Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita chose the sumptuous, historic setting of London's Mansion House yesterday to launch what he calls Japan's ``international cooperation initiative.'' The initiative comprises three pillars: cooperation to achieve peace, the strengthening of international cultural exchange, and the expansion of economic aid.
``Peace'' is Japan's euphemism for a wide range of concepts from defense against the Soviet Union to resolving regional conflicts. Conscious perhaps that in London he is meeting Britain's ``Iron Lady,'' Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Takeshita reiterated his predecessor Yasuhiro Nakasone's dictum that ``Japan is a member of the West'' and that ``the security of the West is indivisible.''
In Washington and other Western capitals, Japan is often perceived as a country that mouths peace, spends little on defense, and devotes all its energies to its own selfish economic growth. Intent on changing this image, Takeshita has made the building of a ``Japan contributing to the world'' one of the major planks of his six-month-old administration. Here in London he noted that while Japan's Constitution renouncing the right to go to war does not permit military cooperation with other states, this did not mean ``Japan should stand by idly with regard to international peace.''
The first test of Takeshita's peace initiative will probably come in Afghanistan after the promised withdrawal of Soviet troops. Japanese officials noted that Tokyo is prepared not merely to extend financial cooperation but also to send personnel as required and to take part ``positively in diplomatic efforts.'' These are promises intended to deflect Western criticism that Japan is prepared to spend money but not to take real risks in the cause of peace.
Closely associated with Takeshita's first pillar of cooperation for world peace is his third pillar, expanding economic aid. In his speech yesterday, Takeshita said that in 1988 Japan has become the world's largest dispenser of economic aid, with an official development aid (ODA) budget of $10 billion. (The United States aid budget this year is $9.06 billion.) He also noted that Japan is in process of recycling $30 billion to the developing nations over a three-year period and implementing $500 million in grant aid to Africa over the same period.
Takeshita did not mention that as a percentage of gross national product, Japan's aid is still below the Western average of 0.36 percent (Japan's last year came to 0.29 percent of GNP). Nor did he say that Japan's ``grant element'' - aid that does not need to be repaid - is still in the 70 percent range whereas leading
Western nations provide almost all their ODA as grants.
He did say that Japan's aid would improve both in quality and in quantity in the coming years. Such aid, in the form of assistance to countries like Turkey, Egypt, or Pakistan, is already fulfilling a strategic as well as a purely economic purpose. Aid to the Pilippines, struggling against a communist insurgency, is also increasing in cooperation with the US.
Takeshita is expected to spell out his ideas on economic aid in greater detail when he attends the Toronto summit of the world's seven advanced industrialized democracies late in June. He is expected to flesh out his ``peace initiative'' at the UN at the beginning of June.
One of Takeshita's major purposes during his current visit to three European countries - Britain, West Germany, and Italy - is to strengthen the Japan-Europe side of the trilateral relationship between the US, Western Europe, and Japan. Ties between Europe and Japan, he said, are not as strong as those between either the US and Japan or the US and Europe. To remedy the situation, cultural interchanges are as important if not more important than other forms of relationships. Takeshita pledged to expand programs promoting more visits by Europeans to Japan, including scientists, engineers, and young people.
Takeshita said little about one of the Western nations' major complaints against Japan - the piling up of a huge trade surplus and the relatively closed nature of the Japanese market. He did note that Japan's economic growth is now fueled by domestic demand more than by exports and that he would make continued efforts to open Japan's markets further. He asked the Europeans to see that as they achieved economic integration in the European Community (scheduled to be completed in 1992), they would not fall into protectionism but ``maintain a free trade system ... for the sake of building an open and truly international world order.''