Japanese High-Tech In the Gulf

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WHILE debate over the Gulf war has revealed sharp differences between the Japanese people and their leaders over their country's global role, it has also highlighted growing United States reliance on Japanese technology. ``This war reveals a dependency that will make the US go easier on Japan in future trade disputes,'' says Yoshi Tsurumi, international business professor at the City University of New York.

An American electronic industry official in Tokyo adds, ``Our entire trade relationship will be affected by this war.''

For the US, the superiority of its high-tech weapons in Operation Desert Storm has served to emphasize an increasing dependency on Japan's electronics industry, including semiconductor casings, flat video screens, and imaging devices.

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No one knows how extensively Japanese products are used in US weapons, but a critical dependency on Japan was first acknowledged officially in a 1987 study by the US Defense Department that found seven key military components made only in Japan.

Japan has run into a peculiar dilemma in its debate over the Gulf war: Japanese technology is being used to attack Iraq while the government is being forced to insist that its money cannot.

This awkward distinction, say Tokyo observers, reflects a basic division within Japan itself.

On one side, conservative business and government leaders have favored exports of technologies for use in American weapons since 1983.

But when it actually comes to paying the US to use those weapons in the Gulf, the Japanese public and opposition political parties have shown a strong pacifism that threatens legislative approval of $9 billion sought by the government for the US-led coalition.

Nearly two-thirds of Japanese polled by Asahi Shimbun, a leading newspaper, insist their country's aid go for nonmilitary purposes. To win approval for financing the $9 billion, the government promises the money will be used only for military logistics, not munitions. The US announced Monday that it had agreed to this limitation.

For Japan, the war's reminder of dependency on the US has been more ominous. Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, speaking on national television during parliamentary debate, warned that the US might not come to Japan's defense in a future crisis unless Japan comes forth with the pledged $9 billion.

Such talk in Japan brings out strong emotions, as was seen on television last week when antiwar hecklers threw sports shoes at Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu as he spoke in parliament.

As a policy that reflects its postwar ``peace'' Constitution, Japan bans exports of weapons, even to the point of restricting exports of gas masks during the Gulf crisis.

Japan agreed in 1983 to allow exports of technology with ``dual use'' (civilian and military) to the US. The pact was a way to ensure US access to Japanese technology while also deflecting public criticism of Japanese companies that export the items. The US and Japan agreed last year to joint research on ducted engines for missiles, limiting magnetism on submarines, and missile guidance systems.

``Japan crossed a big Rubicon in '83,'' says Hiroo Kinoshita, a managing director of Sumitomo Corp. and former director-general of equipment in the Japan Defense Agency. ``In five years or so, the US may ask us to export entire weapons systems.''

To reduce its dependency on foreign components, the US must revive its consumer electronics industry, Mr. Kinoshita says, by such steps as promoting high-definition television.

In a speech to the American Electronics Association a year ago, President Bush promised help for the industry. ``So many of the world's advanced technologies, from robotics to the VCR, were first developed here. And yet, so many of these concepts were ultimately brought to the marketplace by our competitors,'' Mr. Bush said.

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