William Hagerty, Washington’s new ambassador to Japan, expressed confidence Friday that his stint in Tokyo will be defined by the kind of “tight connection” and “understanding” that have shaped U.S. President Donald Trump’s relationship with his closest friend among world leaders: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Speaking to members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, Hagerty, a former businessman, described how he has witnessed Trump foster close ties with Abe since his victory in last November’s presidential election.
Abe, he said, wasted no time in calling Trump to congratulate him on his victory. He also became the first foreign leader to visit the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York.
“The meeting left a lasting impression on President Trump,” Hagerty said. “That type of tight connection — that level of understanding — keeps these two world leaders talking and communicating on practically a daily basis . . . I think that’s going to permeate our activity here at the embassy.”
Indeed, the ongoing nuclear crisis in North Korea has brought Abe and Trump even closer, with the two leaders frequently holding teleconferences — they spoke for two days in a row in August — to discuss the Kim regime’s relentless launching of missiles and testing of nuclear devices.
Boosting national security is one of his top priorities as ambassador, along with “deepening and strengthening” America’s economic partnership with Japan, said Hagerty, who spent three years in the world’s third-largest economy in the late 1980s and early ’90s while working for the Boston Consulting Group.
On North Korea, Hagerty sought to reassure the ACCJ circle that policy aides to Trump, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, are a “disciplined” and “thoughtful” bunch who know what they are doing by “systematically” piling pressure on the unpredictable regime.
“These are not people that are the sort of loose, fly-off-the-handle, shoot-from-the-hip type of people.”
He said they know “the consequences of war,” adding that nobody is taking the issue lightly “by any stretch of the imagination.”
By emphasizing U.S. efforts to negotiate with Russia and China, the ambassador said: “We’re trying to bring the world community along with us. And we have.”
Hagerty also said he couldn’t help but notice a rise in China’s regional assertiveness upon his return to Tokyo.
“Their presence, in the way they project that presence in this region, has changed this environment significantly,” he said, vowing to “continue to pay attention” to its activities.