New U.S. ambassador to Japan calls Japan-U.S. alliance ‘bulwark’ in Indo-Pacific region
WASHINGTON — Rahm Emanuel, who will soon arrive in Japan as the new U.S. ambassador, has expressed his intention to strengthen the bilateral alliance to realize a “free and open Indo-Pacific” through cooperation between the two countries.
Regarding the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” that Japan has advocated since 2016, Emanuel said, “It was a way of seeing the region, seeing the alliance and seeing ... our North Star, what we’re building towards.”
During an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun in Washington on Wednesday, Emanuel, 62, called the Japan-U.S. alliance a “bulwark in that region.” He acknowledged the alliance is solid, but said, “It has to be strengthened at all times and nurtured for the future.”
Emanuel also said the security challenges posed by China and North Korea would be different from those of the past. Given that, he regards reinforcing the alliance as an urgent task for the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden during the remaining three years of its current term.
Emanuel, a longtime Democrat, served as chief of staff, a key White House position, from 2009 to 2010 during the administration of then U.S. President Barack Obama. He supported Obama along with Biden, who was vice president at the time.
Last August, Emanuel was nominated by Biden to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. However, the process was delayed mainly due to criticism over his handling of the death of a Black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Chicago when Emanuel was mayor of that city. In December, the U.S. Senate confirmed him to become the ambassador to Japan.
“My goal is not just to have an incredible experience but to make a difference,” Emanuel said.
He described the Japan-U.S. alliance as an example of how the two countries “can build something that is long-lasting, sustainable and makes a difference.”
■ Friendship with Biden
Emanuel said he had visited several former U.S. ambassadors to Japan under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He also emphasized his personal relationship with Biden and expressed his willingness to lead the development of U.S.-Japan relations.
Recalling his time as Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel said of Biden, who was then vice president: “Every day he was in my office. We talked multiple times.”
Emanuel went on to say that Biden and his wife came to his inauguration ceremony when he was sworn in as Chicago mayor in 2011.
“That was kind of, I think, an example of or an illustration of not just political alliances but a friendship,” he said.
Mainly in the 1990s, U.S. ambassadors to Japan were major figures in the party of the president who appointed them, including Walter Mondale, a Democrat who had served as vice president, and Howard Baker, who had served the Republican floor leader in the Senate. They showed their strong presence through such actions as directly engaging with Japanese prime ministers on the two countries’ outstanding issues, such as those related to U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture and the overseas dispatch of Self-Defense Forces personnel.
Former Ambassador Thomas Schieffer is a close friend of George W. Bush, the president who appointed him. He was regarded as a figure who could directly contact Bush any time.
In recent years, businessmen who helped raise funds for presidential elections, such as John Roos and William Hagerty, tended to be appointed to the post for their contribution.
Emanuel is a figure with a distinguished career in public service and apparently ranks with the high-profile former ambassadors. He is also known as a superb fundraiser, serving as chairman of a congressional election campaign committee during his days in the House of Representatives. He also extended support to Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
By Kentaro Nakajima and Hiroshi Tajima / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondents