Gorbachev tries to mend relations in Japan visit

April 16, 1991|By John Woodruff | John Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev became the first top Soviet leader ever to visit Japan today, arriving for a four-day visit he hopes will spur the world's second-biggest economic power into taking a major role in reviving his country's faltering production.

Mr. Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, stepped down from his presidential plane at Haneda Airport at 10:30 a.m. to shake hands with Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama and a line of diplomats from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

They were whisked into Tokyo in a bulletproof Soviet limousine to begin the opening formalities, including an audience with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, before attending the first of three meetings with Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu this afternoon.

Thousands of right-wing demonstrators, protesting Josef V. Stalin's thrusting of the Red Army into World War II as Japan was surrendering to U.S. forces, took to the capital's streets, but Japanese authorities moved the Soviet leader along a route out of sight of the protesters.

Mr. Gorbachev started his historic journey yesterday by stopping in Khabarovsk, capital of the Soviet Far East, to place wreaths at a Japanese tombstone, calling it "an act of reconciliation."

The tombstone commemorates some of the tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers who died in captivity after being evacuated to Siberia from elsewhere in Asia when Japan surrendered at the end of World War II.

For many Japanese, the prison deaths, many of them in primitive and frigid Stalinist work camps, have been one of the sorest points left from the war.

Soviet officials refused to discuss the question for decades, but Mr. Gorbachev brought with him official lists of names of thousands of the dead and has promised to hand them over to Mr. Kaifu.

The priority the Soviet side puts on improved relations with its dynamic Far Eastern neighbor, the world's No. 2 economic power, was suggested by the very fact that Mr. Gorbachev went ahead with the visit despite a steadily deepening economic crisis at home and political challenges that prompted him to cancel a trip to receive the Nobel Prize and have kept him at home in the Soviet Union for more than six months.

The leaders are expected to sign at least 14 documents easing relations between the two countries, including one that will enable Japanese delegates to help the Soviets infuse market forces into their disintegrating economy.

Soviet officials also have said Mr. Gorbachev will propose "a new security arrangement" for Northeast Asia, one based on improving relations between Moscow and Tokyo.

But what Mr. Gorbachev needs most is massive investment by Japanese businesses in the immense but hard-to-develop oil, gas, coal and timber resources of Siberia and the Soviet Far East.

Japanese businessmen have long said that would be possible only with their government's blessing, including guarantees of some of the investments, and the Foreign Ministry here has said that such a blessing must wait for a peace treaty by which the two sides would formally end World War II.

A peace treaty, in turn, can happen only if the Soviets return four islands they took over as the Japanese were surrendering at the end of the war, the Foreign Ministry has insisted.

Mr. Gorbachev has added a stop Friday evening in South Korea, bitter rival of the Communist government in Pyongyang, to hold his third meeting with South Korean President Roh Tae Woo as part of what Mr. Ignatenko called yesterday the "rapidly developing relations" between Moscow and Seoul.

South Korea has promised the Soviets billions of dollars in soft loans and investment, and North Korea has bitterly assailed the growing trade and political relationship as a "sale for profit" that abandoned a fraternal Communist ally.

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