New US Envoy to Japan Meets Kishida, Vows to Deepen Alliance

TOKYO (AP) -- The new U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, pledged to work "wholeheartedly" to deepen Washington's alliance with Tokyo as he met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.

The two discussed China's increasingly assertive military actions and North Korea's escalating missile tests, among other regional concerns, and agreed to closely cooperate, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement,

"I pledged to the prime minister that I will wholeheartedly work every day on behalf of the ideals of the alliance," Emanuel told reporters after the talks.

Emanuel presented Kishida with a pair of Major League Baseball uniforms for the Cubs and White Sox -- with "Kishida 100" printed on the back -- from his hometown Chicago where he was previously mayor. The gift won big smiles from Japan's 100th prime minister, who is an avid baseball fan, especially of the Carp from his hometown Hiroshima.

Kishida said the ambassadorship "symbolizes the iron-clad bond of the Japan-U.S. alliance" and that he had high expectations for Emanuel to further strengthen ties between the allies.

Recently, however, the two sides have had some friction over their differences on COVID-19 measures. Despite Japan's stringent border controls mostly barring foreign entrants, American troops directly flown to their bases in Japan were exempt from quarantine rules and tests -- a surprise to Japanese officials who were told about the process in late December only after asking the U.S. military about major clusters on the base.

Infections have rapidly spread in neighboring communities including in Okinawa, home to the majority of the 50,000 American troops in Japan and where anti-base sentiment is strong.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Friday blamed miscommunication between the two sides, including his ministry's failure to ensure that Japanese measures were followed by U.S. troops.

Emanuel arrives in Japan as U.S. President Joe Biden is increasing his focus on the Indo-Pacific and working to strengthen the U.S.-Japan partnership including through a regional framework known as the Quad, which also includes Australia and India.

During an online summit last month, Biden and Kishida agreed to attend an in-person Quad meeting in Tokyo sometime in the spring.

Emanuel is a former three-term congressman who served as former President Barack Obama's first White House chief of staff and was a senior adviser in former President Bill Clinton's administration.

His ambassadorship will become official after he presents his credentials to Emperor Naruhito in a palace ceremony.

The post of U.S. ambassador to Japan was vacant for more than two years after William Hagerty left in July 2019 to run for the Senate.