Reagan Administration trade officials believe that Japan is conducting an orchestrated campaign of disinformation to provide a rationale for the failure of Japanese companies to increase their purchases of U.S. semiconductors.
In late December, Japanese newspapers splashed a story over their front pages that the country's National Space Development Agency was postponing a launch because of defective U.S.-made semiconductors in the rocket.
That story has mushroomed over the past month into a broad-based Japanese attack on the quality of American-made semiconductors, causing Administration trade officials to raise the issue in meetings with their Japanese counterparts.
Japanese officials here and in Tokyo have denied waging a campaign to attack American quality, and last week Japan's space agency backed off from implications that the launch postponement was attributable to a defect in a U.S.-made semiconductor.
Nonetheless, the attacks on the quality of American semiconductors persist in the Japanese press. In an editorial, for instance, the Japan Times pointed to the postponement of the rocket launch and stated: "One of the reasons that U.S. microchip producers have difficulties in selling here is that their semiconductors are perceived to contain more defects than Japanese chips."
Alan Wolff, Washington counsel for the Semiconductor Industry Assn., said: "Quality is an easy thing to use as an excuse. Quality is no longer an issue, but it certainly serves as a pretext for not making purchases."
Commerce Undersecretary Bruce Smart noted as "a strain running through the whole relationship" that "Japanese love to say that Americans can't do anything right."
The semiconductor involved in the space shot was made by National Semiconductor Inc. and bought by TRW Components International Inc., a U.S. company that has a contract with the Japanese space agency to supply voltage regulators used in the rocket. TRW reported that it fully tested the semiconductors as well as the voltage regulator and found they met all the specifications.
This issue is important because figures show that Japan is still not complying with provisions of a semiconductor trade agreement signed in September, 1986, calling for it to increase its purchases of American semiconductors.