The media and public waited with high expectations as Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador, arrived Friday in Japan, becoming the first female to assume the post.
Kennedy, 55, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, is expected to present her credentials to Emperor Akihito during a ceremony at the Imperial Palace on Tuesday.
“It is a special honor for me to be able to work to strengthen the close ties between our two great countries,” she said in a statement upon her arrival at Narita International Airport.
Although Kennedy, an attorney and author, is inexperienced in the world of diplomacy, expectations are high for the celebrity, who is a member of America’s most famous political dynasty, to raise American and Japanese people’s interests in each other’s countries, and to bring the nations closer together.
Kennedy’s close personal ties with President Barack Obama is also considered a great asset in deepening bilateral ties.
Kennedy supported Obama’s election campaign in 2008 and his re-election bid in 2012. She can reportedly get on the phone and talk to Obama at any time.
But her lack of experience has raised concern about her ability to handle the high-profile position, especially at a time when contentious bilateral issues need to be solved, including the replacement of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in densely populated Ginowan, Okinawa, with a new airstrip farther north on Okinawa Island at Nago, and negotiations for the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which the U.S. hopes to conclude by year’s end.
Also on the agenda are badly strained Japan-China relations over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islets are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Since the government effectively nationalized the five uninhabited islets in September 2012, they have become a flash point for potential military clashes with China.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats are also concerns for both countries.
In a video message posted on the U.S. Embassy website Wednesday, Kennedy said she once accompanied her late uncle, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, on a visit to Hiroshima in 1978 when she was 20.
“It left me with a profound desire to work for a better, more peaceful world,” said Kennedy, who has served as an adviser and board member for many organizations in the United States.
Kennedy, a mother of three, also visited Japan in 1986 with her husband, designer Edwin Schlossberg, as part of their honeymoon.