Japan Launches Asian Initiatives to Boost Markets US Relationship Seen to Facilitate Goals in Asia. DIPLOMACY

Article excerpt

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 diplomatic advice.

- 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. …


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