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New Japanese envoy to U.S. on bilateral ties, comfort women issue, trade, more

By new Ambassador to the U.S. Shinsuke Sugiyama

(Interviewed by Takushi Ohashi)


The Japan-U.S. alliance remains the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomatic posture. It is noteworthy that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s outstanding leadership has facilitated the development of an unprecedented relationship of trust between the leaders of Japan and the U.S.


However, in all alliance relationships, it is still necessary to pay attention and give consideration to various matters on a daily basis. It is absolutely a mistake to think that the strong relationship of trust between the leaders will continue forever.


While the bilateral context is important for how investment, trade, and security are managed under the Japan-U.S. relationship, this relationship also has great global significance. In that sense, such issues as how to address relations with China and how to manage the alliance in international relations are very important.


Although there is a common misconception that Japan and the U.S. are cooperating to confront China, this is not the case. However, China’s military spending increased by around 49 times in the past 29 years. Its defense budget last year was 3.6 times that of Japan, and this lacks transparency. Issues in the East and South China Seas remain unresolved.


Comfort woman statues have been erected in various places in the U.S. and related resolutions have been passed by local legislatures. This is very regrettable. As the representative of Japan, I would like to visit as many places as possible and make even greater efforts with the consuls general to dispel the misunderstanding.


Personally, I have explained Japan’s position on the comfort women issue at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2016.


(Sugiyama pointed out the errors in the Asahi Shimbun reports on the forcible abduction of comfort women by the Japanese army and asserted that the expression “sex slave” was “contrary to the truth” at the committee in February 2016 in his capacity as deputy foreign minister.)


I remember very well my statements at that time. They fully captured the Japanese government’s position. Since Japan’s position on this is very firm and clear, I strongly believe that it is an important responsibility of the ambassador to make efforts to promote understanding of this position.


Although the U.S.’s trade deficit with Japan is $71 billion, we should avoid focusing on transitory numbers in bilateral relations and instead adopt a global perspective. The U.S. has an even bigger trade deficit with another country (China).


That said, political steps should be taken to deal with this issue.


The Japanese side needs to deal with the political demands in the U.S., while the U.S. will also have to make efforts.


Japan should not only export products, but also invest in the U.S. directly to create jobs and contribute to the U.S. economy. Such comprehensive measures will be taken under the framework led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Vice President Mike Pence. We expect various developments to occur in the not-so-distant future.

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