CANBERRA, Australia (AP) _ Japan's massive new rice tariff represents the erection of a ``bamboo curtain'' which could prolong the Asian financial crisis and result in retaliatory action by its trading partners, Australia's deputy prime minister said Tuesday.

Tim Fischer conceded the new Japanese tariff was not illegal, and would not stop the existing 72 million Australian dollars ($44.6 million) worth of rice exported to Japan each year.

Japan owed its postwar prosperity to the opening up of world trade in the wake of World War II, but had apparently failed to heed the message of the Great Depression, which was prolonged by nations erecting trade barriers.

``Fortress Japan, or for that matter, Fortress Australia, would be absolutely the wrong way to go,'' he said.

``This represents a bamboo curtain, with some pretty spikey bamboos, but we'll be doing all we can to wedge open that curtain, and reduce its size, in the next round of negotiations.''

Fischer said Japan's new tariff was 15 times Australia's highest tariff, and while he ruled out raising Australian tariffs, he would be looking at other action that could be taken against Japan.

He singled out Japanese four-wheel drive vehicles, which attract a tariff of 5 percent in Australia, well below the rate applying to other vehicles.

``As I'll be at my desk all of January _ an opportunity to pursue every option that we can pursue,'' Fischer said.

``If it was that there was some modification of gear box or whatever that they were seeking some clearance of or height restriction on the actual specification, I would just be underwhelmed by it.

``Japan has written its own message on this, Japan has failed to show leadership.''