New U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy on Wednesday criticized China’s move to set up an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea covering the Senkaku islands, stressing that unilateral actions like this elevate tensions.
In her first public speech as ambassador, the soft-spoken Kennedy also voiced support for Japan’s efforts to bolster security measures, such as establishing a national security council as soon as next week.
“Unilateral actions like those taken by China with their announcement of an East China Sea air defense identification zone undermine security and constitute an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea. This only serves to increase tensions in the region and create unnecessary risk,” Kennedy said at a welcome luncheon in Tokyo hosted by the America-Japan Society and the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
“We will continue to consult especially closely with the Japanese government on these issues,” the first female U.S. envoy to Japan told the audience of some 600 people, adding that Japan is Washington’s most important ally in the region.
Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, also stressed the importance of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations.
“It is complex and difficult, yet critical to our overall Asia-Pacific rebalance both economically and strategically,” she said, adding that the TPP is also an “important lever in Prime Minister Abe’s domestic policy agenda.”
Kennedy said the U.S. is committed to realigning its military presence here and proceeding with building a replacement facility for the contentious Futenma base, a plan that has long been stalled by strong opposition in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
During her first meeting with Shinzo Abe on Nov. 20, Kennedy said she was impressed by his commitment to “womenomics,” or promoting women’s status in Japan to help the economy grow.
“Americans know, and the world has seen, that when women are empowered, the entire society benefits,” Kennedy said. “I believe the prime minister understands that this is not just a women’s issue. It’s a man’s issue, a family issue, an economic and national security issue, and a moral issue.”
Looking back at the past few weeks since her arrival, Kennedy thanked the Japanese people for the warm welcome she has received.
“The ability to infuse formal ceremony with warmth and humanity are qualities I admire greatly, and I feel privileged to have been given these gifts by the people of Japan,” she said.
She also told the audience of her recent trip to the disaster-hit Tohoku region.
“It was two days that I will never forget,” Kennedy said. “I was deeply affected by the scale of the destruction yet inspired by the strength and resilience of the people there.”