TPP, Hague treaty, Senkakus to top agenda for Kennedy

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

At her Senate hearing last week, Caroline Kennedy, tipped to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan, faced numerous questions about the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, tensions over the Senkaku Islands, and what she would do about nearly 400 cases of American children allegedly abducted to Japan.

Bilateral trade issues, including tariffs on automobiles and soda ash, as well as the export of more American LNG to Japan, and their relation to the TPP, formed the basis of several questions by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Thursday.

“Japan’s entry into the TPP provides an opportunity for our countries to work more closely economically. It also provides an opportunity for bilateral talks on a number of nontariff and market access matters, as well as a dispute settlement mechanism, should there be issues along the way,” Kennedy said.

Access to Japan’s auto parts market has long been a contentious bilateral issue and the U.S. auto industry has opposed Japan’s entry into the TPP. Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, a major automotive manufacturing state, asked Kennedy what she considers one of the tougher bilateral TPP matters.

“The U.S. Trade Representative is hopeful and everybody has been impressed that the Japanese have come to the table and are willing to put everything on the table,” she responded.

Kennedy added that tough issues, such as removing restrictions on auto parts in the Japanese market, are being handled in bilateral talks, but that everybody on the U.S. side has been impressed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s desire to forge a high-quality TPP agreement.

Corker, as well as Republican Sen. John McCain, grilled Kennedy on security and military alliance issues. In particular, McCain stressed the importance of tensions in Japan’s relations with China, the need to make progress on realigning U.S. bases in Japan, and the problem in Okinawa over the presence of large numbers of American marines stationed in the prefecture.

“Tensions between Japan and China are higher than at any time since the end of World War II. The issue of the Senkaku Islands, although unknown to most Americans, is very high on the agenda of both Japan and China. Do you share my concern?” McCain asked Kennedy.

“Our policy . . . is that, obviously, we’d like to see those issues resolved through peaceful dialogue between the nations in the region,” she replied. “But as far as the islands are concerned, the U.S. policy has been long-standing and very clear: We don’t take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands but we do recognize they are under Japanese administrative control and are covered by Article 5 of our security treaty.”

McCain, who has criticized the current agreement to build a replacement facility for the U.S. Futenma base, told Kennedy the Senate has watched in frustration over the years as no progress in completing the realignment of U.S. troops in Japan has been made.

He warned that another incident between Okinawa residents and American troops would provoke a very serious reaction.

Kennedy said only that she would continue to study the issue.

Asked by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat, whether she would use the post of ambassador to resolve nearly 400 cases of alleged abductions of American children to Japan — which will not be covered under the Hague Convention that Japan has agreed to sign — Kennedy indicated this is an area of personal concern she would push.

“As a parent, I certainly understand the emotional aspects of this issue. I hope these cases that might not be covered can still be handled in the spirit of The Hague treaty,” she said. “Everyone I’ve talked to in Japan and the State Department is really committed to making that happen and to working with the families to bring these issues forward and resolve these cases.”