US was becoming unable to make more positive efforts because of the reluctance in Congress in light of economic downturns, and (3) the US believed Japan should raise its amount of foreign aid to cycle trade surpluses back into the world market. Simultaneously, the United States called on Japan to carry an increased security role under the "burden-sharing" agreements, in which Japan would finance the cost of basing US forces in Japan.

Given the cold state of US-Vietnam relations combined with Washington's desire for Tokyo to exert stronger regional leadership, we might have expected the United States to push Japan harder on punishing Vietnam diplomatically. However, several considerations may help explain why Tokyo was "allowed" (by Washington) to keep diplomatic relations with Vietnam: (1) suspending economic assistance represented Japan's greatest foreign policy tool, and could be sufficient punishment; (2) American attempts at strongarming Japan into a full embargo and having Tokyo stop diplomatic relations with Vietnam might actually cause more problems in the US-Japan relationship that would outweigh any benefit to the US; (3) Tokyo could make a case that keeping relations with Vietnam actually enhanced Japan's regional leadership (a lead issue with Washington) in regard to China, the USSR, and the trading partners in Southeast Asia (ASEAN).

With the Reagan administration, pressure on Japan to carry more regional leadership increased, as evidenced by security issues such as the Reagan-Suzuki joint declarations which called for greater security participation by Japan and for increased aid to strategic countries in the region. Washington's policies placed greater leadership responsibility with Tokyo. Therefore, Japan's aid policies as well as trade levels gained the country a political voice in the region. Although Japan was party to no mutual security treaties, except for the US-Japan Mutual Security Agreement, increased aid signaled increased leadership for Tokyo in the eyes of Southeast Asia. Thus, the United States seemed willing to accept Japan's position of stopping economic assistance while allowing trade and diplomatic relations. From an American perspective, issues concerning China and the Soviet Union ranked as higher priorities in East Asia; therefore, the US-Japan security agreement was tantamount. Besides, difficulties in the US-Vietnam relationship hinged on issues unrelated to Tokyo's foreign policy-- namely, the POW/MIA problem and war reparations.

China[edit]

Evolution of the Sino-Japanese relationship is probably the most influential among the international influences on Japan-Vietnam relations during this period. Indeed, some scholars argue that the Peace and Friendship Treaty (PFT) between China and Japan, signed in October 1978, was the direct cause for the Russo-Vietnamese Friendship and Cooperation Agreement [see section below, The Soviet Union], and therefore a cause to Vietnam's belligerent behavior in Indochina. The shift in regional alignments put Japan's Asian policy at a crossroads-- the omnidirectional policy between Beijing and Moscow now seemed to be replaced by Tokyo-Beijing vs. Moscow-Hanoi. When this change in the Sino-Japanese relationship was challenged by opposition Diet member, Japan Socialist Party (JSP) chairman Asukata, Foreign Minister Sonoda tried to minimize any speculation by referring to the "sharp difference" between the Japanese and Chinese stands on Vietnam as proof that Japan would never blindly act in concert with China. However, Sonoda did not give the specifics of this "difference" at the time. The discussion centered around policy toward the Soviet Union, and Sonoda hinted at two goals: (1) conveying to the Soviets that Japan did not intend to participate in an anti-Soviet bloc (with China) and (2) positioning Japan apart from China in Hanoi's eyes. Taken together, these goals demonstrate that Sonoda was downplaying the alignment effect of the Sino-Japanese treaty in an effort to salvage the omnidirectional policy while reminding Vietnam that Tokyo intended to continue relations with Hanoi. Sonoda placed Japan between China and Vietnam, just as Tokyo had attempted to gain the middle ground between ASEAN and Vietnam.

In December 1978, Vietnam soft-pedaled its reaction to the Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty, no doubt in an attempt to calm fears about its own treaty with the Soviet Union:

[Mr. Dong, Vietnam Prime Minister] said the treaty between 
Vietnam and the Soviet Union was not a military pact. . . . The
friendship and cooperation treaty between China and Japan would
not affect Vietnam's relations with other countries. 

However, diplomatic soothings soon gave way to Vietnam's incursion into Cambodia and China's "punishment" invasion into northern Vietnam. Japan's omnidirectional policy could no longer stand in light of the PFT, nor could Tokyo overtly side with China as an ally. On the eve of China's punitive action, the Japanese government officially expressed a plea for restraint, requesting that China not take military action against Vietnam in connection with the China-Vietnam border dispute. When the "Third Indochina War" erupted along the China-Vietnam border in February 1979, Japan was quick to call for an end to the fighting, but was reluctant to condemn either side:

Sonoda issued a statement Sunday morning calling for a swift
and peaceful settlement of the fighting that broke out Saturday
between China and Vietnam. . . . He said that the government has
also demanded the withdrawals of Chinese and Vietnamese forces
"from other countries," indicating that Japan asked Vietnam to
pull out its troops from Cambodia. 

The mention of Vietnam's incursion into Cambodia in the same sentence as the call for an end to the China-Vietnam border war could be seen as a diplomatic victory for Beijing. Tokyo was practically endorsing China's reasons for the punitive war against Vietnam as well as equating the blame between the two countries, despite China's offensive across Vietnam's border.

Simultaneously, Tokyo sought to contain damage to the Sino-Japanese relationship. Foreign Minister Sonoda backpedaled from a statement in which he originally said, "Japan has 'strongly protested' to China," later phrasing his comment as, "[Japan] has expressed deep regrets over the last Chinese action." Throughout the three-week conflict, Sonoda repeated his confidence that the action would be brief and that China did not intend a deep, long-term offensive into Vietnam. For Japan, the economic, diplomatic, and security benefits of the Sino-Japanese friendship treaty were too great to justify condemning China or taking some sort of sanctioning action.

Tokyo's quest for the middle (while inplying a pro-China stance) put Japan in a position as possible mediator, especially when viewed from the Vietnamese side. From Vietnam's standpoint, having Japan mediate would weaken the Japan-China ties because Tokyo would have to show some sort of neutrality. In addition, Vietnam could gain diplomatic favor in Tokyo as a willing party for peace, which favor could eventually reopen the floodgates of economic assistance. Initially, Sonoda told the Diet that Japan had no intention of mediating between China and Vietnam. Yet Vietnam persisted, stating its readiness to negotiate under terms of Chinese troop withdrawals from Vietnamese territory. Furthermore, Vietnam's ambassador to Japan, Nguyen Giap ". . . urged the Tokyo government to clearly distinguish between 'the aggressor' and 'the victim.'" In response, Sonoda echoed Japan's friendly relations with Vietnam and reminded Giap of Japan's opposition to the use of force to settle a problem. He then went on to offer Japan's readiness to play a positive role for a peaceful settlement of the Indochinese conflict. Once again, Sonoda was linking the China-Vietnam border conflict with the Cambodian question by use of the term "Indochinese conflict." Vietnam even went so far as to offer to withdraw its troops from Cambodia if China ceased its military assistance to the ousted Cambodian Government of Premier Pol Pot, and if the Pol Pot, forces stopped their resistance in Cambodia. This offer was no breakthrough, however, because such conditions were the whole purpose of Vietnam's decision to send troops into Cambodia in the first place.

With Japan's new role as mediator came hopes and suggestions from some in the Foreign Ministry that Japan could play a mediating role between Vietnam and the United States. Some suggested that Japan could provide assistance to Vietnam in order to act as the window for the West to Hanoi. Once again Japan's foreign policy goals were framed in terms of another country's interests: first, Japan cut off assistance because of ASEAN's security concerns, and now Japan could resume assistance in the name of helping build a bridge for the United States. Once again, Tokyo sought the middle ground between two poles.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)[edit]

The regional grouping ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and later Brunei) had been little more than an economic council among third world developing countries prior to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia. The ASEAN grouping rarely made headlines before the Vietnamese incursion in 1978. However, Vietnam's belligerence awakened ASEAN, cementing the countries together in a common cause: peace and security in Indochina and the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia. Japan had signed on with ASEAN two years earlier when Prime Minister Fukuda gave his famous Fukuda Doctrine speech in Manila in 1977. Though not stated directly, the Fukuda Doctrine outlined a partnership and cooperation with ASEAN in order to create solidarity and resilience as well as fulfill Japan's responsibility to foster relationships with Indochina.

In July 1979, ASEAN ministers and representatives from Japan, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand met in Bali for their annual conference. The Indochina problem headed the agenda. Japanese Foreign Minister Sonoda attended the conference with the two goals of reaffirming Japan's financial aid to the five countries and finding a solution to the Indochina question. The financial aid outlined in the Fukuda Doctrine was projected at one billion dollars, with a major project to be funded in each country. Clearly, Japan carried a lot of pull with ASEAN, which helps explain why ASEAN could not complain about Tokyo's diplomatic relations with Hanoi. At the conference, Sonoda gave reassurance that Japan would stand by ASEAN and proposed a primary link between Japan and the member countries in solving the regional problems:

We had better not ask what other countries can do, but ask
ourselves what we can do to solve the problems and consolidate
our partnership. 

This was not intended as a sort of Monroe Doctrine for Southeast Asia with Japan providing the regional security. Rather, Sonoda was stressing the economic unity between Japan and ASEAN, and emphasizing that regional solutions, including those for Indochina, should be worked out regionally before asking for U.S. or European involvement.

The Bali conference resulted in a hard-line statement against Vietnam's incursion, along with language calling on Vietnam for a solution to the refugee problem, which was beginning to tax the resources of refugee destination countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Indonesian Foreign Minister Mochtar, a strong advocate of Japanese leadership in the region, paid homage to Japan's participation in ASEAN efforts to solve the Vietnamese refugee problem. Sonoda used the opportunity to hint at the grand alliance network forming in East Asia:

ASEAN-Japanese, Sino-Japanese, and Sino-American relations
were designed to preserve world peace. . . . I would like to call
on the ASEAN and Japan to firmly secure the security of the
region. 

The triumvirate of ASEAN, Japan, and the United States, along with China as a quasi-ally against Soviet expansionism, presented a formidable front against Vietnam's loose- cannon behavior in Indochina. While Japan could not use military force (a responsibility left to the Americans) in the region, the Fukuda Doctrine (as explained by Sonoda) aimed to secure the financial well-being of ASEAN, also securing Japan's leadership role in the region.

Vietnam rejected the statements from the Bali conference. Hanoi deemed that the Kampuchean (the new name of Cambodia) issue should be solved by the Kampuchean people, and that matters between Vietnam and Kampuchea, "two sovereign countries," must be decided by those two countries without outside interference. The phrase "sovereign countries" is in direct reference to the founding documents and principles of ASEAN: ASEAN countries first and foremost must respect the sovereignty of other member nations.

From day one of Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, ASEAN had made repeated calls for withdrawal. ASEAN took the lead position in calling for sanctions and cutting off economic assistance from regional powers. Such a vocal position provided political cover for the various powers, evidenced by the case of Japan's policy toward Vietnam. Such a strong position for ASEAN was hardly difficult or controversial because the U.S. was already embargoing Vietnam over the POW/MIA issue and China had cut off aid prior to the invasion because of ongoing attacks against the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia by Vietnamese-backed guerrillas. ASEAN could only gain politically in Washington and Beijing by appearing as a staunch ally against Soviet expansionism.

However, as the occupation of Cambodia settled into a long-term issue, this hard-line policy against Hanoi enabled other powers to suggest rapprochement without having to worry about being the standard-bearer against Vietnam. ASEAN played a very strong "bad cop" which allowed Japan and France to toy with being the "good cop." In 1982, when France suggested it might resume aid to Vietnam, ASEAN ministers held emergency meetings with French External Relations Minister Claude Cheysson in Paris, seeking suspension of the planned $40 million in French aid. After long pressuring, France withheld the aid, but certainly scored points with Hanoi. Similar situations forced ASEAN to adopt resolutions calling on the European Community to step up its economic pressure and withhold assistance to Vietnam until Hanoi withdrew its troops from Kampuchea. As the strongest advocate against Vietnam, ASEAN's vociferousness actually allowed other countries, including Japan, to keep good relations with Hanoi. Tokyo maintained diplomatic relations and allowed the private sector to trade with Vietnam while keeping an official stance, consistent with ASEAN, of disapproval toward Hanoi's incursion.

As humanitarian aid began to flow into the beleaguered countries of Laos and Cambodia, ASEAN again took the role of policing against any benefit to Vietnam. As Japan began to suggest aid to Laos and Cambodia in an attempt to solve the Cambodian question, ASEAN voiced a concern that the aid not end up benefiting Vietnam. Tokyo retreated somewhat and reaffirmed its solidarity with ASEAN on resolution of the situation in Indochina. However, as with the French case, ASEAN's hard line against Vietnam allowed room for Japan to maneuver. Later that same week, Foreign Minister Mokhtar Kusumaatmaja, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, deferred to Japan slightly:

ASEAN can accept continuation of Japanese aid [to Laos], but
we feel that it should not exceed the amount given in previous
years. 

The ministers of ASEAN faced a dilemma: by taking the hard-line position against Hanoi, they allowed Tokyo diplomats room to seize the middle ground, yet the ASEAN ministers could not criticize Japan without endangering the Japan-ASEAN aid relationship.

The Soviet Union[edit]

Relations were never on good terms between Japan and the Soviet Union. Tokyo consistently demanded the return of four Kurile islands seized at the end of WWII, and the Soviet Union consistently denied the request. The Soviets had always been wary of Japan's position under the US nuclear umbrella-- bases at Okinawa, Yokosuka and elsewhere in Japan enabled the US to project power effectively throughout East Asia. Diplomatically, Tokyo has tried to maintain an open invitation to better relations with the USSR, including repeated invitations for Soviet dignitaries to visit Japan. The Ohira and Nakasone cabinets were no different.

Economically, Japan carried a liberal policy on trade with communist countries. On the eve of Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, Foreign Minister Sonoda was publicly forwarding a policy of liberalizing the trade restrictions under the COCOM accords:

Trade with communist countries should be eased according to
the changing situation, including the recent announcement of the
normalization of Sino-US relations. . . . COCOM controls should
be applied equally to Communist countries, including China and
the Soviet Union."   

Clearly, Japan was looking toward the market potentials in China and perhaps in Vietnam as well. Trade between Japan and the USSR had always been relatively low.

As the border war between China and Vietnam erupted, Japan urged the Soviet Union "to exercise restraint to prevent the Sino-Vietnam border conflict from spreading," though it is unclear how much attention the Soviets paid to Japan's opinion in the matter. In the early months of Vietnam's actions in Cambodia, when Tokyo was searching for reasons to continue economic assistance to Hanoi, the Foreign Ministry offered a carrot to Vietnam: Japan would continue to extend economic aid assistance to Vietnam as scheduled, despite increased Soviet military presence in that country. For reasons apart from the Cambodian question, Hanoi could earn points with Tokyo if it reduced the Soviet military presence-- after all, more than half of Japan's energy imports came through the sea lanes of Southeast Asia, and a significant Soviet presence at Cam Ranh Bay was a direct nuisance to those shipments.

Comparing Japan's reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to Japan's reaction to Vietnam's actions into Cambodia highlights the difference in Tokyo's outlook on the two communist countries. One week after it froze aid to Vietnam, the Japanese government froze ・.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan. However, the Japanese House of Representatives went so far as to adopt a resolution demanding the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, while such public declarations were never made against Vietnam. In the same session of the Diet, the House also adopted a resolution calling for a solution of the Northern Territories problem.

In contrast to its policy allowing industry from trading with Vietnam, the cabinet of Yasuhiro Nakasone stated in 1983 that economic relations with the Soviet Union would not be promoted separately from politics. In other words, trade hinged on resolving the territorial issue:

It is necessary to continue dialogue and conduct exchanges
with the Soviet Union.  However, I think it is difficult to
separate business from politics as long as the territorial issue
remains unsettled. 

Clearly Japan's relations with the Soviet Union centered around the territorial issue, and worries about Soviet influence in Southeast Asia played a secondary role. By the 1983 ASEAN conference, as Japan sought to play a positive role in solving the Cambodian question, Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe acknowledged the Soviet influence:

Japan wants to approach Vietnam and the Soviet Union
directly for a political settlement of the Kampuchean question.

Japan realized any solution in Indochina would require the Soviet Union in some role. Unfortunately, bilateral Soviet-Japan relations were frozen over the territorial issue disallowing any progress from that angle. The Soviet Union played a minor role in Japan- Vietnam relations. If Tokyo-Moscow communication had been more liberal, Tokyo's influence with Hanoi might have increased.

Cambodia[edit]

The Vietnam-backed Heng Samrin regime found little favor in Tokyo, except among the Japan Communist Party [see Domestic factors section below]. Among the Cambodian factions, Norodom Sihanouk carried the strongest voice because he forwarded a position favored by ASEAN. Japan was careful to stay low-key about which faction it supported: the China-favored Khmer Rouge had such an atrocious human rights record that Japan could not support them. Son Sann, head of the 15,000-strong anticommunist Khmer People's National Liberation Front, the third member of the coalition against Heng Samrin, was granted a chance to address his concerns to Nakasone in 1985. He framed the need to restrain Vietnam in terms Tokyo could understand: Soviet influence was spreading throughout Southeast Asia via Cam Ranh Bay and now Kampuchea. Prime Minister Nakasone assured the seventy-two- year-old Kampuchean leader that Japan had no plans to resume economic assistance to Vietnam. Foreign Minster Abe told Son Sann that the dispatch of a senior foreign ministry official to Vietnam later that month did not mean a change in Japan's economic aid policy toward Vietnam. On the whole, Japan's policy toward Cambodia fell somewhere near the U.S. position: opposition to Vietnam's unilateral invasion and support of Sihanouk's faction rather than the Chinesebacked Khmer Rouge. However, SinoJapanese ties prevented Tokyo from openly stating which faction it favored.

International Monetary Fund[edit]

During the early 1980s, Vietnam's economy went from bad to worse. The original postwar recovery plan relied heavily on large amounts of foreign direct investment (FDI) and aid to support infrastructure rebuilding. The invasion into Cambodia cost Hanoi in two ways: (1) the cessation of aid from Japan, the EC, and China strangled capital supply, and (2) huge drain on manpower and resources needed to maintain forces in Cambodia created a huge economic loss. It had become "Vietnam's Vietnam." In 1985, the International Monetary Fund decided to halt loans to Vietnam after Hanoi defaulted on its debts. This was the first time the multilateral body had taken such action against any country. Vietnam's foreign debt stood at $6 billion at the end of 1983, of which $1.5 billion was owed to countries with convertible currencies. Hanoi had originally joined the IMF in 1976 as part of its recovery plan. Outside currencies from the Soviet Union, along with modest aid from Sweden, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland, was not enough to pay back the huge debts incurred over nine years.

The influence of international factors[edit]

It is difficult to isolate seminal events within the interplay of nations and to determine which move by one regional power affected the subsequent moves by other countries. However, some events outside the bilateral Japan-Vietnam relationship clearly influenced Japan's policy toward Vietnam during this difficult phase. Tokyo's position of neutrality under the omnidirectional philosophy was eroded when Japan concluded the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China, and Vietnam announced the Mutual Cooperation Agreement with the Soviet Union weeks later. Verbal condemnations of Hanoi had to be altered to fit within the delicate Sino-Japanese relationship. As Chinese troops poured into Vietnam's northern provinces in 1979, Tokyo made blanket statements against all aggression in Indochina, virtually ratifying China's "punishment war." Therefore, China stood as the replacement for U.S. military might in Indochina in lieu of Japanese forces. Tokyo's strength lay in its suspension of economic assistance. However, when suggestions arose that Japan approved of China's actions, Japanese officials were quick to put distance between Tokyo and Beijing in regard to Vietnam, which action benefited Tokyo's standing in Hanoi and with the ASEAN members leery of Chinese domination.

As the U.S. withdrew from involvement in Southeast Asia, both China and the Soviet Union moved to fill the vacuum. Japan could no longer operate under the wing of U.S. military might, and it needed to chart a course toward the center among hegemons in order to avoid polarization against another regional power. The Reagan administration pushed for greater regional leadership by Tokyo, and it was clear that Washington could no longer determine Japan's policy for dealing with Southeast Asia. Tokyo began to fill this leadership role with greater levels of aid for ASEAN and with punishment for Vietnam by stopping assistance programs. Sonoda's statement at the Bali conference, to "solve the problems and consolidate our partnership" shows Tokyo's desire to lead ASEAN in facing the greater world community. However, because of the veracity of ASEAN's condemnations of Vietnam's invasion, Tokyo gained the ability to keep relations with Hanoi-- an ability that would grow proportionally with ASEAN's harshness against Vietnam.

The Soviet Union had little clout in Japan because of the territorial issue. Despite the Soviet's position of "parent state" to Vietnam, Moscow influenced Japanese policy toward Hanoi very little. Attempts to link the Soviet presence at Cam Ranh Bay with resuming economic assistance fell upon deaf ears in Hanoi. The Cambodian issue weighed much more heavily among ASEAN, Beijing, Washington, and Tokyo as the determining factor for restoring assistance and full relations. Cambodian factional leaders visited Tokyo, raised humanitarian issues, and called for further sanctions against Vietnam, but their lobbying played only a minor role in determining Japan's policies toward Vietnam in comparison to the calculus of Sino-Japan relations, Japan-ASEAN solidarity, and U.S. pushes for greater leadership by Tokyo.

Domestic factors[edit]

As we have seen, Japan put forward various conditions for the resumption of economic assistance to Vietnam, conditions sometimes directly influenced by domestic concerns in Japan. Granted, Tokyo originally called on Vietnam to withdraw troops from Cambodia because of ASEAN's security concerns, but subsequent attempts by Japan to link aid with the refugee issue or Soviet expansion in Southeast Asia hint at possible domestic political influences on policy toward Vietnam. Later in 1979, as the refugee problem began to tax resources, Tokyo demanded Vietnam take responsibility. Also, in the summer of 1979, the Defense Ministry pointed to the Soviet presence at Cam Ranh Bay as a threat to domestic security, and the Foreign Ministry hinted that economic assistance might resume if the Soviet military presence were minimized.

Bureaucracies vary in their goals and priorities which are determined by the various functions within a government. Prior to the invasion, Japan's dealings with Vietnam centered around the economic assistance provided by the Ministry of Finance. However, when the Cambodian incursion sent ripples throughout the region, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to take the lead in determining policy toward Hanoi. We can therefore examine the stance of each bureaucracy in order to refine our understanding of the Japan-Vietnam relationship.

Office of the Prime Minister[edit]

Japan's relationship with Vietnam proceeded smoothly until news about the troubles in Cambodia began to reach the outside world in the winter of 1978. The joint statement issued in December 1978 shows that Japan was well aware of Vietnam's intentions, and had tried to commit Vietnam on paper to respect the sovereignty of her neighbors. When Vietnamese representative Trinh met with Ohira personally, Ohira stated Japan's wariness more bluntly:

Ohira stressed the importance of Japan's relations with the
countries of ASEAN. He added that Japan also wanted to further
develop cooperative relations with the countries of Indochina. 
Trinh asked for Ohira's opinion on the possibility of future
exchange of visits between Ohira and Vietnamese Premier Pham Van
Dong. Ohira replied that he would study the suggestion because
such an exchange would be beneficial for both countries[italics
added]. 

Ohira flatly declared that Japan's priorities lay with ASEAN. He refrained from promising Trinh that an exchange system would be established, rather he said that he would "study the suggestion"-- an ambivalent answer at best. When news of Vietnam's incursion became public, Ohira addressed the Diet:

Meanwhile, recent developments surrounding Cambodia are
extremely regrettable.  It is our strong hope that peace and
stability can be restored under the principle of noninterference
in domestic affairs and national self-determination.  From this
viewpoint, the government is resolved to continue its all-out
efforts for the restoration of peace and stability in this area
through cooperation with the ASEAN and other countries. 

Once again, Ohira declared Japan's cooperation with ASEAN in solving the Indochinese crisis. Ohira was adamant about continuation of the Fukuda Doctrine. While Sonoda and the Foreign Ministry attempted to maintain some flexibility with Vietnam and to keep the door open for a resumption of assistance under certain conditions, the Prime Minister's office consistently emphasized Japan's ties with ASEAN whenever the Indochina question arose.

By the time Yasuhiro Nakasone took office as Prime Minister in November 1982, Vietnam was entrenched in Cambodia and the region faced little hope of progress on the issue of withdrawal. Nakasone's pro-U.S. policies, along with desires to see Japan take on a greater international leadership role, did not sit well with Vietnam. Hanoi invariably condemned the Nakasone cabinet for its pro-U.S. and defense buildup policies. An excerpt from an interview given to Kyodo News Agency journalists is typical of Nakasone's world view:

Japan has been too modest, I want to see Japan have greater
influence on international politics and discharge its due
obligations as a member of the free world. 

In the same interview, Nakasone said that ASEAN would certainly welcome a stronger U.S.-Japan alliance, with the United States assuming a security role and Japan contributing economically. Thus, both Ohira and Nakasone offered little respite for Hanoi. When Nakasone asserted his new leadership in the office of the Prime Minister, he took a staunch anticommunist line (in step with U.S. President Reagan) in foreign policy matters. This further weakened Japan's omnidirectional stance. Maintaining ties with Vietnam was left solely to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs[edit]

The mission of a foreign ministry is to foster relations with other countries and execute foreign policy decisions. Though the ・4 billion in economic assistance had been slotted for Vietnam prior to the invasion of Cambodia, the decision to suspend the aid was left to the Foreign Ministry. As such, Foreign Minister Sonoda was primarily responsible for Japan's relationship with Vietnam. Over the course of events during his tenure from 1977- 1979, Sonoda seemed somewhat more friendly to Vietnam than Prime Minster Ohira but was still critical of Vietnam's actions. In an initial reaction to the invasion, Sonoda, without naming the country, expressed his strong criticism of Vietnam's action, labeling it "military intervention in the internal affairs of another country." However, Sonoda stated Japan's intent to fulfill its assistance obligation for 1978 but warned that future aid "will have to be frozen in the case of intervention in the internal affairs of another nation." We can therefore extrapolate that Sonoda was willing to continue relations with Vietnam, but only under favorable conditions in Indochina.

After leaving office in 1979, Sonoda showed pride in his handling of the situation with Vietnam:

Our country is one of very few [non-Communist] countries
which can communicate with Vietnam.  This fact has been one of
our major political resources, allowing us actively to play an
important role for stabilizing Asia.  It is true that some of the
ASEAN and Western countries, as well as China, have worried about
our country's economic cooperation with Vietnam.  I understood
this opinion and tried to postpone [economic assistance]
implementation.  However, I believed that it was not wise to
discontinue the aid.  The reason was that we had to maintain a
communication route rather than to suspend our economic
assistance of 14 billion yen per year.  Furthermore, when we
provided economic aid, we used to advise Vietnam to purchase Thai
and other ASEAN countries' products by using our aid.  We
expected it to serve for the promotion of mutual understanding
between Vietnam and the ASEAN countries. . . . Utilizing our
communication channel [with Hanoi] we could also contribute to
the development of US-Vietnamese dialogue, and actually we tried
to do so several times. 

Sonoda's regret over discontinuing aid to Vietnam is understandable, given his position as foreign minister. His responsibility was to foster ties with other countries. From Sonoda's standpoint, stopping economic assistance to Vietnam virtually halted any progress made with Hanoi because such an action eliminated Japan's greatest foreign policy tool-- foreign aid. Furthermore, Sonoda understood the leverage to be gained in the region if Tokyo could successfully become the bridge or conduit between Vietnam and the West. Such a position would allow the Foreign Minister to spin any proposal from the U.S. or ASEAN to fit the Japanese Foreign Ministry's agenda. Sonoda felt Japan played a balancing role in Asia, and that Tokyo should take some credit for the US-China agreement on normalization of ties (only Japan was notified in advance of the US decision to normalize relations with China).

As Japan attempted to steer the middle between the West and Vietnam, it encountered criticism for feet-dragging-- for allowing very limited numbers of refugees in despite its strong economy. The Foreign Ministry was aware of this problem and recommended increasing the quota, but to little avail. At the same time, the Foreign Ministry maintained the nuts and bolts of relations with Vietnam: exchanges of visits, persons, and cultural events. As one Foreign Ministry source put it:

Different assessments and policies of Tokyo and Hanoi do not
deter the Japanese from emphasizing the need to maintain a
healthy relationship with the Vietnamese. 

Visits by parliamentarians and former Foreign Minister Yoshio Sakurauchi in 1985 were "strictly" goodwill missions and were in response to a similar parliamentarians' mission from Vietnam in 1983.

Yet even the diplomatic exchanges suffered from Hanoi's reduced standing. Throughout the early 1980s, Japan's relations with Vietnam were stagnant, except for the yearly visits by cultural attaches and other low-level exchanges. However, the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Vietnam was not balanced. Several high-ranking Vietnamese officials visited Japan, while the complementary visits by Japanese bureaucrats were made by relatively low-level personnel or opposition party members [see section on JCP below]. If a calculus could be created where the rank of an official were multiplied by the number of visits per year to show the "superior/inferior" relationships vis-a-vis Confucian politics, Vietnam would certainly score lower than Japan.

Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)[edit]

Though I could find no direct evidence or statements on Vietnam from MITI, it is likely that the ministry resisted suspension of the economic assistance. The precipitous drop in trade certainly hurt Japanese industries, as did the loss to banks that could no longer finance the government outlays in aid to Hanoi. During Trinh's visit to Japan in December 1978, Tatsuzo Mizukami, chairman of the trade policy committee for the powerful private business lobby Keidanren, said that promotion of mutual understanding would eventually lead to expansion of bilateral trade between Japan and Vietnam. Certainly MITI felt much the same. However, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' economic assistance had frozen, there was little MITI could do. Part of Japan's isolation of Hanoi was to cut off access to funds in the import-export bank for Japanese corporations. If companies wished to trade with Vietnam, they were on their own. However, in comparison to the U.S., which outlawed firms from trading or signing contracts with Vietnamese counterparts (complete embargo), the Japanese policy looks quite mild. As we will later see, Japan grew to be Vietnam's second largest trading partner despite structural restrictions placed on the bilateral relationship.

Political parties[edit]

Throughout this period, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) held a dominant position in both houses of parliament, and therefore all the major cabinet positions were filled by LDP members. The LDP position on Vietnam was virtually the same as the official government policy: limit economic assistance but allow trade and diplomatic relations. However, as Japan placed limitations on its relations with Vietnam, some of the opposition parties took the opportunity to attack the government positions. The most vocal were the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) and Japan Communist Party (JCP), (for obvious reasons). It is doubtful any of the opposition comments actually affected policy.

In 1978, the Japan Socialist Party Chairman Asukata reacted to the Japan-China agreement with some trepidation. The JSP worried that Japan might become part of China's anti-Soviet strategy. However, Sonoda replied that was not the case, and referenced the differences on policy toward Vietnam as an example. On the whole, the JSP welcomed the normalization of the US-China relations on the grounds that this move would "help ease tension and contribute to peace."

The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), a smaller opposition party with only thirty-two out of 511 seats in 1979, agreed with the government's handling of the Cambodian situation and declared its solidarity with ASEAN. However, the DSP also held off on support of the coalition government in Cambodia (the anti-Heng Samrin coalition). The DSP argued that support should come only after the coalition was "firmly established and [had won] wide international recognition." The DSP chairman Watanabe also declared his party's unity with the government on the issue of denying economic assistance to Vietnam. Many of the opposition parties appeal to urban housewives and use humanitarian issues to define themselves apart from the Liberal Democratic Party. This issue was no different. In the same statement in which the DSP declared its support of the government position, Watanabe also called on the government to increase aid to Indochinese refugees on humanitarian grounds.

Opposition parties generally supported the LDP government's position on Vietnam, with one glaring exception: the Japan Communist Party (JCP). Estranged from both Beijing and Moscow, the JCP found itself singled out within Tokyo as well. For the JCP, the issue was not necessarily a show of support for Hanoi but a fight against Tokyo's succumbing to the power politics between the US, China, and the USSR When Trinh visited Japan in December 1978, just prior to the invasion of Cambodia, House of Councilors JCP member Hiroshi Tachiki urged the Ohira government to "actively develop friendly relations between Japan and Vietnam, independently of the policies of the major powers." Tachiki criticized Japan's decision to delay economic assistance to Vietnam. In response, Sonoda defended Tokyo's position in developing relations with Vietnam "no matter what China's policy is." Sonoda himself was aware of the possible perception Japan might be giving to Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia: Japanese-Chinese collusion. The JCP continued to exploit this weakness of the LDP government, ridiculing the U.S.-Chinese diplomatic normalization, along with giving the classic Marxist interpretation of the Japan-China PFT as "only natural" in the course of international relations.

On Cambodia, the JCP sided with Vietnam's explanation of events. Chairman Miyamoto of the JCP stressed that the Kampuchean people had overthrown the Pol Pot regime. The JCP also publicly called for resistance to what they termed as "Beijing authorities who are urging Japan to issue a joint statement and take coordinated action on the Indochinese situation in accordance with the Peace and Friendship Treaty." The LDP government had said repeatedly that the peace and friendship treaty did not require such coordinated action, but the JCP still used the issue to divorce themselves from Beijing. By May of 1979, the JCP had publicly denounced China and said its long-standing feud with USSR was ending.

The private sector[edit]

As stated above, Japan's private sector corporations stood to lose only from the suspension of economic assistance. The Keidanren courted Trinh when he visited Japan prior to the invasion, but there was little it could do in the face of international and domestic political pressures on Japan's policy. All was not lost, however. Although international considerations motivated Tokyo to suspend economic assistance, Japan's policy stopped short of a trade embargo. Only official channels were closed. Japanese firms willing to risk operating without loan guarantees, export insurance, or capital from government funds could trade with Vietnam.

Lobbying for liberalizing relations did occur. One group, the Japan-Vietnam Friendship Association, sent a statement to Japanese Prime Minister Ohira and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Industry, and Agriculture and Fishery, demanding that the Japanese government not suspend economic aid to Vietnam. Such groups usually consist of company executives with interests in the foreign country. The statement pointed out the hypocrisy that Japan would be committing in light of agreements reached with Trinh in December 1978, and it claimed that Tokyo's policy reflected a chauvinistic attitude of a big nation that can rely on its financial muscle to influence the foreign policy of another country. However, such lobbying had little effect.

Trade dropped off in several sectors in 1979, on the heels of assistance suspension [see charts 2.1 and 2.2]. On the export side, the chemicals trade had been growing steadily from 1975 reaching $118 million in 1978, but then fell to less than half that level in 1979. Natural oils and basic manufactures had also seen growth from 1975 to 1978 but suffered losses after economic assistance was suspended.

Imports from Vietnam give interesting evidence on the effect of economic aid suspension. Mineral fuels (mostly coal, because crude oil fields had yet to be developed) and seafood (shrimp, cuttlefish) were growing up until 1978, then fell precipitously. It is important to note that these sectors fell prior to the economic aid suspension, indicating market problems within Vietnam as the lead factor, not the political decision to stop aid. Also, the raw materials sector, consisting mostly of lumber and tin, actually grew steadily despite Tokyo's policy. Like the raw materials sector, seafood imports began to grow from 1980 onwards, indicating that this sector wasn't beholden to government policies either.

By 1983, Japan had become Vietnam's chief noncommunist trading partner, with an annual trade of over $150 million. Trade could have climbed higher, but Hanoi placed a ceiling on trade because of a shortage of foreign exchange. Japanese firms resorted to private financing, with payment made upon receipt of goods or through short-term credit. Companies involved in Vietnam included Komatsu, National, Honda, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Toyo, Yamaha, and Sumitomo. However, the Japanese firms had yet to set up branch offices or serious manufacturing bases within Vietnam. A majority of the activity consisted of barter-trades in lumber and seafood in exchange for basic manufactures and chemicals.

A careful look at the trade data [see graphs at end of chapter] yields an important clue into understanding Japan's policy toward Vietnam. Imports from Vietnam dropped in some sectors before aid was suspended while they climbed steadily in other sectors. In either case, Tokyo's aid policy does not seem to be the controlling factor on trade. Therefore it can be inferred that importers did not try to pressure Tokyo into changing its policy. Conversely, while exports to Vietnam fell dramatically because of the aid suspension, these exporters' main markets were the United States and ASEAN, and they therefore could not risk international criticism if they were to try to press Tokyo for liberalizing economic aid to Vietnam.

Influences from the domestic level[edit]

Tokyo had promised ・4 billion in economic assistance just weeks before Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia. When the Indochina situation exploded, Japan's concerns switched to its relations with ASEAN and China from its promise of aid promised to Hanoi. Policy became driven by Foreign Ministry goals to maintain good relations with the high-volume trade partners in Southeast Asia. There was little standing in the way to prevent or deter such a policy focus. Neither the Prime Minister, Finance Ministry, MITI, or the private sector had valid arguments for continuing aid to Vietnam. Prime Minister Ohira, and later Prime Minister Nakasone, gave little weight to Vietnamese pleas to resume the aid, instead boldly stating to Vietnamese delegates that Japan's priorities stood with ASEAN. The Finance Ministry had already earmarked the funds, and therefore fulfilled its bureaucratic duties. The sending of those funds was left to the Foreign Ministry. MITI and the private sector could not ignore the Sino-Japanese and ASEAN-Japanese relationships when calculating market potentials and delicate trade relations. Besides, major imports from Vietnam had fallen before the invasion, indicating trouble at the source, and not political decisions, as the reason for the drop in trade.

Conclusion[edit]

After some hesitation and various attempts at negotiation with Hanoi, Tokyo decided to suspend economic assistance to Vietnam in early 1979, just months after Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia. Tokyo tried to work out solutions with Vietnam, offering to restore some aid if certain problems could be resolved, like the Soviet presence in Cam Ranh Bay or the refugee issue, but to no avail-- Hanoi would not withdraw its troops from Cambodia.

The Japan-Vietnam relationship, which had been quite warm prior to the Cambodian invasion, suffered from environmental changes within the region. International factors involving China, the US, and ASEAN certainly affected Japan's foreign policy toward Vietnam. When Japan signed the China-Japan friendship and peace treaty in October 1978, and Vietnam signed the mutual cooperation treaty with the Soviet Union weeks later, both Tokyo and Hanoi had moved from "omnidirectional" (Japan) and "equidistant" (Hanoi) positions relative to Beijing and Moscow. This involvement served to polarize the relationship somewhat, because Japan now firmly belonged in the Western camp and Vietnam came to be seen as a satellite of Soviet (Brezhnev Doctrine) expansionism. Japan's relationship with ASEAN, established in 1977 with Prime Minister Fukuda's announcement of aid and cooperation, deepened with policy cooperation opposing Vietnam's actions in Indochina. However, Tokyo was able to use this relationship to provide diplomatic cover in its dealings with Hanoi, by explaining the aid suspension in terms of ASEAN security concerns and not as punishment from Japan. Furthermore, as the vacuum of US involvement in Southeast Asia continued, and American administrations pushed for greater leadership from Tokyo, Japan found its regional role increasing. In some ways, Tokyo's hand was forced into stopping assistance to Hanoi, given the friendship treaty with China and an obvious choice of either siding with ASEAN or Vietnam. However, Japanese policymakers steered Japan toward the middle, deftly playing the softer role in comparison to other regional powers' treatment of Vietnam.

Domestically, policy toward Vietnam was left to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Economic assistance programs had been budgeted by the Ministry of Finance, but subsequently halted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in light of the Japan-U.S. and Sino- Japanese relationships. Trade diminished somewhat because of the suspension, but this reduction may have been due to production problems within Vietnam. Although the JCP sided with Hanoi, all other parties agreed with the majority LDP in taking a hard-line stance against Vietnam. Given the international stakes, Japan's suspension of aid had few opponents in Tokyo.


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