U.S. envoy to Japan nominee vows to deepen ties amid China challenge

Oct 21 , 2021. – 27 minutes ago – 09:29 By Miya Tanaka, KYODO NEWS

Rahm Emanuel. (Getty/Kyodo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Ambassador to Japan nominee Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday vowed to enhance bilateral ties as China seeks to “conquer through division,” while welcoming a potential increase in Japan’s defense spending.

Calling the bilateral partnership the “cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Emanuel, who served as a top aide to former President Barack Obama, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “If confirmed, my top priority will be to deepen these ties.”

“China aims to conquer through division. America’s strategy is security through unity. That regional unity is built on the shoulders of the U.S.-Japan alliance,” the 61-year-old added.

The U.S. ambassadorship to Japan has been vacant since William Hagerty stepped down in July 2019 to run for the Senate. The nomination requires Senate approval.

The Senate committee conducted Emanuel’s hearing on the same day as one for Nicholas Burns, a former diplomat and currently a Harvard University professor who was nominated to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, has proposed ahead of the Oct. 31 general election increasing defense outlays, possibly to 2 percent of gross domestic product or higher. Japan, with its pacifist Constitution, has so far kept defense spending to around 1 percent of GDP.

“Willing to go from 1 percent to 2 percent is a sea change in thinking,” the former congressman, known for his abrasive style and his close ties with U.S. President Joe Biden, told senators.

It would be a “reflection that they know they have a greater role to play and they have greater threats.”

Emanuel, meanwhile, also expressed eagerness to create a common front with the United States, Japan and South Korea, warning that China, Russia and North Korea are “trying to find cracks and fissures in the alliances.”

Although ties between Tokyo and Seoul remain soured over wartime history issues, Emanuel said the United States and its two Asian allies should focus on addressing the current challenges and threats posed by China and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

He said he would like to “make sure that we deal with 21st century issues as allies and partners” and not let the 20th century issues “rob or mug that opportunity.”

Emanuel was White House chief of staff from 2009 to 2010 for Obama, whom Biden served as vice president, before becoming Chicago’s mayor for two terms from 2011 to 2019.

Burns, 65, said during his hearing that China is seeking to “become the most powerful country economically, politically and militarily in the Indo-Pacific” and slammed Beijing for its assertive behavior toward U.S. allies and partners in the region.

U.S. Ambassador to China nominee Nichokas Burns speaks at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Oct. 20, 2021. (Kyodo)

The U.S. ambassadorship to Japan has been vacant since William Hagerty stepped down in July 2019 to run for the Senate. The nomination requires Senate approval.

The Senate committee conducted Emanuel’s hearing on the same day as one for Nicholas Burns, a former diplomat and currently a Harvard University professor who was nominated to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, has proposed ahead of the Oct. 31 general election increasing defense outlays, possibly to 2 percent of gross domestic product or higher. Japan, with its pacifist Constitution, has so far kept defense spending to around 1 percent of GDP.

“Willing to go from 1 percent to 2 percent is a sea change in thinking,” the former congressman, known for his abrasive style and his close ties with U.S. President Joe Biden, told senators.

It would be a “reflection that they know they have a greater role to play and they have greater threats.”

Emanuel, meanwhile, also expressed eagerness to create a common front with the United States, Japan and South Korea, warning that China, Russia and North Korea are “trying to find cracks and fissures in the alliances.”

Although ties between Tokyo and Seoul remain soured over wartime history issues, Emanuel said the United States and its two Asian allies should focus on addressing the current challenges and threats posed by China and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

He said he would like to “make sure that we deal with 21st century issues as allies and partners” and not let the 20th century issues “rob or mug that opportunity.”

Emanuel was White House chief of staff from 2009 to 2010 for Obama, whom Biden served as vice president, before becoming Chicago’s mayor for two terms from 2011 to 2019.

Burns, 65, said during his hearing that China is seeking to “become the most powerful country economically, politically and militarily in the Indo-Pacific” and slammed Beijing for its assertive behavior toward U.S. allies and partners in the region.

Cr.KYODO NEWS