Ambassador Roos at Japan Society

December 14, 2010

The Honorable John Roos, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Japan

Opening Remarks:

His Excellency Ichiro Fujisaki, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the United States of America


Hugh Patrick, Director, Center on Japanese Economy and Business; Robert D. Calkins Professor Emeritus of International Business, Columbia Business School

U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos spoke at Japan Society about the U.S.-Japan alliance and the complex challenges that the two countries share in a time of rapidly evolving economic and geopolitical dynamics in East Asia and across the globe.

In his opening remarks, Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki noted the recent warming of relations between Japan and the U.S. and also the theory, expressed by some observers, that our two countries have drawn closer specifically because of tensions with third parties such as China, Russia and North Korea. "That's, I think, a vast exaggeration," he said. "Our relations are much more fundamental." The U.S.-Japan security alliance is firm; the two countries' cooperation in foreign aid, energy, environmental and other concerns is extensive; and "most importantly, we share common values: freedom of speech, democracy, human rights."

However, "we shouldn't be complacent," Ambassador Fujisaki cautioned. Our two countries must keep in mind "three nos": no surprises, no politicization and no taking for granted.

Ambassador Roos observed that he arrived in Tokyo in August 2009, just two weeks before the DPJ won victory, ending the near-50-year rule of the LDP. Eight months after that, Prime Minister Hatoyama resigned. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, his successor, commanded approval ratings in the 60s after being reelected as DPJ leader in September 2010, but his ratings have fallen to the mid-20s as he continues to face political challenges. 

During the APEC meeting in Yokohama a month ago, "President Obama in no uncertain terms reaffirmed that the U.S.-Japan relationship is the foundation of our security in the Asia-Pacific region, which now constitutes over 40 percent, and some say 50 percent, of the global economy," Ambassador Roos said. The three pillars of the relationship are the U.S.-Japan security relationship, the countries' economic partnership and their global partnership. These pillars in turn are founded on interactions between the people of the two countries, including educational, cultural, and scientific exchanges and business relationships.

The U.S.-Japan Security alliance, whose 50th anniversary was last year, "has allowed not only Japan, but the entire region to reach unprecedented levels of prosperity, which in turn has been critical to our own prosperity here in the United States," the ambassador said. Recent tensions involving North and South Korea, China and Russia "provide stark and clear evidence that this alliance is as important as it's ever been." 

North Korea represents "one of the most enduring challenges of the region's security and prosperity," he continued. "The North Koreans are the most militarized state in the world." North Korea is developing ballistic missiles, testing nuclear devices and constructing a uranium enrichment facility. The shelling of a South Korean island near the border with North Korea, and the torpedo attack on the South Korean ship Cheonan, " significantly increased tensions in the region."

"Last week's trilateral meeting in Washington between the United States, Japan and South Korea was incredibly important not only as a show of solidarity between the three countries, but also in enhancing coordination and consolidation on North Korea-related issues."

The U.S., Japan and China are "increasingly interdependent," and China is an important partner on important subjects such as climate change and the global financial crisis, the ambassador said. Yet China's policies on military modernization and on its territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, among other issues, still raise questions.

"While I want to be careful not to overstate these concerns, particularly with regard to China, I do want to state clearly that our alliance with Japan plays an integral role in ensuring that the dramatic changes in the security environment in East Asia contribute to the region's future peace and prosperity." 

Turning to the second, or economic, pillar, Ambassador Roos noted that Japan is among the United States' primary trade partners in many sectors, from food and agriculture to health care, telecom, manufacturing and finance. Still, "foreign direct investment from the United States into Japan is way too low." Expanding trade with mature economies such as Japan as well as fast-growing markets elsewhere in Asia will help create new jobs in the U.S., for "we support 5,000 jobs in the United States for every $1 billion of goods and services exported."

At the Yokohama APEC meeting last month, Japan for the first time "expressed a serious interest in joining" the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. "Beyond offering access to growing markets, membership in free-trade agreements exposes firms to the new business models and other innovations that will enable it to remain globally competitive for years to come. And in light of the recent landmark Korea-U.S. free-trade agreement, I believe now it is even more important that Japan open up its markets in the near future."

Ambassador Roos, who spent 25 years as an attorney in Silicon Valley before joining the Obama administration, said that in his travels throughout Japan, "I've seen the nationwide interest Japanese have for wanting to take entrepreneurship to the next level. We'd like to see Japan unleash its entrepreneurial potential, including that of women, as a part of its economic growth strategy."

The Japanese business community should emphasize "a global outlook, by leveraging expertise from around the world in their ventures, or by developing products or services from the start that have worldwide sales potential, encouraging a culture where second chances are embraced, and by encouraging the government to create systems that support entrepreneurial growth." 

The third, or global partnership, pillar involves working together on urgent global issues such as energy security and climate change, including work on low-carbon technology, energy efficiency and smart grid technology; nuclear security and nonproliferation, where the focus includes North Korea and Iran; and humanitarian aid, including assistance in Haiti, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Thanks to our partnership with Japan in maintaining U.S. military bases in country, the U.S. Marine Corps mobility and forward presence in Okinawa is routinely our primary responder to major natural disasters in Asia, such as the 2004 Asian tsunami. A little-known fact, by the way, is that thanks to their positions in Japan, the Marines along with other U.S. forces have led or participated in around 13 significant humanitarian assistance disaster-relief missions in the last five years alone, helping to save hundreds of thousands of lives."

Ambassador Roos said that he's often asked about a range of other issues that include access to Japanese markets for American beef, assurance of a level playing field in the privatization of the Post Office, international parental child abduction, and relocation of the Futenma base in Okinawa. "While we have issues we are working through, I am not overly concerned with the nature of our issues with Japan. What I do worry about, however, is our need to strengthen... the people-to-people connections, which I believe underlie the security, economic and global pillars I've described this evening, and which I believe will determine the future strength of our relationship." 

One such area that's declined in recent years is higher education, he said. "Many of Japan's business and political leaders who are most committed to the U.S.-Japan relationship studied at one time or another in the United States, with the trend starting in the 1950s and continuing through the 1990s." But last year alone, the number of Japanese students in the U.S. fell 15 percent, to 25,000 students. Meanwhile, Chinese students studying in the U.S. grew 30 percent, to 128,000 students, or nearly a fifth of the international student population, and Indian students grew to about 105,000 students, or 15 percent of the international student population in the U.S.

"My family and I have fallen in love with Japan during our period there as so many Americans have," Ambassador Roos concluded. "And the image of President Obama last month returning to Daibutsu, the Great Buddha statue in Kamakura, a place he visited as a child, is one that will endure in my mind as an emblem of the connection between our two nations."

"Our future relationship will thrive because the United States and Japan share the core values of freedom, a commitment to human rights, and building a better world for all our citizens. Our future relationship will thrive because our strong alliance ensures prosperity and security throughout the region and the globe. Our future relationship will thrive because, as President Obama emphasized just last month in Yokohama, Japan and the United States are stronger when we stand together." 


Q&A with the audience followed:

What are you doing as ambassador to try to promote risk-taking in Japan, where there seems to be even more risk aversion today, after 20 years of stagnation?

To promote entrepreneurship and risk-taking--"and I would call it educated risk-taking, not reckless risk-taking," the Ambassador said--he's meeting with students and entrepreneurs and speaking in venues all over the country, as well as on television and in other media.

"I talk about the fact that I would love to see Japan celebrate their entrepreneurs as much as we all celebrate our sports stars. In the Silicon Valley, we do that. Steve Jobs is an icon. And I think that that is one of the ways that entrepreneurism can begin to thrive." Young people seek his advice on their business plans. A center for entrepreneurship will soon open at Kyushu University. Ambassador Roos met recently with a class on entrepreneurism at Keio University, and visited Keio's "innovation village" at which 25 startup companies were being promoted. "So, it's starting to happen."

In what way, if any, is the United States encouraging Japan to adopt smaller boards and other more open corporate governance practices, as urged recently by the OECD?

"We are, through a whole series of experts, encouraging Japan on the corporate governance issue," Ambassador Roos replied. As a lawyer with expertise in corporate security and corporate governance, "I have spent a significant amount of time talking to not only the Tokyo Stock Exchange with regard to corporate governance rules, but individual companies, encouraging modifications with regard to corporate governance, including transparency." 

"A global outlook on entrepreneurism" that "would inure to the benefit of Japanese companies" would include the use of outside directors, "not only outside the management of the corporate entity itself, but outside of Japan, coming from, for example, the United States," he said. "I believe that as companies think more about their global strategy, to have outside directors from different countries would strengthen the corporate boards in addition to enhancing transparency."

--Katherine Hyde
Topics:  Business, Policy

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