Political Tensions Must Be Avoided in Improving Japan-U.S. Relations


OSAKA — Japanese and American businesses must strengthen their mutual ties by sidestepping political tensions, a former U.S. Commerce Department official said here Thursday.

Lionel H. Olmer, former U.S. undersecretary of commerce for international trade, said businessmen should become better acquainted with the political leanings of each other’s country “to distinguish reality from rhetoric.”

“I would counsel businessmen in both countries to cultivate greater sensitivity to understanding the political concerns which exist on both sides,” he said.

During a speech at the Asia-Pacific Business Convention here, Olmer criticized the U.S. Congress for proposing “protectionist” measures in an omnibus trade bill and defended President Ronald Reagan’s position to oppose those measures.

Olmer, now working for a Washington D.C. law firm, singled out Congress’ dramatic reaction to the recent Toshiba case.

“Do not become hypnotized by the sight of a few U.S. congressmen breaking up a Toshiba radio on the grounds of the United States Congress,” Olmer told about 300 Japanese and foreign listeners.

“That does not reflect the true sentiment of lawmakers in the United States, much less the business community.”

Olmer said that congressional reaction to Japan-U.S. trade issues is geared more toward gaining votes for the 1988 presidential election than working out international problems.

He suggested that Japanese and U.S. businessmen become familiar with the background behind political issues.

“Your ability to discount public posturing from legitimate policy considerations is absolutely essential to planning an effective business strategy,” he said.

Olmer predicted that a proposed trade bill would not go into effect this year.

“It’s too complicated, too controversial, too difficult, and involves competing and conflicting interests,” he said.

But toned-down sanctions against violators of the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) agreement, including Toshiba Corp., probably will be approved by the U.S. government, he said.

Olmer also said he expects the continued fall of the dollar against the yen, and with it “more pressures to hasten the adjustment process” of Japan-America relations.

He said businessmen from both countries must look beyond the mounting political and trade frustrations.

“It’s been very painful, but far-sighted planning can alleviate some of the difficulty,” he said.