Transcript of Caroline Kennedy’s Senate hearing

Statement by Ms. Caroline Kennedy
Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Japan
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 19, 2013

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Corker, and Members of the Committee:

It is an honor to appear before you this morning as the President’s nominee to serve as United States Ambassador to Japan. I appreciate the confidence that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have shown in nominating me for this important position, and I am grateful for the consideration of this distinguished Committee.

I appreciate the opportunity to be here today; to answer your questions and hear first-hand your thoughts and concerns about our essential relationship with Japan. If confirmed, I look forward to working with the Committee and with other Members of Congress to advance the interests of the United States, protect the safety of our citizens, and strengthen the bilateral relationship for the benefit of both our countries.

I would also like to thank my family for their support throughout this process, and their enthusiasm for this mission. My husband Ed is here along with two of my three children, my daughter Tatiana and my son Jack. I am so pleased that my aunt Vicki is here as well. She carries with her every day the spirit of my uncle Teddy whose devotion to this institution, to his colleagues and country, was an inspiration to all of us.

I am humbled to be following in the footsteps of some of Congress’ most distinguished members — Mike Mansfield, Walter Mondale, Tom Foley, and Howard Baker. If confirmed, I will try every day to live up to the standard they set in representing the United States and advancing our relationship with Japan. I am also grateful to Ambassador Tom Schieffer and especially to Ambassador John Roos and Susie Roos for their generous advice and wisdom.

I would also like to acknowledge Ambassador Sasae from the Embassy of Japan, who is himself a distinguished diplomat and who has been a steadfast friend of the United States.

I can think of no greater honor than to represent my country abroad. I have spent my career working to make American history and ideals accessible to the widest possible audience, and in particular, to younger generations. As President of the Kennedy Library, I am proud that my father became the first “digital” President, when we made his papers available online around the world. As Chair of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, I have worked to train new generations of leaders to pursue careers in public service and to expand international opportunities for students.

In my books on the Bill of Rights and the Right to Privacy, I sought to engage young audiences in the debate over our fundamental rights and to give them the tools and understanding to advance and defend our liberties.

For the past ten years I have been working with the New York City public schools on education reform efforts. In a school system where students speak more than 130 languages, I worked to increase individual literacy, cultural awareness, college access, arts education and international exchange programs. I saw the power of public-private partnerships to leverage involvement and results, and, if confirmed, I look forward to building upon those experiences to strengthen the ties between young people in Japan and the United States.

And finally, this appointment has a special significance as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of my father’s Presidency. I am conscious of my responsibility to uphold the ideals he represented — a deep commitment to public service, a more just America and a more peaceful world. As a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific, he had hoped to be the first sitting President to make a state visit to Japan. If confirmed as Ambassador, I would be humbled to carry forward his legacy in a small way and represent the powerful bonds that unite our two democratic societies.

I can think of no country in which I would rather serve than Japan. I first visited in 1978 with my Uncle, Senator Kennedy, and was deeply affected by our visit to Hiroshima. Our countries are bound by deep political, economic, cultural and strategic ties, and our partnership has a global reach. We share a commitment to freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Japan is the world’s third largest economy, our fourth largest trading partner, and the second largest source of foreign direct investment in the United States.

Japan is home to 50,000 U.S. troops, the U.S. 7th Fleet, and 170,000 American citizens. As the United States rebalances toward Asia, our alliance with Japan remains the cornerstone of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, as it has been for more than 50 years. If confirmed, I will work closely with the leadership in the U.S. military to further strengthen our bilateral security relationship.

At the same time, Japan is an indispensable partner in promoting democracy and economic development in the region, as well as in global humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping. These are areas I care deeply about, and, if confirmed, I will work to further strengthen this critical partnership at a vital moment in its history.

This is indeed an important moment in the history of U.S. — Japan relations. Japan is enjoying a period of political stability and economic renewal and is eager to increase trade and investment with the United States. If confirmed, I look forward to working with American business to promote American exports, expand trade and support initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In addition, I will work to increase exchanges between American and Japanese students, scholars, and citizens so that future generations will understand our shared history and continue to bind our two nations even closer.

Finally, if confirmed, I will meet my most fundamental responsibility: to promote and protect the welfare of all American citizens in Japan. This includes providing a safe and secure environment for U.S. government employees and their families.

I especially look forward to benefitting from the support of the talented Foreign Service professionals, both American and locally engaged staff, at our Mission in Japan.

I would like to thank this Committee for your consideration of my nomination. If confirmed, I look forward to working closely with you to advance our national interests, protect our citizens, and deepen our ties with Japan.

Q&A Session (abridged)

SENATOR ROBERT MENDEZ (D-NEW JERSEY) (chair): In the U.S, and in my recent visit to Japan, we’ve been closely following “Abenomics”, the efforts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to economically revitalize Japan’s economy. He talks about three arrows: fiscal stimulus, monetary easing, and structural reform.

In that regard, when I met with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, one area of concern was the narrow focus in Japan on tax reform and how that affects American businesses, versus broader tax incentives that U.S. companies seek. How do you envision working with Japan to ensure that, while structural reform is an internal issue for Japan, it is also an economic issue here back in the U.S. for U.S. companies to have the opportunity to make investments that will benefit Japan as well as to U.S. companies by creating job opportunities at home? How do you see your role as ambassador in that regard?

CAROLINE KENNEDY: I think Japan’s entry into the Trans Pacific Parternship provides an opportunity for our countries to work more closely economically. This agreement also provides an opportunity for bilateral talks on a number of non-tariff issues and market-access issues, as well as a dispute-settlement mechanism, should there be issues along the way. I know that the team in Tokyo is focused on the implementation of that agreement should it go forward. And I, as ambassador, would take a deep and personal interest in working with American companies to make sure the Japanese market is open to them, and working with the Japanese government to make sure the accord is fully implemented.

SEN. MENDEZ: I think PM Abe looks at the TPP as an opportunity to achieve some of the structural reforms that will be called for by virtue of TPP. While that’s being negotiated by our trade ambassador, we’ll also hope you play a role in that context. I hope you will work with our trade ambassador to develop the strongest TPP, which I think provides a pathway for the reforms we just talked about.

The other issue is that the Abe government is in the midst of a defense policy review that will yield a new national defense policy program set of guidelines by the end of the year. It may very well reinterpret the Constitution to exercise the right of collective Self-Defense with implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance. Collective self-defense means you have a U.S. ship and a Japanese ship side-by-side. If there were a strike on the U.S. ship, the Japanese ship would be in a position to respond, rather than just watch.

That’s important to our national security interests in the region as well as our efforts in changing our base status in Okinawa, which has been both an opportunity for continued security but also a challenge: creating space for the governor of Okinawa to find his way to ultimately issue a permit that is a lynchpin of our efforts to refocus our position there. To a large degree, the Japanese government will have to create the space for the governor. But I think there’s a role for the American ambassador to help create a space for the government. Could you talk a little bit about how you see that process?

MS. KENNEDY: Well, our military and security relationship obviously has many complex issues embedded within it. But it is, as you say, the cornerstone of peace and stability within the region. I think there seems to be some hope for progress on the Okinawa issues. I know that Senator McCain in particular and others I’ve spoken to are deeply concerned about the process moving forward, involving the realignment plan and the landfill plan So I have assured him [McCain] that I will take a personal interest and military issues will be something I spend a good deal of time on.

As you say, the Japanese are engaged in a process of debating their self-defense, including collective self-defense. I think that’s obviously a debate they need to have within their own society. I’d watch it very carefully and work with people here in Washington and Tokyo to make sure we understand and are supportive of that process.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TENNESSEE): How are you preparing for this assignment?

MS. KENNEDY: I’ve gotten a lot of guidance from the State Dept. already. I’ll do my best to get up to speed on all the issues -especially those back in Tennessee, in the auto industry.

SEN. CORKER: You mentioned the TPP, which, I think is a tremendous opportunity for us. But do you know what some of the tougher areas with Japan will be over the TPP?

MS. KENNEDY: The United States 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. They [USTR] seem optimistic.

SEN. CORKER: Have they raised any issues, though, that they think might be some of the more difficult issues?

MS. KENNEDY: Those are being handled in bilateral talks. They had a good session. They’re speaking about American autos entering the Japanese market and removing restrictions to that, as well as some of the agriculture products that Japan has long sought to protect. Everybody, though, is impressed by PM Abe’s commitment to a comprehensive, high-quality accord.

SEN. CORKER: Has there been much discussion about the East China Sea territorial issue, and what role you’re going to be expected to play?

MS. KENNEDY: Well, I think our policy on the islands in the East China Sea is that, obviously, we’d like to see those issues resolved through peaceful dialogue between the nations in the region. But as far as the islands are concerned, the U.S. policy has been, as you know, longstanding 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. So, it’s something I’d be watching very carefully and working as many different ways as I can to encourage the nations in the region to discuss and resolve those feuds and lower the tensions in the region.

SEN. CORKER: We talked a little bit about the current ambassador [John Roos] and he’s been able to develop an area he’s really focused on, and that’s public-private partnerships. The way the ambassador’s role is in Japan works is really unique. The ambassador has a special role there and the relationship between the U.S. ambassador and the people of Japan or the country at large is very different than in many other cases. You’re going to have a tremendous opportunity to deal with not only the U.S.-Japan relationship and the things that are of international interest, but also have an opportunity to carve out an area where you a real impact in Japan just like you’ve done in New York and elsewhere.

MS. KENNEDY: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D-MARYLAND): I want to mention one issue that I brought up with PM Abe earlier this year, and that is the issue of protecting Americans. Recently, Japan agreed to the Hague Convention, in regard to child abduction. We appreciate that, and the Japanese Diet has taken the action to pass the necessary laws. I’ve been told there are almost 400 cases pending, involving Americans. That will not come under the Hague Convention, but they need to be resolved. I’m aware of three of those cases involving Marylanders. One of my first requests is, will you use your office, to the best of your ability, to help resolve these open cases?

MS. KENNEDY: As a parent, I certainly understand the emotional aspects of this issue, and I’ve met with the bureau of consular affairs already, and indicated to them my concern. I think it is a welcome sign Japan has joined The Hague. I hope these cases that might not be covered can still be handled in the spirit of The Hague treaty. Everyone I’ve talked to in Japan and the State Dept. is really committed to making that happen and to working with the families to bring these issues forward and resolve these cases.

SEN. CARDIN: On maritime security issues, it’s true that China and Japan—that there’s tensions over territorial claims to the islands. But it’s also true there are many other countries involved in maritime security issues that threaten the free transport of commerce and major U.S. interests. It also could cause serious security issues. Will you make it a priority to further reduce tension on maritime issues?

MS. KENNEDY: Yes. We spoke about the Helsinki Initiative as being perhaps a model for countries working multilaterally in the region, and perhaps exploring a North Pacific Dialogue.

SEN. CARDIN: We’re close allies with South Korea and Japan, but the relationship between Japan and South Korea is not as strong as we’d like to see it. I think your office can benefit both countries.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R-IDAHO): On the East China Sea, I’d like to get your thoughts on why this issue has gotten worse instead of better. We have not adopted the Law of the Sea here in the U.S. Those of us who opposed it argued we’d be giving up sovereignty and not getting much for it. It seems to me the East China Sea is the poster child for the lack of ability for such a treaty to resolve these issues.

MS. KENNEDY: Those issues in the East China Sea are driven by the regional countries, but that means the U.S. has an interest and an obligation to do everything we can to support and continue to support a peaceful resolution and encourage dialogue between our allies and other countries in the region. It’s something we’re going to have to continue to work on.

SEN. RISCH: I know you’ve been briefed on the importance of the Idaho National Laboratory, which is leading laboratory for nuclear energy in America. With the tragedy that occurred at Fukushima, the laboratory is doing things, examining what happened there, and how plants can be built more safely. I would only encourage you to take your knowledge of the [Idaho plant] in that regard to the Japanese people, and to the Japanese government, and underscore for them that we in Idaho want to be helpful in that regard. We have the expertise.

MS. KENNEDY: Thank you. I’d love to learn more about the laboratory. I’ve heard they’ve made their expertise available. I’d like to follow up on that with you.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NEW HAMPSHIRE): The president has talked about refocusing on the Asia-Pacific region. But to follow-up on Fukushima and what has happened in Japan, do you see a continued role for the U.S. as Japan continues to rebuild in the wake of March 11, 2011 and the damage done by the tsunami? And will you look at ways to facilitate the lessons learned at Fukushima. As Senator Risch says, we have some technology here that is important to share with Japan. But there are also lessons important to share with our nuclear industry. It’s very important for the U.S. nuclear industry to look at the lessons of Fukushima.

MS. KENNEDY: The U.S. military and the ambassadorial team at the embassy did a wonderful job after the triple disaster. If confirmed, I’ll build upon those efforts and sustain them. I think there are a lot of opportunities for us to continue to promote exchange programs and other kinds of efforts.

As Senator Risch said, I met with the U.S. Dept. of Energy, and I’ve heard they have technology and expertise and they are eager to assist in any way. Across our government, there is a sense that the incident [at Fukushima] had international implications, and certainly, it matters. So we would all do well to learn everything we could from that to benefit the world going forward in the nuclear area.

SEN. SHAHEEN: As you know, this past March, the U.S. renewed Japan’s exemption from Iranian sanctions as a result of its reduction in oil imports. Despite the energy shortfalls following the accident at Fukushima, Japan has worked hard to reduce its Iranian oil imports. Is there more we can expect from Japan on compliance with Iranian sanctions, and what should we look for from Japan as we continue to see how sanctions can hopefully bring Iran to the table to negotiate?

MS. KENNEDY: In the context of Japan’s energy challenges, there efforts have been significant in reducing Iranian oil imports in their auto industry. They’ve indicated that they are going to continue to make efforts to reduce their [Iranian oil] connections. They are our partner in many humanitarian and other efforts. Hopefully, all of those put together will help bring pressure on the Iranian regime.

SEN. JOHN BARASSO (R-WYOMING): I want to focus on one of our significant U.S. exports: soda ash. This is an issue your family has spoken about in the past. Soda ash is multimillion dollar industry. It’s needed for glass and steel production, as well as for soap and detergent. The U.S. is the most competitive source of soda ash. Japan has a 3.3 percent tariff on soda ash imports. Japan is the only country of all of the TPP negotiating countries with a tariff on soda ash. It’s important for the U.S. to eliminate this tariff. U.S. soda ash would benefit Japanese manufacturers. As TPP negotiations continue, will you commit to me that you will advocate for the elimination of soda ash tariffs?

MS. KENNEDY: I would definitely make the commitment. And, in fact, I did pass along your concerns to the USTR. They’ve indicated that soda ash will be an important issue in the upcoming negotiations.

SEN. BARASSO: We’ve also talked about beef exports to Japan, as well as LNG exports, which Japan has a great interest in.

MS. KENNEDY: In terms of beef, as you know, there has been a 43 percent increase in sales to Japan recently this year. I think that, hopefully, they will continue to accept more U.S. beef. As to LNG, a project was approved in Senator Cardin’s Maryland that is a win for both countries. So, I look forward to that.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VIRGINIA): Is there a worry among those who are briefing you or with those in Japan about the rebalance to Asia generally, or about the TPP, which involves multiple nations, that these actions would de-emphasize the U.S.-Japan relationship? If there are downsides, how do we continue to make sure Japan understands how special this relationship is?

MS. KENNEDY: From my conversations, it seems the U.S. and Japan are facing an important moment. But it’s a moment that is full of promise. The Asia-Pacific region is the future in many ways. It’s 40 percent of the world’s trade. I think that with the political stability in Japan, there are many opportunities to strengthen the alliance. Hopefully, I can contribute to that. There are complexities as well. But I’m hopeful they can be worked out.

SEN. KAINE: The Japanese continued purchase of oil from Iran—and there is an exemption we in the Senate have recognized — is nevertheless a troubling thing. We want to do what we can to make sure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons. Japan’s scaled-down purchases of Iranian oil is a notable thing. We think they could do more. But they have their own energy challenges, especially after Fukushima that put some constraints on them. But there is a potential connection between their ability to go even further and this LNG issue, and I just wanted to bring that up. It [LNG] is an important asset to contemplate in our relationship with Japan. The better we are to contemplate that, the more they may be able to take additional steps to reduce reliance upon Iranian oil, and help us with that important goal we share of making sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. So, in the broader negotiations of other topics, I just want to put that on the table.

MS. KENNEDY: Thank you.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-ARIZONA): I think it’s necessary to reemphasize a couple of points. One is that tensions between Japan and China are higher than at any time since the end of World War II. The issue of the Senkakus islands, although unknown to most Americans, is very high on the agenda of both Japan and China. There have been incidents of significant tension in that region, and there has been movement of Chinese ships there and a military presence. Prime Minister Abe is committed to a significant increase in defense spending. A lot of that has to do with their concern about the aggressive behavior of China in the South China Sea. Do you share my concern about this situation?

MS. KENNEDY: It’s a matter of grave concern. As we spoke about, the U.S. military alliance is the cornerstone of peace and security in the region. The U.S. is committed, under Article 5, to support Japan in the Senkakus. But, overall, our priority is for those disputes to be resolved through negotiation and diplomacy and for all parties in the region to seek to lower the tensions as much as possible.

SEN. McCAIN: You know the U.S. position has been that we support Japanese ‘management’ of the islands, but do not acknowledge the sovereignty or the integral part of Japan that they—that our policy embodies. Do you agree with that policy?

MS. KENNEDY: That’s the long-standing policy of the U.S., so I -that would be the policy I would try to further.

SEN. McCAIN: As part of our view of the importance of the Asia-Pacific region, there was an announcement a couple of years ago by the Obama administration. At first they used the unfortunate word ‘pivot’, but rebalancing our military to Asia-Pacific region. One of the most important parts of that, something we’ve been wrestling for years in the Armed Services Committee, is the movement of U.S. Marines out of Okinawa. It is a very volatile issue with the people of Okinawa. It’s got to be accomplished. We have watched with great frustration, time after time, expenditures of billions of dollars, and we still have not achieved the movement of the Marines out of Okinawa to a suitable replacement facility. We know that some will go to Guam, or are envisioned to. Some will go to a new base that’s being built. I hope you’ll give this issue a very high priority. One more incident in Okinawa, and we will see a very serious reaction from the people of Okinawa. They have to be assured that we are moving forward and making progress on this issue, which, frankly in my view, has been fraught with delays and expenditures which is almost an embarrassment.

MS. KENNEDY: I take your concerns very seriously, Senator. I look forward to studying this issue as much as I can, and to working with you to move this forward.

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D-MASS.): Are there any personal priorities that you have going to Japan?

KENNEDY: As a woman, I do have opportunities in Japan to represent the U.S., and the progress we’ve made here on some of those issues in a dialogue about what needs to be done, here and there. I’m looking forward to learning about those issues and how they relate to Japan. Because of my background in education and because I’ve worked to engage young generations in civic engagement and public service, I’d hope to continue to promote that.