The following is the exchange during Hokkaido Shimbun’s interview with U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty [conducted on Feb. 16 in Sapporo]. (Interviewer: Yosuke Sato)
Hokkaido Shimbun: The leaders of Japan and Russia have been meeting frequently to discuss the Northern Territories issue.
Ambassador Hagerty: The United States supports Japan’s position. We recognize that Japan is insisting on its sovereignty [over the islands], and we also support the efforts and initiatives of Japan and Russia toward a peace treaty, something which has long been left unconcluded. We welcome the leadership and commitment of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and other Japanese leaders.
HS: Do U.S. forces plan to continue Osprey flight training in Hokkaido?
AMB: The training is indispensable for response readiness. North Korea is raising tensions. U.S. forces and Self-Defense Forces will maintain preparedness going forward by conducting joint training on an ongoing basis. Safety is the first priority. The requests and concerns of local residents will be taken into consideration in drafting the training schedule.
HS: How will the United States deal with North Korea?
AMB: After the PyeongChang Olympic Games have ended, we will raise the pressure [on Pyongyang] further. We welcome the opportunities created by the Olympics for inter-Korean ties to start developing, but we have seen North Korea break promises in the past. There was talk about whether the United States is willing to engage in dialogue with North Korea, but the prerequisite condition for that is visible action toward denuclearization. The people of Hokkaido have experienced the threat of having two missiles fly over their land. The United States will protect Japan using every means.
HS: How does the United States view the move to amend the Constitution, one of the goals of Prime Minister Abe?
AMB: The Japanese government and the people of Japan should arrive at their own answer [on this matter].
HS: What do you think about the current state of Japan-U.S. relations?
AMB: U.S.-Japan ties are the strongest bilateral relationship in the world. The leaders of the two countries have strong bonds of trust. If more opportunities were created for the U.S. to invest in Japan, we would be able to create even stronger ties in the area of security as well. Right before President [Donald Trump] left Japan after completing his trip here last November, he said to me, “There are big opportunities in Japan. Make them happen.”
HS: Will the United States return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact?
AMB: We are thankful for Japan’s efforts in the negotiations. What was hard was the field of agriculture. Going forward, the United States wants to try to deepen economic exchange with Japan whether by advancing frameworks like the TPP or by promoting bilateral negotiations.
HS: President Trump has a reputation for showing a lack of respect for women and excluding immigrants.
AMB: We mustn’t be fooled by the anti-Trump people that seek to divide America. The President has focused on economic growth, and unemployment has dropped and wages have risen. He has produced the results of economic prosperity and strong security.
HS: What are the possibilities for Hokkaido?
AMB: Hokkaido has outstanding agricultural products that have international brand power. Agriculture is a foundation for expanding business between our two countries. Tourism also has great potential. Integrated resorts (IRs) with casinos will serve to attract people [to Hokkaido]. During this visit, people asked me about having direct flights [between Hokkaido and] the U.S. mainland. It is critical that the people involved negotiate with the various airline companies.