Japan's Worst Option

July 05, 1994

Japan's new government is protectionist, for corruption, against reform, against free trade and for North Korea. On the record of its ministers, it must wish to dismantle the measures for domestic political reform and economic deregulation that the ousted coalition enacted.

The new prime minister has regarded the United States as the bad guy and North Korea's Kim Il Sung as the good guy in any dispute between them.

The right wing of the Liberal Democratic Party and left wing of the Socialist Party have in common only their addiction to corruption and opposition to opening markets to foreign competition.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama at 70 has no executive experience and commands only contempt from the civil servants who will now serve him. The new finance minister, Masayoshi Takemura, from the New Harbinger third party in the coalition, opposed opening Japan's rice markets to imports last year.

Only the worst can now be expected when Prime Minister Murayama attends the Group of Seven summit in Naples this Friday, with the Liberal Democratic deputy premier-foreign minister, Yohei Kono, at his elbow. Far from being able to deal for freer trade and open markets, they will want to achieve no such things.

Their government can only undercut the U.S. effort at convincing North Korea to adhere to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Socialist Party is historically opposed to any country's nuclear weapons, but also to Japan's security treaty with the United States and to any Japanese peace-keeping role, and it regards the Communist Party of North Korea fraternally. Mr. Murayama described the government he put together as "dovish."

The good news is that the cynicism of this coalition has so stunned the Japanese, political class and public alike, that the Liberal Democratic and Socialist parties were fragmenting even as they joined. Public opinion is likely to be even more reformist than in last year's election.

The Socialists were in the first reform coalition government last year until they realized the reformers did not trust them. To vindicate the reformers' judgment, a Socialist now heads what is really a discredited conservative government.

The Clinton administration cannot realistically expect to get anywhere in trade talks with this Japanese government. Some problems will be solved the wrong way. This government will prove unable to halt the rising yen, which will depress sales of Japanese products and make U.S. products sold for cheaper dollars more competitive.

Although Mr. Murayama has not said so, he will almost certainly have to go back to the people soon in another election -- after the redistricting that was enacted by the reform government is in place.

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