TOKYO — Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze urged Japan on Wednesday to stay out of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative program, but he was rebuffed by his Japanese counterpart, Shintaro Abe, who called on the Soviet Union to reduce its military presence in the Far East.
"The Soviet Union considers SDI to be part of the arms race," Shevardnadze was quoted by a Japanese Foreign Ministry official as telling Abe. "Although the U.S.S.R. does not expect Japan to be critical of SDI, it hopes Japan will consider carefully where its interests lie."
Shevardnadze's visit to Japan, the first by a Soviet foreign minister in 10 years, comes at a time of heated debate in Japan on whether it should follow Britain and West Germany in joining the space-based "Star Wars" program, under which the United States and--it hopes--its allies will develop laser and other technologies to destroy enemy nuclear missiles in flight.
Abe told Shevardnadze that Japan is "studying its position on SDI and will make up its mind independently within the context of its security arrangements with the United States," according to the Foreign Ministry official.
The U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty provides for American defense of Japan against attack, and for use of Japanese ports and bases by U.S. forces.
Urges Soviet Cutback
Abe, calling on the Soviet Union to "scale back its military presence" in the Far East, "expressed concern about the Soviet military buildup, including deployment of SS-20 missiles and the expansion of the Soviet fleet," the official said.
The deployment of Soviet SS-20 medium-range missiles in Siberia during the last 10 years and the rapid expansion of Soviet naval forces in the Pacific have been among the many issues contributing to cool relations between the Soviet Union and Japan.
The Japanese government has been slow to make a decision on "Star Wars" because the public retains a strong aversion for military-related cooperation. In keeping with the spirit of Japan's constitution, which renounces war, the government has placed a ceiling on defense spending of 1% of the gross national product and bars the export of weaponry.
While some Japanese companies have indicated that they are eager to get involved in "Star Wars," officials are reluctant to take action that might lead to an adverse public reaction.
Although many Japanese oppose cooperating with the United States on "Star Wars," few are favorably disposed to the Soviet Union. About 6,000 riot police in Tokyo are protecting Shevardnadze from nearly 80 right-wing patriotic associations, whose 700 uniformed members have been shouting anti-Soviet slogans from sound trucks for days. Heavy buses parked near the entrance of the Soviet Embassy act as barriers against the right-wing demonstrations.
Islands a Big Issue
Although the self-styled patriots are considered a nuisance by most Japanese, when it comes to the Soviet Union the views of the right-wing splinter groups closely reflect popular opinion. The Soviets are still hated for abrogating a treaty of neutrality in the final week of World War II, overrunning Japanese-controlled Manchuria and permanently occupying a group of four Japanese islands off the northernmost Japanese main island of Hokkaido.
Soviet insistence on remaining on the islands, and the recent Soviet militarization of the area, constitute the most serious obstacle to good relations between the two countries.
The Japanese have made the signing of a peace treaty with the Soviets conditional upon the return of the islands, referred to in Japan as the Northern Territories. Posters and placards urging Japanese not to forget the islands can be seen everywhere.