Toyota's recent troubles weren't merely issues for its customers, dealers, lawyers and bottom line – the repercussions also went all the way up through diplomatic channels. A series of cables posted by Wikileaks reveals that then-Transportation Minister Seiji Maehara asked that Toyota's situation not cause "obstacles to trade."

The entreaties disallow bilateral trade to be affected by the Toyota recalls, and in the words of a Japanese cable to Washington, "For many GOJ (Government of Japan) bureaucrats and Japanese auto executives, any and all auto issues seem to trigger memories of bilateral trade friction in the 1980s and 90s." That was when sectors like automobiles, agriculture, steel, textiles and market access were rich sources of friction, retaliation, treaties and new accusations.

The U.S. position – beyond Ray LaHood's occasional thundering – was also a desire not to return to dark international days as long as everyone realized "It is crucial for Toyota to stay ahead of the issue."

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