AFTER leaning toward the West for decades, Japan's leaders are
groping for a new sense of purpose in their own backyard.
In recent months, a Japanese pursuit to make friends in Asia has
come in the form of massive loans and aid, coupled with official
expressions of regret for past war deeds, and an occasional bit of
- Since May, for instance, Japan has tried to act as mediator in
both the Cambodian conflict and the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan
and India. Both attempts failed.
- With Washington's approval, Japan decided in early July to
resume a $5.4 billion loan to China while also trying to offer
advice to Beijing on political reforms.
- In July, a group of Japanese politicians traveled to North
Korea, despite a lack of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Asian diplomats in Tokyo say Japan offered $6.7 billion to North
Korea, which responded by proposing high-level talks.
- For Vietnam, Japanese leaders are talking about providing an
initial $70 million with more to come once prospects of a Cambodia
settlement are certain.
- Japanese diplomats are just starting to talk about how much
economic assistance they will promise to Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev on his planned visit to Tokyo next year, in return for
four Soviet-occupied islands claimed by Japan.
- Last May, Emperor Akihito made a limited apology to South
Korea for Japan's occupation from 1910-1945.
- Last week, Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama told a meeting of
Southeast Asian leaders that his country was sorry for the suffering
that it had caused during World War II, vowing that Japan would
never again become a major regional military power.
This Japanese mix of atonement for past errors and ante for
future ties has been spurred by a concern that Japan might
eventually need an "Asian bloc" if its exports are shut out of the
emerging North American and European Community trading blocs.
"As the world order is changing," Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu
told a small group of his fellow politicians last week, "Japan must
make its contribution."
"Unless we do more to associate with Asian countries, then this
region will not become an attractive market," says Nobuo Matsunaga,
former ambassador to the United States. "Asia will be left behind in
world affairs if its doesn't create a rich and open market.
"Our most important priority is to make as many friends as
possible," he adds, saying that the Asia and Pacific region will be
"the world's outstanding stage" in the next century. …