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Cheney talking with Japanese on military spending

U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney arrived on the final stop of his first Asian tour Tuesday hoping for increased Japanese military spending to help offset Pentagon budget cuts. As one newspaper here put it, however, "The timing .


. is bad." National elections last weekend left the pro-American government of Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu facing a balky parliament more likely to freeze military spending than to increase it.

Officials said that Cheney nevertheless would urge Kaifu to increase the Japanese treasury's contribution to the upkeep of American forces here and to continue modernizing its Self-Defense Forces. A new five-year military expansion plan is due for adoption by the government in August.

Cheney is scheduled to meet Kaifu and other top leaders today. He arrived from Manila, where he got little encouragement on U.S. efforts to renew the leases on two major bases in the Philippines. Before that he had been in South Korea to discuss gradual cuts in the number of American forces there. He flies back to the United States on Saturday.

As in South Korea _ but unlike the Philippines _ there is no public groundswell against the American military presence in Japan.

But many Japanese question the need to continue building up the armed forces when the United States and the Soviet Union are scaling back.

Japan, to the alarm of some of its Pacific neighbors, already has the world's third-largest defense budget, after the United States and Soviet Union, and has been increasing it at an annual rate averaging 5.5 percent over the past decade. In the coming fiscal year, which starts April 1, military spending is scheduled to increase just over 6 percent, to nearly $30-billion.

The Asahi Shimbun, one of the country's most respected daily newspapers, was highly skeptical of the Cheney meeting so soon after a national political campaign. "The timing of Cheney's visit is bad," the newspaper said in an editorial. "There is a need for the prime minister's office, the Foreign Ministry and Defense Agency officials to confer extensively, but the government has no such time (now)."