President Reagan arrived here today on the first leg of a Pacific odyssey, celebrating the virtues of freedom while trying to walk a diplomatic tightrope on issues ranging from trade to terrorism.
Addressing a welcoming crowd here at Hickam Air Force Base, Reagan said that on his 22,000-mile trip, the longest of his presidency, "we'll stress our commitment to peace, and the prosperity that can be achieved only in freedom."
But Reagan's weekly radio message, taped in Los Angeles Friday, illustrated the delicate balancing act facing the president as he tries to square his idealistic equation of political and economic freedom with the realities of Southeast Asia. In his radio speech Reagan praised Indonesian President Suharto for being "a most responsible influence in world affairs and a force for the economic progress of his people at home. He and his government have guided Indonesia to self-sufficiency in rice production and to a respected level of financial credit-worthiness."
Reagan made no mention of the human -- rights record of the Suharto government, which recently cracked down on dissidents in advance of the president's visit to Bali, where he is to meet with foreign ministers of the six Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei.
The Suharto government has barred Australian journalists from coverage of the visit because an Australian newspaper reported that Suharto has enriched relatives and friends through business favoritism.
A senior White House official said Friday that Reagan is aware of Suharto's sensitivity on this issue and considers his business practices an internal matter. The official said Reagan also will not raise the even more sensitive question of East Timor, a former Portuguese and largely Roman Catholic colony that Indonesia invaded in 1975.
A letter by Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio) signed by more than 100 members of Congress last week urged Reagan to give "serious attention" in his meetings with Suharto to East Timor, where an estimated 100,000 persons have perished in the last decade from what human-rights groups have called systematic repression and atrocities.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes, asked on Air Force One en route to Los Angeles about the reported clampdown on dissidents, said he was unaware of it. He then praised Indonesia for having "done great humanitarian service" by being the point of first refuge "for refugees leaving Indochina, the boat people."
Reagan's reluctance to discuss Indonesian human-rights issues contrasts with the sweeping claims he made for the advance of democracy in the region during a speech Wednesday in which he outlined the purposes of his trip, which will take him from Indonesia to a meeting with leaders of the six industrial democracies at the 12th Economic Summit in Tokyo.
"The developing world has been told that it is necessary to give up freedom in order to achieve progress; nothing could be further from the truth," Reagan said in the speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Freedom and economic advance go hand-in-hand. They are two sides of the same coin."
The president will also face something of a balancing act this weekend during a stopover in Hawaii, which his aides describe as "an adjustment to the Asian time zone." Reagan is spending two nights here at the 69-room home of wealthy land developer Christopher Hemmeter, a few miles from the rented estate of former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos.
Reagan, who telephoned Philippines President Corazon Aquino last week to invite her to visit the United States -- an invitation that she accepted -- and is pushing a $150 million economic and military U.S. aid package for the Philippines, has made no secret of his continuing friendship for Marcos.
Reagan telephoned Marcos tonight, the White House announced. First Lady Nancy Reagan also spoke with Imelda Marcos. No details of the call were provided.
The balancing act between Reagan's global themes and the self-interests of the United States and its allies will continue at the Economic Summit, where the U.S. goal is to prod Japan and West Germany toward more economic growth.
The U.S. theme, as explained by a senior administration official, is that the United States has "led the way by its example" toward world economic recovery and that it is time for Japan and West Germany to play a larger role.
There may also be tension on the trade issue, where U.S. officials are expected to remind their hosts that the Reagan administration has vigorously resisted pressure for protectionism and now expects the Japanese to do more to open their markets in return. A U.S. official said that "several symbolic actions" are expected by the Japanese but said they may not be enough to make a major adjustment in the record U.S. trade deficit.
Overriding all these concerns is terrorism, including the possibility of a major terrorist incident during Reagan's two-week trip.
Speaking to reporters as Reagan flew to Hawaii, national security affairs adviser John M. Poindexter said, "Terrorism will be a good part of the conversation" among allied leaders in Tokyo. "The president is more interested in action than in rhetoric."