President Carter told Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda yesterday that the United States will maintain a presence in Asia and keep its commitments there despite the end of the Vietnam war and the planned removal of U.S. ground troops from South Korea.
Carter's statement, reported by a Japanese official, came in the first of several meetings planned with Fukuda in a two-day "working visit."
The first Asian chief of government to visit Carter in the White House, Fukuda passed along a request from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that an American presence in the region be maintained. Fukuda did not define the nature of the desired U.S. activity, but the administration sources said Asian nations have asked for continued U.S. economic as well as military presence.
Japanese officials said Fukuda pointed out that there had been no "domino effect" following from Vietnam. However, Fukuda also noted that "the repercussion since Indochina have still given concern to the Asian nations," they said.
As U.S. and Japanese spokesmen described the talks, Fukuda made no effort to convince Carter to reverse his decision to withdraw U.S. ground troops from Korea over the next four or five years. Japanese leaders have expressed public and private concern over the proposed U.S. action, but evidently decided it would be folly to argue a decision that already has been made.
For his part, Carter said the United States would look with favor on Japan's assuming "a larger political role in world affairs and paticularly in Asia," according to press secretary Jody Powell. Powell added that the United States believes Japan's economic strength entitles that nation to an expanded political role.
While its post-World War II growth has made it second only to the United States in yearly production in the non-Communist world, Japan has been reluctant to assert itself politically and has spurned a return to major military power. In recent months Japan has been tentatively exploring stronger political links with Southeast Asian nations. Fukuda noted in the talks yesterday that Japan maintins diplomatic relations with Vietnam and gives that country some economic aid calling it "a buffer zone" in Southeast Asia.
Relations between Washington and Tokyo are reported by both side to be unusually smooth, despite such problems as a $5 billion trade imbalance last year in favor of Japan, frictions over Japanese colore television imports, and U.S. hesitation over Japan's plan to begin operation of a nuclear fuel "reprocessing" plant capable of making weapons grade plutonium. Further discussion of bilateral questions is expected in meeting today.
At a reception for Fukuda in the bright sunshine of the White House south lawn, Carter called the increasingly close Japanese-American relations since World War II "one of the most remarkable and encouraging developments on the international scene." He said this week's talks will take place "as equals" between himself and Fukuda, whom he called "one of the great leaders of one of the greatest nations on earth."