U.S. envoy to Japan-nominee vows to boost ties, regional dialogue

Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan-nominee, pledged Thursday to work on enhancing bilateral security and business ties as well as encouraging Tokyo to promote dialogue with China over territorial disputes.

"As the United States rebalances toward Asia, our alliance with Japan remains the cornerstone of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region," Kennedy told a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the chamber's confirmation of President Barack Obama's nomination.

"If confirmed, I will work closely with the leadership in the U.S. military to further strengthen our security relationship," she said.

"I can think of no country in which I would rather serve than Japan," she said.

Kennedy, 55, the daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, will become the first woman to take the high-profile post possibly in October if the Senate approves the appointment by Obama.

Kennedy said the United States has an interest in territorial disputes in the East China Sea involving Japan and China and an obligation to "do everything we can to support."

Describing rows over China's claim to the Japan-administered Senkaku group of islets in the East China Sea are "a matter of grave concern," Kenney said she will encourage the countries to seek "peaceful solution" through dialogue.

Kennedy adhered to the U.S. position that Washington recognizes Japan administers the Senkakus and the islets are covered by its security treaty with Japan, under which the United States undertakes to defend Japan in the event of armed attacks.

Kennedy said she will promote American exports, expand trade and support initiatives such as the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership free trade pact at a time when "Japan is enjoying a period of political stability and economic renewal."

The United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries are working to conclude the TPP pact by year-end.

Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, veteran John McCain and several other committee members asked questions to Kennedy during the hearing that lasted for about 90 minutes.

Kennedy touched upon her father's might-have-beens related to Japan, saying, "He had hoped to be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan."

"If confirmed as ambassador, I would be humbled to carry forward his legacy in a small way and represent the powerful bonds that unite our two democratic societies," she said.

Kennedy said she visited Hiroshima in 1978, which the United States atomic bombed at the end of World War II, together with her uncle, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and was "deeply affected" by the trip.

While a world celebrity, she is not known to be a seasoned expert in foreign policy or Japan.

Kennedy said she has taken "seriously" the contentious issue of realigning the posture of the U.S. military in Japan, especially the stalled plan to relocate the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station with the southern prefecture of Okinawa.

Kennedy said she will closely follow ongoing debates in Japan on whether to allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to exercise the right of collective self-defense exercise, or coming to the defense of an ally under armed attack.

She supported Obama's election campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and is also known for close ties with Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a one-time aide to Edward Kennedy.

After graduating from Harvard University, Caroline Kennedy worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She also studied at Columbia Law School. She is an attorney.

She has written and edited books on American history, politics and poetry.

The post of U.S. ambassador to Japan has historically been served by political heavyweights. They include former Vice President Walter Mondale, former House of Representatives Speaker Thomas Foley, former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and former White House chief of staff Howard Baker.