AFP: Caroline Kennedy said Thursday she hoped to carry on the legacy of her slain father John F. Kennedy by serving as the US ambassador to Japan, pledging to work for closer ties. Kennedy praised Japan for cutting down on oil imports from Iran. First woman envoy to Tokyo
By Shaun Tandon
WASHINGTON (AFP)— Caroline Kennedy said Thursday she hoped to carry on the legacy of her slain father John F. Kennedy by serving as the US ambassador to Japan, pledging to work for closer ties.
Kennedy, a close and early supporter of President Barack Obama, appeared before a Senate panel as she sought confirmation for her most public role since she was a playful young girl in the White House from 1961-63.
“I can think of no country in which I would rather serve than Japan,” said Kennedy, with two of her three children and other members of the political dynasty sitting behind her.
The 55-year-old said that she first visited Japan in 1978 with her uncle, late senator Ted Kennedy, and was “deeply affected by our visit to Hiroshima,” which the United States obliterated in the world’s first atomic bombing in 1945.
Kennedy said the two nations’ post-war alliance had a “global reach,” calling Japan “an indispensable partner in promoting democracy and economic development.”
“These are areas I care deeply about and, if confirmed, I will work to further strengthen this critical partnership at a vital moment in its history,” she said.
The Senate appeared virtually certain to confirm Kennedy, meaning that she would head to Tokyo ahead of the 50th anniversary on November 22 of her father’s assassination, when she was five days short of her sixth birthday.
“This appointment has a special significance as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of my father’s presidency,” she said.
“I would be humbled to carry forward his legacy in a small way and represent the powerful bonds that unite our two democratic societies,” she said.
Kennedy said that her father, who was seriously wounded by a Japanese destroyer in World War II, had hoped to pay the first US state visit to Tokyo. Gerald Ford eventually became the first US sitting US president to travel to Japan in 1974.
Introducing Kennedy to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Chuck Schumer said he believed her father and other late family members were “looking down with pride” on her.
Senator Tim Kaine said that the Kennedy family’s odyssey with Japan — from war enemy to ambassador — was proof that “we don’t have to assume that hostilities are permanent.”
“Who any country is at odds with today doesn’t mean that we need to be despairing that we might not be wonderful allies in a few decades,” said Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia.
Kennedy would be the first female US ambassador to Tokyo and hinted she would highlight women’s rights in Japan, which ranks lower than most developed countries on gender equality in the workplace.
“As a woman, I do have opportunities in Japan to represent the United States and the progress that we have made here,” she said.
While no senators opposed Kennedy, several US foreign policy experts have criticized the nomination, saying that she has little experience at a time that Japan is managing high tensions with a rising China and an often bellicose North Korea.
Kennedy appeared to be well-briefed ahead of the hearing, responding to senators’ questions with answers that could have been read verbatim by State Department officials.
Kennedy said that the United States took no position on the ultimate sovereignty of a set of islands claimed by Beijing — known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese — but “we do recognize they are under Japanese administration” and covered by a US-Japan security treaty.
She said that the United States had “an interest and an obligation” to support “a peaceful resolution” and encourage dialogue over disputes in Asia.
Kennedy praised Japan for cutting down on oil imports from Iran and pledged to press Tokyo over its refusal to let US parents see half-Japanese children who have been abducted.
“As a parent, I can certainly understand the emotional aspects of this issue,” Kennedy said.
If confirmed, Kennedy would join a long line of prominent ambassadors to Japan including former vice president Walter Mondale, former House speaker Tom Foley and former Senate majority leader Howard Baker.
Kennedy, whose mother and brother have also died, has championed the family’s brand of progressive politics while mostly avoiding the public spotlight.
But Kennedy offered a major boost to Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 when she urged voters from their Democratic Party to support him over perceived front-runner Hillary Clinton.