Japan's trade minister, profoundly apologetic, said Friday that Toshiba's sale of submarine technology to the Soviet Union was an "unforgivable criminal act" and pledged that the Japanese government would take "bold measures" to prevent future security violations.
Trade Minister Hajime Tamura admitted that the "fires of the Toshiba incident are burning most fiercely" in Congress, where the Senate has already voted to ban the sale of Toshiba Corp. products, including television sets, computers and other electronic goods, from the United States for two to five years.
Tamura, who completed an emergency three-day trip to Washington to try to allay congressional anger and the Reagan Administration's discomfort, expressed hope that Congress can be persuaded not to pass punitive legislation against the mammoth electronics conglomerate.
However, he acknowledged in a press conference, the "atmosphere was extremely severe" in his meetings with American government officials and members of Congress.
In 1983 and 1984, a Toshiba subsidiary, Toshiba Machine Co., and a state-owned Norwegian arms firm, Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk, secretly sold the Soviet Union special milling machinery and computer equipment that have allowed it to produce quieter submarines, making it more difficult for Western monitors to detect them.
A pact among Western nations bans the sale of militarily beneficial technology to the Eastern Bloc.
Tamura said one congressman told him that the U.S. Navy would need an additional 30 submarines, costing $1 billion each, to regain its once-substantial advantage over the newly silent Soviet fleet.
Threat to Security
Toshiba Machine's "misconduct poses an unacceptable threat to our own security at home as well as to the Western alliance," said Tamura, speaking through an interpreter. "The event is therefore deplored by the Japanese people and the Japanese government as much as it is criticized here."
Tamura took special pains to be conciliatory both in his public statements and in his meetings with angry members of Congress.
The outcry about the technology diversion comes as the Congress, already irritated by Japan's massive trade surplus with the United States, is completing work on a major trade bill that could include measures targeting Japan and other major trading partners.
The Reagan Administration is trying hard to fend off protectionist measures in the bill that it says could cause a trade war. The Toshiba issue provides additional ammunition for members of Congress who want to take a tough line with Japan over the trade issue. On Thursday, the Administration called for quick action by Japan to prevent future leaks of technology.
"These were not demands by the United States, these were ideas resulting from suggestions by both sides," Commerce Department spokesman B. J. Cooper said Friday, in describing Japan's steps to plug the technology leaks.
Tamura pledged Friday that the Japanese government will:
--Approve legislation to increase criminal penalties for violation of export security laws and increase the statute of limitations for prosecution of such crimes.
--Improve inspections and surveillance at industrial companies that manufacture sensitive equipment and improve training programs for government inspectors.
--Double to 80 from 40 the government staff that oversees export controls.
--Promote a special program of Japanese-U.S. cooperation in developing anti-submarine equipment.
The Japanese government promised also to prosecute the individual Toshiba employees responsible for the technology diversion, which involved falsification of export documents.
"A handful of irresponsible individuals abused the Japanese export control system," Tamura said. "Their misconduct is reprehensible. We in Japan are now acting vigorously to repair the weaknesses in the system which this incident revealed . . . ."
Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, in attempting to discourage Congress from approving U.S. sanctions, said Thursday that the Japanese should be allowed to assess the appropriate punishment against Toshiba.
Although the Administration was unable to stop the Senate from passing the two- to five-year ban against Toshiba, officials hope they can get the sanctions deleted from the final legislation.
In support of the Administration's effort, Japanese officials said that Toshiba is placing full-page advertisements in the Monday editions of 50 to 60 U.S. newspapers to make a formal apology to the American public.