Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige expressed satisfaction yesterday with assurances he received from the Japanese trade minister that Japan will spend more money, hire more people and take other steps to improve its system for keeping high-technology products away from the Soviet bloc.
The assurances came during a two-hour meeting in which Hajime Tamura, Japan's minister for international trade and industry, sought to gain support from the Reagan administration in fighting congressional sanctions against Toshiba Corp. for illegally selling machines that helped Soviet submarines run more quietly and evade efforts by the U.S. Navy to detect them.
Baldrige, who described Japan as "one of the weakest links" to Western efforts to keep sensitive military technology from the Soviet bloc, told reporters before meeting with Tamura that the administration wanted pledges of swift Japanese action on export controls before trying to blunt congressional moves to punish Toshiba.
The Senate voted 92-5 for a five-year embargo on Toshiba imports to the United States, and the House is considering similar legislation.
Baldrige said the meeting ended with "basic agreement on Japan's future role in improving the cooperation and effectiveness of export controls."
This included greater Japanese financial support to the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), the Paris-based organization that licenses strategic exports to the Soviet bloc; an upgrading of Japan's export control procedures, including expanding the policing of sales to non-COCOM countries and adding more licensing and inspection officials, and increasing the criminal penalties for evading the controls.
COCOM consists of Japan and all NATO nations except Iceland.
But high-ranking MITI officials accompanying Tamura described the agreement in less sweeping terms than Baldrige. Commerce Department officials explained the difference in tone by saying the Japanese were being "less committed in public than they are in private" because of the strong political opposition from socialist and communist parties at home to participation in COCOM.
For instance, Baldrige said the agreement called for Japan to improve its export-control system so it would have "proportionate" results to the United States, which between the Commerce and Defense departments spends $37 million and employs 620 licensing, inspection and enforcement officials.
A MITI official said the word proportionate referred to the "substance" of Japan's export control efforts, not the amount of resources committed to do the job.
MITI officials said, however, that Japan plans to double its inspection force from 40 to 80 persons, increase its training programs and start on-site inspections of exports.
The value of Japan's exports to the Soviet Union and China is more than three times the amount of U.S. sales.
But the United States submitted 473 applications for COCOM approval in the first half of this year while Japan submitted only 30, Defense Department export specialists said.
Before meeting with Tamura, Baldrige told reporters that Japan was going to have to take swift action to bring its export controls up to U.S. standards if it expected any help from the administration in its fight with an angry Congress.
"Talk is not going to impress us," Baldrige said.
"The Japanese simply have to put up a system to safeguard against future diversions if this administration is going to back up their position," he said.
Baldrige acknowledged that U.S. exporters have complained with some justification that they were losing overseas sales because Japan was not adhering to the same standards of export controls as this country. Baldrige added that "allegations of Japan being very sloppy" in keeping the COCOM agreement "have affected the performance of other countries in COCOM."
"So it's very important that the Japanese begin to step up to a real leadership position in COCOM," Baldrige continued.
The United States pays 25 percent of COCOM's $3 million annual budget, while Japan contributes half of that.
The current storm over Japan's export controls erupted in May when MITI officials confirmed that a subsidiary of Toshiba, Toshiba Machine Co., along with a state-owned Norwegian arms firm, Kongsberg Vaapenfabrik, had deliberately engineered an illegal sale to the Soviet Union of sophisticated milling machines for $17 million.
This computer-controlled equipment allowed the Soviets to retool the propellers of their submarines to cut down their noise level, depriving U.S. antisub chasers of their major advantage in tracking them.
Word of Toshiba's actions sparked an amendment to the trade bill in the Senate banning that company's sales, and a series of stricter bills are pending in the House.
The Japanese officials here with Tamura emphasized that the national security of the island nation of Japan, as well as that of the rest of the Western alliance, was jeopardized by this massive leak of technology.
But a senior official said any civil or criminal sanctions against Toshiba and its officials who were responsible for the Soviet sale should be done by Japan.
He added that sanctions by the United States would be counterproductive, galvanizing the already existing opposition to strong participation in COCOM to the point where the government of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone would be unable to get needed legislation toughening its export control procedures through the Diet, or parliament.