The Consummate Diplomat
Hardly a laughing matter are Amb. Kato’s responsibilities as Japan’s point person for one of America’s most important bi-lateral allies.
“The Japan-U.S. alliance is quite solid,” he is quick to point out, “Japan is the most reliable ally of the United States in the Pacific. We are very proud to be so.” It doesn’t appear that having a new prime minister in Yasuo Fukuda will change that. One thing that is shared among [Japanese Prime Ministers] Koizumi, Abe and Fukuda is that each has clearly stated that the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy is and will be the Japan-U.S. alliance. In that sense there is a commonality,” he says.
Kato has now visibly switched his demeanor as talk of baseball and gardens has moved on to matters of state. On Japan-U.S. economic relations, he stays on message: “The relations will grow stronger,” he states. “In the ’80s and ’90s, we witnessed many trade conflicts between the United States and Japan. Since then, the situation has changed dramatically. Our economies are steadily integrating, which are number one and two [in the world]. For instance, speaking of automotive industries, which used to be the focus of the trade conflicts, critical perceptions of Japanese automotive companies have diminished – today, some people believe that Toyota is an American company.” When asked about industries in which the two governments should cooperate for future development, Kato added, “The governments of Japan and the United States need to cooperate, particularly in development of advanced technologies, such as space technologies, advanced medical treatment and those required in addressing environmental issues such as climate change.”
Like many diplomats, Kato is quick to drop an analogy. His favorite is equating his job to that of a gardener. “A garden doesn’t beautify itself,” he begins, “it needs constant care on a daily basis: watering, weeding and pruning. If we fail to do that, just a tiny bit, the garden can become brown, and the weeds start growing. That is what I have been basically doing for the past six years – watering, pruning and weed pulling.”
When I ask where China fits into the equation, he treads carefully, answering: “Between Japan and the United States, we share fundamental values. Based on these values, Japan and the United States are allies of each other. With China, on the other hand, Japan shares common interests. Japan and China can establish a mutually beneficial relationship based on common interests. For example, both countries share interests in the field of energy security. Oil is shipped from the Persian Gulf to Japan to East Asia. Therefore, Japan and China strongly share strategic interests to maintain security of the sea lanes.”
On relations with North Korea and the ongoing six-party talks, he is more open. Kato previously served as the Director-General of the Asian Affairs Bureau in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – he is particularly well-versed on the subject.
“We have made it clear to North Korea and the remaining members of the six-party talks, that Japan is ready to help North Korea financially as we helped South Korea a long time ago in 1965 with economic assistance. But this economic assistance will not start to flow into North Korea until we normalize our relations, and such normalization will not take place until nuclear issues, missile issues and abduction issues are resolved.” As of today, the Government of Japan has identified 17 Japanese citizens as victims of abduction by North Korea, five of whom returned to Japan. Despite Japan’s effort, however, there has still been no persuasive explanation from North Korea concerning the remaining abductees.