US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy arrived in Japan yesterday to take up her position as the nation’s top representative with one important strength: She has the ear of the US president.
“I bring greetings from [US] President [Barack] Obama,” she said in a short statement after getting off the plane with her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, at Narita airport.
Japan hopes the 55-year-old daughter of the late US president John F. Kennedy will work closely with Obama to tackle some urgent US-Japan matters, analysts said.
Her close ties to Obama come from playing a pivotal role during the Democratic presidential primary in 2008 by endorsing him when Hillary Rodham Clinton was the lead candidate.
“What’s important here is her strong pipeline with Obama and an ability to be able to pick up the phone and speak with Obama directly in the middle of the night for consultation on urgent matters,” said Ryuichi Teshima, professor of diplomacy at Keio University in Tokyo.
As the first woman to serve as US ambassador to Japan, Kennedy may also be a role model in a country that traditionally has restricted the role of women, said Toshihiro Nakayama, professor of international politics at Aoyama Gakuin University.
“I am also proud to carry forward my father’s legacy of public service,” Kennedy said. “He had hoped to be the first US president to visit Japan. So it is a special honor for me to be able to work to strengthen the close ties between our two great countries.”
US-Japan relations are generally on an even keel, but Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are not as close as some would like.
“The chemistry is off, possibly because Obama does not support the right-wing views Abe holds,” Teshima said.
Major bilateral issues include the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, the relocation of a US military base on Okinawa and a revamp of defense cooperation guidelines between the two countries.
“It’s a critical time in US-Japan relations,” Kennedy said at a reception at the Japanese embassy in Washington earlier this week. “The US-Japan relationship is the cornerstone of regional prosperity, stability and security.”