THEN Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan met recently with President Clinton, the two leaders put aside diplomatic niceties and concentrated on one issue: trade. The candor of the White House talks illustrate how economics, not security, holds center stage in the relationship.
Some American complaints about Japan are justified. Japan's economy is more closed to imports than ours. In construction, transportation, agriculture, services, paper, glass, and retailing sectors, United States firms are globally competitive but have a small market share in Japan, due to regulations and business practices that exclude our exports. American firms attempting to crack the Japanese market by investing there face several barriers. There are political problems, too. Japan has been slow to sho ulder an international role equal to its economic clout. Japan's ability to operate in the global arena has been weakened by political scandals and strife. But Japan has reasonable complaints about the US.
The chief cause of the US trade deficit with Japan is our tendency to consume more than we save. Japanese note the US has import barriers on textiles, autos, and steel. They are also bothered that the US sometimes expects Tokyo to shoulder international responsibilities without being consulted in advance.
Some argue the end of the Soviet threat means that Washington no longer needs Tokyo's security cooperation and that we should use hardball tactics to end Japan's trade surplus with the US. I reject this view. Both sides still have much to gain from a reinvigorated relationship. The economic benefits are substantial. Japan, our second largest export market, spent $48 billion on US goods last year. Japanese firms provide American consumers with high-quality, competitively priced consumer goods. They invest ed $318 billion in factories and real estate in the US from 1982 to 1990, supporting tens of thousands of jobs.
US-Japan cooperation fosters peace and stability in trouble spots. Both want to stop North Korea from getting nuclear weapons and to resolve international disputes in Indochina and the South China Sea. Japan has hosted US forces for 40 years. US and Japanese forces patrol the sea lanes, giving confidence to the trading nations of Asia and protecting US economic interests.
Japan is taking the lead in the reconstruction of Cambodia and has sent peacekeeping troops to assist the United Nations operation. Japan could also lead in fashioning multilateral responses to environmental degradation, disease, population, and disaster relief. In recognition of Japan's growing global role, the US should support a permanent seat for Japan on the UN Security Council.
We also should acknowledge the consequences if our ties deteriorate. If the US starts a trade war with Japan and washes its hands of security problems in Asia, Japan would probably rearm, producing a dangerous arms buildup throughout Asia.
The key question is how to manage the economic tensions that threaten to undermine this beneficial relationship. The Japanese government should do more to stimulate its economy, which will increase Japan's imports. Mr. Miyazawa has made a good start in this direction. To create a more level playing field, Japan must also open its market to products and become more open to foreign investment.
The US must increase savings, decrease consumption - and reduce the deficit. We also need to invest in human resources. Together, the US and Japan account for 40 percent of the world's GNP. It is in our mutual interest to coordinate macroeconomic policies. Japan should become an engine of growth for the developing world, as the US has been for decades.
The US-Japan relationship has been a cornerstone of stability in Asia. We have much to gain from our mutual political, economic, and cultural ties. Our governments should build a partnership of global leadership and shared responsibility.