Nakasone: continuity in Pacific relations

In winning election to a second two-year term as head of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Yasuhiro Nakasone is assured of a second two-year term as that nation's prime minister.

The succession of the pro-Western, defense-oriented Mr. Nakasone must be considered remarkable - suggesting added continuity and stability for Japan's foreign and domestic policies. No Japanese prime minister has served more than a single two-year term since the early 1970s.

Indeed, Mr. Nakasone has carried the continuity factor a notch further by reappointing his current finance and foreign ministers, Noboru Takeshita and Shintaro Abe. Traditionally, cabinet ministers shift positions every year or so , in part to maintain the balance of power among the five political groupings that dominate the Liberal Democratic Party.

In continuing his post for another two-year term - the action is expected to be made official by the Diet later this month - Mr. Nakasone will provide added continuity for Japanese politics at a time when many traditional attitudes are undergoing serious rethinking by the Japanese public.

That is not to say that modern Japan has been a nation devoid of continuity. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats (who, despite their party's name, are conservatives) have held a tight grip on the electorate since the 1950s.

Nor can Japan be considered less than a traditionalist, conservative society, despite the profound economic and industrial modernization that has taken place during the past two decades. But what is different is that increasing numbers of Japanese are questioning the lack of government or private business investment in social programs and in development of the nation's basic infrastructure of roads, sewers, parks. Housing remains expensive and in many cases inadequate. Many homes are not yet connected to sewer facilities. Cities are crowded. For all its current well-being, Japan has based its prosperity on subsidizing exports abroad - rather than using its wealth to build a more equitable society at home. Some younger Japanese, for example, feel economically burdened by having to care for elderly relatives in a nation where that function has been left more to families than to governments, as is the case in social-welfare-oriented Western societies.

Mr. Nakasone, for his part, is expected to maintain the nation's close links with the United States - with whom Japan conducts its largest overall trade - while slightly increasing defense spending. Outlays for social programs, meanwhile, are expected to be constricted.

The US-Japan trade relationship is clearly crucial to both nations although, some analysts are noting, perhaps more important in the long haul to Japan than to the United States. That is because other Asian nations are intensifying their trade and investment relationship with the US. If Japan were somehow to pull back from the US trade link, the vacuum would most likely quickly be filled by other Asian nations, many of whom can now manufacture goods at lower prices than Japan.

What makes the US-Japan link so important and logical, however, is the way the two nations tend to complement each other. The US has a large trade imbalance with Japan that will hit around $30 billion this year. On the other hand, Japan, with its high personal and corporate savings rate, is expected to invest some $25 billion in the US this year, helping to finance America's massive budget deficits.

The two nations face many challenges, particularly regarding Japan's tendency to erect trade barriers to US exports and its keeping the value of the yen low to boost exports. But more important than such problems, the people of the two nations share many similar qualities: inventiveness, a sense of national purpose , and ambition. Countless Americans are eager to drive Japanese cars - for their quality as much as fuel efficiency. And many Japanese, obviously, are eager to invest their hard-earned financial resources in US industries. The US-Japan linkage for all its challenges, is a mutually beneficial linkage.

Mr. Nakasone's continuation in office for another two years should help secure those Pacific ties.

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