Mike Mansfield (1903-2001), the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1988, wrote in 1989: “The most important bilateral relationship in the world today is that between the United States and Japan.”
Before his ambassadorial appointment, Mansfield, a powerful Democrat, was Senate majority leader for as long as 16 years.
Ambassador Mansfield’s successors have included such political heavyweights as former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas Foley. Honor and heavy responsibility go with the post of U.S. ambassador to Japan.
For this exalted post, President Barack Obama has nominated Caroline Kennedy, 55, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy.
A member of arguably the most prominent political family in the United States, Kennedy has experienced the tragedy of her father’s assassination when she was a little girl. She has grown up to become something of a celebrity in her own right as a lawyer, writer and president of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
But her lack of political experience has raise questions on whether she will be capable of dealing with friction between Japan and China and economic issues between Tokyo and Washington.
However, we believe Kennedy is the right choice for the current Japan-U.S. relations.
Japanologist Ezra Vogel, a Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University, supports the Kennedy nomination.
Vogel pointed out that Japan and the United States currently have no problems of the sort that existed in the past, such as unrest over the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in the 1960s when Edwin O. Reischauer (1910-1990) was ambassador, or the Japan-U.S. trade dispute during Mansfield’s ambassadorship.
Today, Vogel continued, China is the focus of U.S. political and financial circles, and their interest in Japan is waning. At a time such as this, an ideal U.S. ambassador to Japan is someone who can “charm” the Americans to pay attention to Japan and promote broader mutual exchange.
According to a recent opinion poll, more than 80 percent of Japanese as well as Americans feel a sense of affinity for one another. Political and economic issues arise from time to time, but the bilateral relationship is basically solid and broad in fields such as sports, culture and academics. In other words, the relationship today is being kept intact by the general public in each country.
There is no reason to limit the required qualification of a U.S. ambassador to Japan to political experience in the narrow sense of the term. There are experts advising the ambassador on specific issues. Now that Japan-U.S. relations have matured, we believe the ideal ambassador is someone who values bilateral cooperation in its proper context and is able to breathe fresh life into it.
Former ambassador John V. Roos, who left his post this week, was a lawyer with no political experience. Yet he has left giant footprints in Japan by participating actively in relief efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake and becoming the first U.S. ambassador to Japan to attend atomic-bomb memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While Caroline Kennedy has never entered politics, she has not been entirely apolitical, either. In early 2008, she became one of the first high-profile Americans to announce her endorsement of Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate in “A President Like My Father,” an op-ed piece she contributed to The New York Times. She displayed an uncanny talent for reading the current of the time.
We would like Kennedy to look at Japan-U.S. issues with unclouded eyes and speak her mind with candor. We also hope she will bring the sort of liberalism she must have inherited from her father and open up new areas of bilateral exchange, such as with the arts and grass-roots movements.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 14
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