The Venice summit is likely to be Yasuhiro Nakasone's last hurrah as premier of Japan. The Japanese leader is due to step down from office at the end of October. He seeks to leave with his power and prestige intact, in the hopes of remaining an influential statesman and kingmaker.
Mr. Nakasone would like to use Venice to show his considerable skills as a charismatic figure who has helped win Japan respect on the world stage. To be successful, he must deflect criticism of Japan's economic behavior, while emphasizing its strategic partnership with the West.
The path to Venice has been well prepared. Recently Japan announced a $43 billion program of ``emergency economic measures'' to pump up Japan's sagging economic growth. The package was aimed, in part, at meeting foreign, mainly American, demands that Japan stimulate domestic demand and cut its $100 billion trade surplus. Tokyo also announced a plan to recycle some $20 billion to indebted third-world nations.
The Japanese will come to Italy expecting some recognition for their efforts. They will ask for strong reaffirmation of the commitment of the Group of Seven to stabilizing currency exchange rates.
The recent halt in the yen's rise against the dollar is welcome in Japan, where the yen's revaluation has caused economic distress and political problems. The resignation of US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, an advocate of currency stability, only adds to Japan's anxieties.
The prime minister has found that political, not financial, questions provide a more opportune forum for Japan to display equal power in the West.
In the past, Japan has been criticized for being an ``economic animal,'' avoiding taking a stance on tough political problems. But, from the beginning, Nakasone has turned this perception around.
He burst onto the scene at the Williamsburg summit in 1983 where, for the first time, Japan joined Western powers in a declaration on security and arms control issues. That declaration, focusing on the complex issue of intermediate-nuclear forces (INF), enabled Nakasone to demonstrate solidarity and willingness to act with his allies.
The INF issue again offers a convenient means to make continued support for the allies clear. Japan is set to endorse the US position in arms talks with the Soviets on removing the missiles, although it leaves 100 nuclear warheads on Soviet INF missiles in Asia. Nakasone will only insist, as before, that the agreement clearly sets the ultimate goal of ``global zero.''
The only potentially difficult political question for Japan is the US desire to seek allied support for an expanded military effort to protect oil shipping in the Persian Gulf. In a press conference last week, Nakasone acknowledged that ``Japan is one of the major beneficiaries'' of Gulf safety. But, he added, ``before anything else'' Japan ``must engage in diplomatic efforts, peaceful and non-military efforts.'' Japan's reluctance to endorse a military solution to the Gulf security problem is shared by most Western European nations. Nakasone will likely follow whatever consensus Europe forges with President Reagan on this question.