Remarks by Appointed Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae at the
Japan-America Society of Washington DC 26th Annual Dinner


December 6, 2012
At Park Hyatt Washington


Photo Courtesy of Jeff Song


Good evening everyone. The Embassy has prepared some very nice remarks for me to give, which touch on some important issues. I might even use some of it. But what I really want to say to the Japan America Society tonight is how happy I am to be here with you . . . in this beautiful city . . . in this great country of the United States. The wonderful thing about Japan America Societies is that they are spread all over the nation. It is like having a friend or family member living in almost every major American city. And this one here in Washington is home, especially to me. For the first time I came to Washington, I didn’t know anything about Washington. Today, I don’t know much about Washington. (Laughter.) I am so looking forward to getting to know you. I arrived here three weeks ago. My wife Nobuko is arriving this weekend… I hope. (Laughter.) I guess she was waiting to see if I lasted (Laughter.). The surprising thing to me is this—although I was Vice Foreign Minister for some time, this is the first time I ever served as ambassador. When I worked here in Washington many decades ago, I dealt with trade and economics. I have always been what Americans call a policy wonk. (Laughter.) Here’s the thing I didn’t realize. I didn’t realize how much ambassadors have to eat. (Laughter.) You eat breakfast with someone. You eat lunch with this group. You eat dinner with another group. So what I did was that…I bought a treadmill. (Laughter.) Last weekend, I tried it for two hours. (Laughter.) And now, as ambassador, I am looking forward to dining and enjoying the company of so many interesting people that it is my pleasure to meet. To keep the Foreign Ministry happy, I expect I will also have to do some work . . . so let me briefly give you a thumbnail overview of the way forward for the Japan-U.S. relationship. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell is here. I think he will talk about more details, but tonight, I’d like to talk a little bit of the not so serious stuff.


First, 2012 has been a year of political changes in the Asia Pacific region—as you know, China, South Korea Taiwan and Russia. In the U.S., President Obama was re-elected. I was very much pleased with that. (Applause.) Ambassador Fujisaki told me the other day that, whatever the result of the election will be, diplomat’s joke is “I’m very happy about it.” (Laughter.) And in Japan, the House of Representatives election is occurring this month. Whatever the result would be, I’m very happy with that. (Laughter.) What remains unchanged, however, is the strong Japan-U.S. alliance. President Obama continues to be committed to the bilateral relations between Japan and the United States. All Japanese major political parties have the same understanding of the importance of Japan-U.S. relations. I have no worry about the future of the Japan-U.S. relations.


Secondly, the major immediate national security concern for Japan is the announced missile launch by North Korea. I was a little bit busy over the past couple of days, talking to the U.S. government and other people back in Tokyo. On this issue, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea (ROK) have been closely cooperating and urging North Korea not to launch a missile.  If, however, North Korea forcibly conducts its missile launch, Japan and the U.S. will closely cooperate to encourage the UN Security Council to take resolute action against it.  We will unite with the United States on this score.


Now, mid to long-term, I think how we proceed with a “rising China” is a shared challenge for Japan and the U.S. I would say it is not only challenge but also opportunity for us. Currently, it is true that there is tension over the Senkaku Islands. However, the important point is that recent Chinese provocation, especially in maritime domain, is more genetic in nature. Kurt might be agreeing on this point. The almost daily occurrence of China sending vessels around the Senkaku Islands is part of their overall assertive posture of China in the region. Japan has responded to this ongoing Chinese challenge in a calm and civilized manner. Japanese companies have been assaulted in China but nothing similar has happened in Japan. I would like you to remember this. We are proud of that.


Third, the economy. Here in the United States, the issue of how to overcome the “fiscal cliff” has aroused tremendous debate. After I came here, reading the Washington Post every morning, I don’t understand why so many articles are all over. It’s difficult to finish reading every morning. In Japan, we have been engaged in taxation reforms and debates on the future of our social welfare system. I could not predict what will happen in either country. But I do know that both Japan and the United States are economic powers that will continue to exercise leadership. We both have economic work to do, but it is a sign of the progress in our relationship—and our economies—that we no longer blame the other for our own economic difficulties. We had that bad one in 1970s and early 80s. We have passed that age. I’m glad to come back to age when I don’t have to get involved in these trade disputes as Glen Fukushima was responsible.


As for the Trans Pacific Partnership, people call it TPP as you know, there is an extensive domestic debate in Japan.  After last year’s Summit meeting with President Obama, Prime Minister Noda has a strong will to pursue the possibility of entry into TPP.  Tokyo and Washington are still now in the discussion stage—exchanging information and trying to elaborate each other position.  Some are for this and others are against this, also among political parties.  I hope that there will be a convergence of views in political parties.


Today, the people of Japan are devoting all of our energies to recovering from the earthquake and the tsunami.  We have received great and warm support from the United States.  And I once again would like to thank you all.  The incident was indeed a tragedy, but it led to once again recognizing the strong bond between our two nations.


Japan is now reviewing our energy policy.  The United States’ advice and support is invaluable to us as we lower dependency on nuclear energy.  Once I get settled in, one of the things I would like to do is to cooperate with the US in leading the discussion on the supply of shale gas production.  Just yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy released a third-party report titled “Macroeconomic Impacts of LNG Exports from the United States.”  I welcome that the report suggests positive economic impacts of shale gas exports to other countries.


So there is much to do, but basically they all reflect the solid relationship between our two countries.  I will be knocking on many of your doors asking you to join me for a meal.  Your support is essential in pursuing my mission as the Ambassador to the United States.  I look forward to working with you all. I wish you all happy holidays!  Thank you very much.