Tokyo's looming power shift delays new U.S. trade 'framework' Prime minister plans to resign

July 21, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Ten days after President Clinton and Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa announced a new "framework" for U.S.-Japan trade talks amid much fanfare, Tokyo's political crisis has put vital follow-up negotiations on hold at least until September.

Japan's top trade negotiator acknowledged the delay yesterday, providing the first concrete evidence of the impact Japan's political crisis is likely to have on relations with trade partners of the world's No. 2 economic power.

Meanwhile, the prime minister told leaders of his governing Liberal Democratic Party that he will resign tomorrow. "I have no intention of clinging to power. I have already made up my mind," Mr. Miyazawa told party leaders in an afternoon meeting, Japanese news reports said.

Hours earlier, behind the closed doors of a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Miyazawa faced down a rare direct demand from the minister of posts and telecommunications. The minister then came out of the session to announce his own resignation and demand in public that the prime minister immediately do the same.

The LDP is now split wide open over how to cope with results from Sunday's election, which left the party with no majority in parliament, the Diet, for the first time in 38 years.

Sozaburo Okamatsu, the new vice minister of the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry, acknowledged yesterday that the returns left no room to hope for the early follow-up "framework" talks the Clinton-Miyazawa plan called for in top-priority trade areas.

"Because of the political situation of the Japanese government, the follow-up negotiations will begin some time after Labor Day," Mr. Okamatsu said.

The delay means negotiators will have at most four working months, instead of six as scheduled before the two leaders' first follow-up summit in January. The agreement calls for summit meetings every six months to review progress in controlling the trade imbalance.

"It was already a tough enough schedule," an American close to the negotiations said yesterday. "If there are no talks all summer, I wouldn't want to speculate on what can be ready in time for the first meeting.

"If there's nothing much to do at their first meeting, that would get things off to a pretty ugly start," he added.

If Japan's political situation has not stabilized by September, the delay would be longer.

"Until [Japan's] new administration is set, the negotiations will not start," Mr. Okamatsu said in answer to a question.

Japan's constitution calls for a Diet meeting within 30 days of an election. If no one is chosen prime minister on the first ballot, the highest vote-getter on the second ballot gets the post, even if neither of the two remaining contestants gets a majority.

So Japan is assured of having at least a nominal leader a month from now.

But only a coalition or a tacit voting arrangement adding up to a majority could produce even short-term stability.

With both the LDP and newly created conservative "reformist" parties only beginning their jockeying to line up votes, few commentators are prepared to rule out a revolving-door series of short-lived Cabinets over the next few months.

Even within the LDP itself, "there is no strong successor" to Mr. Miyazawa as party leader, political author Minoru Morita said yesterday.

For Japan's U.S. and European trade partners, postponement of follow-up trade talks may be just a taste of what may be coming during what promises to be a prolonged period of political confusion.

MITI's Mr. Okamatsu tried to put the best face on things.

He pointed out that Japanese delegations are still participating in working-level talks on global trade and have completed their first round of negotiations on European demands for new cuts in Japan's auto exports.

He also reminded reporters that all of Japan's contending political forces agreed in advance to honor commitments Mr. Miyazawa made during the Tokyo summit of the Group of Seven (G-7) largest industrial powers two weeks ago.

But even while honoring this month's agreements, a different party or a different prime minister could change Japan's stance toward future negotiations, he acknowledged.

"That would depend on who will take the position" of prime minister, he said.

He declined to discuss questions about what the impact on foreign and trade relations might be if a new coalition took power that did not include the LDP, or if two parties or coalitions held power alternately.

"I have no experience of such a system," he said with a bemused smile.

Most analysts expect little immediate impact on Japan's foreign policy, especially its defense alignment with the United States.

For the short run, virtually all analysts agree that Japanese political leaders will have little time or strength for anything but the infighting of the current political transition.

That already appears to be giving some bureaucrats new leeway to undermine Japanese commitments foreign leaders thought they took home from the G-7 summit.

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