TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, in a news conference prerecorded for nationwide television broadcast on New Year's Day, reiterated his appeal to the country's automobile companies to help their U.S. counterparts sell cars in Japan.
The prime minister's remarks left little doubt he is worried that the massive annual U.S.-Japanese trade imbalance favoring Japan might ruin Tokyo's close ties with Washington. About 75 percent of the U.S. deficit stems from Japanese exports of autos and parts to the U.S. market.
There was a clear link between Mr. Miyazawa's comments and the scheduled arrival in Tokyo early next week of President Bush, whose state visit could heighten tensions if he presses too hard for guaranteed results in reducing Japan's $41 billion yearly surplus with the United States. The Japanese leg of Mr. Bush's trip is expected to last from Tuesday until Friday.
"I have appealed to auto industry leaders to help boost sales of U.S.-made cars in Japan and to increase purchases of U.S.-made auto parts, as [Japanese automobile manufacturers] would be able to install U.S. parts in Japanese cars if they allowed [the U.S. companies] to jointly develop them from the initial stages for one or two years," Mr. Miyazawa told the nation.
"I am asking industry leaders to take more seriously and compassionately the U.S. situation, epitomized by General Motors Corp.'s announcing it will shut down some of its factories. GM is like the Stars and Stripes for the American people," Mr. Miyazawa said.
Even as Mr. Miyazawa was speaking, reports were spreading that he had directed the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to urge the country's automakers to open their national marketing networks to U.S. cars.
Mr. Miyazawa warned his audience that the faltering U.S. trade performance could fuel momentum in Washington and elsewhere for protectionism.
He emphasized his resolve to respond to Mr. Bush's Dec. ` `TC appeal for joint contributions to global peace and prosperity.
Mr. Bush's remarks were made on the 50th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
"When I heard President Bush say he has no rancor and that the loss of so many U.S. citizens would not be in vain if the two nations should cooperate to contribute to the world, I appreciated the president's courage in making such a speech before survivors of Japan's air raids and veterans of U.S. warships [sunk by Japanese aircraft]," Mr. Miyazawa said.
"I think Japan has to respond sincerely to such good will," he said.
Still, Mr. Miyazawa should be prepared for some tough bargaining by Mr. Bush and his party next week, Japanese economic and political analysts say.
"It could be a no-win situation for Miyazawa," commented one prominent analyst.
"If he offers too many concessions to Mr. Bush, he may have to pay a high political price here at home, but if he treats the U.S. demands lightly and offers only weak cosmetic solutions to the huge trade surplus problem, he could easily spark massive and highly damaging protectionist measures from the Democrats in Congress."