Glen Fukushima Suggested as Next Ambassador to Japan

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By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

As President-elect Joe Biden puts together his Cabinet and other leaders in his administration, leaders in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community are asking for representation.

One name that has come up is Glen S. Fukushima — senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and former deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan and China — as a possible candidate for U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Glen Fukushima

In a Nov. 18 opinion piece titled “Japan welcomes end of Trump era but has its doubts over Joe Biden-led U.S.” in the South China Morning Post, Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University, Japan, wrote: “Japan favors [ambassadorial]candidates who have strong political connections to the White House and know little about the nation because they are easier to manage. Biden can send a different message, though.

“The United States has had a Chinese American ambassador to China in Gary Locke, a Korean American ambassador to South Korea in Sung Kim, and an Indian American ambassador to India in Rich Verma but so far no Japanese American ambassador to Japan.

“It is time to rectify this situation and Glen Fukushima, fluent in Japanese with extensive Japan-related public and private sector experience, is eminently qualified.”

Asked by The Rafu Shimpo to elaborate, Kingston said, “Glen Fukushima would be an ideal candidate for ambassador to Japan because he knows the country well and he is well connected in the corridors of power in both the U.S. and Japan. He has extensive experience working on trade issues with Japan in the U.S. government as well as in the business sector.

“The U.S. has much to gain from having an ambassador with his deep knowledge of Japan or fluency in Japanese. His ability to connect directly with the Japanese public and ability to draw on a wide range of contacts in business and government make him an ideal candidate to help the two nations navigate the current challenges that face the alliance on trade and security.

“Given the urgent regional situation involving China and the Korean Peninsula, this is not a time to appoint someone who needs extensive on-the-job training.”

An article in Sentaku, a Japanese policy journal, mentioned that Fukushima is being considered for the post. Nobuaki Tanaka, a former consul general in San Francisco, posted the article on Facebook and commented, “Glen is now very promising for the ambassador post. Wishing him well. He’d be a great ambassador!”

President John F. Kennedy’s appointee, Edwin Reischauer, who was born in Japan to American missionaries, spoke fluent Japanese. Subsequent appointees have included such high-profile individuals as former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, former Vice President Walter Mondale and JFK’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, but none were regarded as experts on Japan. President Trump’s appointee, Bill Hagerty, stepped down last year and is now the U.S. senator-elect from Tennessee.

In August, Glen Fukushima appeared on the popular BS-Fuji TV news program “Prime News,” which focused on the Democratic National Convention and prospects for the presidential election. One speaker argued that Japan would be better off if President Trump were re-elected, and Fukushima argued that Japan would benefit more from a Joe Biden presidency.

Comments from Community

“Glen Fukushima is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the United States about U.S.-Japan trade issues and is totally bilingual and bicultural, which is a rarity,” said Sheridan Tatsuno, principal of Dreamscape Global in San Francisco. “After founding the Japan Forum at Harvard, Glen established a stellar career in business, serving as the CEO of several U.S. technology corporations, and government as a U.S. trade representative.

“During the 1980s, when I was a senior semiconductor analyst at Silicon Valley market research firm Dataquest, Glen would share his insights into the complex U.S.-Japan semiconductor trade conflicts, which would enable me to place my company’s market research into a broader policy framework. Few other Americans had that level of deep understanding of Japanese trade policies.”

Dale Minami, senior counsel at Minami Tamaki LLP in San Francisco and longtime civil rights activist, said, “Given the importance of U.S.-Japan relations, the U.S. should pick an ambassador to Japan who knows Japan and Asia well, as well as the U.S. foreign policy community in Washington, D.C. Glen was with the USTR for five years and CAP for eight years.

“Given the complexity of Japan and its role in Asia, it is important to have a U.S. ambassador who can speak and read Japanese. The last time the U.S. had such an ambassador in Japan was when Harvard professor Edwin Reischauer served in Tokyo 1961-66. This should be just a ‘plum’ job but given the strategic importance of Japan in the Far East, the USA needs an effective, knowledgeable working ambassador, not a sinecure based on political contacts.

“Given the importance of Asia’s economy to the U.S., the U.S. should pick an ambassador who has had first-hand business experience in Asia. Glen had 22 years as a business executive in Asia, rising to the positions of CEO and president of Airbus Japan; he was elected for two terms as president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

“Given Joe Biden’s desire to have his administration reflect diversity and to ‘look like America,’ it makes sense to appoint the first Japanese American to be U.S. ambassador to Japan, especially since we have already had a Chinese American ambassador to China, a Korean American ambassador to South Korea, and an Indian American ambassador to India. This will also help to strengthen ties between Japanese Americans and Japan.

“From my personal perspective as a JA very much interested in Japan, overcoming the myth of disloyalty branded on Japanese Americans during WWII is a mountain we must still climb as we, and other Asian Pacific Americans, are still considered ‘foreigners.’ It is the same mindset which leads to anti-Asian violence and impedes our acceptance as full Americans even though we’ve been here for five generations now and participated actively in the Biden campaign.

“But an appointment of Glen Fukushima would be more than symbolic because of his profound knowledge of and experiences in Japan. I think most ambassadors get selected for their contribution to a winning president rather than their ability to understand and strengthen our USA relation to a foreign nation. Glen would be an exception with his depth of understanding of Japan, its strategic partnership with the USA and its dynamic relationship of all of the neighboring Asian countries.

“His appointment would bring us full circle — our grandparents immigrating from an ancestral homeland to our country of citizenship and allegiance despite our mass imprisonment for that ancestry. An appointment of a JA as ambassador would bring us full circle — to the recognition what we are truly Americans and can represent the USA with loyalty and competence.”

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus has urged Biden to appoint AAPIs to the Cabinet and other high-level posts, but has not recommended specific individuals.

Biden has already tapped two Indian Americans — Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general under President Obama, to return to that role in the new administration, and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Fukushima has declined to comment.

In July, Glen Fukushima appeared live on “Shinso News,” a popular nightly news program on BS Nihon Television, to discuss U.S.-China relations and the U.S. presidential election. He noted that opinion polls indicated that the Japanese public did not favor Donald Trump’s re-election, but many in the Japanese leadership favored Trump because they perceived him to be tougher on China than Joe Biden.

Extensive Experience

At the Center for American Progress, a prominent public policy think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C., Fukushima’s work focuses on U.S.-East Asian relations, U.S.-Japan relations, and international political economy.

From 1990 to 2012, Fukushima was based in Tokyo as a senior executive with several major multinational corporations, including as vice president of AT&T Japan Ltd.; president of Arthur D. Little Japan; president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems Japan; president and CEO of NCR Japan; and president and CEO of Airbus Japan. He also served two terms as president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan from 1998 to 1999 and vice president from 1993 to 1997.

Before embarking on his business career, he was based in Washington, D.C., as director for Japanese affairs (1985-1988) and deputy assistant of the U.S. Trade Representative for Japan and China (1988-1990) at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. In 1993, he was offered, but declined, to be the U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for international economic policy. He began his career at the law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker.

Fukushima has served on numerous corporate boards and government advisory councils in the U.S., Europe, and Japan and on the board of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, America-Japan Society, Japan Center for International Exchange, Japan Society of Boston, Japan Society of Northern California, Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., International House of Japan, Japanese American National Museum, U.S.-Japan Council, and Global Council of the Asia Society.

He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Tokyo Club, and Tokyo Rotary Club. Until June 2001, he served for eight years in the White House-appointed positions of vice chair of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and vice chair of the U.S. panel of Joint Committee on U.S.-Japan Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON). He was chair of the Mori Art Museum Best Friends, a member of the Director’s Circle of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and a member of the Tokyo Committee of Human Rights Watch.

Fukushima’s publications include “The Politics of U.S.-Japan Economic Friction” (Nichi-Bei Keizai Masatsu no Seijigaku), winner of the ninth Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Prize in 1993. He received the Excellence 2000 award from the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce in 1999, the Alumni Hall of Fame award from Stanford University in 2002, and the Person of the Year award from the San Francisco-baed National Japanese American Historical Society in 2008. Keio University awarded him the status of “Honorary Alumnus” in 2012.

A native of California, Fukushima was educated at Stanford University, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Law School. At Harvard, he was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship. He has studied and worked in Japan for more than 20 years, including at Keio University; a daily newspaper; an international law firm; and as a Fulbright fellow and a Japan Foundation fellow at the Faculty of Law, University of Tokyo.

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