THE United States is pushing for a stronger yen as a means of slashing Japan's enormous trade surplus, but business and government economists in Tokyo say the move will have the opposite effect, at least in the short run. A Treasury Department source, commenting on the sharp rise in value of the yen following last week's meeting between President Mr Bill Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Mr Kiichi Miyazawa, said the US saw exchange rate adjustments and other macro-economic policies as the most effective way of bringing down the surplus. ''If they [Japan] don't bring down the surplus, we'll bring it down for them,'' said one Clinton administration aide. But it may not be that easy. Strategist and senior economist Mr Kenneth Courtis, first vice-president of Deutsche Bank Capital Markets (Asia), said: ''Any gain on foreign exchange is fool's gold. ''It is an attempted quick fix. It is like aspirin: helps for a while, but, when it wears off, the pain comes back. ''It looks attractive to inexperienced policy-makers.'' Also on Friday in Tokyo, US Secretary of Commerce Mr Ron Brown told an American Chamber of Commerce gathering that a stronger yen was part of US strategy. ''But President Clinton didn't intend to startle the markets with his comments over the weekend,'' Mr Brown said. When Mr Clinton came out endorsing a stronger yen, there was a new spurt that has took the rate to 110 yen to US$1. The yen has risen 12 per cent since February, bringing frowns to the faces of Japanese exporters, but smiles to the faces of importers. At Takashimaya Department Store's Ginza restaurant yesterday last week, American and Australian beef dinners on an ''all you can eat'' basis were advertised at the equivalent of US$20 per person. Previously, a small portion cost more than that. ''It is highly conceivable that the yen's steep rise will have an adverse effect on the economy,'' Chief Cabinet Secretary Mr Yohei Kono said last week, adding that the high yen would push up Japan's trade surplus in the short term. At least in theory, the strong yen should reduce Japan's surplus by raising the price of its exports, thus making them less competitive abroad, and by cutting the price of imports in Japan. That was just what Mr Clinton seemed to have in mind last week when he stunned Japanese officials by saying he favoured a strong yen. In the long run, the trade surplus may come down. In the short term, it could go up by as much as 10 per cent. Japan's trade surplus surged to US$111.34 billion in the year ended March 31, up from US$88.23 billion the previous year. The US-Japan trade imbalance was in Tokyo's favour by US$49 billion. Mr Courtis said: ''The trade surplus is independent of the exchange rate. It is a derivative. ''Japan is so dynamic that it turns the changed rate to its advantage while the US is left flat-footed. There is a trade surplus every week, over and over. ''Devaluation is a static response. Japan can always bounce back by moving quickly. Look at 1970, the rate was 380 yen to a dollar. Now, it's 110 to one. ''For one thing, the stronger yen becomes a 'trade barrier' or disadvantage for US companies trying to set up here. Prices for office space and rent are too high, while it works to Japanese advantage in the US.''