Caroline Kennedy took the post of U.S. Ambassador to Japan today, half a century after her father John’s dream of becoming the first sitting president to visit the country was cut short.
Referring to John F. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy said on her arrival in Tokyo she was “proud to carry forward my father’s legacy of public service,” adding she would “work to strengthen the close ties between our two great countries.”
Kennedy, 55, will represent the U.S. at a time when the Obama administration is making Asia a foreign policy priority via what it calls a strategic and economic “rebalancing.” The administration is working toward a trade alliance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, meant to anchor the U.S. within the world’s fastest-growing economic region and help achieve the goal of doubling U.S. exports over the five years ending in 2015.
Kennedy replaces John Roos, a former Silicon Valley lawyer and fund raiser for President Barack Obama, and is the first woman to serve in the role. Kennedy’s close ties with Obama, as well as her family background, have sparked excitement in Japan.
“I don’t think we have ever welcomed an ambassador with such high expectations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “It is said she can call the president directly on the phone. From the point of view of developing Japan-U.S. ties, I think she will be a wonderful ambassador.”
Kennedy’s ambassadorship becomes official in Japan on Nov. 19, when she will travel through the streets of Tokyo in an antique carriage drawn by two horses to the Imperial Palace to present her credentials to Emperor Akihito. The brief ceremony will take place in the Room of the Pine, used for such occasions since 1969.
The U.S. is also seeking to bolster its strategic alliance with Japan as the countries respond to China’s growing military and economic muscle in the region and the threat from North Korea’s nuclear program. Japan and China are embroiled in a territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering reinterpreting the country’s pacifist constitution to allow its military to defend allies. The U.S., which imposed the constitution on Japan after its defeat in World War II, supports the proposed change which has been criticized by South Korea and China, two countries that suffered under Japanese occupation.
Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, a former foreign minister, said he had little idea of Kennedy’s qualifications for the job.
“Her diplomatic skills are completely unknown,” he told reporters. “I think I can rate her highly for her interest in Japan and her eagerness to do a good job of the duties that are assigned to her.”
Kennedy, who studied Japanese history and holds a law degree, traveled to Hiroshima with her uncle Edward Kennedy in 1978. That visit “left me with a profound desire to work for a better, more peaceful world,” she said in a video message released Nov. 13. She also said she spent her honeymoon in Japan, visiting Nara and Kyoto.
“Since that time I’ve seen firsthand how American and Japanese people are bound by common values,” she said in the video. “We share a commitment to freedom, human rights and the rule of law. My goal as ambassador is to build on the proud traditions of mutual respect and close partnership. I look forward to learning more and to making new friends.”