Japan is responding cautiously to the Soviet Union's latest peace offensive. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's recent proposals on nuclear disarmament and an Asian security system are seen by some analysts here as part of a campaign to isolate the United States from its allies.
The Soviet proposal for nuclear arms cuts strikes a responsive chord among the Japanese, who remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But they distrust the Soviets deeply. The Soviets occupy four islands the Japanese regard as their own and the Soviets have engaged in a military buildup around Japan's northern rim.
Tokyo is also suspicious of Mr. Gorbachev's proposal in India last May to set up an Asian security conference. This conference would be modeled on the European security conference in which the US participated and which led to the Helsinki accords of 1975.
Last month, Gorbachev told a Japanese visitor that the conference should lead eventually to the dissolution of military pacts and the removal of foreign bases from Japan. That would mean having to give up its security treaty with the US. Japan also dislikes the premise of the Asian security conference that post-World War II boundaries are final. Tokyo says it will not sign a peace treaty with Moscow until it gets the northern islands back.
Still, the Japanese want a dialogue with the Gorbachev regime. They welcome the quickening tempo of high-level visits, though they will keep pressing their demands for the northern islands. Late this year or early next, Eduard Shevardnadze will be the first Soviet foreign minister to visit Japan in 10 years.
Moscow is also trying to entice Japan with promises of economic gains to be made by investing in Soviet projects in Siberia. Japanese interest in Siberia has waxed and waned. Work goes forward on some projects involving lumber and natural gas. But Moscow's efforts to woo Japanese industrialists and financiers have not borne much fruit thus far.
Soviet-Japanese trade has slid from $5.6 billion in 1982 to about $2 billion so far this year. Japan's once-flourishing northern fisheries are in steep decline; the Soviets have placed increasingly severe restrictions on Japanese catches off the Kurile islands and Kamchatka.