Ambassador of Japan Shares Regional Concerns

HOUSTON, February 28, 2014 — Uncertainty about China’s military ambitions and about the future of North Korea’s volatile regime top the list of foreign policy challenges in East Asia, His Excellency Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan, said in a luncheon talk hosted by Asia Society Texas Center.

Sasae, who served as honorary chair of the Texas Center’s Tiger Ball 2014, and is Ambassador of Japan to the United States, also expressed hope the United States and Japan could resolve differences that have stalled the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks aimed at creating a tariff-free trade zone among 12 Pacific Rim countries. He would like to see negotiations completed before President Obama’s trip to Japan in April.

About North Korea, Sasae said, “The threat is still there, and the passage of time is not necessarily on our side.” Many observers expected the regime to crumble on its own accord over time, but that hasn’t proved the case, he said, indicating that additional international pressure may be required.

Sasae acknowledged that relations between Japan and China are “not ideal.” China’s neighbors fear that it may decide to convert its growing economic clout into military power, he said.

“We don’t know, really,” he said. “China is not hiding its intention to be militarily strong. That’s causing concern.” He added that national rhetoric by some Chinese leaders has not been helpful.

Sasae sounded an optimistic note when he said that younger Asians do not seem as concerned as their elders on legacies of the past that continue to fuel tensions in the region.

After delivering his remarks Sasae was interviewed onstage by Eddie Allen, Co-Vice Chair of the Texas Center board. Asked about the controversial practice by Japanese Prime Ministers of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine to the war dead, Sasae noted Japan’s non-aggressive post-World War II history and said the Chinese government brings up the issue periodically to score political points.

On Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to expand the role of Japan’s self-defense forces, Sasae said the changes would allow Japan to do more to aid the United States in case of conflict on the Korean peninsula and to take a more robust role in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Reported by Fritz Lanham


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