Japan displays its diplomatic reach. Three leaders' foreign forays send signals to Moscow

The world reach of Japan's foreign policy is shown by three visits taking place simultaneously. Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone is touring Finland and Eastern Europe. Foreign Minister Tadashi Kuranari is island-hopping in Oceania. And Noboru Takeshita, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is seeing Chinese leaders in Peking.

The Nakasone and Kuranari visits relate directly to Japanese concerns over the Soviet Union's evolving foreign policy under Mikhail Gorbachev. The Takeshita visit is an indirect reminder to Moscow that Japan's ties with Peking remain close.

As an ensemble, the visits show a Japan trying to carve out for itself a more active, high-profile role within the world community, a role going beyond trade disputes with Washington or with the European Community.

Mr. Nakasone, who is in the fifth year of his premiership, has worked hard to make Japan's presence felt in the strategic geopolitical arena, not merely in the economic one. He began by identifying Japan's defense interests more closely than any of his predecessors with those of the United States, as well as with the Western alliance as a whole.

It was on this basis that Nakasone forged his celebrated Ron-Yasu relationship with President Reagan. He does not have as close a link with West European leaders. But here, too, through the annual economic summits, which have increasingly tended to be political as well, he has stressed the commonality of Japan's views with those of Britain, France, or West Germany on issues such as disarmament or what to do about Soviet deployment of SS-20 intermediate-range mobile nuclear missiles.

The direct reason for Nakasone's visit to Finland, East Germany, Poland, and Yugoslavia this week was Mr. Gorbachev's decision not to visit Japan this month, as the Tokyo government had been urging the Soviet leader to do. That left a hole in Nakasone's political calendar.

By becoming the first Japanese premier to make a foray into Moscow's own backyard, Nakasone hopes to gain additional insights on how Soviet diplomacy is likely to develop under Gorbachev, and perhaps to show Moscow that Japan is not without influence among Moscow's closest neighbors and allies.

Nakasone began his tour in Finland Sunday and will conclude it in Poland Friday, after visits to East Berlin and Belgrade.

Japanese trade with Eastern Europe is modest but growing. Poland and Yugoslavia in particular are eager for Japanese credits and investments that would help alleviate their heavy international debt burden.

Foreign Minister Kuranari's tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea asserts Japan's interest in a vast region where Soviet diplomatic and naval activity is increasing.

Australia is the major Western power in the region, while New Zealand, under Prime Minister David Lange, has rejected the US nuclear umbrella by refusing nuclear-armed American warships. Japan maintains friendly relations with both Commonwealth countries and supports their efforts to aid smaller Pacific countries.

Tokyo is also increasing its own aid to the region in an attempt to counter Soviet blandishments, such as a recent fishing agreement with Vanuatu. Currently about 1 percent of Japan's official development assistance (for which the government has budgeted $4.1 billion in the forthcoming fiscal year) goes to the island states of the Pacific.

Mr. Takeshita's visit to Peking is intended mainly to introduce Japan's top ruling party official, a potential successor to Nakasone, to the Chinese leadership. China and Japan probably exchange more visits at the political level than any other two countries. Every major Japanese politician, whatever his party may be, has toured China - the only exception being members of Japan's Communist Party, which has had a longstanding feud with Peking. Takeshita met with China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, yesterday and saw Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian and Vice-Premier Tian Jiyun earlier in his visit.

The Chinese, while stressing the closeness of ties with Japan, have also used the visit to express concern over Japan's rising defense budget and indications of reviving nationalism. As Foreign Minister Wu put it, Peking hopes Japan will show sensitivity to the feelings of its Asian neighbors.

Not a word was spoken explicitly about the Soviet military threat to Tokyo and Peking, yet visits such as Takeshita's are a constant reminder to Moscow of how different the Chinese-Japanese relationship is from either the Chinese-Soviet or the Soviet-Japanese relationships, and how much further Moscow must go than Gorbachev's Vladivostok speech last July 28 if it wants to bring about a real relaxation of tensions in East Asia.

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