WASHINGTON — The Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. has announced the appointment of Kenichiro Sasae as the new ambassador to the U.S., succeeding Ichiro Fujisaki.
Sasae joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and worked at the embassies in the U.S. and the U.K. as well as the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Geneva.
He was named deputy director-general of the Asian Affairs Bureau in 1999, executive assistant to the prime minister for foreign affairs in 2000, deputy director-general of the Foreign Policy Bureau in 2001, director-general of the Economic Affairs Bureau in 2002, and director-general of the Asian and Oceania Affairs Bureau in 2005.
In 2008, he became deputy minister for foreign affairs, and in 2010, vice minister.
Following are Sasae’s comments at his inaugural press conference, held on Nov. 21.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am Ken Sasae, new ambassador to the United States coming from Tokyo. Since this is the first press conference with you, I would like to first of all share with you some of the basic thoughts I would carry through as I embark upon the work of the ambassador here.
First, what I would like to do is to function as the glue putting together and binding together the two nations and the two distinctive people.
Number two, I’d like to carefully tackle the challenges head-on. There is no panacea to resolve either the security or the economic agendas or problems we are facing today. So, it is necessary for us to go step-by-step to resolve the issues.
Number three is that we need to pursue the alliance goal in accordance with a shared grand strategy. I’d like to clarify a little bit about all these three points.
First of all, this is always true to every ambassador working here, but as ambassador, I would like to expand the relationship between the two countries. Over more than 60 years our alliance has expanded, overcoming many difficulties, economic difficulties and security difficulties. Back in the early 1970s and ’80s while I was working here, we were bound by tremendous economic and trade friction. People at the time thought that we couldn’t overcome them, but we could do so.
Now back in the 1990s, America was winning the Cold War, but it was faced with tremendous economic difficulties at home. So there were again eruptions of economic friction, but we could overcome. So there are always problems accompanying the alliance, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t resolve them.
But in doing so, we need to expand the bases of the exchanges. To be frank with you as an ambassador and former deputy foreign minister, I was not satisfied with the current level of exchanges. It is true that we have tremendously expanded the grassroot exchanges, that a lot of American young people are visiting and coming to teach English, for example. That is an enormous asset. And there are a lot of Japanese school boys and girls visiting the United States, but there are less college students now coming to the U.S.
I am not complaining about this, we have to face the facts, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything. As ambassador I’d like to reach out to every state, and to cities, and local communities and exchange views with them and ask them to come and visit Japan.
Japan is now rebuilding its economy standing up from the disaster of the earthquake and tsunami. Japanese people are kind and are always accommodating to people coming from abroad. So I would like to once again use this opportunity to encourage American people to come and visit Japan.
And also taking this opportunity, I’d like to ask Japanese citizens to come and visit the U.S. America is strong. America is kind. We always think that America will continue to exercise leadership around the world.
Now we also need to tackle the challenges head-on, as I said initially. We can’t escape from tackling the day-to-day problems. First of all, it is true that over the past couple years, we have had ups and downs in our relationship, especially in the context of Okinawa and Futenma-related issues. But that doesn’t mean that the fundamentals of our alliance were hurt. I think that it was a problem, but that doesn’t mean that our alliance is crumbling. The fundamentals are healthy and we have to be confident about it.
What we need to do is to move step-by-step. Now the American policy in the Asia-Pacific is also subject to change. We all know it. It is going towards the rebalancing and pivoting its stance toward Asia. We welcome that. We are cooperating with that. And in doing so, we need to get a good understanding of the Okinawa government and people.
So it is very nice for us to have good support from the U.S. Congress and Senate, budgetary support for the relocation program of U.S. armies to Guam. We would also welcome the American forces working together with our Self-Defense Force, and in stepping up the joint exercises to prepare for the future.
Now, needless to say, we can’t be complacent with the already said agenda, we need to embark upon new agendas like outer space and cyber issues, which are more relevant in addressing jointly today. There are a lot of cyber issues going on in Asia-Pacific, too. So we have to jointly prepare for it and I’d like to do my best to help with that process.
Now the alliance is not simply about the security and political aspects. If you read the Japan-U.S. security arrangement, there is an economic clause. So the U.S.-Japan security alliance is an economic alliance too. Over the years I think we have been successful in getting rid of some of the bilateral individual trade friction. But that does not mean that we do not have any, there are some. But in large terms, I think we have had a mature economic relationship.
I think individual problems for the U.S. are more with China today rather than with Japan. But that doesn’t mean that everything is okay. I think we need to embark upon new ventures, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is now under consideration in Tokyo. And I hope that there will be more political support to this venture. As an ambassador I would like to carefully sustain the dialogue with the United States and also try to advance the agenda.
Now thirdly, we need to work on the shared goal and shared strategy. There are three points in here. One is that, as an ally of the United States, Japan has been working globally and regionally, including such agenda as Iranian nuclear developments and also Afghan problems. We need to make sure that, as U.S. forces withdraw, the Afghan economy and security will be in place. As an ally, we opened the conference to sustain the Afghan economy this year. So, in the same way we will continue to share the burden.
Now having said this, I think we need to put more emphasis on the changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific. It is true that there are still continued threats from North Korea both on the nuclear and missile issues. And there is the growing ascendancy of China as an economic and military power. And especially on the latter side, I think we need to create a more transparent and stable regional order. In doing so, I think we need to stabilize the relationship among the U.S., China, and Japan.
For us, it is good to see that the United States has a good relationship with China, it is good for us to see that the Japan-China relationship is better, and it is the best for us to see that the Japan-U.S. relationship is the very best. So in that order, we would like to continue working to stabilize the relationship among nations.
In doing so, I think one important point is that this is not a cold war anymore. We are not really engaged in a confrontational war. What we need is to have a collaborative relationship, including China, and hopefully in the future North Korea, and get rid of the remains of the Cold War. For that I think that Japan and the United States can work together. Thank you.