Nakasone's US visit: a last hurrah abroad
Japanese Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone is winding his way toward the end of a long, almost five year, term in office. But he is serving notice that he intends to wield the powers of his office until the last moment.
The Japanese leader is closing out his term with his strongest suit - his handling of foreign affairs.
Mr. Nakasone arrives in New York tomorrow for a final visit to the United States before he steps down at the end of October. He will address the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, the same day as President Reagan, whom he will meet privately.
The prime minister's UN address is intended to convey his well-cultivated image as an unusually statesmanlike Japanese politician. According to reports in the Japanese news media, he will focus on global disarmament, drawing on the favorable atmosphere created by the expectation of a US-Soviet nuclear arms agreement.
While the UN brings Nakasone to New York, the attention here is focused on his meeting with Mr. Reagan. It will be the last time ``Ron'' and ``Yasu,'' as they address each other, will meet as heads of their governments. The two men have become friends during their long, virtually coincident tenures.
Nakasone would like to end his premiership on a positive note, a difficult task given the current troubled state of US-Japan relations. The US would like to use Nakasone's last days to make progress on some difficult issues. Nakasone has pushed his government's bureaucracy to produce concrete initiatives on two pressing issues between the US and Japan - a Japanese contribution to Western security efforts in the Gulf and the US demand for foreign company participation in construction of a new international airport in Osaka.
In principle, the government has decided to seek some means to provide financial backing for the efforts to secure shipping in the Gulf.
``Given the situation in the Persian Gulf and Western efforts,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Yoshifumi Matsuda said yesterday, ``we believe we should do something in order to cooperate more with other allies' efforts. We cannot take any military action whatsoever, so the logical consequence is that at the moment [all] we can do is assist financially.''
Still, the Foreign Ministry has been unable to find a vehicle through which Japan can provide such funds without legal or political problems. Officials are trying to find an indirect route because directly providing funds for a military operation in the Gulf could violate Japan's antiwar Constitution.
The Ministry has not yet found ``concrete policy suggestions sufficient enough to present from our side,'' Mr. Matsuda said, leaving Nakasone to carry only generalities to New York.
On the airport issue, one of the more heated of the economic disputes between the two countries, Nakasone may be similarly frustrated. He ordered his top deputies, including the minister of transportation, to come up with ways to give more opportunities to US construction firms to get a piece of the Kansai International Airport project. The minister reportedly replied that, ``We have nothing more to offer because any further concessions on our part would threaten the balance of our relationship with the European Community.''
Still, Nakasone handles such visits with great skill and this trip will not harm his image as a leader with stature abroad. Of late, Nakasone has been lecturing his would-be successors and colleagues in the ruling conservative party on the need for the next prime minister to be able to project Japan's new wider role in world affairs.