Bush arrives in Japan with softer stance 'Jobs' rhetoric toned down as list of 'souvenirs' grows

January 08, 1992|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- President Bush opened his first state visit to Japan bTC yesterday with a last-minute attempt to lower expectations aroused by his promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs" from the trip.

At the same time, Japanese officials and businessmen continued to wrap packages of election-year trade "omiyage" -- souvenirs -- for the president to show off back home, while leaving intact the fundamental way Japan trades.

Yesterday's main addition to the presidential omiyage bag was an announcement by the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry that 23 Japanese businesses have "voluntary plans" to boost electronics, automotive and machinery imports to a total of $26.4 billion by 1993, $10.2 billion more than in 1990. About half would come from the United States.

But Noboru Hatakeyama, the vice minister who announced MITI's plan, acknowledged that the plans, being "voluntary," would be hard for the government to enforce.

The corporate plans, solicited by the ministry in November, are part of a catchall MITI contribution to the omiyage bag.

The MITI package also will include a variety of new or expanded government steps to help foreign companies set up businesses in Japan, borrow money for operations and imports, and hire experienced managers.

Japan's two largest automakers also pitched in with a plan to sell a total of 8,000 U.S.-made cars and minivans a year through their dealerships in Japan, company sources said.

Neither Toyota Motor Corp. nor Nissan Motor Co. has ever sold U.S.-made cars before. Toyota sources said the company plans annual sales of about 5,000 finished vehicles made by General Motors Corp. Nissan officials confirmed that they are "willing" to help Ford Motor Co. sell vehicles in Japan, with an annual target of 3,000 vehicles.

The two Japanese automakers sold about 980,000 cars in the United States in the first 10 months of 1990, including some manufactured at U.S. plants.

Mazda Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. will announce their sales targets for U.S.-made cars today, the Asahi news service quoted company sources as saying.

In another effort to boost sales, the three leading U.S. automakers said yesterday that they plan to begin shipping to Japan more cars designed for Japanese drivers, with the steering wheels on the right side.

The auto trade imbalance of about $30 billion, which accounts for three-fourths of the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, is one of the thorniest issues between the two countries.

Some of the top U.S. corporate officers Mr. Bush recruited to join his trip took exception to the appearances they said were created by the collection of presents even before the president received them.

"To say we are coming to Japan to get a souvenir, or we're going to sit around and accept whatever favor they can bestow on us, that's not the game," said Lee A. Iacocca, president of Chrysler Corp. "The game is, you've got to change the basic trading relationship between these two countries."

The corporate officers, who include the heads of the Big Three U.S. automakers, are scheduled to meet with their Japanese counterparts this morning, along with Secretary of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher Sr.

Pressing the political controversy stirred up by the Bush visit to Japan, the Democratic National Committee circulated statistics from federal disclosure forms showing that GM shipped 70,400 jobs overseas from 1988 to 1990. The DNC said five other companies represented on the trip also had exported jobs, and it advised Mr. Bush to look "right under his nose" to find out why the country is losing jobs.

The Democrats seemed to have an ally in the Japanese press, which has kept up its scathing ridicule of the Bush visit. Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the country's leading financial daily, repeatedly called it "the job-making tour" by "the diplomat-president."

"Mr. Bush should go on a 'job-making tour' right in the United States, not overseas," Nikkei said in an editorial timed for the day Mr. Bush arrived.

"What is important is for Mr. Bush to put his own house in order," said Asahi, Japan's most respected newspaper.

Mr. Bush himself dramatically changed his tune on the "jobs, jobs, jobs" theme, reportedly after being advised that Democrats at home were already seizing on it in a recession-bound election year.

"I can guarantee you, political opponents -- no matter what is achieved -- will be saying, 'Hey, you didn't jump quite high enough; you need to get over the bar. We've just raised it another foot,' " the president said. "But that's politics."

Arriving in Osaka yesterday, Mr. Bush had lunch with Toshiki Kaifu, a former prime minister with whom he had a close relationship but who was dumped last fall in favor of old-line politician Kiichi Miyazawa. The president will talk trade and "global partnership" today and tomorrow with Mr. Miyazawa.

From Osaka, Mr. Bush went to Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital, where he toured the Imperial Palace and attended the opening of a new Toys 'R' Us store in nearby Nara, the second to open in Japan in two months.

Mr. Bush did not stop pitching for trade concessions, but he toned down the confrontational rhetoric he had offered to recession-weary U.S. voters. Instead, he stressed benefits that Japanese consumers might expect from freer imports.

The new approach contrasted sharply with the president's descriptions of the trip over the past three weeks. In Australia last week, he said, "I want to see us get more jobs created in the United States, eventually, by concessions made or positions taken in Japan."

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