The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

With Japan undergoing political change—and facing economic and security challenges—there could be no better time to welcome new US Ambassador William F. Hagerty IV. This welcome took place at Grand Hyatt Tokyo on September 29, as the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) hosted a luncheon at which ACCJ President Christopher J. LaFleur and Hagerty discussed priorities.

“I think it’s fair to say you bring to this position a truly unique experience and, of course, you are the only former businessperson serving as ambassador who lived in Japan as a businessperson. Most importantly,” LaFleur said with a smile, “you are the only US ambassador who was an ACCJ member.”

Next, LaFleur asked about priorities.

“They come from the president, quite simply,” Hagerty replied, naming three areas:

  • national security
  • US–Japan economic relations
  • cultural connections.

Speaking about national security and the challenges presented by North Korea, Hagerty said: “I want to put it into context. We’ve tried dialogue . . . we’ve done it for more than two decades. The one consistent feature of all that effort is that the North Koreans have not stopped their effort to develop a nuclear weapon. I think—as Americans, as allies of Japan and South Korea—we can’t let this go further. So . . . we have moved to the next set of options, and those are diplomatic options.

He added that discussions are also underway with the Russians and the Chinese, and that all options remain on the table. If a situation did arise where military action was needed, he stressed that decision-makers in the administration are disciplined, thoughtful, and understand the consequences of war.

“So, when you see a tweet, or you see a headline—and I understand that raises a concern—I want you to think hard about what’s happening, about the three-dimensional chess game that’s going on.”

On strengthening and deepening the economic partnership between the United States and Japan, he looked to clarify the US position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“I think we all know that 2016 was a unique election. Both candidates determined that they were going to withdraw from the TPP, and I want to make clear here today, to all of you, that does not mean at all that we withdraw our interest in being in greater, stronger economic partnership with Japan.”

Connections and activities related to culture are also very important to Hagerty. He emphasized that the embassy will look for ways to reach out through sports and music, and to boost the number of children and young adults going between the United States and Japan—whether for education or internships.

He said that the numbers concerned him when he saw that the high watermark of educational exchange came in 1997, when 55,000 Japanese students went to the United States. Today, that number is just 19,000. He described this change as one with significant implications, and hopes that it can be turned around to strengthen mutual understanding and connectivity between the two countries.

LaFleur outlined the challenging economic period that Japan has been going through and the goals of Abenomics, and asked how the bilateral relationship might increase the opportunities for US businesses to help better stimulate the Japanese economy.

“I was delighted when the prime minister set the goal of doubling the foreign direct investment coming into Japan,” Hagerty said, reassuring the audience that he is putting much effort into bringing in more US investment and suggesting that success would come in places where innovation matters.

“The United States has a great history regarding innovation, and Japan is a country that respects intellectual property in its law, which is important for any business, but particularly when you think about innovation,” he said.

“I’ve spent a great deal of time meeting the Japanese companies who are foreign direct investors, and I want to continue to do that. I am going to be very focused on the capital investment side of the equation; but that doesn’t mean we won’t be focused on trade. We will work arm in arm with the Japanese to pursue measures together that can grow our economies and, hopefully, narrow the trade deficit at the same time.”

LaFleur closed the conversation by asking if there are ways in which the ACCJ can support Hagerty and the US government as they look to strengthen the relationship with Japan.

“We will be reaching out to you and your members to get your help, your advice, and your guidance on what the impact of a given policy might be on your business today, or what it might be if things were to change.” Hagerty also said he hopes anecdotal evidence and ideas from the chamber can help improve the US–Japan bilateral relationship on an economic basis.

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.