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Editorial: Kennedy’s contribution to stronger Japan-U.S. alliance deserves praise

We highly evaluate the important contribution she made to further strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.


U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy leaves her office on Wednesday in response to the planned change of U.S. president on Friday, from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican Donald Trump.


In her farewell video message, Kennedy expressed her gratitude to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “for working to strengthen our ‘alliance of hope’ and sharing President Obama’s belief in the ‘power of reconciliation.’” She said at the end of her message, “I don’t have to say goodbye … I hope to come back and visit.”


Since her arrival in Japan in November 2013, Kennedy has been actively involved in visits between the leaders of the two countries and the issues of U.S. troops stationed in Japan.


Particularly noteworthy is that Kennedy made efforts to realize Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima in May 2016.


There were more than a few cautious views in the United States about the first visit to an atomic-bombed site by a serving U.S. president. However, she created an environment for achieving the visit by taking advantage of her personal connections with Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, which enabled her to phone them directly.


Her driving force may have been her attendance at peace memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima herself, which made her realize the significance of pursuing “a world without nuclear weapons.”

She also played an important role in bringing about Abe’s speech before the U.S. Congress in April 2015 and his visit to Pearl Harbor in December last year.


Play leading role in Asia


Before assuming her post, Kennedy’s ability was unknown. But she demonstrated by her actions that one can make considerable achievements as an ambassador even without diplomatic or political experience.


While the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district in Okinawa Prefecture was having rough going, an incident took place in the prefecture in which a Japanese woman was killed by a civilian U.S. base worker, and an accident happened in which an Osprey transport aircraft of the U.S. Marine Corps crash-landed in the prefecture. Kennedy exerted herself to advance progress on the base issues when such events were having more than a small influence on the Japan-U.S. alliance.


In addition to the return of part of the Northern Training Area in Okinawa Prefecture to Japan in late December last year, a supplementary agreement was signed on Monday to narrow the scope of the civilian component of U.S. base personnel in Japan who are protected under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. It was a result of Japan and the United States coming to a compromise to solve the issues during her tenure.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga cited “Ambassador Kennedy’s energy and her personality” as factors in bringing about tangible developments to reduce the burdens on Okinawa Prefecture.

Kennedy visited disaster-stricken areas and other areas nationwide and actively engaged in grassroots interaction with ordinary citizens, creating a favorable impression of her among many Japanese.


U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is likely considering nominating William Hagerty, director of presidential appointments in his transition team, as ambassador to Japan to succeed Kennedy. Hagerty’s closeness to the next president is similar to that of Kennedy to Obama. Early selection of a successor may show that Trump attaches importance to Japan.


It will be required that Japanese and American officials, including the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, hold continuous dialogues, playing a leading role in achieving peace and prosperty in Asia.

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