Tokyo — Concerned members of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party are pressing for another US-Japan summit meeting at an early date to halt the deterioration in relations over the defense issue.
Two recent high-level meetings between defense officials of the two countries have failed to narrow the gap. Far more than trade friction, in fact, the question of whether Japan is strengthening its military muscle fast enough is creating disharmony and distrust.
Statements from Washington indicate the United States thinks Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki has gone back on his word, given at a summit conference with President Reagan in May.
Japan, meanwhile, thinks the US is being too "pushy," because of Reagan's apparent single-minded obsession with the Soviet military threat -- which not all members of the Tokyo government share.
Japanese defense spending in fiscal 1982 will increase 7.5 percent over this year. The government officially believes this more than meets Mr. Suzuki's commitment to President Reagan, especially as spending in all other sectors is being held down.
Unfortunately, the US was thinking in terms of at least 11 or 12 percent more , arguing that the current planned increase, after taking account of inflation, will mean virtually no improvement.
Just how wide the gap really is in perceptions on the issue was demonstrated last month when defense planners from the two countries held consultations in Hawaii.
Japanese officials were amazed by the list of American demands -- a long shopping list of new hardware that would add billions of dollars to the already record $12 billion defense budget planned for fiscal 1982.
Government sources said the Americans were keen to turn Japan into an "unsinkable mid-ocean base" to counter the growing might of the Soviet Far East fleet, particularly its nuclear missile-carrying submarines, along with the increasing appearance in the region of the Backfire supersonic bomber and SS-20 intermediate-range missiles fired from mobile launchers.
Washington, therefore, has pressed Japan to increase its planned introduction of American antisubmarine patrol planes from 45 to 100, as well as more than doubling the Japanese submarine fleet from the present planned 16 boats.
Japanese officials at Hawaii were dumb- founded. They said the demands were extreme and impossible to meet. And this was confirmed when Joji Omura, director of the Self-Defense Agency, met his American opposite number, Caspar Weinberger, at the end of June.
The Japanese position remains: "Don't push us too hard. There is a limit to what we can do because of constitutional restraints, financial deficits, and public opinion."
Before the Hawaii session, Prime Minister Suzuki told officials that any increase in defense spending should be carried out steadily, not hastily, taking into account budgetary restraints, constitutional limitations, and public opinion.
One major problem is Japanese insistence on sticking to a goal of implementing by 1986 a defense buildup projected five years ago.
The US argues the concept is outdated, because the guideline designates peacetime force levels without taking into account contingencies like the recent Soviet expansionism in Asia. The scenario, says Washington, should be rewritten.
Prime Minister Suzuki seems determined to resist the pressure. But his attitude is causing concern within the LDP, which regards maintenance of stability in US-Japan relations as its cornerstone.
Some influential members, including Sakurauchi, party secretary-general, are suggesting Mr. Suzuki should hold another quick summit with President Reagan -- perhaps at the Ottawa economic summit later this month -- to solve the problem.
Some LDP hard-liners, mostly concerned with defense issues, argue Mr. Suzuki has reneged on his promises made in the May communique.
They are claiming, in fact, that the American demand is reasonable, considering that the ratio of defense spending to GNP is, in fact, declining from 0.91 percent this year to an expected 0.87 percent in 1982.
One possible solution being floated in Tokyo is that Japan should cooperate with the US in arms development, providing cash and technology, instead of beefing up its self-defense forces.