President Carter arrived here today to attend memorial services for Japanese prime minister Masayoshi Ohira and to join in a low-key symbolic show of solidarity with friendly Asian nations.
The main event will be his first meeting with Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng, a brief conference that has added an aura of summitry to the ceremonial gathering of representatives of more than 100 nations to pay homage to Ohira.
Carter arrived shortly after noon and, in a prepared statement issued in advance, said his trip expressed "the deep friendship and respect felt by the American people" for Japan.
Carter said he had regarded Ohira, who died June 12, "as a good friend and wise counselor" whose leadership "will be sorely missed."
The president arrived in a driving downpour to attend Ohira's memorial service this afternoon and to prepare for his one-hour meeting Thursday morning with the Chinese head of state.
The meeting with Hua is not expected to break new ground but it is likely to underscore the increasingly close Chinese-American relationship and the two countries' shared opposition to global moves by the Soviet Union.
Sources in Peking said the two leaders will review such issues as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the recent Vietnamese incursions along the Cambodian-Thai border.The United States and China have vehemently protested both ventures.
The talks are likly to be amicable. China was pleased by the recent U.S. decision to drop its opposition to some arms sales.
The only serious difference of opinion is apt to arise out of China's irritation with a Carter administration decision to permit U.S. defense contractors to discuss with Taiwan the development of a new version of the F5E fighter. U.S. officials insist no decision has been made to let Taiwan actually buy the aircraft.
Officials said Hua may also emphasize the need to firmly support Thailand against the Vietnamese-led incursions across the Cambodian border.
There were no indications that Hua and Carter would discuss any specific new initiatives against the Soviet Union. But the meeting here under Japanese sponsorship underscores the increasingly close relations among the three countries at a time when they are concerned with recent Soviet power moves.
Japan shares the U.S.-Chinese irritation with the developments in both Afghanistan and Cambodia and is increasingly alarmed at the expansion of Soviet military power in northeast Asia.
The Japanese are delighted with the visit of the two leaders but are not eager to see it transformed into an anti-Soviet gathering that would undermine their delicate commercial relations with the Soviets, Soviet propaganda aimed at Japan frequently warns against the development of a hostile axis composed of Japan China and the United States.
Carter's decision to make the long trans-Pacific journey for a memorial ceremony is being contrasted with his decision not to attend the services for Yugoslav President Tito in May. The Soviet Union is being represented by its ambassador to Japan Dmitri Polyanski and no European nation is sending its head of state.
There has been some speculation that Hua hopes to make the meeting the occasion for another anti-Soviet broad-side. Meeting Carter apparently is the major reason he is coming.
China had not let it be known who would attend until after the White House announced Carter would come. Details of their conference had been worked out in the two capitals and officials here, said they did not know what would be discussed.
There meeting will take place Thursday morning at a Tokyo hotel and will probably last less than an hour. Carter returns home immediately after the talks and Hua will return to China that afternoon.
Carter's contacts with Japanese officials are expected to be almost entirely ceremonial, in keeping with the somber occasion of a national funeral service. Ohira died June 12 after suffering a heart attack and his successor has not yet been formally chosen. The man most likely to take his place, Zenko Suzuki, a veteran political tactician, will probably be named prime minister by parliament next week.
The only official event between Carter and the Japanese will be his brief talk with the acting premier, Maysayoshi Ito, who is serving in a caretaker role and who will soon bow out.
No serious political issues are to be discussed, American officials said. "It is strictly to observe the amenities," said U.S. Ambassador Mike Mansfield.
Initially, there was speculation that Carter might raise the only serious political issue between the two countries -- the surging exports of Japanese automobiles to the United States. The White House has ruled that out, however. Diplomats of both countries agreed it would have been inappropriate to talk about divisive politics shortly after funeral services.
The point has not been lost, however, that Carter will come here directly from Detroit and a meeting with U.S. auto manufacturing executives concerned with Japanese competition.
U.S. officials, including Mansfield, have described the Carter visit as an important move designed to demonstrate the importance that the United States attaches to its relations with Japan. In addition, Mansfield said, Ohira and Carter had struck up a "warm personal relationship" in two major meetings and Carter wants to emphasize that.
Ohira paid a state visit to Washington last spring and the two leaders had met during Carter's state visit and the economic summit meeting here last year.
One aide to the acting prime minister said the Japanese are especially pleased Carter will personally pay his respects to Ohira's widow, Shigeko, at her home in suburban Tokyo.
Traveling with the president will be Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and the national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. The tentative plans do not call for them to hold separate meetings with Japanese officials.
After attending the funeral services in a hall in Tokyo, Carter will have a 10-minute meeting with Emperor Hirohito at the Imperial Palace. He will meet with Acting Prime Minister Ito later and then attend a reception for all of the guests attending the services. The meeting will Hua will be the following morning.
Fifty-two emissaries from foreign countries and 53 current ambassadors will attend the services. Among the heads of state coming, besides Hua and Carter, are Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser of Australia and Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda.