INTERVIEW | US envoy outlines proposed new Indo-Pacific economic order

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Part 1: MAINTENANCE | United States and Japan: Bridging the Transatlantic and the Indo-Pacific

The leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia ー the Quad ー will meet in Tokyo on May 24.

For the occasion, The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Striker spoke with the United States Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel to discuss the state of U.S.-Japan relations.

In this episode, Ambassador Emanuel discusses the Indo-Pacific economic framework. He talks about his goals and his differences from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which the United States withdrew under the Donald Trump administration. Among the points raised about the impact IPEF would have in Asia, he argues for a rules-based order, particularly vis-à-vis China.

On a lighter note, Emanuel also talks about his own style as an ambassador and his wish, while serving in Tokyo, to “live as a resident in Japan.”

Presented in two parts, excerpts from the interview follow.

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United States Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, in an interview at the United States Embassy in Tokyo on May 17, 2022 (Photo by Y. Hagiwara, Sankei).

What is the United States’ objective with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF)?

America is a permanent power in the Pacific. China’s whole effort is basically to say, we’re going to kick the Americans out of here. [But] when you look at our military alliances and our resources, we are here to stay. Look at AUKUS. You can bet long on the United States.

The IPEF is an economic diplomacy that reinforces this fundamental point. Both for countries like Japan and Australia, but also for Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia. There are different components.

One of the things that strikes me as very important is that the last thirty years of economic engagement have been defined by both low cost and efficiency. Going forward after COVID, after Russia, Ukraine, after some of the political disruption in mature democracies, sustainability and stability will be the northern stars, not just cost and efficiency. The IPEF aims to build stability and sustainability.

What is the relationship with the Quad?

The Quad is also an alliance of like-minded countries who see our North Star as a free and open Indo-Pacific, where coercion, whether economic or military, does not become the norm. But a rules-based system that respects other countries’ sovereignty and economic and political independence does.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi at a Quadrilateral Security Foreign Ministers press conference Dialogue (Quad) in Melbourne, Australia, February 11, 2022. REUTERS/ Sandra Sander

Does IPEF replace TPP? And if so, why doesn’t the US just join the TPP?

The position of the United States is that we have withdrawn [of the TPP].

There is some value in that. [But] I think we should be aware of one thing: the TPP was negotiated in another era. We have to see that things have changed economically. And more importantly, if I’m right about sustainability and stability, things changed after COVID and after Russia politically.

I have spoken to many CEOs of different companies here in Japan and in the United States. They [CEOs] are no longer going to make decisions solely on cost and efficiency, or invest in a country that can be sanctioned for its political and economic actions.

Henceforth, the stability, the durability of this political system, [the fact] to respect a set of rules, will have a primordial value [compared to] just five years ago.

IPEF is an acknowledgment that we are in a different world at a different time, it takes stock of the fact that we are in a brave new world, for lack of another way to put it.

The President was clear on the opportunities offered by the Indo-Pacific economic framework.

Supply Chain: There were many resources in the early days of COVID that China said, “we’re not letting out.” This is not a sustainable, resilient or stable way to operate.

Japan was the first target of this, when China said “you don’t get certain rare earth materials”.

[IPEF] recognizes that economic diplomacy is a key element of the overall strategic objective. America is a permanent power in the Pacific, and the countries of this region can count on America to be a continuous presence both for security reasons and for reasons of economic engagement.

Do you think China will join IPEF?

I don’t think they will be invited or join. I don’t think they will be asked to join, because they don’t follow the rules.

They play by the rules of China. It’s very different to play by accepted rules that we all agree on. This is the experience of the World Trade Organization.

There’s nothing in the last 25 years, whether it’s intellectual property, patents, that tells you that China will abide by those sets of rules by which everyone [lives].

The basic framework of IPEF is that there are rules, regardless of the size of the economy, the strength of the economy, that we accept. And we will all be held accountable to uphold them. Nothing tells you that China will.

Since you have been in Japan for four months, you have been very active. What do you remember when you represent the United States to the Japanese people?

I like your trains and I like your coffee, I like your food.

You have to work on many levels: meeting government officials, business leaders, media, engaging the Japanese people.

When I was mayor [of Chicago], I took the train three times a week to go to work. Japan has a world-class infrastructure system.

I think the ambassador should also meet the Japanese where they live. I don’t want to be an ambassador who is driven or secured or saved. I want to go out and discover an incredibly rich culture and a deep society.

I took a train and when I was in Osaka and Kobe, I went to the market. All my life, I have always been in the markets. When I was a kid, that’s what I did with my parents. And that’s what I did with my own children. I think it’s a great way to learn about a society.

When I was in Kobe, I was walking around, and this woman recognized me the night before on the news. She invited me in, and they were making tofu, and the top part of the tofu, yuba. It was a family business and they gave free tastings.

One of the responsibilities of an American Ambassador, given the history of the United States and Japan, is to engage the Japanese people. Whether it’s fly fishing, taking a train, walking through a market and going to a restaurant.

Five years ago, an ambassador wouldn’t engage on social media. Today you have a new component.

What is the essence of the US-Japan relationship in your view?

I also want to say this. The United States and Japan are not only treaty allies, we are friends.

One thing that touched me when I was in Okinawa and I had lunch, dinner with the children. These are 16 children from Okinawa who are all going to study in the United States. You hear that enthusiasm in their voices. You look into their eyes and see a sense of possibility.

It is not a treaty. It’s not Alliance. This is what friends live with each other. And their excitement about going to live abroad for a year in America is the same excitement I want to bring to living here in Japan.

I live here in Japan, I’m not just the ambassador to Japan. I want to experience Japan as a resident of Japan, and I hope I will [although I know] I will have good days and bad days.

(Click on here and here for related articles in Japanese)

Interview by: Yoshinari Kurose and Kazuyuki Sakamoto

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