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INTERVIEW | US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel on Why the April Summit Marks Beginning of New Era

Rahm Emanuel says Japan is now a full security partner. He discusses expectations for the April Summit, including investments in tech and education, and gender.



US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel sits down with JAPAN Forward and answered the questions on April 2, 2024 at his residence in Tokyo.

In an exclusive interview, United States Ambassador Rahm Emanuel talks to JAPAN Forward and The Sankei Shimbun about key issues in the bilateral relationship. His comments come days ahead of the upcoming April 10 state visit of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Washington.

Emanuel shares his observations of the evolving US-Japan relationship in a changing geopolitical landscape. He views the upcoming Japan-US Summit as pivotal, signaling strategic shifts. The relationship is transitioning from "hub-and-spoke" to "lattice-like" structures. This, he says, indicates a move towards collective resilience and shared values against modern challenges. 

The ambassador notes Japan's progress in defense and diplomacy under Kishida, showcasing its proactive global role. At the summit, he said, expect an added focus on technology partnerships, including in artificial intelligence and space initiatives. His account reveals the complex US-Japan relationship, blending strategic, economic, and societal aspects, ready for new geopolitical challenges.  

Excerpts follow.

US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel on April 2, 2024 at his residence in Tokyo. (© JAPAN Forward)

An Evolving Relationship 

"I think it's important to put this state visit in context," stated Emanuel. "The way I would describe it is the end of one era and the beginning of the next." 

Why such a bold statement? Emanuel pointed to recent transformative policies under Prime Minister Kishida. "In the last two years, Kishida and his administration have instituted five changes that upended Japan's 70-year-old policies," he observed.

Japan's Five Fundamental Changes

Emmanuel elaborated, highlighting the increase in military spending from 1% to 2% of Japan's GDP. "It is now the third largest military (spender)." He also pointed to the acquisition of counterstrike capabilities. "Japan now also has the ability to start exporting defense equipment technology," he added, underscoring Japan's new defense posture.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and President Yoon Seok-yul are talking before their Camp David meeting in August 2023. (©ROK Presidential Office)

In addition, he noted the improvement in relations between Japan and South Korea. "Our trilateral relationship is now functioning at a new fundamental, more productive level," he stated. This, he said, was catalyzed by the rewrite of Japan's three security documents

"Nobody thought even one of those, let alone all five, would happen," he emphasized.


'A Full Security Partner'

"This state visit, in my view, brings Japan's past security posture and America's past strategic outlook to a close," he said. "We are now at the beginning of a whole new perspective." He emphasized the depth of the transformation, noting, "Japan now is a full security partner in every capacity." 

On the subject of military cooperation, he added, "All our exercises with Japan now have a multilateral frame." Whether discussing Quad or trilateral alliances, "The one constant in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy is Japan by our side."

From Hub-and-Spoke to Lattice-Like

Describing the evolution of US-Japan relations, Emanuel observed a shift from a traditional "hub-and-spoke" model to a more interconnected approach. "Our relationship with Japan was always described as a hub-and-spoke. That's changing to what I term a lattice-like strategic architecture."

This new model supports multilateral cooperation, as evidenced by the first-ever leaders' visit between the US, Japan, and the Philippines. According to Emanuel, "What was bilateral is now Quad, and what was bilateral is now trilateral."

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Ferdinand Marcos shake hands after the joint press conference on February 9, 2023 at the Prime Minister's Official Residence (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Momentous Changes Include Philippines

"One of the biggest things in this visit," he said, "is the first-ever leaders' visit between the US, Japan, and the Philippines." He emphasized the significant, simultaneous changes both countries are undergoing, describing them as "generational, momentous changes to [Japan and the Philippines'] outlook." 

Emanuel added, "Kishida's visit follows four Indo-Pacific state visits: India, Australia, South Korea, and now Japan." According to the US ambassador, these highlight a shift towards a "lattice, strategic architecture or framework."

At a recent ASEAN conference, the ambassador discussed trilateral cooperation between the US, Japan, and the Philippines. "President Marcos was eager for cooperation between the Philippines, Japan, and the US," he said. 

Emmanuel also highlighted the expected outcomes from these trilateral cooperative efforts. "Expect developments in coast guard resources and collective training," he emphasized. He also noted the economic and educational collaborations among the three countries. 

US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel at his residence in Tokyo. (©JAPAN Forward)

Achieving Credible Deterrence

On the topic of Japan's deterrence strategy against China, Ambassador Emanuel was candid. "The best thing to do is make sure your deterrence is credible," he emphasized. He suggested Japan's significant increase in defense spending and acquisition of 400 Tomahawk missiles serve as potent deterrents. 

"Deterrence is something you have to work at every day, update, and modernize," Emanuel stated. He stressed the importance of constant vigilance and adaptation to ensure that the intended message of deterrence is clearly communicated. "Japan is taking steps to bolster (its deterrence. You have to make alterations every day so the country that's supposed to receive the message hears it."


However, he also noted the nuanced challenges of such strategies. "One of the difficulties is that what you think of as deterrence may be interpreted as a message of provocation." According to Emanuel, the line between deterrence and provocation is delicate and often subject to interpretation.

When pressed on the possibility of Japan and the US engaging in discussions on nuclear deterrence, Emanuel carefully steered away from speculation. He refrained from making any predictions, citing the complexity and sensitivity of the issue.

Space and Technology

In discussing the future of US-Japan space collaboration, Ambassador Emanuel shared exciting developments on the horizon. "There will be a series of announcements with Japan on space, including Artemis, Gateway, the International Space Station, and Mars exploration," he revealed. 

Emanuel emphasized, "There will be other announcements related to NASA and JAXA cooperation that will significantly impact lunar exploration." 

Collaboration on Technology

Highlighting advancements in technology and education, Ambassador Emanuel detailed recent collaborative initiatives between the United States and Japan. "In Hiroshima, we announced two initiatives," the ambassador said. "One was a project between Tohoku University and the University of Chicago. Google and IBM contributed $150 million combined," he told us, highlighting the significant investment. 

He also mentioned a Purdue-led collaboration with universities in Japan and the United States. That initiative focuses on semiconductor engineering.

"This time, we're focusing on AI research partnerships between Japanese and American universities," he revealed. "American and Japanese companies raised about $100 million for this," he added, showcasing the commitment to advancing education.

Gender Equality

Emmanuel also touched on gender equality in Japan. "It's clear that Japan's recent economic success has been because of womenomics," he said. On that, he drew parallels to the US's past. "Decades ago, women in the US began entering law school. Today, four out of nine US Supreme Court judges are women. These things happen progressively."  


On the future of women in Japanese politics, he confidently stated, "You'll see more women in government across all levels in Japan. One hundred percent. 

He concluded, "It will be up to the Japanese voters to evaluate the qualities and capabilities (of these women). Japan will chart its own course."


(Read a related article in Japanese.)

Author: Daniel Manning

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