Friction, friendship at next week's Japan-US summit

Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone begins the new year with a trip to Los Angeles to see his good friend President Reagan Jan. 2. No transpacific crisis requires the tete-a-tete, despite Japan's $32 billion trade surplus with the United States.

Mr. Nakasone told American correspondents at his official residence Dec. 26 that he wants to talk to Mr. Reagan about the Western stance toward Moscow, about efforts to sustain non-inflationary economic growth and to fight protectionism in the world community, and about bilateral problems - which include trade frictions.

Nakasone, like other Western leaders, is anxious to promote a US-Soviet summit - the prerequisite for which, he noted, is ''the solidarity and unity of the West.'' He has given Reagan maximum cooperation on this issue in the past, and promises it for the future.

At lunch in his vaguely Aztec-style home built by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, Nakasone served Russian caviar and salmon that could have been from Alaska. ''The world is one,'' he said with a twinkle when asked about the menu.

On the world economy, he said that while American economic policy had its critics, ''Reaganomics has been very successful . . . and we must look at the fact that the world economy has benefited from the American economic success.''

Japan has benefited also, he noted. Sensitive to the trade gap, he corrected his interpreter at one point to emphasize that ''we are squarely tackling the problem.'' Washington's principal demands toward Japan on this issue are first, to increase imports of American manufactured goods, and second, to open Japan's markets wider in every field. Nakasone noted recent tariff cuts, the sending of buying missions to the US, and the appointment of non-Japanese to a committee advising an interministerial group on trade problems.

But he opposed any suggestion that Japan pledge to buy a specific level of American goods as ''unrealistic and inappropriate.''

Nakasone said little about defense, where there is a last-minute effort being made by the defense agency to get something close to the 7 percent increase it is asking over last year's budget. (The final budget will be put together by the year's end.)

The annual increase in Japan's defense budget, Nakasone said, is higher than that of NATO countries, at least in terms of percentage. (NATO countries in Europe are having a difficult time meeting their target of 3 percent real growth per year, whereas Japan's defense budget will grow by 3.6 percent even if the defense agency gets only the minimum of what it wants.)

In any case, Japan's defense effort is for Japan's own sake, and Japan is also steadily carrying out its commitments under the Suzuki-Reagan communique of 1982, Mr. Nakasone said. (In this communique, then Prime MInister Zenko Suzuki pledged Japan would step up its defense efforts to a point at which it could defend its sea lanes out to a distance of 1,000 nautical miles from its shores.)

Nakasone was generally cautious and circumspect in his reply to correspondents' questions. The only time he really let himself go was when he launched into an explanation of the efforts his government is making to hold the line on expenditures. Japan has had extremely tight budgets, demanding real sacrifices from the people for the past four years, he said. But fiscal discipline was absolutely necessary in order to reduce the burden of deficit financing.

Did he have any words of advice for President Reagan on this score? ''I don't want to interfere in (American) domestic affairs,'' he said.

Monitor contributor Nobuko Hashimoto also reports from Tokyo:Nobuko Hashimoto

The summit meeting is likely to be at most a goodwill visit rather than one that will bring any concrete results. ''It's what you call a New Year's greeting,'' says one Japanese political commentator on US affairs.

Despite initial fears in Japan that the US will come down hard on the Japanese to resolve the bilateral trade problems, Tokyo now appears hopeful that the close friendship between Reagan and Nakasone (popularly coined here as a ''Ron-Yasu'' relationship) will help soften the mood between the two countries.

Japanese Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe believes Washington will not be making ''unrealistic demands'' for Japan to set a quota to increase imports of manufactured goods from the US.

Earlier this month, Japan reached an agreement with the US to restrict steel exports to the US to 5.8 percent of the American market. While this was a little higher than the 5.1 percent first demanded by the US, it was lower than the 6.3 percent share requested by Japan. The Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry minister Keijiro Murata was quoted as saying that he was prepared to make a ''compromise'' agreement for the sake of good US-Japan relations, and to smooth the way for the Nakasone-Reagan meeting.

Still a number of issues remain to be worked out between the two countries.

The US has been continuously urging Japan to give it better access into Japan's markets, particularly the telecommunications market following the passing of the bills to privatize the semigovernment Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) next April. Under the new plan, the telecommunications business will be split into two major categories: computer data communications service and telephone service (including satellites and optical fibers). So far the new plan allows foreign participation only in the computer data category.

Another issue that's bound to come up again is the imposing of ''voluntary'' quotas on Japanese auto exports, especially since Japanese auto manufacturers recently told the government that they were reluctant to continue their ''self-restraint'' after the term of the current quotas ends next March.

The efforts to liberalize the Japanese capital markets have still left a lot of dissatisfaction among the Americans. On Tuesday, Merrill Lynch Capital Markets lost out to a Japanese securities company in its effort to hold the first seat on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The loss was seen by some foreign businessmen here as a setback to foreign penetration of the capital markets in Japan.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.