Americans and the Japanese "have a common cause" in changing "outdated" and restrictive Japanese trade policies that have lowered the standard of living in both countries, President Clinton said today in the first major policy address of his six-day visit to Asia.
Japan's restrictive policies are not the sole reason for its persistent trade surplus with the United States but are an undeniable factor, Clinton said.
"It is clear that our markets are more open to your products and your investments than yours are to ours," Clinton said, adding that Japanese trade barriers have "fueled resentment in our country both from workers and from businesses."
But "this persistent trade imbalance has not just hurt American workers and businesses, it has hurt the Japanese people," he said.
Trade barriers "diminish the quality of your lives" by raising the costs of goods and services to the Japanese people, Clinton said. The Japanese, he added, "are entitled to no less" than the full benefits of truly free world trade.
Clinton spoke at Tokyo's Waseda University--the site a generation ago of a confrontation between radical students and the late Robert F. Kennedy that became a landmark in the development of U.S.-Japanese relations during the Cold War.
Kennedy, facing an angry crowd, disarmed them by inviting dialogue on the military and security relationships between the two nations. Clinton's audience was far more friendly, but his topic--the economic relationship between the United States and Japan--is no less contentious.
In his speech, which White House aides had designed as the President's chief forum for outlining the Administration's economic policies toward Asia and the Pacific, Clinton proposed that heads of state of the major Asian and Pacific nations meet informally this fall.
The idea, which has been under discussion at lower levels for months, would build on the annual meeting of government officials from the 15-nation Organization for Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation that is planned for Seattle in October.
Billing the proposed meeting as an "informal" summit reflected Clinton's own impatience with the time-consuming and somewhat stultifying nature of formal summit sessions. But officials also hope the billing will work as a way to get around the objections of China, which has opposed allowing the president of Taiwan, an Asian-Pacific group member, to get the recognition of participating in any formal international summit meetings.
Such a meeting could "improve our peoples' lives--not just the lives of those who dash around financial districts in Tokyo or New York with cellular telephones in the pockets, but the millions of people in my country and billions of people on the Earth who work hard every day in factories and on farms simply to feed their families and to give their children a better life," Clinton said.
The major industrial nations "must resist the pressures that are now apparent in all wealthy countries to put up walls and to protect specific markets and constituencies in times of slow growth.
"The only way wealthy countries can grow richer is if there is global economic growth and we can increase trade," he said.
That same theme was at the heart of Clinton's message to the Japanese. Economists both here and in the United States generally agree that Tokyo's policies have aided Japanese companies at the price of severely limiting the standard of living of Japanese consumers, most of whom live in conditions far more austere than the average American despite their nation's great wealth.
Food, housing and basic consumer goods, for example, all cost considerably more in Japan than in the United States. Those policies have been able to thrive in part because of different cultural expectations here than in the United States, but also because of a political system dominated by one party that has responded to business interests but has largely resisted demands for improvements in the standard of living of average families.
In the past, U.S. Presidents in Tokyo have tended to argue for free trade in terms of what it would do for Americans, feeling in part that Japan's government was largely impervious to domestic pressure for lower-cost goods. But American policy-makers now believe that the almost unprecedented political turmoil now sweeping Japan has opened the possibility of a new government that would pursue different policies.
A Japanese policy aimed at raising living standards almost certainly would lead to greater imports from other nations, including the United States, officials say. Clinton's speech sought to exploit that opening.
Change, he said, "cannot simply come from pressure from the United States" but rather will "only come ultimately when Japanese leaders and Japanese citizens recognize that it is in your interests to pursue this course."
"What the United States seeks," Clinton said, "is not managed trade or so-called trade by the numbers but better results from better rules of trade.
"I would send this message to all of you," he added. "You have a common cause with the people of America--a common cause against outdated practices that undermine our relationship and diminish the quality of your lives."
Asked later whether his exhortation to the Japanese might be considered interference in the Japanese election later this month, Clinton said he did not think so. But he added: "I owe it to the people of Japan, since there is no more important bilateral relationship, to make the United States' case directly to them."
While most of Clinton's speech involved economic policies, he also used the forum here to make a strong argument for the importance of human rights and expanded democracy in Asia.
"Some have argued democracy is somehow unsuited for Asia . . . that human rights are relative, that they simply mask Western cultural imperialism," Clinton said, referring to an argument often cited by Chinese officials and prominently voiced by some Third World leaders at a recent United Nations human rights conference.
"I believe those voices are wrong," Clinton said. "It is not Western urging or Western imperialism, but the aspirations of Asian people themselves that explain the growing numbers of democracies and democratic nations in this region. It is an insult to the spirit and hopes and dreams of the people who live here to assert that anything else is true."
While preserving the independence of national cultures is important, he said, "there is no cultural justification for torture or tyranny. We refuse to let repression cloak itself in moral relativism."
Clinton has tried to increase the U.S. government's pressure on international human rights issues, although the Administration's actions--on trade with China, for example--have often fallen short of its rhetoric.
A Full Calendar for Clinton
A summary of President Clinton's schedule for his Tokyo trip.
* First meeting of Group of Seven, 2:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. Tuesday PDT)
* Working dinner, 7:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. PDT)
* Plenary session, 3 p.m. (11 p.m. today PDT)
* Court dinner with G-7 heads and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, 7:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. PDT)
* Final G-7 meeting, 9:15 a.m. (5:15 p.m. Thursday PDT).
* G-7 leaders meet with Yeltsin, 2:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. Thursday PDT)
* Clinton news conference, 8 p.m. (4 a.m. PDT)
* Breakfast meeting with Yeltsin, 8:15 a.m. (4:15 p.m. Friday PDT)
* Departs for Seoul, South Korea, noon (8 p.m. Friday PDT)