Ambassador: Japan Can Help US With Strategic Alliance in the Pacific

September 29, 2021 By Mandira Banerjee, Mandira Banerjee,

Speaking Tuesday to group of University of Virginia faculty, students and staff in the Rotunda’s Dome Room, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Koji Tomita, analyzed how the U.S.-Japan relationship has evolved over the decades.

He began his remarks by discussing the Washington, D.C., summit hosted by the U.S. over the weekend with leaders of Japan, India and Australia.

“Japan has been a strong proponent of this summit,” he said. “The in-person summit held this weekend was as much about U.S. leadership in the Indo-Pacific region as about the other countries. By actively engaging, the U.S. leaders, including Secretary of State Tony Blinken, are approaching it from position of strength.”

He added that Japan would like to engage China in an open dialogue, but acknowledged that Japan’s relationship with China is much more “complicated” than the adversarial rhetoric that is common in Washington. “Stability between world’s No. 1 economy, No. 2 economy and No. 3 economy matters,” Tomita said.

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He added that Japan can help the U.S. in this strategic alliance by being a good economic partner and help with joint efforts to protect strategic supply chains. “We can also be a partner in some of the global challenges of the society, like the pandemic and global climate challenge and drive the focus in the Pacific region to facilitate U.S. engagement in the relationship,” Tomita said.

Len Schoppa, a UVA professor of politics and Japan expert who is teaching a course in Japanese politics this fall, came to hear the ambassador with a few students from his class.

“It was great to see a strong turnout from among our students at this event and have Ambassador Tomita mention the complicated relationship between China and Japan,” he said. “China is just too big and too close for Japan to think it can simply contain it the way we did with the Soviet Union.”

About 80 Japanese students are on Grounds this fall, studying in a broad range of fields from the undergraduate to the Ph.D. candidate level. Japan is also a key study-abroad partner, where UVA has sent about 300 students over the past five years. The University also boasts a very active Japanese language program, including a Japanese language house. 

Arial view of two speakers sitting in chairs talking to an audience
“It was great to see a strong turnout from among our students at this event,” said Len Schoppa, a UVA professor of politics and Japan expert. (Photo by Amanda Maglione)

“Ambassador Tomita’s visit to Grounds was just the latest evidence of the special relationship that has existed between UVA and Japan, going back many years,” said Steve Mull, UVA’s vice provost for global affairs, who moderated the Q&A session with the ambassador. Events like Tuesday’s speech, which Mull’s office hosted, give students an opportunity to be a part of global conversations on Grounds, he noted.

Present in the audience was a third-year student Kevin Kelley, who spent the summer participating in the 73rd Japan-America Student Conference, where he, along with American and Japanese colleagues, discussed a wide range of contemporary issues, including U.S. military bases in Japan, the development of “smart cities” across some of Japan’s more rural prefectures, and the emergence of Taiwan as a central issue in regional geopolitics.

Also present was Sarah Simba, a graduate student in Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. “My first interaction with Japan was when I was living in Uganda and met a member of parliament from Japan,” she said. “To attend this event and to interact with Ambassador Tomita is an opportunity I wouldn’t have missed [for the] world.”

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Mandira Banerjee

Global Affairs Communications Officer