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Japanese Visit Highlights Deep Disagreements

Japan's hopes for new alliance goals fade as Bush turns emphasis to 'jobs, jobs, jobs'

ON the eve of President Bush's arrival in Tokyo, the depth of differences between Japan and the United States can be measured by how much they disagree over the primary reason for this summit between the world's two economic superpowers.

For Mr. Bush, this last leg of a four-nation swing through Asia has evolved into a jobs-seeking expedition just before the New Hampshire presidential primary. The closer he has gotten to Japan, the more strongly Bush has spoken out against Japanese economic behavior, reversing a past conciliatory stance.

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"I want to see us get more jobs created in the United States, eventually, by concessions made or by positions taken in Japan," he said during his first stop, Australia. A tougher-sounding Bush also partly blamed the lackluster US economy on Japan's "extraordinarily big" trade imbalance.

Officials in Japan, however, had hopes that the Jan. 7-10 summit would focus almost exclusively on a "Tokyo declaration" that would lay out the framework of a new political alliance for the next half century, pegged to last month's 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the cold war's end.

The declaration, patterned to bond the two nations as the Atlantic Charter once tied Britain and the US, is an attempt to commit the two nations to jointly solve world problems in environment, security, and other areas in what is called a "global partnership" aimed at transcending economic frictions.

Japan wants to help Bush score political points at home but without rupturing the US-Japan alliance. They are hoping he will reaffirm that the alliance is central to the US role in Asia, despite a much-reduced military threat from the former Soviet Union.

"The purpose of this visit, we admit, has changed," said a Japanese Foreign Ministry official, adding, "In the post-cold-war era, we increasingly have these perception problems." He disputed a charge by US Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher that Japanese trade policies were partly responsible for the US recession.

Bush, who delayed the trip after hitting domestic political turbulence in November, has forced Japan to come up with an action plan coming out of the summit, in addition to a political declaration. The plan would be aimed at a number of economic problems, especially the hard-hit US automobile industry.

Pre-summit wrangling over the details of the action plan has continued almost to the last minute as Japanese government and business leaders try to come up with the minimum concessions in such areas as rice imports, auto-parts purchases, and funding for the superconducting supercollider project in Texas.

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Both the Tokyo Declaration and the action plan will be issued Thursday, after three days in which Bush will meet Japanese leaders and visit a Kodak research facility, as well as the second Toys Us store in Japan.

"I would like to do all we can [for the US] on the basis of the understanding of the [Japanese] people and the cooperation of the business circles," Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was quoted as saying by Kyodo Press in a Jan. 4 press conference.

Chosen as Japan's new leader in October, partly for his reputed diplomatic skills with Americans, Mr. Miyazawa has spent the last few weeks trying to persuade various groups in Japan to accept changes needed to make the Bush visit a success in the US. He has emphasized the impact on American opinion of layoffs announced last month by General Motors.

"For the American people, GM is the Stars and Stripes and a household word," he said. "It would be a loss to the whole world if the United States ... having problems, is unable to discharge its responsibilities as a world leader.

"It was always the United States that gave funds, technology, and markets during the postwar era of Japan's economic recovery," he said.

Bush has billed the goal of his Japan trip as an attempt to "crack open foreign markets to create domestic jobs." But even more than seeking access for American goods and services, the US has sought in the past three years to alter the policies and practices of Japan through talks known as the Structural Impediments Initiative.

"Japan does not attempt to abide by the rules of fairness, freedom, and transparency which make up the basis of capitalism," the Asahi newspaper stated in an editorial entitled "Corporate Creatures Forever?," published three days before Bush's visit.

"There is a need to restore [Japan's] corporate society to a normal state by adjusting as soon as possible the distortions that arose through the full-speed economic thrust," the editorial stated.

Bush's visit to a Toys Us store, for instance, will highlight more than the simple fact that one American company can create jobs in the US by boosting its exports to Japan.

The opening of such large discount stores, whether Japanese or foreign, is almost totally new to Japan itself and represents a new attempt to emphasis the interests of consumers over business. Under US pressure, Japan revised its Large-Scale Retail Store Law, effective this month, to ease the way for large stores to move into neighborhoods despite the objections of mom-and-pop stores.

Two weeks before Bush's visit, the Bank of Japan lowered its discount rate from 5 percent to 4.5 percent in a move widely seen as meeting a US request for Japan to stimulate domestic demand and reduce its reliance on exports for economic growth. The summit might also lead to a decision to strengthen the value of the yen in the hope that it might encourage American exports.

Japanese officials worry that Bush's change of tone to talking about "fair" trade more than "free" trade might reinforce a growing opinion in the US that Japan operates on economic principles alien to the West.

"The view [in the US] that the Japanese economic structure is so unique that it cannot be dealt with using the principle of free trade alone is no longer a minority opinion...," reports one Asahi commentator, Kenji Takeuchi.

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