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Exposed: Foreign Ministry Manipulated Media Ahead of the Emperor's 1992 Visit to China

Declassified documents reveal how the Japanese foreign ministry put pressure on the media to secure positive coverage ahead of the emperor's trip to China.



A page from the diplomatic documents from 1992 recently declassified by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (©Sankei by Kanata Iwasaki)

On December 20, the Japanese foreign ministry (MOFA) released 17 volumes totaling 6,518 pages of diplomatic documents from 1992. These declassified documents shed light on the foreign ministry's covert media manipulation in 1992. All titles and roles mentioned in this article are from this period.

In October 1992, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emeritus Michiko, who were Emperor and Empress at the time, visited China. In the lead-up to the visit, the MOFA worried that media coverage might negatively affect the trip. 

Among the declassified documents are records of an episode involving the ambassador to China and Kyodo News. According to the records, the ambassador pressured the president of Kyodo News by directly questioning him as to whether the agency supported or opposed the visit. 

Seeking the public's approval of the imperial visit, MOFA strategized how to deal with the media. In addition, the documents reveal that the ministry adopted measures to sway the Diet and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers. 

At a ministerial-level meeting on February 13, 1992, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Hisashi Owada expressed his concerns. "Negative domestic press coverage may derail the visit," he claimed. Owada declared the necessity to "devise media countermeasures to prevent this." 

The diplomatic documents recently declassified by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (©Kyodo)

Avoiding Debate

On the following day, February 14, Owada briefed Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato on the imperial visit. During their meeting, Owada stated that "this is a sensitive domestic issue." Owada advised Kato to pay careful attention to the reaction from the right and left wings. 

He also said it would "be necessary to avoid widespread public and parliamentary debate." The documents state that Owada sought to defer such debate until the Cabinet had approved and publicly announced the visit. 

Subsequent diplomatic documents contain records of direct and indirect outreach to the media by senior MOFA officials.


On the afternoon of February 25, Sakutaro Tanino, the head of MOFA's Asian Affairs Bureau, visited former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone (1982–1987). Explaining the issue surrounding the imperial visit, Tanino told Nakasone, "Even conservative papers like The Sankei Shimbun are carrying both sides of the argument. It is safe to assume other newspapers are doing the same." He added, "I would appreciate it if you could talk to the people at The Yomiuri Shimbun."

Tanino asked Nakasone if he would "have a word with [Yomiuri Director] Tsuneo Watanabe." Nakasone responded, "I'll let him know when I see him tonight." 

Swaying the NHK

On May 24, Tanino spoke to NHK chief commentator Korehito Obama. Tanino asked Obama and NHK to "recognize the positive significance of the visit and assist in its promotion." 

According to the records, Obama called Tanino the next day on May 25. Obama reported to Tanino on his exchange with former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda (1976–1978), whom he had met with that morning. Tanino reported that Obama told him Fukuda said, "It is clear that forcing the visit will stir public sentiment against the idea. We cannot have Their Majesties visiting China under such circumstances [...] In any case, it is better to avoid unnecessary trouble." 

Obama assured Tanino that Fukuda agreed NHK should cooperate in steering public opinion away from negative perceptions of the visit, according to the MOFA record. 

Pressuring Kyodo

In June, then Japanese Ambassador to China, Hiroshi Hashimoto, temporarily returned to Japan "to manipulate the media and LDP." On June 26, Hashimoto met with Kyodo News President Yasuhiko Inukai. Citing an article from Kyodo's Beijing bureau, Hashimoto took issue with the agency's reporting. "It seems you are intentionally trying to ruin the emperor's visit to China. It's over all the papers in Beijing," he said. 

The records show Hashimoto pressed Inukai, saying, "Neither the Chinese Communist Party nor the government have mentioned anything about civilian reparations from Japan. They haven't said anything about the comfort women issue either. And yet you have been writing about these things in a very alarming and sensational manner. As president of Kyodo News, how do you explain this?" 

Hashimoto added, "If you persist in this campaign to spoil the emperor's visit, China will take action. They may close your bureau or deport your writers. I hope you understand that the embassy will not be able to help you if that happens." 


It seems that these veiled threats worked. According to the records, Inukai replied, "The Beijing office should be more balanced in its reporting. Accurate accounts of the thinking of the Chinese party and government and the majority of Chinese people would help." Inukai then apologized for having caused Ambassador Hashimoto "so much trouble." 

According to the report, Inukai then told Hashimoto, "I will fully inform the Beijing office that Kyodo News headquarters supports the emperor's visit. We will take care not to cause any trouble in the future." Before Hashimoto left, Inukai told him, "Do not hesitate to contact me directly in the event of any future incidents." 

A page from the diplomatic documents recently declassified by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (©Sankei by Kanata Iwasaki)

Sankei's Warning

Meanwhile, Tanino visited The Sankei Shimbun on July 3 to explain MOFA's position on the emperor's visit. He met with Takehiko Kiyohara, the newspaper's Editor-in-Chief. 

Records from the meeting show that Kiyohara said, "China has a political agenda in its persistent invitations to His Majesty." He pointed out that "the Tiananmen Square incident has isolated China from the international community. A visit by the emperor would provide just the lifeline it needs." Kiyohara also warned that "China will use the visit as an opportunity to extract further economic aid from Japan."

Speaking on China's domestic political struggle, Kiyohara reportedly added, "Conservatives and reformists are at odds within China. Reformists will use the emperor's visit to consolidate their power." 

He warned, "As long as China has these political motives, a visit by His Majesty will simply be a political tool." 


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun


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