WASHINGTON — * President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama meet in Washington this week for talks that are expected to play down trade tensions and emphasize cooperation between the two economic giants, US officials and other experts say.
Coming at the start of a new year - which also marks the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II - the Jan. 11 summit is an opportunity to set a new tone for United States-Japan ties and, critics hope, perhaps soften the administration's approach to Tokyo.
``We're interested in highlighting 50 years of cooperation and a close working relationship between the two countries,'' one US official said.
``There are no breakpoints on this one [summit] that I can see,'' said William Clark, an expert on Japan who is a former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacfic Affairs.
``But in today's world, symbolism is everything. Getting together at the beginning of this year is important,'' he said.
The February 1994 summit when Clinton met then-Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa was not such a happy affair.
Failure to clinch trade deals not only prompted talk of more confrontation in trans-Pacific ties, but also rocked financial markets, sending the yen soaring against the dollar.
The US and Japan recently agreed to resume trade talks on autos and auto parts. ``We have a number of economic and trade-related issues we want to continue to discuss with the Japanese'' during Prime Minister Murayama's visit, including those two, a State Department official said.
But he said while trade and the economy, including Japanese deregulation plans, ``will remain for our part the most important part of the discussion, [recent progress means] there will not be an overwhelming emphasis on trade.''
James Przystup of the Heritage Foundation in Washington faults Clinton for taking a narrow and heavy-handed trade-oriented approach to US-Japan ties in the first half of his administration. He says the president now has a chance to relaunch the relationship on a broader basis, giving weight to shared strategic and security interests.
After 1-1/2 years in which ties have been marked by ``mutual suspicion and distrust,'' there has to be a recognition that ``this is a relationship that transcends trade,'' he said.