Kurt Tong Discusses the U.S.-Japan Alliance at CSIS-Nikkei Symposium

Oct. 29, 2013

Charge d'Affaires Kurt Tong: Good afternoon everybody. I'd like to thank Nikkei and CSIS and all the organizers of this most excellent event today. I feel a little bit intimidated staring at the front row here, that I'm going to get some grades later that I might not like. So please be generous in your judging.

First let me reassure Japanese friends here today - you will soon have a new U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Caroline Kennedy will be here very soon, and she is extremely eager to meet all of you, and to do her own very best to make this important special relationship even stronger going forward.

I'd also like today to speak in memory of Ambassador Tom Foley. Today at our Embassy in Tokyo we're flying our flag at half-mast in memory of Ambassador Foley, whom I had the opportunity to work for, and who made an enormous contribution to the strength and lasting value of relations between the United States and Japan. And so I appreciate very much the numerous Japanese people who have reached out to Ambassador Foley's wife and also expressed their condolences to our Mission. Ambassador Foley was a superb man, and he'll be missed very much.

So let me do a few things today. First, talk just a little bit about the rebalance to Asia. I know you've heard a lot about that already. Second, touch on regional issues and how the strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance - including through expected changes to Japan's security policy and security institutions - fits into that regional context. Third, discuss the importance of our cooperation on economic policy, and also on global development and peace and security challenges, and how that also helps make the Asia-Pacific region peaceful and prosperous. And finally, just some thoughts on important steps to help keep our special partnership strong and healthy in the future as new generations grow up and come to the fore in both the United States and Japan.

Rebalancing toward Asia

So first, you hear a lot about the U.S. "rebalance to Asia," which, more precisely, describes President Obama's strategic focus on Asia. To the skeptics I say, it's real. The United States has always been and always will be a Pacific nation. Historically, geographically, diplomatically, economically, culturally, in terms of security, the United States is a Pacific nation. Just look at our investments. Or just look at our people.

To the handwringers who worry about global distractions shifting attention away from Asia, I say take another look at what's really going on. Last month President Obama made a speech to the U.N. General Assembly and spent a lot of time talking about challenges in Syria, North Africa and the Middle East. And quite a bit on Iran, too. That's a fact. And, certainly sectarian conflict and weapons of mass destruction have a way of occupying the headlines. But if you look at how President Obama ended that speech, it was with Asia. He talked about his vision for a different future where hundreds of millions are lifted out of poverty, where public and private efforts are combating climate change, where there are expanding freedoms, young people are starting businesses, and generations genuinely leaving behind the wars and ideological conflicts of the past.

That's what the rebalance means to the United States. That's what's happening in the region, and the United States is "all in."

There are two aspects of the strategic focus on Asia: One, how the rebalance is taking shape within the region, and two, how it's taking shape bilaterally between the United States and Japan, as we rejuvenate that bilateral relationship, around which a stable and prosperous Asia is firmly anchored, and has been anchored for over half a century.

So first let's talk about China, because I'd like to make it very clear that the rebalance is not a "China containment policy." That would be a radical misreading of history. The former Soviet Union and the United States had almost no trade or social contact. That is hardly the case for U.S. Asia policy today, where we pursue a stable and constructive relationship with China. Of course there are frictions due to our different approaches to government. And of course strengthening and modernizing our long-standing alliances in the Pacific - first and foremost with Japan — remains at the core of U.S. Asia-Pacific policy. But our efforts to shape regional institutions and architecture, advance economic integration across the region, and promote universal and democratic values all involve and include China. That is not containment.

Speaking of Japan's neighbors, however, I do want to take a moment to talk about history and reconciliation. Two weeks ago, I witnessed an event that previously might have been thought unimaginable. A group of Americans who suffered hellish experiences as prisoners of war in Japan during the Second World War returned to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese government. These gentlemen were very impressive, all of them over 90 years old, some of them quite frail, some quite strong, but all with very clear memories of the hardships that they had endured.

Participating in that event took enormous amounts of courage. Naturally it took courage on the part of the participants, who will never forget the pain they endured, for them to come to Japan and learn how Japan has changed. But it also took courage on the part of Japan to acknowledge past mistakes and honor the former POWs.

Being cognizant of past history, our two countries, the United States and Japan, which were once bitter enemies, are every day working together to build a shared vision for the future.

Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel's visit to Chidorigafuchi Cemetery was another gesture that demonstrated reconciliation, as those two former soldiers laid flowers to show respect for the Japanese people who died in World War II.

All of us in this room know that historical rifts persist between Japan and its neighbors, particularly the Republic of Korea. As reconciliation between the United States and Japan has enabled a global partnership beyond our imagining, might not deeper reconciliation between Japan and its neighbors also yield great things? Obviously this is a challenge for Japan and its neighbors themselves. However, from the point of view of the United States, addressing historical differences would help the fabric of the region, including by promoting effective trilateral cooperation among our important allies, and thereby making us all stronger and more secure.

Bilateral Affairs

Turning now to bilateral affairs, for over 65 years now, the United States and Japan have built a strategic alliance that has formed not only the foundation of the security and prosperity of our two nations, but has also become the cornerstone of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Let's dwell on this for a moment. What does this mean for the "rebalance"? It means the rebalance is not about a return - we have been here all along. Consider this: Where does the United States deploy its most advanced military assets and equipment? In Japan. Where do top administration officials and members of Congress visit on a regular basis? To Japan. Where do we turn to for diplomatic support on the most troublesome issues of our time, such as Syria, or Iran, or North Korea? We turn to Japan.

In fact, the strategic rebalance renders the U.S.-Japan alliance more important than ever. Our bilateral partnership is at the heart of American efforts to create a strong and lasting regional security architecture for the 21st century.

Earlier this month, Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel met Foreign Minister Kishida and Defense Minister Onodera here in Tokyo - the first time that the four ministers had ever met like this in Japan - for the so-called 2+2 meeting. The Ministers agreed that in order to adapt our alliance to the changing regional security landscape, the United States and Japan will accelerate and deepen and expand our cooperation.

One growing area of military-to-military collaboration is ballistic missile defense. The United States and Japan worked closely together to deploy our strategic ballistic missile defense assets in advance of North Korea's failed missile launches in late 2012 and this past April. To support this further, we have agreed to coordinate on installation of a new X-band radar installation that will increase early-detection capability.

Our leaders who met earlier this month also agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in several important emerging areas that increasingly demand attention, including cyber security, information security, and the strategic use of space. Intrusions into the computer systems of Japanese defense contractors and the Japanese Diet over the past few years have underscored the urgent need to work together as allies to counter these emerging threats, and for Japan to create the necessary regulatory and legal frameworks to better protect vital information.

In order to properly focus our attention on these and other emerging threats, we also need to rapidly complete the overdue construction of the Futenma replacement facility. The new facility at Camp Schwab will allow the United States to close and return the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma to the people of Okinawa, alleviating issues such as noise and traffic congestion, and concerns about safety, while maintaining the necessary force posture to help defend Japan in a changing regional security environment.

A final area emphasized at this historic meeting was humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The United States and Japan are committed to working together on issues such as anti-piracy, international peacekeeping operations, and in responding to natural disasters to provide needed humanitarian relief around the region.

Naturally, discussion of our bilateral military alliance raises the issue of how the United States views the Abe administration's security policies, including proposals for a National Security Council, enactment of an information security law, and whether Japan should reinterpret its constitution to remove self-imposed restrictions and allow for the exercise of Japan's right of collective self-defense.

Of course, these are issues that only the Japanese people and their elected representatives can decide, after genuine and informed debate. From the U.S. perspective, however, the reasons for these policies are entirely understandable. For example, Japan will be a more effective alliance partner if it has a clearly formulated national security strategy, coordinated among government ministries via a new National Security Council institution. Japan will be a more effective alliance partner if it can appropriately safeguard shared sensitive national security information. Japan will also be a more effective alliance partner if its soldiers are able to defend - and note we are talking about "defense" here - defend American soldiers or sailors if they are attacked while participating in a peacekeeping operation.

From an American viewpoint, it is only common sense that we would welcome Japanese assistance, for example, in helping to defend our ships from hostile missile strikes or in joining the United States and others in the international community in important humanitarian operations and disaster relief. We are told that these policy changes may be accommodated without actually revising the Constitution.

But let me be clear here, and this is the main point: The United States trusts Japan. Japan has proven over decades that it is a peaceful country firmly rooted in democratic values, a country that makes enormous positive contributions to the region and to the world. In short, Japan shares a vision for Asia, which the United States shares, that emphasizes peace and cooperation and mutual coexistence and understanding.

Japan will be an even more effective alliance partner if it enacts its security policies transparently, and patiently explains those policies to its neighbors. By building trust among its neighbors, Japan can more confidently play a constructive role in regional and global security affairs.

Economic Ties

So I've addressed some military and security aspects of the rebalance, and I would like to change gears for just a moment and focus on the U.S.-Japan economic relationship. Our shared interests in the Asia-Pacific are to build a stable, secure, prosperous, and peaceful region - one in which market economies can flourish and all can enjoy free, open, transparent and fair trade and investment ties built on internationally agreed rules and norms. Building the regional architecture that supports that vision is essential to the success of the rebalancing strategy.

The United States is eager to maintain maximum regional cooperation through fora like APEC and by advancing our economic engagement with ASEAN. One particularly exciting piece of this emerging structure, and of the Obama Administration's strategic rebalance, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

TPP reflects the shared determination of not only the United States, but also Japan and other TPP countries to create a high-standard, comprehensive, job-supporting agreement that addresses 21st century trade issues and introduces new disciplines into the global trading system.

APEC Leaders recently gathered in Bali for the first APEC Leaders Meeting hosted by Indonesia since 1994. In fact, it was in 1994 at an APEC meeting in Bali that the leaders committed themselves to the so-called Bogor Goals of achieving free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2020. Now, back in 1994 there was a lot of skepticism about whether those goals could be achieved. But as our U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman noted in his August 2013 visit here in Tokyo, "It is with the Bogor Goals in mind that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is such a fantastic vision."

TPP is a game-changing step that moves forward the APEC vision to eventually create a free-trade area encompassing the entire Asia-Pacific region. APEC's important work on trade facilitation, capacity building, supply chains, and other areas has given the TPP members - including developing country members - the tools and confidence that they need to successfully participate in the TPP negotiations.

And so, with the cooperation of Japan and other member countries, we are seeking to resolve all the outstanding issues in TPP by the end of this year.

There's been a lot of chit-chat, if you will, in the media about whether it's realistic to have a goal of finishing TPP by the end of this year, but I personally am extremely confident that the TPP will be rapidly completed. And there are two reasons for that. First, all the TPP partners now have a thorough understanding of all the issues involved. And second and most importantly, all of the TPP partners are at the table because they want to be at the table. Each of them has decided for themselves, through a rational process of self-evaluation and consideration of national interests, that completion of this agreement will make their economies stronger and more prosperous. And so we will forge forward.

Global Issues

I've outlined what the rebalance means for our bilateral military and economic relationship, and implications for the region, but Japan is not merely our ally in Asia. Japan is also our vital ally and partner around the world. When we confront threats to humankind, such as the devastating chemical attacks in Syria, we do so hand in hand with Japan. When we seek diplomatic solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts, we do so hand in hand with Japan.

Japan is with us when we strategize about how to make the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, and when we save lives from epidemic diseases through initiatives like the Global Fund, and when we promote justice in the face of crimes against humanity, such as in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia.

We count on Japan when we press for diplomatic dispute-resolution for maritime conflicts in the South China Sea, and when we work to develop free and transparent trade architecture worldwide, and when we explore new innovations in green energy.

We look to Japan when we combat poverty and advance economic development in Africa, and when we advocate for an end to gender-based violence, and when we work toward a more equitable world for women worldwide.

And why? Because the more influential Japan's voice is in the region and the world, the better it is for the United States and for the world.

Prime Minister Abe has made it clear that Japan intends to play an even more prominent role on the global stage, as an active contributor to peace. We applaud that role. We are equally encouraged by Japan's economic reforms to increase its global competitiveness, and its increased focus on overseas development assistance.

Prime Minister Abe perhaps said it best in the widely quoted speech that he made to our CSIS co-hosts in Washington back in February, when he said, "Japan is back." He said it in English so we could all understand. As Japan's closest partner, our own reaction can only be summed up in just two words: "Welcome back."

I've detailed how the national interests of the United States and Japan are intertwined - in security, politics, development, trade and investment. Finally, just let me take one more minute to explore how that came to be and what we need to do to stretch the remarkable partnership between Japan and the United States into future generations.

People-to-People Ties

How is it that two societies that are so different and apart in so many ways - geographically, demographically, culturally, linguistically - how is it that we have inextricably linked our futures together? Over decades, dedicated individuals and institutions have forged enduring relationships that form the backbone of that relationship. Personally, I think back on my own experience studying in Japan at International Christian University and the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies. And I think of my Embassy and Mission staff, many of who have studied or taught English in Japan, or been part of the JET program, or part of the Mansfield Fellowships. I think of dedicated individuals like Donald Keene, who has devoted his entire life to promoting Japanese literature, culture, and history.

Now more than ever we need to create future leaders on both sides of the Pacific who are invested in the bilateral relationship and have the skills and mindsets that enable us to work together, generate ideas together, and build things together. We need to continue to build things together like the 787 Dreamliner and the International Space Station.

Thus, we have a great common interest in increasing exchanges of all kinds between our nations - cultural exchanges, business exchanges, and student exchanges. A number of studies show that the single most significant factor shaping whether a young Japanese person or young American person will pursue an international exchange experience is institutional linkages, institution to institution. These ties are not only valuable for themselves today, but they are indispensible for ensuring our partnership for tomorrow.

Because of this understanding, our two governments last year convened a bilateral Educational Task Force, with the majority of members from industry and academia, to propose ways to double two-way youth exchanges by 2020. Double them. This is an ambitious goal, but it is not ambitious enough. We should actually double two-way exchanges of all kinds, beyond student exchanges, to include business exchanges and other activities.

Here in Japan that effort is best exemplified by the TOMODACHI Initiative, the ground-breaking public-private partnership started by our Embassy following the Great East Japan Earthquake. This initiative invests in the next generation of Japanese and American leaders by supporting programs in educational and cultural exchange, and developing leadership and entrepreneurship skills.

Over the course of my time in Japan, I have come to understand deeply the value of our countries' unique relationship. And it is a relationship based on the kind of mutual understanding that can only come from many years of people-to-people exchanges.

So in closing: Please do not be distracted by political games in Washington or elsewhere, or media criticism. Nothing will shake the commitment of the United States to the rebalance to Asia that President Obama is leading. When it comes to the Asia-Pacific, the United States is "all in." Nowhere more so than in Japan. The United States is a Pacific nation inextricably linked to Asia by geography, history, culture, economics, as well as the teamwork and joint investments that we have made together to achieve today's security and prosperity.

Powerful geopolitical forces are reshaping the region: China's ascent, Korea's increasing economic relevance, an eastward-looking India and stronger Southeast Asian nations that are more interconnected and prosperous than ever before.

In that context, the rebalance is about strengthening alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Australia; deepening partnerships with emerging powers such as India and Indonesia; building a stable, productive, and constructive relationship with China; empowering regional institutions such as ASEAN; and helping to build a regional economic architecture for shared prosperity.

The rebalance is not about returning to Asia after a period away, because we've been here all along. It's not about diminishing ties to important partners in any other region. It's not about containing China or seeking to dictate terms, and it doesn't focus only on our military presence.

The rebalance will harnesses all elements of U.S. intent and U.S. power - military, political, trade and investment, development diplomacy, and American values. And it will do so hand in hand with Japan.

Thank you for your attention, and I wish you the best of luck for the rest of the afternoon.