Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has strongly indicated that Japan will make further increases in its 1983 military spending budget announced earlier this week.
Nakasone said in remarks broadcast today that Japan, to strengthen U.S. ties, should shoulder as much responsibility for its own defense as in similar efforts made by NATO nations.
In contrast to the self-effacing style of previous leaders, Nakasone bluntly said that unless Japan acts resolutely to smooth troubled economic relations with the United States, the Japanese economy could suffer a "terrible recession." He stressed his commitment to expanding defense capabilities "out of the necessity of maintaining good relations with the United States."
Nakasone made his remarks during a press conference with Japanese reporters Thursday. Reagan administration officials have expressed dissatisfaction with Tokyo's announcement that day of plans to boost defense outlays in 1983 by 6.5 percent to $11.7 billion. In real terms, or after accounting for inflation, the increase would be about 4 percent.
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger called the announced plans of the Japanese "a reasonably significant effort" but added that it "will not enable them to reach" goals previously set.
The spending increase, which undershot a larger 7.8 percent increase in 1982, fell far short of U.S. officials' expectations. At the same time, relations between Tokyo and Washington have been strained by the estimated $20 billion U.S. deficit in trade with Japan this year.
Nakasone stressed that the size of this year's defense increase had been lowered because of a freeze on the wages of public workers, including military personnel, and broadly hinted that the defense outlays would rise later this year when his Cabinet is expected to approve retroactive pay raises in a supplementary budget.
Senior defense officials here have suggested that the additional funds would result in boosting overall military appropriations by a total of more than 8 percent, adding $165 million beyond the 6.5 percent increase.
The anticipated increase, observers here said, is unlikely to appease critics in the Reagan administration and on Capitol Hill, however, because it will not make possible further purchases of antisubmarine patrol planes, warships, and other sophisticated military weaponry needed to put more teeth into Japanese defense capabilities.
Nakasone pledged that Japan would carry out commitments made by his predecessor, Zenko Suzuki, during talks in Washington with President Reagan in May 1981. Suzuki promised to make "even greater" efforts to improve Japan's defensive clout and protect its sea lanes to a distance of 1,000 nautical miles.
"By keeping the commitment," Nakasone said, "we can build up our credibility in Japanese-U.S. relations, settle the current trade dispute and enhance Japan's reliability as a member of the international community."
In view of what he described as Japan's "special" relationship with the United States, Nakasone said, "Japan should make efforts for its national defense as much as European countries are doing." He said the United States had recently grown "economically weary" and that Japan should help it shoulder burdensome military obligations.
Asked about his previously stated intention to act quickly on long-delayed plans to allow Japan to transfer sophisticated military technology to the United States, Nakasone said the Japanese should remember "we have received a great deal of military technology from the U.S." as a result of the 32-year-old military security treaty between the two countries.
Nakasone said he would like to end this "imbalance" as soon as possible and suggested that his government would soon work out a proposal to separate the question of military technology transfers to the United States from Japan's long-standing ban on weapons exports.
In a rare departure from the less substantive remarks of previous Japanese leaders at the annual New Year press conference, Nakasone took pains to explain the relationship between trade and defense issues as they affect ties with the United States. He cited the groundswell of protectionist pressure in the U.S. Congress, which is considering local-content legislation that would make it difficult for Japan to sell automobiles in what currently is its largest overseas market.
"If the United States passes protectionist legislation and Japan cannot export automobile parts to the United States," he said, "a terrible recession would hit" Japan. He indicated that his government would come up with a further round of measures later this month to help open Japanese markets to more American imports and reduce trade friction. Such steps are important, he said, "to keep Japan from becoming isolated in the world."
Nakasone plans to visit Washington later this month to meet President Reagan, and they are expected to discuss trade and defense.