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Interview with Ambassador Hagerty: “Japan-U.S. relationship has never been stronger”

Stressing the significance of Mr. Trump’s Japan visit


U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty sat down with the Chunichi Shimbun for an exclusive interview in Nagoya City. He highly praised President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan earlier this month, saying, “The Japan-U.S. relationship has never been stronger.” As for the U.S.’s decision to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, Hagerty said, “The Japanese and U.S. leaders agreed that both countries would increase diplomatic pressure against North Korea.” Ambassador Hagerty was interviewed by Senior Editor Seiji Teramoto.


Question: What do you think President Trump has achieved in his first visit to Japan since taking the office?


Ambassador: Upon his arrival, it was very important for him to start his tour at Yokota Air Base. The President wanted the assembled U.S. military and Japan Self-Defense Forces to know that he cares and to boost their morale amid the increasing threat from North Korea. Prime Minister Abe was the first leader to meet with Mr. Trump before he became president at Trump Tower in November last year. The President was very struck by the prime minister’s very open approach and very straightforward communication. Since then, the President has had strong appreciation and respect for the prime minister. The President’s visit further deepened the trust between the two leaders and the Japan-U.S. relationship has never been stronger.


Q: Do you think the U.S. took some advantage from this visit?


AMB: As the President departed Japan, he said to me, “We’ve got a great opportunity here in Japan.  Do everything you can to help realize that opportunity.” He is very optimistic about the potential of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Cooperation between Japan and the U.S. is at a very high level not only in security but also in the economic arena.


Q: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe agreed that both countries would increase the highest pressure against North Korea.


AMB: During their summit meeting, they talked extensively about how to bring the rest of the world to understand our interests and support us. The President and the prime minister have worked very closely to encourage China and Russia to come along with us. The two countries have joined us in unanimously supporting the UN Security Council resolutions that impose economic sanctions on North Korea.


Q: Do you mean there is no room for dialogue?


AMB: The North Korean regime needs to take specific steps to step down the threat and indicate their willingness to move toward denuclearization. And once that happens, that may create the opportunity for the President and the prime minister to determine whether a fresh dialog would be appropriate. But that depends on changes on the North Korean side.


Q: The President indicated that the U.S. would collaborate with Japan in solving the North Korean abduction issue.


AMB: I think this is a very difficult subject. But I heard the stories from the families of abductees and felt deep sorrow. And it also reminded me of the terrible human rights record of this North Korean regime.


Q: The President said he was seriously concerned about the trade deficit with Japan and would require Japan to improve that imbalance.


AMB: There are some imbalances that are pretty severe in the agricultural sector. Right now, U.S. frozen beef is taxed at 50% additional tariff (due to a safeguard) whereas Australian beef is 27.2%. Also, efforts to support technological innovation in pharmaceuticals and medical devices are necessary. “I hope that Japan and the U.S. will through a pricing regime continue supporting research and development.


Q: Is the President’s request for the Japanese government to purchase massive amounts of U.S.-made defense equipment also aimed at reducing the trade deficit?


AMB: The primary focus of the President is national security. The request may be effective in reducing the trade deficit, but the primary goal is strategic. The President thinks that the most advanced U.S. technologies are helpful in beefing up Japan’s defense capabilities.


Q: How do you evaluate U.S. investments made by Japanese automakers?


AMB: I’ve been very encouraged by Toyota and Mazda, which recently announced plans to build new plants in the U.S. I think what the President would like to see is the cars consumed in America produced in America. Also, local production allows Japan to avoid currency risk and to more rapidly reflect in products the needs of the market. Having bases in the U.S., which has cutting-edge technology in the automotive world, is also advantageous to automakers amid the ongoing electrification of automobiles and autonomous driving.


(This interview also appeared in Tokyo Shimbun on November 28, 2017)

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