Clinton seizes chance at summit spotlight Japan hears only parts of his message TOKYO SUMMIT

July 08, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Two days into his first big walk on the world stage, Bill Clinton the international statesman from Washington looks a lot like Bill Clinton the presidential candidate from Arkansas.

If his purpose was to make himself the center of attention at the annual summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, he succeeded almost as soon as Air Force One put wheels down in Tokyo, 22 hours before the G-7 sessions opened.

That much, he accomplished in typical Clinton fashion, by seeming to be everywhere in rapid succession.

There he was at an afternoon pre-summit summit and press conference with Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa less than an hour after landing, and on to the U.S. Embassy the same night to meet opposition politicians who may run Japan's next government. Then he was up for a 7:36 a.m. meeting at the embassy with Indonesia's President Suharto; and he was on the phone to the parents of Yoshihiro Hattori, the Japanese teen-ager whose gunshot death in Louisiana touched off a national furor here.

Moments afterward, he stood beside the official limousine, giving his translator a fit of giggles and chucking Japanese kids under the chin.

By the time the leaders of the world's seven wealthiest industrialized democracies took their seats at a huge round cherrywood table yesterday afternoon, Mr. Clinton was easing effortlessly into the American president's usual place as the acknowledged voice of the summit.

"Good news for the world," he said, grinning over a breakthrough in 7-year-old global trade talks. Instantly, that not-so-remarkable phrase became the one television and wire services flashed to the satellites as the summit's initial evaluation of its own first achievement.

But beginner's luck was not winning every hand for the new man at the table.

Senior White House officials spent two days alerting reporters to watch Mr. Clinton move in on the Japanese public, going over the heads of bureaucrats who were resisting U.S. trade demands.

The plan, they said, was to use the Tokyo G-7 summit as a bully pulpit and rally the Japanese consumers to join in America's drive to open Japan's markets to more foreign products.

By last night, that effort was proving mainly that, at least for Mr. Clinton, even Japan's market of public thought is harder to break into than America's.

In fact, the effort was yet to be much noticed by its intended audience.

A centerpiece of the effort was yesterday morning's speech at prestigious Waseda University. Mr. Clinton used it to argue that closed markets force consumers here to pay much more for almost everything they buy.

Then came his rallying call, addressed not just to the 600 students and 100 faculty members in the audience but to the entire Japanese nation: "So today I would send this message to all of you and to the people beyond the walls here in this hall: You have a common cause with the people of America -- a common cause against outdated practices that undermine our relationship and diminish the quality of your lives."

Sound-bite indigestion

That line seemed to resonate in the prime-time live TV coverage CNN beamed home to American viewers at 8:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

But in Japan, it scarcely reached beyond the auditorium walls.

No Japanese television station carried it. The only way to see it was CNN, many of whose 966,000 sets in Japan are in hotel rooms that are empty by 9:30 a.m. Tokyo time. CNN has a growing but still negligible share of this country's mainstream TV market.

Comments by some of those who did see him suggested that had the audience been wider, Mr. Clinton's stop at Waseda might have had a greater impact.

"He looked directly at us and responded when we responded," Shizuka Nakayama, 20, a Waseda student told Yomiuri Shimbun. "I got so excited, I felt he had a charisma that Japanese prime ministers always lack."

"I was very favorably impressed, especially by his openness and the way he came down into the audience to sit on a stool and take questions directly from the students," Yukio Kato, head of Waseda's counseling center, said in a telephone interview.

"He talked about opening our markets, and we who work in education, which is closed and centralized in Japan, can relate to that."

Neither Japan Broadcasting Corporation, the biggest national network, nor Tokyo Broadcasting System, which operated the pool TV camera, scheduled anything but a few seconds of newscast excerpts.

The president's vaunted "electronic town meeting" style got similarly short shrift.

Few stations broadcast more than fleeting glimpses of Mr. Clinton on the stool conversing directly with students. No Japanese TV channel had broadcast the speech's rallying cry even once by the time last night's evening newscasts signed off.

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