Japanese magazines say U.S. diplomat wields undue influence in their nation

January 16, 1991|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- The U.S. ambassador here has become "Mr. Foreign Pressure" and wields "scary" control over Japanese politics, far beyond what Japan's controversial "agents of influence" manage in Washington, two scandal-oriented Japanese magazines say in their latest issues.

Ambassador Michael H. Armacost has become a "scary strategist," able to "lead Japan around by the ear," said Gekkan Gendai (Contemporary Monthly).

Mr. Armacost is "America's most powerful lobbyist toward Japan" and "is probably incomparably more effective than the lobbying activities conducted by Japan" in Washington, the monthly Bungei Shunju (Culture-Art Spring and Fall) said in an article titled "Mr. Gaiatsu" (Mr. Foreign Pressure).

Foreigners here could recall no case since the end of World War II in which a U.S. ambassador was called names or made the subject of investigative reports in the Japanese press.

The two articles play to an increasingly popular body of Japanese opinion that chafes under lingering American influence and holds that it will soon be time for Japan to assert, if not declare, its independence.

Gekkan Gendai's "scary strategist" article was one of three in a package titled, "Should We Remain Under U.S. Control 50 Years After the Occupation Was Dismantled?"

Almost since Mr. Armacost arrived in 1989, both Japanese and U.S. publications have written about his blunt way of pressing Washington's case. A ranking career diplomat, he works in a visible style that contrasts sharply with his predecessors, who set a tone of treading softly with Japanese officials.

"Armacost, flying the Stars and Stripes on the front of his big official Cadillac, frequently visits the Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki neighborhoods," Bungei Shunju said. "It is inevitable that he stands out . . . as he is a big man, nearly two meters tall, and as he rides around in such a spectacular automobile."

Nagata-cho is home to the governing Liberal Democratic Party's headquarters. Kasumigaseki is where the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Foreign Ministry and several other government agencies have their offices.

The two articles detail sessions in which, Bungei Shunju said, Mr. Armacost used "his fluent Japanese language as his weapon" to press U.S. interests in one-on-one meetings with members of Japan's power elite. The monthly says Mr. Armacost told the interviewer that such meetings are the workaday stuff of "modern diplomacy" and that Japanese ambassadors in Washington do essentially the same.

Some Japanese officials quoted in the articles made the same point.

Japanese who have read the articles say that each is heavy with undertones that portray the secretary-general of the ruling party, Ichiro Ozawa, who is becoming the leading candidate to succeed Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, as a tool of U.S. policy.

In his meetings with Japan's power elite, the articles say, Mr. Armacost pushed hard to overcome Tokyo's sluggish reaction to Iraq's takeover of Kuwait, on the Structural Impediments Initiative trade talks and on the ban this country still maintains on imported rice.

Mr. Armacost's contacts have not always led to close friendships, Gekkan Gendai said.

"I don't like him," the article quoted former Chief Cabinet Secretary Masaharu Gotoda as saying. "He puts his nose into internal affairs too much, cutting the bureaucratic system to pieces."

The magazine said Mr. Gotoda accused Mr. Armacost of thoroughly studying pending issues in each Japanese ministry in the SII talks, then taking advantage of the turf-protecting instincts of bureaucrats to play them against one another.

That is a mirror image of laments frequently heard from foreign diplomats and businessmen here. They complain that even a hard-won agreement with top government leaders is likely to come unstuck when bureaucrats begin to hem it in with turf-protecting maneuvers.

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