In an interview in Washington earlier this month, Emanuel said Japan and the US are “at a critical point, at a critical juncture, to really advance this friendship, alliance, and the value system that brings the two people and two democracies together to advance a set of value systems.”
He admitted he had been preparing to take the role for some time, saying President Joe Biden had offered him the post in December 2020—before the inauguration.
“Because we’re so close, we were talking about our family. Then he says, ‘I’d like to ask you to be my ambassador to Japan.’ When the President asks you to do something, you can either say ‘yes’ or ‘yes, sir.’”
Stance toward China
As Ambassador to Japan, Emanuel will serve as one of the point men for the US government’s China policy. He described the country as “not a good neighbor” and said it “is not one that advances the interests of the region.” Emanuel said Japan and the US have a duty and opportunity to support democracy in the region. These comments reflect Biden’s policy priorities. The president has described China as the “most serious competitor” to the United States.
Emanuel rose to prominence in Washington as an aide to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1999. He was elected to Congress in 2002, serving for three terms as a representative from Illinois, before going on to work as President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff. It was in this role that he developed a relationship with then-Vice President Biden.
After leaving the White House for a second time, Emanuel was elected Mayor of Chicago, a role he held for eight years. He visited Tokyo in his capacity as mayor in 2018 to meet with business leaders and encourage investment in his city.
While Emanuel does not have much experience in Japan, sources have told NHK that his enthusiasm and aptitude for learning about the country has impressed senior government officials in early meetings.
As a politician, Emanuel is known for his blunt personality. During his confirmation hearings, one senator who voted in his favor remarked he would not have described Emanuel as “diplomatic” in nature. When asked about this reputation, Emanuel said he believes in “being principled about what I believe in and then being strong and seeing it through.”
He added he would be forthright “about our strengths and our challenges that we share together and be open and receptive to how to solve them together.”
One Chicago-based investor close to Emanuel told NHK that the new ambassador is “very practical and a man of his words.” He added that his friend “understands [Japan’s] strategic relevance in a way that many politicians today cannot appreciate. He’s going to be a very effective ambassador.”
Emanuel said he already has plans to explore his new home: “I do a lot of bike trips, I do fly fishing. And I already explored different ways to go see all parts of Japan, both taking bike trips and fishing.”
He added that he wants to make sure he experiences Japan beyond its most famous tourist attractions. “I want to go see where people (and) how people live their lives. I don't want to be a visitor. I want to be considered part of the family. That means I have to work at it and experience how things are. And that's what I'm going to do.”