Remarks by Appointed Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae
at U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) Briefing on
“The Outlook for the US-Japan Bilateral Relationship”


December 3, 2012
At Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Washington, DC


Fukushima-san, thank you so much for your kind and generous introduction. Over the years, both Japan and the US have benefited from your wise counsel and I look forward to continuing to work with you and your colleagues at the USJC in strengthening the Japan-US relationship.


I also want to thank Senator Inouye for his kind words. Very few people, in Japan or in the US, possess your combination of intelligence and influence. We are so fortunate to have you here, providing us with your leadership and insight.


I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Irene for inviting me here. Like the Senator, I too have a strong and independent partner. When I was first appointed to my new position, I had to convince my wife to accompany me here. Just like Irene, she has her own successful career, and I won’t be totally sure she is joining me until she arrives later this week.


As I settle into my new role, I want to share with you three of my priority tasks. First is enhancing our security relationship in an ever changing environment especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Immediately after the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, at around midnight Japan time, I received a call from then Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Daniel Poneman, Deputy Secretary of the Energy Department that President Obama wanted to speak to Prime Minister Kan. During the call, President Obama offered to provide the full resources of the US government to assist with the rescue and recovery effort. That heartfelt gesture also indicated to me and my colleagues that the US was willing to take on Japan’s disaster as its own. This exemplifies the spirit of the Japan-US alliance. Indeed, the Tomodachi operation begun by U.S. Forces and other support extended by the American people were more than we envisioned at the time. Taking this opportunity I would like to express gratitude to Admiral Locklear and the Department of Defense for their support.


But besides offering support to each other during times of need, what can we do to further strengthen the alliance? Let me make a few points:

  1. First, to further advance planning to prepare for future risks and ensure the smooth functioning of the alliance, we must not neglect preparations and training.
  2. Second, to deepen the alliance, we need to expand cooperation in new areas, especially the maritime, space and cyber realms.
  3. Third, Japan needs to take specific steps to move its southwestern islands defense policy forward, and the US needs to do the same for its rebalancing policy.
  4. Fourth, we must make steady progress on issues related to the realignment of US forces in Japan, including the relocation of the Futenma air station. For this, we need to step up our bilateral consultations, while being fully responsive to the sensitivities and concerns of the Okinawan people.
  5. Fifth, the alliance should not be designed to be confrontational nor increase the tensions among countries in the region. It should rather function as an essential stabilizer to maintain the peace in the region.


From a diplomatic perspective, the last point is especially important. Unless we engage with our neighbors while hedging future risks, there cannot be progress. Japan and the U.S. need to lead this process through various kinds of regional and sub-regional networks. Japan and the US could further strengthen our bilateral strategic policy coordination on this score.


Building regular and stable relations with countries in the region in this way provides strength and stability to the Japan-US relationship. Vice-versa, a stronger Japan-U.S. alliance would also work to enhance the stable relationships with other countries in the region.


My second priority task is, at the heart-to-heart level, to strengthen the bonds between the peoples of Japan and the US. A prime example is the assistance provided by Americans and the American government following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Many of you in this room today, played a key role in providing immediate aid and comfort to those devastated by the disasters. The US military’s Operation Tomodachi and the ongoing Tomodachi Initiative which is co-sponsored by the US-Japan Council have done much to deepen our ties.


Before I departed for Washington, I had a chance to attend a dinner party hosted by Ambassador Roos. I heard directly from young Ayaka-san of the Ogawa family about her experiences as she visited the US as part of the Tomodachi Initiative. Ayaka-san, who lost her parents, an older sister and her grandparents, spoke of her hopes for the future with a strength and assurance that moved all of us. Ayaka-san recently said, “I have received many opportunities from many people. In the future, I want to be a person that can give other people chances.” I think you will agree with me that a sentiment such as that means the Tomodachi Initiative is making a difference.


For those of us who have worked to cultivate our foundation, we know that the basis of the foundation is on the grassroots level; students, practitioners of culture; thinkers, business, government and political leaders all working towards enriching the breadth and depth of our friendship. And yet, despite all of these efforts, more still needs to be done. And judging by today’s attendance, the US-Japan Council is filling this void with their programming and outreach.


And don’t think Senator Inouye doesn’t pitch in on the grassroots level. He has worked diligently to stress the importance of parliamentary relations between our two countries. The Japan-US Interparliamentary Group is contributing tremendously to this end. But if I may, I would like to improve on one aspect. There is an imbalance in the number of Japanese Diet members visiting Washington DC compared to the number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen visiting Tokyo. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind going out to Dulles airport to receive Japanese politicians. I just want more US Senators and Congressmen visiting Japan and experiencing on a first hand basis, the issues facing Japan and having candid discussions with Japanese Diet Members.


My third, but not the least priority task is to enhance relations between Japan and the Japanese American community. I visited the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism immediately after my arrival in Washington. During my visit to the memorial, I heard first-hand accounts about the internment and other hardships which Japanese-Americans were forced to endure. In a way, they were victims of the failure of the Japan-US relationship. In that situation, it was perhaps inevitable for Japanese Americans to distance themselves from Japan. But after a long struggle, they rose to prominent positions in American society (perhaps Senator Inouye is our best example) and have contributed so much to the US.


Now we have no obstacles or excuses for not enhancing our relationship between Japanese and Japanese Americans. As I said earlier, without engagement, there cannot be progress. So I encourage all of you to contact me and my colleagues and we will do the same. You can teach me (especially as a newcomer to Washington) so much. And please don’t hesitate to give us frank advice on how we can manage our relations. If friends can’t tell each other the truth, how can we expect others to do the same?


And I want to say a special “domo-arigato gozaimasu” to the many Japanese Americans who stepped up and contributed time, money, and resources to help Japan in the aftermath of 3/11. The US-Japan Council was one of the first to offer their hand in helping Japan to recover and the Japanese people are so grateful for the assistance. All these efforts and contributions establish a basis of infallible friendship between Japan and the U.S.


In closing, let me thank all of you for being so warm and welcoming. I look forward to not only renewing old friendships but making many new ones. My door is always open to all of you and I hope you do take advantage of that. My only request is that this is a two-way street and you will also allow me to ask each of you for help as I learn the ways of Washington. I am honored to be here and look forward to getting to know each of you. Thank you.