BEIJING – In 1964, at a time when Tokyo and Beijing had no formal diplomatic ties, Japanese diplomats met with senior Chinese officials in absolute secrecy in third countries including Switzerland and Burma to explore the possibility of normalizing relations, minutes of the meetings declassified by China indicated Saturday.
The secret gatherings were recorded in Chinese diplomatic documents and kept at the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s archives in Beijing. The documents were recently declassified, and a copy was reviewed by Jiji Press.
The revelation implies that persistent efforts made by Hiroshi Hashimoto, a secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Switzerland who was very familiar with Chinese affairs, eventually led Tokyo and Beijing to establish diplomatic ties.
According to the papers, Hashimoto approached a Chinese military attache and a Chinese commercial officer at a reception held at the Romanian Embassy in Switzerland on Aug. 21, 1964.
Hashimoto told them that Japan and China should normalize and establish amicable relations. He also apologized for Japan’s invasion of China and the slaughter of large numbers of Chinese.
In a telegram sent to the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, the Chinese Embassy in Switzerland described Hashimoto as a friendly man.
On Oct. 13 that year, Hashimoto phoned the two Chinese officials to invite them to dinner at his home. When the Chinese Embassy asked Beijing how to proceed, the Foreign Ministry instructed the attache to turn down the invitation under some pretense, on account of the attache’s diplomatic status and duties. The ministry permitted only the commercial officer to join Hashimoto for dinner, and then just in a private capacity.
After returning to Japan, Hashimoto later became head of the Foreign Ministry’s China division and contributed to the 1972 normalization of ties with Beijing together with then-Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and then-Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira.
After serving as Japanese ambassador to China, Hashimoto died last April at age 87.
Another of the diplomatic documents showed that on May 20, 1964, Kenichi Otabe, at the time Japan’s ambassador to Burma, now known as Myanmar, met with Geng Biao, Chinese ambassador to the Southeast Asian country, in modern-day Yangon.
Otabe told Geng that Sino-Japanese ties had improved and developed considerably, especially in terms of economic and trade relations. Geng then proposed that the two countries promote diplomatic normalization in line with this development.
Otabe replied that he believed Japan and China would certainly normalize ties, and that this was also his wish.
A secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Burma who was well-versed in Chinese affairs arranged the meeting of the two ambassadors.
“I thought the meeting would provide some kind of opportunity for Japan-China diplomatic normalization,” the 81-year-old former diplomat said in a recent interview. “The Chinese side was also displaying a positive attitude.”
The Japanese Embassy in Burma had obtained the Foreign Ministry’s prior approval for the meeting between Otabe and Geng because of strict limitations on diplomatic meetings with officials of countries that did not have formal ties with Japan. The ministry, however, did not issue any instructions about the meeting.
It was previously known that Japanese officials attempted to make contact with Chinese officials in Paris through the mediation of the French government in January and February 1971, under then-Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, but Beijing rejected the overture. Hashimoto took the lead in arranging the Paris meeting as head of the Foreign Ministry’s China division.