TOKYO • Tokyo has described claims that Washington spied on Japanese politicians and major companies as "deeply regrettable", in its first official response to the revelations from the whistleblower group WikiLeaks.
"I will withhold comment. But if this is true, as an ally, it's deeply regrettable," the government's top spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a regular press briefing yesterday. He said Tokyo was checking with the United States on the WikiLeaks report, issued last Friday.
"We have strongly requested intelligence director Clapper to confirm the facts," Mr Suga said, referring to US National Intelligence director James Clapper.
The latest WikiLeaks intercepts exposing US National Security Agency activities follow other documents that revealed spying on allies including Germany and France, straining relations.
Tokyo is one of Washington's key allies in the Asia-Pacific region and the two countries regularly consult on defence and trade issues.
Claims that Washington spied on Japanese trade officials came just as delegates negotiating a vast free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership failed to reach a final deal after several days of intense talks in Hawaii.
The US and Japan are the two biggest economies in the 12-nation negotiations, but they have sparred over key issues including automobile sector access and Japan's protected agricultural markets.
WikiLeaks said the US intercepts showed "intimate knowledge of internal Japanese deliberations" on trade issues, nuclear policy and Tokyo's diplomatic relations with Washington.
"The reports demonstrate the depth of US surveillance of the Japanese government, indicating that intelligence was gathered and processed from numerous Japanese government ministries and offices," it said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not appear to be a direct target of wiretapping but other senior politicians were, including Trade Minister Yoichi Miyazawa. Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda was also in the sights of US intelligence, WikiLeaks said.
The leaks come as Mr Abe seeks to expand the role of Japan's military, a move applauded by Washington but deeply unpopular at home.