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Obituaries

Japanese diplomatic luminary Okamoto dies at 74

Architect of Okinawa base move had contracted coronavirus

Yukio Okamoto helped Prime Minister Shinzo Abe draft a crucial speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. (Photo by Yumi Kotani)

TOKYO -- Yukio Okamoto, a diplomatic expert who advised multiple Japanese prime ministers, two in an official capacity, on issues ranging from the return of a U.S. military base in Okinawa to Iraq reconstruction, died in late April. He was 74.

Okamoto had contracted the coronavirus, a Japanese government source said.

A graduate of Hitotsubashi University, Okamoto joined Japan's Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1968. The career diplomat served in many critical posts including director of the ministry's National Security Affairs Division and the First North America Division.

After retiring from the ministry in 1991, he founded foreign policy consultancy Okamoto Associates and continued to provide insights into Japan's national security strategy and its relationship with the U.S.

Okamoto was appointed as a special adviser in 1996 to then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. He helped coordinate communication between the national and Okinawan governments regarding plans to relocate the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base, as well as on measures to boost Okinawa's economy.

He also served as special adviser to then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the early 2000s, visiting Iraq to help craft Japan's assistance measures for the country.

More recently, Okamoto was part of a private advisory panel formed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2015 as the leader drafted a crucial speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

"Yukio Okomoto was a wise diplomatic practitioner and observer who was deeply trusted on both sides of the Pacific," Harvard University professor emeritus and former dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Joseph Nye said. "His good counsel was important to the success of the Japan-U.S. alliance, and will be sorely missed. This is a true COVID tragedy."

Two American counterparts that worked closely with him, Michael Green, former senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, and Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, jointly issued a statement in which they called Okamoto "a maverick" who recognized that "a Japan that stood up to be counted was a Japan that could count on others."

Reflecting on many nights spent at the Highlander Bar of the Okura Hotel in Tokyo, Green and Campbell said "He taught us and many others how to drink single malt whisky (stirred 300 times at ice cold temperatures)."

On his efforts to relocate Futenma air base, the two said: "He felt deep empathy for the burden borne by the people of Okinawa and long served as the most consistent and trusted channel between Naha, Tokyo, and Washington, pushing both governments to realign and reduce the U.S. military presence on the island."

Okamoto served as a senior research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for International Studies until his death.

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