IN his debut as globe-trotting statesman, President Clinton has practiced an unusual brand of "jobs diplomacy" during this week's summit of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations in Tokyo.
Mr. Clinton's chief target has been Japan, which, as the world's second-largest economy, holds the greatest potential for buying more American exports that would create more American jobs.
Leaders of Japan's ruling party, openly beholden to big industry, have been under pressure during the July 7-9 summit to compromise with Mr. Clinton in his demand that Japan set specific targets to import more goods and to reduce its record-high trade surplus.
Clinton reached over the heads of Japan's leaders at the G-7 summit, at some risk, to appeal straight to the Japanese people and opposition politicians, who may win an important national election on July 18.
He met with the opposition leaders on Tuesday, and delivered a well-publicized speech at Waseda University in Tokyo just before the start of the G-7 summit.
"We are not in any way trying to influence the outcome of the election," Clinton said. "But I owe it to the people of Japan ... to make the US case directly."
[In a related trade matter, hours before the opening of the summit yesterday, Japan and the US, along with Canada and the European Community, reached a compromise on tariff reductions on manufactured goods, a key part in the Uruguay Round of world talks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
[This new agreement could lead to a conclusion of the round by year's end if compromises can be found in areas such as agriculture and service industries.]
Clinton's case to Japan echoes the motto used in the 1992 presidential campaign - "It's the economy, stupid." In his speech, he urged a repair of the strained economic ties between Japan and the United States; he pleaded with the Japanese people to join the US in a "common cause" to break down trade barriers in Japan that keep out foreign goods and services and that reduce America's ability to create export jobs. Clinton placed less emphasis than past US presidents on the traditional US-Japan security ti es.
"The persistent trade imbalance ... has hurt the Japanese people, deprived you of the full benefits" of a strong economy, he said. "You have a common cause with the people of America - a common cause against outdated practices that undermine our relationship and diminish the quality of your lives."
"Our economic relationship is not in balance," Clinton said. "This problem has fueled resentment in our country - both from workers and from businesses."
"The ideas I propose are beneficial to both of us because they will increase the number and lower the costs of the products you are able to buy, the services you are able to access," he said.
US Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen was more specific, saying he was troubled "when I look at something like the price of pair of Levis in this country, being 74 percent higher than in the United States, when I look at a pound of sirloin beef off the shelf that sells for $4.11 a pound in Washington that sells for $25.47 a pound here."
Clinton was rebuffed by Japan in his "results-oriented" trade demands just before the summit. But talks between US and Japanese negotiators resumed yesterday after Japan reportedly offered a compromise.
JAPANESE media reported that Japan might agree to some vague trade targets, as long as the US promises not to retaliate if those targets are not met. The setting of a trade targets "becomes objectionable when it becomes unreasonable," says Minoru Makihara, president of Mitsubishi Corp.
US officials suggest they may wait until the results of the July 18 election. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), after 38 years in power, is expected to lose its majority in the lower house of parliament. Its leaders were eager to obtain a deal with Clinton to show voters that they can manage ties with the US.
Two new opposition parties, which may hold the key to a new coalition government, are running a pro-consumer campaign. At a reception Tuesday, Clinton met with the parties' leaders, Tsutomu Hata of the Japan Renewal Party and Morihiro Hosokawa of the Japan New Party.