Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late former US President John F. Kennedy, was nominated to be US Ambassador to Japan. The story has hit headlines in both countries. Naturally, China has also followed the news quite closely. For China, the question is: What role will Ambassador Kennedy play in the three sets of bilateral relations among US, Japan and China at a time when China-Japan interactions are running low? The greatest expectation is for her to make a difference in advancing trilateral cooperation and promoting long-term peace in this sensitive region.
In this connection, Ambassador Kennedy is expected to change the traditional game of showing favor to one country over the other and try to be a fair coordinator between China and Japan. These two countries now have fundamentally different views of history and territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and East China Sea. Though complicated, these questions are not irresolvable so long as the two sides could negotiate and consult with each other calmly. Yet the trouble is that the US, tied by its alliance mentality, has shown partiality for Japan rather than taking a neutral position. This has fuelled not only resurgence of right-wing militarism in Japan, but also nationalism in China, pushing East Asia into a situation more difficult to control. In this process, the Chinese are angered by the Japanese right wing and feel intense aversion for the American partiality. More and more people begin to believe that America’s “pivot to Asia” strategy is actually designed to contain China together with Japan.
Many analysts questioned Caroline Kennedy’s lack of diplomatic experience. But she may always learn from history and bear in mind her father’s A Strategy of Peace speech at the American University: “What kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” She may also recall the American nightmares caused by military interventions in Korea and Indochina. She can then think about setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan and American inability to intervene in Libya or Syria. What will be the consequences of being dragged by Japan into a pointless war in Asia? To realize fundamental US interests in Asia, Ambassador Kennedy will need to show full impartiality between China and Japan, a posture conducive to cooling down Sino-Japanese disputes and pushing the two back to a more rational track of consultation and negotiation.
Ambassador Kennedy is also expected to promote trilateral economic cooperation and trade. According to Eurostat figures published in mid-August, the Euro zone economy had a surprising 0.3% increase in Q2. Growth in the US and Japan in the same quarter were 0.4% and 0.6% respectively. The Chinese economy maintains a high 7.5% growth. Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis at the end of 2008, the US, China, Japan and Europe, the four major economies in the world, have for the first time all registered growth, something that has not come easily and must therefore be treasured. Although we cannot yet conclude that the crisis is over people do see light at the end of the tunnel from this. With prospective recovery, total world trade is expected to increase in the second half of this year. China, the US, Japan and EU will speed up export and also buy more on the international market, benefiting the whole world and laying down a more solid foundation for recovery. Economic growth is at the core of any country’s national interest. Economic relations and trade between China, US and Japan link the three countries closely together and the level of interdependence assures that they have to share weal and woe. Commitment to promoting trilateral economic cooperation and trade will be Caroline Kennedy’s key to a successful ambassadorship.
Ambassador Kennedy is further expected to express criticism of the growing rightist tendencies in Japan. She will arrive in Tokyo at a sensitive moment: the right wing is getting full steam to challenge the post-World War II institutional arrangements. According to a recent Financial Times article, longtime resident of Tokyo called this government “Japan’s most nationalistic government since 1945”. In his speech to mark the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II on 15 August, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe omitted any reference to remorse or apology for the great sufferings Japan inflicted on Asian peoples. He did not repeat either the vow of not going to war again made when he was Prime Minister last time. Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso talked about learning from Nazi Germany’s model of changing Japan’s peace constitution. These developments reveal a horrifying attitude, i.e., “the only mistake Japan made during World War II was to lose the war.” This naturally outrages China, Korea and Southeast Asian countries and surely cannot be accepted by the US, which fought a bloody war with the Japanese fascists in the vast Pacific Ocean. Ambassador Kennedy may well realize that history has a direct bearing on reality and that ambiguity on any question of principle will indulge Japan towards provoking another war in Asia. On the other hand, bashing the belligerent right wing and steering Japan back to rationality actually demonstrates concern for Japan so that it can be free from another devastating blow, greatly promote peace in Asia and contribute to America’s core interest in Asia.
Ambassadorship was a starting point for the Kennedys’ political career. In 1937, Joseph Kennedy became US Ambassador to UK as appointed by President Roosevelt. Caroline Kennedy has been away from politics for many years. And this time she has on her shoulders the tasks of both serving the country and upholding the family honor. Chinese people have much to expect from her. So long as she does a good job in the three above-mentioned aspects, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy will be hailed as greater than her grandfather Joseph in adding another chapter of glory to the Kennedy family.
Dr. Jin Ying, Associate Researcher, Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.