U.S., Japan share challenges, ideal friendship: Ambassador Baker

The following, originally published in the International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun on Jan. 21, 2005, is reproduced here with the Asahi Shimbun's permission.

Looking back on 2004, I can say with confidence that it has been one of the best years ever in U.S.-Japan relations.

Our two countries are world leaders - economically, politically, socially and culturally, and militarily. So the fact that we have such a strong relationship is very important, not only to us, but to the entire world.

The constant high-level contacts between our countries symbolize the health and importance of our bilateral ties. For example, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met three times this past year, and numerous other high-level U.S. officials also visited Japan, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

Top government and military officials, and numerous senators and congressional representatives also came to meet with their Japanese counterparts to discuss mutual interests. Numerous state governors, including perhaps our most famous, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, led delegations working to further bilateral trade.

What impresses me even more than the strong government-to-government ties between our two nations is the remarkable people-to-people relationship.

Over the past year, celebrations commemorating this 150th anniversary year of bilateral relations brought together hundreds of grassroots citizens' groups and civic organizations from both nations to discuss the historical legacy and entwined futures of our societies.

Americans and Japanese are fascinated and positively influenced by each other. Student exchanges, such as the one in which my own grandson participated in Japan, flourish as never before.

The United States receives more Japanese students than any other country and we are eager to host even more.

Within Japan, I see great examples of dynamic leadership and forward thinking. In my long career in politics, I have rarely encountered change agents like Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, with his particular brand of energy, decisiveness, and imagination.

I commend him for addressing fundamentally important issues, both domestic and international, in a way that has brought Japan heightened respect and admiration from the world community.

His commitment to carry through his crucial economic reform package is not only admirable and a benefit to Japan but, perhaps even more important, it will help restore the economy as an engine for growth for the entire world.

Prime Minister Koizumi has, through active foreign diplomacy, made Japan a powerful player on the world stage. The United States supports his efforts for Japan to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

The prime minister's determination to contribute to the war on terrorism, including billons of dollars in reconstruction assistance for Iraq and Afghanistan will help build peace in those lands.

Besides Japan's leadership in foreign assistance, his dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Samawah to help rebuild Iraq, may not have been the easiest course, but I predict history will judge it to be the right choice.

At the beginning of this new year, the United States and Japan are linked, regrettably, in shared grief over the loss of life and property from the recent earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

In a shared spirit of compassion and responsibility, we are leading an unprecedented international effort to help those affected by this tragedy rebuild their societies. As the world's two most prosperous and successful societies, the United States and Japan are called to global leadership.

I believe that developments of the past year have strengthened our determination and ability to work together even more closely to overcome the many challenges that remain for our peoples and the world as a whole in the new year.

As I prepare to depart Japan, my four years here have left very deep impressions. My wife Nancy and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time here and the opportunities to travel to many regions and to meet a variety of wonderful people.

I am pleased and honored to have been selected by the president as ambassador to Japan, and to have contributed in small part to perhaps the closest friendship the United States has with any nation.