The Japanese government charged two Tokyo-based trading companies Tuesday with illegal exports of high-tech equipment to the People's Republic of China. The timing of the move is widely seen as part of the Japanese government's efforts to tame anti-Japanese sentiment in the US Congress.
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) said information provided by the United States government last August led to the investigation.
Congressional leaders have accused Japan of taking a lax attitude toward controls on high-technology flows to communist countries.
Despite Japanese government efforts to stem that flow, Congress decided last week to apply sanctions to Toshiba Corporation and its subsidiary, Toshiba Machine Corporation, for the illegal sale of propeller milling machines to the Soviet Union. Both the Japanese government and the Reagan administration oppose the Congressional action, which is contained in an amendment to the proposed trade bill.
The two companies, Kyokuto Shokai Company and Shinsei Trading Company, are accused of exporting sampling equipment to China between June 1985 to June 1986. According to MITI, the equipment is used to measure the intensity of earthquakes and analyze the quake's center of vibration; and to meter, record, and analyze the vibration caused by lightning.
Ichiro Takahara, deputy director of international trade administration bureau of MITI, said the two companies evaded the required licensing process and transported the equipment into China as hand luggage.
Unlike the Toshiba Machine case, which Pentagon officials say helped the Soviet Union to build quieter submarines, Japanese military analysts question the significance of the equipment which has been exported to China.
``I would not deny military applications of that equipment,'' said Kazuhisa Ogawa, a military analyst. ``But they can be found in any universities or research laboratories in Japan or the US.''
Mr. Ogawa said the illegally exported equipment can be converted for military use to analyze nuclear explosions, to test radars, and to detect submarines.