Ex-Ambassador: Japan-U.S. ties ‘critically important’ to Trump; ‘Putting America First Does Not Mean Being America Alone’

Hiroshi Tajima/The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S. Senator William Hagerty speaks to The Yomiuri Shimbun at the U.S. Congress in Washington on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON – William Hagerty, a U.S. Republican senator and former ambassador to Japan, spoke about the significance of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s address to a joint session of Congress during a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun. Hagerty also touched on the prospects for the Japan-U.S. alliance, taking into account the possible return to power of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Q: What was the significance of Kishida’s speech?

A: I think that the relationship that we built with Japan needs to continue to strengthen year over year. I just think we should take every opportunity to recognize [the value of] our alliances. And it was my honor to lead the effort and make certain that the opportunity to speak to the joint session of Congress was made available.

Q: How do you evaluate Kishida’s policies?

A: We had a number of conversations with [then] Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe [during the time I served as U.S. ambassador to Japan] about deepening our security relationship. His desire was to do exactly what Prime Minister Kishida has been able to do in terms of moving up [defense spending] to 2% [of GDP]. I applaud him for taking advantage of [a shift in public opinion] to take a more aggressive posture.

I expect the prime minister to deliver a very positive message and one that underscores the advantages of our continued cooperation from a national security [standpoint], from an economic security standpoint, and also from a diplomatic standpoint. It’ll be a message, I feel certain, about strengthening our alliance, strengthening our partnership, and he will receive bipartisan support from the members of Congress.

Q: How should Japan and the United States deepen their defense cooperation?

A: The United States has more U.S. military stationed in Japan than anyplace else in the world.

There was a great deal I did [as ambassador], thinking about how we would interact in the event of an emergency, any type of contingency with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. [By enhancing] interoperability, we leverage one another’s technology and one another’s investment. I attended the Yama Sakura [Japan-U.S. joint] exercise year over year, and I’ve seen firsthand the improvement in our operational capabilities as we work together.

This is all a step in the direction that I had envisioned talking with Prime Minister Abe years ago, and I support the direction that we are taking.

Q: The Japanese people are concerned about the alliance with the United States if former U.S. President Donald Trump returns to power in the November presidential election.

A: He told me, just the other day, that he felt he enjoyed the greatest relationship with Japan. Japan just like the rest of the world needs a strong America. Trump will be talking about that. Please do not confuse putting America’s interests first with being America alone. We want Japan to put its interests first, too. We want to see a strong growing economy here in America because that begets the foundation for a strong military, which then begets the foundation for strong diplomatic relationships.

We had four years of experience with President Trump where we saw our relationship deepen at every turn. I would ask the people of Japan to remember, this is a critically important relationship to Trump.

William Hagerty

William Hagerty, 64, originally from Tennessee, ran an investment firm after serving as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
From 2017 to 2019, he was the U.S. ambassador to Japan, and in 2020 he was elected to the U.S. Senate and is serving his first term. He is known as a close ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump.