Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone struck a concerned but combative note on United States-Japan relations on the eve of his visit to Washington. With trade conflict dominating the headlines, Mr. Nakasone told foreign reporters yesterday that this trip to the US, his sixth as prime minister, ``is going to be the most important visit of all.''
Both Japanese and Americans, the premier revealed, have suggested ``that it might be better ... not to go.''
``However,'' Nakasone said, ``I firmly believe that [the] US-Japan relationship is vital ... because the situation is so difficult, it is all the more necessary and important, as the leader of the Japanese government, to pay this visit to the US.''
The prime minister outlined economic and trade issues on which he said he would present ``specific measures which can bring about specific results.'' He also defended Japan's record, asserting that ``signs of improvement are now being seen.''
Nakasone rejected US charges that Japan has failed to observe an agreement on trade in semiconductors reached last July. The Reagan administration imposed tariffs on Japanese electronic products earlier this month in retaliation for Japan's alleged refusal to observe the pact.
``We will be able to present clear evidence'' of Japanese compliance, he declared. ``Therefore I should like to make a request that those sanctions be lifted as soon as possible.''
Nakasone clearly had on his mind the impending vote of the US House of Representatives on the trade bill, scheduled to occur the day after his arrival. The bill would require the US President to retaliate against unfair trade practices and includes an amendment that would require the reduction of surpluses by specific amounts. Japan's 1986 trade surplus with the US was $58.6 billion.
``The point I am afraid of,'' he told reporters, ``is the protectionist tendency now prevailing in the US.... I do hope that the legislation coming out from such a movement are measures that the people of the world can accept to persuade them to uphold free trade fully.''
Nakasone's personal envoy, former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, returned from the US last week, urging the government to produce concrete actions for Nakasone to bear to Washington. Based on this report, Nakasone said, ``we are making all-out efforts, probably till the last minute.'' He declined to offer details of the package he will carry, perhaps so that he can gain the maximum benefit of their revelation in Washington.
Nakasone did mention several areas of Japanese action. The ruling party is formulating a supplementary budget proposal of about 5 trillion yen ($35 billion) to spur economic growth. He said he would make public proposals to increase Japanese aid to the developing nations, particularly in Africa.
He mentioned several trade issues on which he hoped to seek solutions, such as the participation of foreign construction firms in the building of the Kansai New International Airport in Osaka Bay and access to the Japanese market for US supercomputers.
Generally, Japanese efforts to open their markets are producing results, the premier said. He pointed to the trend in recent months of decreasing exports to the US, measured in volume terms, and increasing foreign imports. Imports from Western Europe and newly industrial countries such as Korea and Taiwan have increased by as much as 45 percent he said, while US performance ``still seems to be rather weak.''
The conclusion, he suggested, was that ``further efforts'' by the US ``are needed'' to ``enhance US competitiveness'' and reduce the budget deficit.
The other main issue on the agenda is arms control, particularly the US-Soviet movement to a deal on medium-range missiles, some of which are in Asia.
Nakasone's term in office concludes at the end of October. Economic problems have undermined his popularity and that of the ruling party. But he denied that this would affect the visit. Using a favorite baseball analogy, he described himself as ``a pitcher faced with a situation of the bases loaded and no outs.''
But, he said defiantly, ``in any game, the 7th inning on is the decisive moment.''