Photo/IllutrationA copy of a record taken of comments made by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone during a January 1983 breakfast meeting with the Washington Post. (Shinichi Iizuka)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Newly declassified documents show that Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone personally promised U.S. President Ronald Reagan he would bolster Japan's defenses before his public pledge to make Japan an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” for the United States.

The record of the conversation in Washington during Nakasone’s first talks with Reagan in January 1983 is among details to emerge from diplomatic documents, some once highly classified, that were made public on Jan. 12.

The documents show that Foreign Ministry officials considered Nakasone's comments to be highly sensitive and confidential at the time.

Reporters were not briefed about those comments due to concerns about a possible domestic backlash if they were made public, and his “unsinkable aircraft carrier” remark to the Washington Post that same month did indeed stoke controversy.

The comments were not released when a disclosure request was submitted last year.

Nakasone and Reagan were known for their cordial relationship at a time when Japan's rising economic power caused tremendous trade friction with the United States. The documents show that Nakasone went to great lengths in that very first meeting to develop a "honeymoon period" with Reagan.

They stayed in frequent contact on a first-name basis.

Those trade frictions, as well as increasing confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, led to calls for Japan to shoulder a higher defense burden in light of its economic muscle.

Nakasone met with Reagan shortly after he took office, and the diplomatic documents show that the Japanese leader did everything he could to assure his host that Tokyo would beef up its defense capability.

During the meeting, Nakasone, now 98, pledged several objectives related to defense, including increasing capabilities to allow Japan to contain Soviet submarines within the Sea of Japan during a military confrontation by completely controlling the four straits surrounding Japan.

He also said Japan would not allow Soviet Backfire bombers to enter airspace over the Japanese archipelago and that vital sea lanes used by U.S. naval vessels providing support to Japan as well as Japanese commercial ships would be protected.

Those three points were included in the guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation that were first compiled in 1978.

Another document shows notes taken during a breakfast meeting Nakasone had with officials from the Washington Post before his meeting with Reagan.

In his off-the-record comments, Nakasone said that Japan's defense spending would exceed 1 percent of the nation's gross national product in 1984.

He said the move was inevitable, given the international role Japan was expected to play. He also said he would prepare the Japanese public for that eventuality. The 1-percent ratio was long considered an informal ceiling on defense spending by Japan.

That ceiling was broken in the fiscal 1987 budget compiled by the Nakasone Cabinet, allowing Nakasone to fulfill the pledge he made during his Washington visit.