Welcoming Ms. Kennedy to Japan

Ms. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter and only living child of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, is expected to arrive in Tokyo in September at the earliest as a successor to Ambassador John Roos. It is hoped that her ambassadorship will help deepen Japanese and American people’s mutual interest in each other and strengthen bilateral relationship between the two countries.

President Barack Obama’s decision to appoint her as U.S. ambassador to Japan caused a controversy in the United States because he chose her mainly on the strength of his close personal relations with her. In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Ms. Kennedy supported Mr. Obama by declaring during primaries that he was the person who inherited the ideal of the Kennedys. Her support for Mr. Obama helped him win a neck-and-neck race with Ms. Hillary Clinton.

Ms. Kennedy, a lawyer and writer, has no experience in diplomacy and is not an expert on Japan. Clearly Mr. Obama’s choice of her as ambassador to Japan is a reward for her political support to him. But attention must be paid to other aspects.

President Kennedy is still popular with the Japanese public and many Japanese still remember the image of Ms. Kennedy as a cherubic five year old when her father was assassinated in 1963. The U.S. government can expect that this will help Japanese people feel an affinity with Ms. Kennedy and the U.S. itself, and improve the image of the U.S. in Japan.

President Kennedy had expressed a desire to become the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Japan so he could smooth out bilateral ties, which had been rattled by mass opposition to the renewal of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960. In a sense, Ms. Kennedy’s stationing in Tokyo as U.S. ambassador achieves her father’s unfulfilled dream a half-century later.

One strong point of Ms. Kennedy is that, unlike most professional diplomats, she enjoys such a close relationship with Mr. Obama that she has direct telephone access to him. This will make it easier to resolve pressing bilateral issues that suddenly arise.

Ambassador Roos greatly encouraged people in the Tohoku region by visiting there after the region was devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. In the wake of the disaster, the U.S. military carried out Operation Tomodachi, a massive effort that involved search and rescue operations, delivery of emergency supplies and the removal of debris.

Breaking with custom, Ambassador Roos also visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the anniversary days of the atomic bombings of them. Visits by Ms. Kennedy to these cities would help increase the momentum of the movement to abolish nuclear weapons.

It is also our hope that Ms. Kennedy will have opportunities to meet with residents of Okinawa, who have been suffering for years from the U.S.’ heavy military presence there, and pass on her perspectives to Washington. There are limits to what an ambassador can do. But we hope that Ms. Kennedy will play an active role in helping to resolve some of the thorny bilateral issues that Japan and the U.S. are facing.