William Hagerty, the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan, vowed Thursday to maintain “ironclad” bilateral security ties in the face of North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threats and said he expects Tokyo to assume a greater role in the decades-old alliance Washington regards as a cornerstone of regional stability.
“I expect to see us strengthening our position in the face of the increasing threat here in this region, and I also expect to see further involvement of Japan and further responsibility and authority of Japan,” he said, speaking to reporters after arriving at Narita airport near Tokyo in late afternoon.
“Our partnership with Japan is ironclad and our ability to defend ourselves becomes even stronger as we work more closely together,” he said.
Hagerty, a private equity investor, is assuming his new role at a time when the security alliance between the two nations is considered especially crucial as North Korea’s frequent missile tests roil regional tensions.
Last week, North Korea’s state media said the country is developing a plan to test-fire intermediate ballistic missiles into seas near Guam, a plan it eventually shelved after an exchange of fiery rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington.
Asked about the current situation, Hagerty said “all options are on the table.”
“I don’t see any options being taken off the table by the United States, and I see the pressure by the international community mounting even greater against this regime until they begin to dial back their rhetoric, and their dialogue becomes something much more reasonable,” he said.
“We await that, we look forward to that, and I expect that that would come.”
Besides beefing up security ties, Hagerty said he also hoped to enhance the economic relationship between the two nations.
“Together, the United States and Japan comprise 30 percent of the world’s GDP, and by working together to strengthen these relationships, we will stimulate economic growth worldwide, we will better ensure financial stability, and we will ensure job opportunities both here in Japan as well as in the United States,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Hagerty released a video clip of himself speaking from his home in Nashville, Tennessee, where he played up the relationship between the administrations of U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, describing it as being “marked by a number of notable firsts.”
The first phone call from a country leader placed to Trump was from Abe, he said. Abe was also the first foreign leader to visit Trump following his election victory, while the first bilateral summit Trump held was also with Abe.
“The President and I share the belief that there is no bilateral relationship more important to the United States than our alliance with Japan,” Hagerty said in the 2½-minute-long clip, where he also emphasized his connections to Japan. Over two decades ago he spent three years in Japan working for the Boston Consulting Group, an experience that he said left him with a “lasting affection for the people of Japan.” He later went on to co-found private equity firm Hagerty Peterson & Co. “Although I left Japan, Japan never left me,” he said.
During his stint as Secretary of Trade and Commerce in Tennessee, Hagerty said he worked closely with his Japanese counterparts to boost bilateral ties.
“Today, I’m delighted that Japanese factories and Japanese culture are blossoming across my home state,” he said.
Hagerty arrived in Japan with his wife, two sons and two daughters.
The political turmoil surrounding Trump’s presidency saw a delay in the appointments of Hagerty and other ambassadors. Trump officially nominated him for the job in March. But Hagerty wasn’t sworn in as ambassador to Japan until late July, six months after his predecessor, Caroline Kennedy, left the post.
Kennedy’s appointment back in 2013 under the administration of Barack Obama was greeted with fanfare in Japan. She was the first woman in the role and political royalty as the daughter of late U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was so popular at the start of her tenure that thousands of spectators gathered to see her when she presented her credentials to Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace. Hagerty’s appointment, by contrast, appears relatively low-key.