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Presidential Prestige for Sale or Rent, Japan Finds This Lobbying Heaven-Sent : BOOK MARK: Japanese influence reaches high and deep into American politics and the U.S. economy. The author of "Agents of Influence" shows how Japan's lobbyists have helped that nation win significant shares of the U.S. market for their goods, and how Japan's reach extends even to former chief executives. An excerpt.

October 28, 1990|Pat Choate | Pat Choate, a political economist, has also written "The High-Flex Society."

A number of former Presidents have engaged in post-presidential commercialism. Until recently, though, no former President has ever

rented out the prestige of the office or provided a foreign entity with public endorsements.

In October, 1989, (former President Ronald) Reagan hired himself out--for $2 million--to do public-relations work for Japan's Fujisankei Communications. The Fujisankei conglomerate, headed by a controversial and conservative tycoon, owns Japan's largest radio network, a national newspaper and the country's most successful television chain.

For two of the nine days that Reagan was in Japan, he was an official guest of the Japanese government. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko hosted a lunch for the Reagans at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. A state guest-house banquet was hosted by Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and attended by three former prime ministers. The Japanese government presented Reagan with Japan's highest honor, the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum.

For the remainder of his trip, the ex-President worked for Fujisankei. He made two 20-minute speeches and attended company-sponsored events. He gave exclusive interviews to Fujisankei's television stations and newspapers. He presided over a concert for 17,000 guests in Yokohama to raise money for the Reagan Presidential Library. He also solicited additional library contributions from wealthy Japanese industrialists.

While privately seeking Sony Corp. funds for his library, Reagan defended Sony's controversial October, 1989, purchase of Columbia Pictures. The ex-President proclaimed, "I'm not too proud of Hollywood these days with the immorality that is shown in pictures, and the vulgarity . . . . I just have a feeling that Hollywood needs some outsiders to bring back decency and good taste to some of the pictures that are being made."

As for the growing Japanese investment in America, Reagan said, "The United States still is the widest investor in the other countries . . . . So how can we complain if someone wants to invest in us?"

Most important, Reagan used his tour as an opportunity to blame America for the U.S.-Japan trade deficit. At a Fujisankei-sponsored banquet for Japanese industrialists, he said trade frictions between the two countries had been caused by "trade protectionists" in Washington--the people he "had to fight every day I was there." It was a perfect recitation of the "It's America's fault" propaganda line that Japan had peddled throughout the 1980s.

Reagan concluded his trip with a brief talk aired on Fujisankei's national television network. With "America the Beautiful" softly playing in the background, the ex-President thanked Fujisankei Communications for making his trip possible. He congratulated Fujisankei for its efforts to improve U.S.-Japan relations.

It is difficult to imagine Kakuei Tanaka, Helmut Kohl, Francois Mitterrand or Margaret Thatcher providing a similar paid endorsement of an American firm.

Though with less pomp and circumstance, Jimmy Carter has also used his prestige on behalf of the Japanese--specifically, to promote the public career of Japanese billionaire Ryoichi Sasakawa. On Nov. 7, 1989, Carter praised Sasakawa and the Sasakawa foundations in a full-page advertisement placed in the Wall Street Journal. The ad featured an enormous picture of the ex-President in the center of the page. In the accompanying text, Carter described how Sasakawa's foundations had provided financial backing for Global 2000, the ex-President's agricultural aid project for Africa, through the Atlanta-based Carter Center. Global 2000 consumes much of Carter's time and has helped rehabilitate his once less than popular image with the American public.

Sasakawa's friendship and close association with the former President has done much for his personal prestige. Sasakawa and Carter travel together and have made several joint appearances. In 1985, Carter and his wife made an unpublicized trip to Japan to attend a memorial service for Sasakawa's mother.

What is far less publicized is Sasakawa's "unsavory political history," as one State Department document describes it. In the pre-World War II period, he gained notoriety as a rich Japanese ultranationalist who had made his fortune in rice speculation in the late 1920s. In 1931, he founded the 15,000-member Kokusui Taishuto, Japan's Fascist National Essence Mass Party. Members of the group donned black shirts, in imitation of Benito Mussolini's Italian fascists. In fact, Sasakawa conferred in Rome with Mussolini, the man he called his political idol--the "perfect dictator and fascist"--in the early days of Kokusui Taishuto. According to declassified government records, moreover, Sasakawa flew to Italy and Germany before World War II to urge the consummation of the Axis military alliance.

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