In Japan, pride is mixed with political pangs As session ends, commuters join diplomats in sigh of relief TOKYO SUMMIT

July 10, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- For millions of Japanese, the enduring image of the 19th summit of the Group of Seven industrial democracies will be their country's supreme celebrity, Princess Masako, in a floral dress comfortably chatting, now in Russian with Russia's President Boris N. Yeltsin, now in English with the United States' President Clinton.

For scores of politicians in Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's governing Liberal Democratic Party, what endures will be a gut-wrenching memory of Mr. Clinton preaching the virtues of "change" at every public appearance while they struggled to head off an electoral "change" that could end their 38-year grip on power eight days from today.

As the leaders and their high-powered delegations packed to go home, what playing host to the global leadership extravaganza meant to Japan depended very much on which Japanese one had in mind.

"We did more than just get through it unscathed," a Foreign Ministry official said after attending one of the last news briefings of a grueling week.

"Important things happened for Japan -- Yeltsin's agreement to discuss the disputed territories when he comes here next fall, recognition for making the key concession that broke the logjam on global trade negotiations, praise from Mr. Clinton for getting the Japan-U.S. talks started again, wording in the communique that put the burden for stimulating economic growth on all three actors, Europe and the U.S. as well as Japan," he said.

For him and scores of other Japanese diplomats and trade negotiators who spent two years preparing for the week of pageantry and hard bargaining, the summit turned out far better than anyone was predicting as they greeted early-arriving counterparts last weekend.

Mr. Yeltsin not only finally reached Japan but agreed that on his first state visit later, he would talk about the four tiny islands Josef Stalin's army seized days after Japan surrendered at the end of World War II.

Ever since the Soviet army made its move, competing Russian and Japanese claims to those islands have prevented a peace treaty. Without a peace treaty, Japan steadfastly refuses to give Russia direct foreign aid, encourage trade or insure investment.

Japan has had a lot of heat from its G-7 partners over that stance, and diplomats here were visibly relieved when Mr. Yeltsin agreed to open talks on the islands.

Equally important to Japan's bureaucrats was Mr. Miyazawa's success in keeping criticism of this country's unprecedented trade surplus in a multilateral context, rather than one that singled out Japan.

In the end, Japan pledged to take steps to cut its trade surplus, which some forecasts say will exceed $150 billion this year, but only in harness with pledges by Europeans to stimulate their economies and by the United States to carry through on President Clinton's deficit-reduction plan.

To ordinary Japanese, the summit looked very different.

On yesterday's daytime television programs, it was possible to wonder if the Japanese government might have budgeted $14 million to host the summit just to create an elaborate stage setting for what one talk-show hostess called "Princess Masako's debut in imperial family diplomacy."

It was hard to watch TV very long yesterday without seeing another rerun of the princess strategically seated between the two presidents at the Thursday night imperial banquet.

Only last winter, Princess Masako was a rising star in the Foreign Ministry. When she accepted Crown Prince Naruhito's hand after years of resistance, voices were raised suggesting that her talents, including three foreign languages, would now go to waste.

On yesterday's daytime TV shows, that worry seemed to evaporate with the seating arrangement of a single state dinner.

One minute, she was shown leaning to her left and using the Russian she learned as a diplomat's daughter in Moscow to engage Mr. Yeltsin in conversation. The next, she was shown leaning to the right and using the English she perfected at Harvard and Oxford universities to talk with Mr. Clinton.

"We talked a lot," Mr. Clinton later said. "I liked her a lot." That film clip, too, was aired again and again.

But the pride of that moment was mixed with no small resentment among this capital's 11 million residents at maddening traffic snarls created by security measures around hotels where dignitaries were meeting and staying.

"I just hope something comes of all this that makes it worth all we suffered from the severity of the traffic controls," reporter Mari Watanabe said yesterday in a TV feature on the rush-hour gridlocks.

For the beleaguered politicians of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, there was more to worry about than the traffic.

Already trailing in most polls, they had hoped Mr. Miyazawa's polish as a host and known gifts for international and economic affairs might remind voters which party it was that presided over this country's postwar "economic miracle."

Instead, the summit gave Mr. Clinton a chance to reach out to emerging opposition forces that for the first time have a chance to end the LDP's ability to name the prime minister.

On his first night in town, President Clinton met with the heads of three new conservative political parties that are riding high in the polls preceding the July 18 election.

He thus undermined 38 years of one of the Liberal Democratic Party's bedrock claims -- that only its special relationship with the Americans could steer Japan through the stormy waters of international affairs.

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