TOKYO — Norishige Hasegawa, chairman of Sumitomo Chemical Co. and a vice chairman of Keidanren, the federation of economic organizations, said Wednesday that a private business leader picked to become a vice president of Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. when it is converted from public to semiprivate ownership April 1 refused to take the job because of intervention from "political circles."
Yuzuru Abe, president of Nisshin Steel Co., had been recommended for the NTT post by Keidanren, and last Saturday he accepted. But on Tuesday, he said he was rejecting the offer, citing "uncertainties about health."
His refusal to take the job was expected to leave the new private telephone company with only one vice president. This is Yasusada Kitahara, now the vice president of NTT. Kitahara, who has spent his entire career with the government corporation, is known to have close political ties to former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.
Abe's rejection of the post casts some doubt on how far the new NTT will move toward liberalizing Japan's telecommunications market, over which it has exercised virtually complete control. The United States, which had a $36.9-billion trade deficit with Japan last year, has designated telecommunications as one of four key sectors of the Japanese economy that it wants opened to foreign competition.
Hasegawa said Wednesday that, to help the trade balance, Keidanren would coordinate the purchase of a U.S. satellite by a consortium of Japanese companies. He said the supplier or timing of the purchase had not been decided.
Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone is said to have nominated Abe for the vice presidency of the new firm with the understanding that he would succeed Hisashi Shinto as president in two years' time.
Shinto, who was appointed to the NTT presidency four years ago, has been praised by U.S. officials for his efforts to let NTT acquire American-made telecommunications equipment. But he is said to be on bad terms with Kitahara, who has reportededly clashed with him at every step in the process of converting NTT into a semiprivate company.
Hasegawa said Abe turned down the job "because friends in the business world advised him he would face difficulties" in view of opposition to his appointment from former Prime Minister Tanaka and his faction of Liberal Democratic Party members in Parliament.
Hasegawa did not mention Tanaka by name, but he did not contradict a reporter who named Tanaka in putting a question to him.
Nakasone Asked for Name
Hasegawa said that Yoshihiro Inayama, Keidanren's chairman, had been asked by Nakasone to recommend a private businessman as vice president of the new NTT, "and he recommended Abe, who would have been a very good person to succeed Shinto."
"But there was a claim from political circles, and the \o7 zaikai\f7 (business leaders) didn't want to get into a fight with the political circles," he added.
Asked whether another man from the business world might now be named to the NTT vice presidency, Hasegawa replied that "not only Abe but anyone would have difficulties."