Nakasone's US visit heightens his hawkish image in Japan

A passing mark on trade issues but low marks on defense - this was the general home reaction to Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone's talks in Washington this week.

On his return to Tokyo, the prime minister can expect to face an agitated Diet (parliament) demanding clarifications of his apparent commitments to the United States concerning a wider Japanese defense role.

Concerns are being expressed that when Nakasone, a staunch supporter of expanded military spending, met a fellow hawk (President Reagan) his promises went far beyond the bounds of exisiting national policy.

Middle-of-the-road and left-wing opposition parties claim Nakasone has committed Japan to ''further involvement in US strategy and a greater military role in the Far East.''

The Buddhist-backed Clean Government Party (Komeito), for example, said the Nakasone-Reagan talks appeared to have far more serious military implications than those of the previous Japan-US summit in 1981, when former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki aroused considerable furor at home over the first-ever use of the word ''alliance'' to refer to Tokyo-Washington relations.

Not only has Nakasone reaffirmed that alliance, he has committed Japan to a ''dangerous arms expansion,'' the opposition parties claimed.

The Washington trip seems to have intensified suspicion of Nakasone and heightened his hawkish image as a man who wants to see Japan become a military power again, despite his frequent qualifications and protestations to the contrary. Perhaps most damaging is his interview with the Washington Post, which made Foreign Ministry officials extremely fidgety and provoked them to issue virtual denials of his key remarks.

They were extremely concerned at bold statements that Japan should become an ''unsinkable aircraft carrier'' capable of stopping the penetration south of Soviet long-range strategic Backfire bombers as well as blocking off the four straits through Japanese islands to passage by the Soviet Navy.

A high-ranking Japanese official said attempts to block the straits would be made only if Japan was directly attacked. And under national policy Japan could not acquire the military strength to put up a bulwark of defense against Soviet Backfire bombers.

The ministry apparently reacted quickly because the prime minister's remarks were taken in Tokyo as meaning all-out Japanese military cooperation with the United States.

On trade issues, the prime minister got high marks from farmers for his rejection of strong American requests for liberalized imports of beef and oranges, the current symbols of Japan-US trade friction.

But the business community in general felt this had only postponed the inevitable, and that the issue will be pursued with a vengeance when US trade negotiator William Brock comes to Tokyo next month.

In more general terms, some commentators expressed concern about the ''usual perception gap'' between the two countries after summit meetings. They noted that Japanese briefings on the Washington talks virtually ignored the defense and trade issues, while these were strongly played up by the US side.

But politicians and commentators sympathetic to Nakasone thought he had done rather well, and made his mark in Washington.

He is generally considered to have promoted a more positive image there than any of his predecessors.

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