THE brief Newport Beach summit between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu last week produced soothing words about stopping the ``bashing'' on both sides of the Pacific. These words were needed, since the emotions between Tokyo and Washington have been rising of late, stoked by ongoing trade frictions and controversy over Japan's contribution to the Gulf war. Such fuming can tend to blur the critical importance of Japan to the US, and vice versa. The leaders were right to refocus attention on the need to work cooperatively.
President Bush gave the prime minister a political boost by affirming the US was satisfied, overall, with Japan's war contribution. The actual payment to Washington from Tokyo came up a little short of the $9 billion promised because of shifting exchange rates. But if Japan makes up the last few hundred million in aid to refugees in the Middle East, that ought to be fine by the US, given current pressures to address the region's humanitarian crisis.
The trade issues will be harder to lay to rest. Mr. Bush raised the touchiest of these: US rice exports. An opened Japanese market would not amount to much economically, except to a few US farmers. Japan already imports over $8 billion in US farm goods, 20 percent of total US agricultural exports.
With rice, it's the symbolism that counts. Sales to Japan would demonstrate that the Japanese had agreed to take down their most venerable trade barrier. They would also indicate that Japan was ready to join the US in breaking through the farm-subsidies logjam that brought critical international talks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to a halt last year.
Kaifu has hinted that Japan may be ready to give a little on rice, opening perhaps 10 percent of the market to US growers. Such hints have been heard before. This time, we hope, they'll be followed by action.
Other issues are queued up along with rice - Japanese government procurement policies that exclude foreign suppliers and barriers to US service companies, to name two. But many of the ``barriers'' to US penetration of Japanese markets have more to do with understanding the Japanese business environment than with legal restriction.
Recognition of the countries' interdependence - many American companies and employees now rely on Japanese goods, after all - should stop any emotional drift toward ``bashing'' and punitive trade practices.