Japan's Nakasone puts brakes on his international travel

Although more at home, and more successful, in the international diplomatic arena, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone plans to stay close to the domestic hearth for the rest of this year to polish his public image.

In the past few days he has announced cancellation of planned visits to France, West Germany, Italy, and the Vatican after the London summit of seven industrialized countries in June, and a trip to Australia and New Zealand in July.

Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe has also canceled a planned tour of Central and South American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, after the London summit.

Both men, of course, will attend the London meeting, and Mr. Nakasone will visit to India and Pakistan next week, when three national holidays in quick succession virtually bring official life in Japan to a halt.

But otherwise, the premier plans to devote himself to mending domestic fences and concentrate on parliamentary passage of key legislation to enable him to carry out election pledges on administrative and fiscal reform.

Lack of progress in Diet (parliament) deliberations on the various bills - mainly due to opposition obstructionism encouraged by the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) near defeat in last December's general election - has resulted in the party's decision to extend the Diet session for possibly two months beyond its scheduled May 25th closure.

To many observers, the late cancellation of planned visits to countries who are important friends of Japan is a sign of Mr. Nakasone's growing concern about his domestic political standing.

This November his job is at stake as he seeks reelection as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. To stop vote-buying and promote ''clean politics,'' the party has introduced a two-tier election system in which candidates first test their strength in a primary of all party members before survivors seek a final vote by Dietmen alone.

Mr. Nakasone won election two years ago with the powerful backing of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. That may not be such a prized commodity this time, in view of Mr. Tanaka's conviction in the Lockheed bribery case last October.

No LDP president has been able to secure a second term in the past 12 years. To break that pattern, Mr. Nakasone has to suppress the normal LDP pattern of factional strife and win new supporters.

And for that he needs some solid successes on the home front. In his 17 months in office, Nakasone has demonstrated something of a split political personality - undoubted success in the international arena, but little impression made on the domestic scene.

Internationally, he has taken initiatives to further strengthen Japan's relations with other Western democracies and third-world countries.

He has made impressive progress in establishing a strong personal relationship with President Reagan and with the leaders of China and the nations of Southeast Asia, who have displayed lingering distrust of Japan. Overall, he has projected an international image as an articulate statesman.

This has tended to obscure overseas the fact that Mr. Nakasone has found much less room for manuever and dramatic achievements amid the many domestic political and social constraints that bedeviled the administrations of his LDP predecessors in recent years. A key test is seen as the bending of the Diet to his political will.

He needs to obtain early passage of legislation to which his political reputation is firmly committed. These include the establishment of an ad hoc panel on educational reform, revision of the health insurance system on which hinges the government's chances of meeting its budget commitments, and reconstruction of two government corporations: the domestic telecommunications authority and the tobacco monopoly.

According to LDP sources, Mr. Nakasone regards the passage of these bills as indispensable in beating back his factional rivals - who will inevitably campaign on domestic rather than foreign issues - and gaining re-election.

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