TOKYO, JUNE 15 -- Japan's ruling party is hoping to counter this nation's growing negative image in America by spending as much as $650 million on a major new program of cultural exchanges, officials here said.
The plan has support among key Liberal Democratic Party leaders and government officials and is likely to be presented, at least informally, when party leader Shintaro Abe visits Washington later this month to take part in ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, officials here said. Abe, a former foreign minister, is to meet with President Bush and other officials.
The proposal reflects deep anxieties here that Japan is increasingly viewed as different and even menacing by other nations in the developed world. Recent polls have shown that, as fear of the Soviet Union recedes, Americans increasingly view Japan and its economic power as a threat.
"There are misunderstandings, and many areas that cry out for more understanding," Abe said today. "So I strongly feel there is a need for more cultural communication and exchange, and our party now is very enthusiastic for this."
Critics of Japan in the United States and Europe are charging in ever-louder voices that Japan is a case apart -- work-crazed, mercantilist, xenophobic and driven to dominate world commerce. Leaders here are eager to demonstrate that Japan is a liberal democracy not so different from America, albeit with a culture of its own, eager to cooperate and open up to the world.
To make that point, and to foster goodwill in future generations of leaders, the ruling party wants to sharply increase funding for exchanges of students, researchers and other intellectuals. One official said that now that Japan is wealthy it should follow the example of the United States, which created Fulbright scholarships after World War II to promote international understanding.
The new fund also would be used to promote the translation of books in both directions, sponsor seminars, bring cultural events from one country to the other and promote other exchanges, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
Abe said the proposal remains within the ruling party so far, although it is expected to receive the support of Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and his government. Abe said former prime minister Noboru Takeshita and another key party leader, Shin Kanemaru, are both enthusiastic about the plan.
The Nihon Kezai business newspaper said the government is likely to commit between 50 billion and 100 billion yen ($325 million to $650 million) initially. Abe said no funding level has been decided yet, but said it should be "not something minuscule, something of reasonable size."
Reflecting a similar concern for public relations, government sources said Kaifu will visit Atlanta and Denver next month after attending the summit of leaders of major industrialized nations in Houston, according to Kyodo news service. No Japanese prime minister has been to either city, officials said.
Officials here have been perplexed about how to counter the negative feelings of many Americans, engendered in some cases by splashy Japanese purchases of companies and real estate in the United States and by anxieties that Japan is outstripping America economically.
One official said he fears that feelings are so poisoned now that Japan's best hope is to cultivate friendly relations with the young generation, paving the way for better relations a decade from now.