U.S. Isolationist Trend Spurs Summit: Japan Fears Withdrawal from Asia

Article excerpt

TOKYO - Pat Buchanan isn't exactly a household name in Japan, but the fiery commentator-turned-politician casts a long shadow over today's minisummit between President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Japanese leaders feared the growing isolationist mood in the United States long before Mr. Buchanan's primary victory in New Hampshire this week. That fear apparently prompted Mr. Hashimoto to decide to spend 18 hours on a plane to get one hour with the American president in Santa Monica, Calif.

"It's not just Buchanan. He represents a growing segment of American society," said Takashi Inoguchi, a professor at the United Nations University in Tokyo. "There's a fear in Japan that the United States will suddenly opt to isolate itself from Asia."

Japanese officials have tried to portray the informal get-together as an opportunity for the two leaders to build "personal rapport" before Mr. Clinton's April visit to Japan.

Both Japanese and U.S. officials concede the talks will not go deeply into any subject. "Just to go over the big points will make it a busy hour," one diplomat said.

But Mr. Buchanan's surge in voter popularity should at least give the two plenty to fret about.

Japanese officials yesterday withheld comment on the U.S. election but left little doubt they are hoping Mr. Buchanan will simply fade away.

Though U.S. policy toward Asia has played a limited role in the GOP slugfest, the Japanese have not forgotten Mr. Buchanan's campaign four years ago. He proposed pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea and Japan and stationing them along the Mexican border to protect America from illegal immigrants.

That kind of thinking terrifies Japan. Its pacifist constitution, written by the United States after World War II, has created a situation where the nation depends almost entirely on American forces for its defense.

"People have begun to doubt the validity of the U.S.-Japan security agreement in the post-Cold War world," a Japanese diplomat said.

In global diplomacy, that leaves Japan perpetually hovering in America's shadow.

Its campaign to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council appears to have stalled, leaving China as Asia's sole veto-wielding voice on the council.

"China is not a responsible voice of Asia. It is a skewed voice," the Japanese diplomat said.

The trade front has been relatively quiet in recent months, with China becoming more of a villain than Japan in U.S. eyes. As Japan's trade surplus shrinks, China's soars.

The United States is threatening to impose economic sanctions on Beijing for failing to honor an agreement to halt the pirating of compact discs, computer software and other intellectual property.

There was movement this week on one trade dispute with Japan. Tokyo broke its silence on a complaint by Eastman Kodak that Fuji Photo Film had cornered the Japanese market by controlling four dominant wholesalers.

But instead of subjecting the dispute to another round of bilateral trade talks, the Japanese sent the complaint to its Fair Trade Commission.

The move was consistent with Mr. Hashimoto's opposition to bilateral trade deals that aim to guarantee foreigners a set share of Japanese sales. He decisively made his point as trade minister last summer when he forced Mr. …